The year 1945, unlike 1918, brought total defeat and occupation zones, permanent loss of territory and resources, floods of refugees, and a burden of historical guilt that still shapes German society today. The French, British, and Russian allies governed the country in increasingly uneasy cooperation until 1949, when two German states emerged, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) in the Western zones and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in the Eastern, Soviet zone. With the building of the infamous Berlin Wall in 1961 and the sealing of the internal border, two Germanies were locked in stasis and integrated into their respective power blocs, NATO and the Warsaw Pact. In November 1989 the East German state finally collapsed and was rapidly absorbed into the Federal Republic.
Filmmaking carried on amid the ruins, not least because the occupying powers wanted it to, although they were themselves distracted by dismantling and profiting from the remains of Ufa. As early as May 1946, the Deutsche Film Aktiengesellschaft (DEFA, the German Film Company Limited) received a license from the Soviets for the Babelsberg studios. DEFA became the East German state's film company and thus the monopoly producer. Its first film, Die Mörder sind unter uns ( Murderers Among Us , 1946) by Wolfgang Staudte (1906–1984) premiered as the first postwar German film. Dealing with the heritage of Nazism, it came to be known as a Trümmerfilm (rubble film), after its setting in ruined Berlin. Shot in film noir style with Hildegard Knef (1925–2002), one of the postwar cinema's major stars, it established antifascist filmmaking at DEFA. At the same time, private companies were appearing in the Western zones, such as Central Cinema Company-Film (CCC) and Berolina-Film in West Berlin, Filmaufbau in the provincial university town of Göttingen, and Real-Film in Hamburg. In Munich the Bavaria studios remained in public ownership until 1956.
Distribution companies in West Germany also acquired licenses from the Western allies and could import large quantities of foreign material that was new to Germany. This meant, above all, B pictures from Hollywood, thus reestablishing the abiding presence of the American industry. Audiences' preference for dubbing into German dates from this time. Some film-makers, like Staudte, were able to work in both Germanies for a while, and until the Wall went up, West Berliners could work in Babelsberg. However, there was little cooperation between the two industries. The deterioration of relations between the former allies soon turned into the Cold War and meant that the Federal Republic at first banned all DEFA films, shifting to a more selective approach in the 1960s. Filmmaking came to reflect the Wirtschaftswunder , the rapid economic recovery of West German manufacturing and trade. Scarcely any films dealt with the division of Germany, and most tackled the problem of Nazism under the broad attitude of a liberal humanism, presenting ordinary Germans as victims of anonymous historical forces. This stance also enabled condemnation of Communism as a nonpolitical evil rather than acknowledging East Germany as any sort of comparator. Ufa style merged with that of Hollywood genres to offer "great men" films, Heimatfilme , popular depictions of idyllic local cultures, nostalgic historical costume dramas depicting "the good old days," and melodramas focusing on questions of personal identity and relations within families. These latter might ostensibly deal with social, even political, problems of the day but tended to deflect them into questions of emotional attachments and moralizing. Something of an exception were films dealing with young people, as they referred to the significant impact of US culture on the Wirtschaftswunder society, such as Georg Tressler's Die Halbstarken ( The Hooligans , 1956), a depiction of young criminals notable for its realist style and for introducing new actors like Horst Buchholz (1933–2003), who went on to achieve stardom. Popular music featured in Schlagerfilme (pop films) catered to a youth audience alongside the remakes of musicals, revues, and operettas for more conservative tastes.
West German films from the 1950s did not export well, had few successes at international festivals, and always had to cope with competition from Hollywood. Filmmakers concentrated on what suited the domestic market. The state supported them by introducing the first of the permanent subsidy programs, levying tickets sold and offering production guarantees with the money, thus propping up a declining industry for reasons of cultural politics. As German consumers became increasingly affluent, chief among the new offers was television, with the first channel being established in 1954. By the early 1960s German film attracted less than a third of its home market, and its inadequacy was confirmed when the 1961 Berlinale (the Berlin Film Festival) refused to award the annual German film prize at all.