Looking back in historical perspective 1956 was one of these turning point years in history, when things accelerate, when a lot of related and unrelated events with lasting consequences happen. It was the first such year after WWII, the year of the Khrushchev report that started the de-stalinization process in the Soviet Union, the year of the Hungarian anti-communist revolt in Hungary crushed by the same Soviet Union, the year of the Suez war. While less spectacular things happened in occupied Berlin and Germany, 1956 was a typical year in the middle of the decade that saw Germany recovering from an economic point, while part of its population tried to put the past behind them. Forgetting the past would not work, we know it know, and Germany really recovered only after assuming its past morally and historically, but this was a process that last many years. 1956 was somehow in the middle, and the transition to peace and prosperity was felt and lived differently by different categories of people, by those who were to young to remember, by those who wanted the past forgotten, and by those who could not forget – the survivors of the camps, the former prisoners. Add to all these the occupation and division of Germany and of the city of Berlin (not completed at that time, the Berlin wall was built only in 1961) and the clash of cultures initiated by the beat and rock generation which took specific aspects in Germany. It was a complex landscape, which forms the background for the TV mini-series Ku’damm 56 which was screened on the French version of ARTE TV as ‘Berlin 56′.
The Kurfürstendamm or Ku’damm as Berliners and especially visitors call it, the main commercial street of West Berlin, hosts in the movie the school of dance of Caterina Schöllack (Claudia Michelsen) whose husband did not return from the war, leaving her with the task of raising her three daughters. From many respects she is a symbol of the old Germany, doing her best to survive and adapt, to forget the past and build the future of her daughters the way she believes is best – marrying them well as good German wives into rich families, or at least with solid honorable husbands. This seems to work with the two elder daughters, but not with Monika, the younger one (Sonja Gerhardt) who is different from her sisters from all points of view – a mix of rebel and non-adapted character, with one big passion – dancing. She actually has inherited this skill from her mother, but the tastes are different in a world where jazz and ‘decadent’ rock’n'roll become in Germany as all over the world a symbol of generations clash. The story describes well the evolution of the four women, their relationships, their rebellion and compromises on the social and political background of a country where ruins were not completely cleaned up and wounds of the recent past were still bleeding for many.
Quite different, and actually the opposite of the situation in many scripts of the big or TV screens, while the four women profiles are well built and developed, some of the men characters are reduced to stereotypes. When they are not schematic their evolution is problematic – like the character of Joachim Franck and the troubled relationship to Monika, which starts with a rape to become almost a failed love story. It also seemed to me that the East Berlin scenes lacked a more serious perspective of the differences between the two parts of the Germany. There is a lot of dance and music and the differences in style between the different genres occupy an important role in the series, these could be the subject of another film, or maybe of the continuation of the series, as 1956 is also the point in history when Berlin starts recovering its between-wars shining as a multi-cultural center. As the ending shows Monika walking a Ku’dam that looks like a Dorothy from Oz path to new horizons, the continuation of the series may be in preparation. I am looking forward to it.
I have discovered Otto Dix a few years ago in Dresden. I knew almost nothing about him, and when I say his extraordinary anti-war triptych at the Dresden Art Museum I was immediately stricken by the force of the expression and complexity of the composition. Dix was certainly an exponent of his times, his best years of creativity were the years of the Weimar Republic, and his work is as much an expression of the hope, the fears and the contrast of these times as the one of contemporaries Lang or Remarque. He started ny being influenced bu Nietzsche, then the first world war experience marked his life, played with Dada and participated in their first shows, to join the ‘New Objectivity’ group which was trying to take the artistic style beyond Expressionism, while sharing many of the themes.
