Project Description

A German republic in Missouri.


Revisiting a German State in America

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The documentary Utopia follows the trail of a “German republic” in the USA, a bold and unique project in the history of German democracy and on the Western Frontier of the United States: Friedrich Muench and his friend Paul Follenius found the “Giessen Emigration Society”. And 500 people leave together with them in spring of 1834. Where does their journey lead them?

Equal civil rights! Political participation! Freedom of speech, elections, education, and self-development! 500 people left their homeland together for these very ideals. It is the year 1834, they are subjects living under the suppressing German rulers, they are consumed with a desire for change – and are being led forth by the idea of a utopia. The creation of a model German democratic republic in America. Led by lawyer Paul Follenius and pastor Friedrich Muench, the “Giessen Emigration Society” crosses the Atlantic Ocean and risks a new start in the unknown “Land of the Free”. By founding a state they hope to create upheaval and provide a role model for the overthrow of powers in all of Germany. Can it succeed? Where will their travels take them?

Like the Society from 1834, a reasearch team makes its way from Hesse to Bremen, via an emergency bivouac on the island of Harriersand, finishing in Missouri in the USA. The team is composed of filmmaker Peter Roloff, archivist Ludwig Brake from Giessen, Bremen-based author Rolf Schmidt, and historian Dorris Keeven-Franke from Missouri. They are united by the search for the causes, history, and effects of one of Germany’s most unique political projects – an unknown chapter in the history of German democracy.

The team follows the life paths of Muench and Follenius. They come across a surprising multitude of original sites and scenes, like the farms of Friedrich Muench and Paul Follenius, heartrending documents in the archives, knowledgeable descendents, and passionate experts in the field – such as a hundred-year-old historian. It is here that we discover the driving forces behind Muench and Follenius and how the utopian project has continued in Missouri, albeit in a different form.

The film is a journey into the motives and the highs and lows of a bold vision in the fight for personal freedom and the freedom of others. And so naturally the question arises: “What about me?”

director: Peter Roloff
genre: documentary
duration: 90 min.
format: HD


original title Aufbruch in die Utopie
year 2014

with Bob Brail, Ludwig Brake, Cindy Browne, Doris Eschbach, André Feldhaus, Ralph Gregory, Dorris Keeven-Franke, Will McHugh, Carol Muench, Matthias Nistal, Gerd Petermann, Penny Pitman, Lois Puchta, Chick Ruether, Thomas Schill, Rolf Schmidt, Gunter Schröder, among others

writer | director | photograper
Peter Roloff
editor Manfred Hielscher
music André Feldhaus
sound mix Oliver Sroweleit
still photography Folker Winkelmann
location manager Germany Oliver Behnecke
location manager USA Dorris Keeven-Franke
2nd camera Manfred Hielscher | Monika Kiesewetter | Thomas Kutschker | Reinhard Lorenz
script consultant Henry Schneider
mixing studio Studio Nord Bremen
translations Babelfisch Translations
artwork tho Aspern . design
in collaboration with Traveling Summer Republic
producer Peter Roloff
funded by nordmedia – Film- und Mediengesellschaft Lower Saxony/Bremen
production maxim film

Film on Facebook

The traveling exhibition “Utopia – Revisiting a German State in America” was on display in Bremen, Giessen, Washington DC and St. Louis, Missouri from 2013 to 2015.

The accompanying book Utopia, published by Edition Falkenberg, is available in the US at the University of Chicago Press and on ISBN No. 978-3-95494-595-5

A free educational syllabus in English and German and information about exhibit and events are available here:

Screening and talk with the director
February 23, 2016 – 7 pm

Berlin premiere
fsk Kino
November 1, 2015

Villa Utopia”
Bad Laasphe, Hesse, Germany
Opening September 26, 2015
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German premiere
Kinocenter Giessen
June 17, 2015

World premiere
St. Louis International Film Festival
November 23, 2014

Double DVD “Utopia” available in the US:
Deutschheim State Historic Site, Hermann, Missouri


1st DVD – 90 min. Utopia documentary

2nd DVD – Research – 6 bonus videos:
Hesse – Securing of Evidence (12 min.)
Dutzow, Germany (16 min.) (German only)
Bremen – City of Emigrants (12 min.)
Investigating ancestry (18 min.)
VideoBook Ralph Gregory (55 min.)
Rare Book Room, Washington, MO (12 min.)

A Double-DVD in German language is available at Amazon Germany.