The Hamburg Syndrome

The Hamburg Syndrome
Directed byPeter Fleischmann
Written by
Produced by
  • Peter Fleischmann
  • Michel Gast
  • Felix Hock
  • Lothar H. Krischer
  • Willi Segler
CinematographyColin Mounier
Edited bySusan Zinowsky
Music byJean-Michel Jarre
Release date
22 November 1979
Running time
117 minutes
  • West Germany
  • France

The Hamburg Syndrome (German: Die Hamburger Krankheit) is a 1979 West German-French science fiction film directed by Peter Fleischmann and starring Helmut Griem, Fernando Arrabal and Carline Seiser.[1][2] The film is about an outbreak of an epidemic and quarantine.[3] The film received attention again in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.[4][5]


A deadly epidemic breaks out in Hamburg.[6] The victims fall dead out of the blue and adopt an embryonic posture.[1] In one scene a doctor who autopsies the dead has his say: "Three days ago it was 12, the day before yesterday 57 and now we don't have any more space."[4] Politicians and the military intervene, set up quarantine stations and develop a vaccine, which, however, carries high risks.[7] People leave their home with face masks and protective suits.[5] There are travel restrictions and those nearby infected people has to go in quarantine. The search for the index case (patient zero) is going on.[5] The Hanseatic city is cordoned off, and a small group of people wanders across the Federal Republic on the run. In doing so, they pass Lüneburg.[8] The city is already cordoned off. Fulda becomes a collecting basin for the refugee movement.[6] Germany is in a state of emergency.[5] The plague suddenly dies out and the "Hamburg disease" ends in Southern Germany.[6]

Partial cast


The film is a German-French joint production by Hallelujah-Film Munich, Bioskop-Film Munich, Terra-Filmkunst Berlin, S.N.D. Paris and ZDF.[1][9]

A conversation with Luis Buñuel's screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière brought Fleischmann to the film concept years before.[3] The initial idea: In Athens, scientists put an artificial, deadly virus on the pillars of the Acropolis to solve the problem with overpopulation.[8][3]


The German cinema premiere was on 23 November 1979.[1] Two months before the cinema release, the film was shown in a rough version approximately eight minutes longer at the Hamburg Film Festival.[10]


The film was not a commercial success in 1979.[5] Hans C. Blumenberg wrote in 1979 in Die Zeit: "The Hamburg Syndrome by Peter Fleischmann is a chaotic film about chaotic conditions, considerably more appealing, unusual and intelligent than the many reviews suggest,"[11] and "Fleischmann's staging is as eccentric as the staff of this apocalyptic farce between the Reeperbahn and the Almhütte: a series of violent style breaks, without regard to aesthetic losses."[11]

Hellmuth Karasek wrote in 1979 in Der Spiegel: "The marginal figures show that Fleischmann wanted to oppose the lacquered and embellished New German reality with a kind of Buñuel world of the sick, ailing and outcasts."[12]

Deutsche Film- und Medienbewertung (FBW): "The FBW jury shares this [Blumenberg's] opinion and above all points out the unleashed and exuberant staging of this "madhouse" positively and confirms the rating valuable. (Prädikat wertvoll)"[13]

Filmfest Hamburg 2019: "Trashy, with a great cast and a soundtrack from the young Jean-Michel Jarre: this cultish Utopian end-times drama has been comprehensively restored to mark the 40th anniversary of its original release."[9]


  1. ^ a b c d "Die Hamburger Krankheit". Deutsches Filmhaus (in German). Retrieved 19 August 2021.
  2. ^ Hake, Sabine (2008). German national cinema. London New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-42098-3. OCLC 128237585.
  3. ^ a b c Göttler, Fritz (12 August 2021). "Regisseur Peter Fleischmann ist tot". Sü (in German). Retrieved 17 August 2021.
  4. ^ a b Wunder, Olaf (14 April 2020). ""Hamburger Krankheit": Kultfilm sah schon 1979 die Corona-Krise voraus". MOPO (in German). Retrieved 19 August 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d e Hippen, Wilfried (18 April 2020). "Der Film zur Epidemie". Retrieved 19 August 2021.
  6. ^ a b c Witzel, Matthias (4 May 2020). "Aktueller denn je: Corona weckt Erinnerungen an "Die Hamburger Krankheit"". Osthessen. Retrieved 19 August 2021.
  7. ^ ""Die Hamburger Krankheit": Einst Fiktion, heute Realität". (in German). 11 April 2020. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  8. ^ a b Bohlmann, Klaus (27 April 2020). "Virus versetzt Lüneburg in Panik". (in German). Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  9. ^ a b "Die Hamburger Krankheit". Filmfest Hamburg 2019. Retrieved 19 August 2021.
  10. ^ "OFDb – : Hamburger Filmfest (Rohfassung) (Deutschland), Freigabe: FSK 12 von Hamburger Krankheit, Die (1979)". Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  11. ^ a b Blumenberg, Hans C. (7 December 1979). "Filmtips: Die Hamburger Krankheit". ZEIT ONLINE (in German). Retrieved 20 August 2021. Die Hamburger Krankheit von Peter Fleischmann ist ein chaotischer Film über chaotische Zustände, erheblich reizvoller, ungewöhnlicher und intelligenter als es die vielen Verrisse vermuten lassen. ... So exzentrisch wie das Personal dieser apokalyptischen Farce zwischen Reeperbahn und Almhütte ist auch Fleischmanns Inszenierung: eine Folge von gewaltsamsten Stilbrüchen, ohne Rücksichten auf ästhetische Verluste.
  12. ^ Karasek, Hellmuth (23 September 1979). "Unheilbar". Der Spiegel (in German). Retrieved 20 August 2021. An Randfiguren sieht man, daß Fleischmann der gelackten und geschönten neudeutschen Wirklichkeit eine Art Bunuel-Welt der Kranken, Maroden, Ausgestoßenen entgegensetzen wollte.
  13. ^ "Film: Die Hamburger Krankheit". Deutsche Filmbewertung und Medienbewertung FBW (in German). Retrieved 21 August 2021.

External links