Heavenly Harmonies: The Soundtrack of Wim Wenders’ “Wings of Desire”

“When a child was a child…”

A man’s voice is heard, reading out words as they are written in thick ink on paper.

…it didn’t know it was a child”

He continues, some of the words delivered in sing-song, joyfully, as if they were a children’s nursery song:

“Everything was full of life/And all life was one…”

His voice is friendly voice; a comforting voice; a voice that we will soon learn belongs to Damiel (Bruno Ganz), an angel who watches over the city of Berlin and its inhabitants with the curiosity and reverence of a child. Damiel has such deep affection for human life that he is willing to eschew immortality for earthly pleasures and the most intoxicating human experience of all: love. Both Damiel’s voice and those of the humans he consoles and studies feature prominently on the film’s soundtrack, sometimes in isolation, other times intermingled with one another. They even find their way into composer Jürgen Knieper’s evocative score.

Released in 1987, Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin(1987) was Wenders’ first narrative film after the incredibly successful Paris, Texas (1984), and much like its predecessor, Wings of Desire explores themes of loneliness, psychogeography, love, and loss. The film was born through a feeling of homecoming as Wenders, who had been living abroad, returned to Berlin with the desire to rediscover the “Germany in [his] heart.” Taking in the Berlin streets, he reflected on the impact that World War II had upon the city, the Berlin Wall still looming large and creating both a physical and mental divide between East and West; a constant reminder of the horrors that Berlin had once witnessed. But Wenders also perceived the sympathetic faces of angels watching over Berlin everywhere he went (most notably the Friedensengel monument) and found that he was inexplicably drawn to angelic symbolism in other realms: a song by The Cure, a painting by Paul Klee, elegies by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. He wasn’t sure where it was all going, but the seemingly disparate imagery of dilapidated Berlin and serene angels had begun to fuse in his mind.

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