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The entire film was shot on location in Germany to recreate the atmosphere of the 1930s.
Presumably he is a ww1 veteran and knows what germany is going to go through again. He was meant to represent those of the German citizenry who disapproved of the rise of the National Socialists and longed for the old days (just as Frau Schnieder had when she said, "I wish the Kaiser was back. In those days we had order"). It also provided a sad and chilling visual metaphor for the entire phenomenon: a lone old man, ignored amidst a sea of younger, enthusiastic supporters of the coming regime.
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