Yes, this is a street movie, filled with young boys and girls, peddlers and pimps, thieves and gang-members; yet their various encounters with the young boy are not accidental, but representative of the fragility of post-War German culture, if you can even define the free-for-all struggle for survival in the bomb-pocked landscape as representing any culture at all.
So it is up to Edmund to forage for a few potatoes, a couple cans of processed meat, and whatever else he might get for selling a neighbor’s scale or a former teacher’s record of an Adolph Hitler speech—played loudly on a record player to the very citizens who have been destroyed by its propaganda—to British or American soldiers.
If Henning cannot get into his shorts, he does get into Edmund’s head, with his message of the survival of the fittest; in a world which is literally playing out this concept, is it any wonder that Edmund determines to act, stealing a bottle of poison and offering it up to his dying father with his tea. In doing this, of course, Edmund, himself, stands in for the millions of regular German citizens who willingly went along with Nazi dogma; yet Rossellini is perhaps also suggesting that it is necessary that the young should quickly do away with the old if a new Germany is to survive. In the war-torn Berlin of this film there is no room for niceties, and Edmund’s schoolteacher’s lessons have relevance for such an exhausted child.