SPRENGBAGGER 1010 | Silent Movies Drama, 1929

SPRENGBAGGER 1010 (Power Shovel 1010) is a socially critical industry film from 1929 describing the industrialization and mechanization of the world, the belief in progress and the spirit of modern age. The film deals with the complex relation between man and technology and raises the question how man is to behave in times of industrial upheaval: Control of nature by mankind vs. control of mankind by machines? The film is not a documentary although the film follows the trend towards the new objectivity and industry films. The associate producer Hans von Wolzogen calls it human film – machine film.

The film was the last German silent movies and was directed in 1929 by Carl-Ludwig Achaz-Duisberg (1889-1958), who was also responsible for the screenplay. The outdoor shots were taken in the Middle German lignite opencast mine of the Leuna factory, the indoor shots in Marienfelde. Helmer Lerski as director of photography was responsible for photographic guidance, the cinematographers were Arthur von Schwertführer, Herbert Körner and Hugo von Kaweczynski. Another participant, whose cooperation in producing SPRENGBAGGER 1010 is hardly known, was Arthur von Schwertführer's friend and apprentice - Fred Zinnemann (1907-1997), who took over the role of the camera assistant. Years later he was to emigrate to the United States and became a famous director himself. As multiple Oscar winner he became world famous e.g. "High Noon","The Nun's Story" and "The Day of the Jackal".

The soundtrack of the movie was written by Walter Gronostay (1906-1937), a pioneer of radio music. At a time when the sound film just about to find its way into the cinemas, he produced a masterpiece of background music. It was originally composed for chamber orchestras, he additionally used effects such as factory whistles, gas bottles, explosions and a speaking choir. He creates a kind of noise music which establishes a close relationship to the industrial ambiance of the film.

There is a certain ambiguity about how to read the title of the film “1010”, whether the figures are to be read as “one thousand and ten” or “ten ten”. There are explanations for both interpretations.

The story line

The main subject of the film is a power shovel, a huge overburden excavator for a lignite opencast mine. In the film the shovel was designed by the engineer Karl Hartmann, who grew weary of the machine affinity around him. Chimneys, clouds of smoke, pistons and wheels have worn him out, he longs to return to the bucolic nature. His assistant, young Olga Lossen, intuits the ingenious design of the super machine. She submits the design drawing to the director of the factory, the Karolinenwerk, – Director March. He is fascinated by the design and immediately wants to start the production of the giant excavator. However, engineer Hartmann no longer has the power and the will to build the machine. He leaves everything behind, travels to his hometown where his grandmother – old lady Hartmann – operates a mill in long-term lease near Nilsenhöh. In his hometown engineer Hartmann meets his childhood friend, landowner of Nilsenhöh, Camilla von Einerm. The two of them build up a close bond of affection. Hartmann is in a moral dilemma, on the one hand between the two women Olga and Camilla, on the other hand between the two different worlds – the machine world and free nature.

In the meantime Director March is worried about the fact that the Karolinenwerk runs low of lignite and thousands of employees are threatened by poverty. Just by chance engineer Hartmann finds lignite in the fields of his new fiancee Camilla and returns to his former life full of enthusiasm. The power excavator has been completed, the ambivalent Hartmann again works with assistant Olga and Director March purchases property from the farmers. Hartmanns's fiancee, landowner Camilla von Einerm, does not sell her property and the mill lessee, old lady Hartmann, too, has no intention to leave her mill. Later in the film she dies in the burning mill. Soon afterward the huge excavator arrives in this new mining area and the first blast is to take place.

Camilla is sure she has lost Hartmann to Olga, she senses she cannot resist the new development and the employees threatened by unemployment. There is some confusion about the end of the film – happy ending or not?

The film program booklet FILM-KURIER of 1929 describes that Camilla survives the first blast: “Hartmann hurries to meet her, she is alive and stands unhurt in the turmoil of the elements which obey the human will. And Karl's delight is a clear sign for Camilla to believe in his unconditional love. With optimism she looks to the future which is heralded by thundering blasts of the power excavator.”

Current film descriptions, however, represent the opposite view, which is stated in the present abbreviated version of the film: Camilla dies of the first blast and opens the way of the project, the new development, the progress. “She enters the exclusion area and dies in the first blast, triggered by Hartmann himself.”


Nowadays there is only one highly abbreviated version of SPRENGBAGGER 1010. The unabridged version, 132 minutes in the original, is presumed lost. The only existing version, shortened by 45 minutes, was brought to the Federal Archives film archives in Berlin in 1979 from Moscow. For years it was stored disregarded in the security bunkers.

About 11,000 films are stored there, of which only about 1,200 are silent films dated of that time. Only a small part thereof is actually playable. A great number of these film treasuries show great damage, are incomplete or are broken down. This is partly due to the nitro film which was used at that time. The chemical composition of nitro film makes it brittle and the film dissolves itself. Nitro film is dangerous, highly flammable and may even lead to explosion. It is therefore regulated by the Explosives Act.

Since 2005 the Federal Archives film archives in Berlin has owned a new bunker, called nitro bunker. It consists of more than 40 chambers with two shelf units with 11 meters in length each. Up to 2,000 film reels can be stored in its shelves. The bunker has an independent climatisation of six degree Celsius – the ideal room temperature to store nitro film – and maintains as humidity of 50 per cent.

Today SPRENGBAGGER 1010 is a cinematic and musical contemporary document of the 1920s and was once again released after 82 years on March 18, 2011, by the German World Heritage ZOLLVEREIN in the city of Essen.