Neue Galerie Entrance
Since discovering Otto Dix in Dresden I sought more information and found out that he is little known out of Germany, and no major books or albums can be found. One of my queries was made two and a half years ago in the Neue Galerie which is located on the 5th Avenue, on the Museum Mile, just one block uptown and vis-a-vis from the Met. It’s half a museum, half a gallery, and the best place place to meet German and Austrian artists in Manhattan (they were having a haunting exhibition of Alfred Kuhn at that time). The bookshop vendor told me ‘no – unfortunately we have no books about Dix, but you know, by spring 2010 we shall be having an important retrospective of him, the first big exhibition of his works in North America’. Lucky me, the IESG meeting this week was hold in New York, and I had the opportunity to see it.
from The War cycle - source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Dix
The exhibition covers the two most prolific decades of his creation – the 20s and the 30s. It starts at the second floor with the terrific cycle of 40 lithographs ‘The War’ which may be the strongest anti-war statement in the genre after Goya’s ‘Horrors of War’. In a way it exceeds Goya’s limits, as the degree of human insanity increased in the century since the Napoleonic wars until WWI. It is not that Otto Dix was necessarily a pacifist, but he lived through the war experience (where many of the sketches were made) and he had as he witnessed ‘to take these out of him’.
The Skat Players - http://www.ottodix.org/index/paintings
The ‘Skat Players’ dates from 1920 and belongs to the same thematic group. The view here is more sarcastic, as Dix depicts the war invalids, which together with the war widows forced into prostitution by the economic after-war hardships were the principal subjects of his works in the first years of the 20s.
Dr. Fritz Glazer's Portrait - source http://www.neuegalerie.org
The pressure released Dix established himself as one of the well known painters of the period, and changes tone going into portraits as principal genre without ever abandoning to mix the human and the social aspects when approaching his subjects. One of the striking portraits of the period is the one of one of his mentors and supporters, a Jewish lawyer named Glazer. The lawyer never liked the portrait because of the flagrant Jewish traits but Dix meant it actually this way, and the projection of the character on the desolate urban landscape gives it the feeling of anguish and premonition. Although not Jewish, Dix hated anti-Semitism and fought it most of his life, as some of his later works will show.
The Dancer - exhibition poster
Another famous portrait of the period is borrowed by the poster of the exhibition. ‘The Dancer’ represents Anita Berber, a well known figure of the boema of mid-20s Berlin, a beautiful woman often filmed, photographed and painted in nude. Dix who was a personal friend of Berber paints her dressed in a red dress, that just enhances her femininity.
Self Portrait with Naked Model - source http://www.tendreams.org/dix.htm
The contact with the decadent life of the artistic milieu of the time put Otto Dix in trouble with the censorship or even law authorities. In response he painted the ‘Self Portrait with Naked Model’ where he tries to describe the separation between art and life, between vice as a theme and the real personality of the artist. These are actually the years of greater success and stability in his life, the years his family life flourishes as he marries the ex-wife of a client and his three children are born.
The Seven Cardinal Sins - source http://www.mess.net/galleria/dix/
The coming to power of the Nazis ended the international career and the teaching life of Otto Dix. The author of such allegoric works as ‘The War’ and ‘Metropolis’ triptychs (not present in the exhibition) or of the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ which represents Hitler as a mask for Greed could not be liked by the National Socialist regime. A few of his works will be exposed in good company in the exhibition of ‘degenerated art’.
Vanitas - source http://www.tendreams.org/dix.htm
Yet, he decides not to leave Germany as most of his colleagues did. He moves to a small city to the South of Germany, and continues to paint, changing themes and style. He now focused on allegories and landscapes, many of them in the style of the old German Renaissance and baroque masters. While ‘Vanitas’ above is still modern in style and classical just in theme, the ‘Saint Christopher IV’ below could belong to a late Renaissance master.
St. Christopher IV - source http://www.mess.net/galleria/dix/
The theme of the Jewish persecution comes back even in these dark years. One splendid works in the exhibition which I could not find a reproduction for is painted in Flemish style and represents and old and ruined Jewish cemetery under a frozen sky – a somber statement about the fate that the Nazis reserved for the Jews of Germany and Europe.
Otto Dix outlived the war, despite being sent again to fight as a soldier in the final months of the war and being a prisoner for more than one year after the war. He was one of these artists who continued to travel and share time between East and West Germany until the late 60s. Yet, his major works are those created in the two decades presented in the current exhibition at the Neue Galerie, and I recommend it for a visit for anybody who lives in New York or close or happens to be in the city in the next couple of months. The Web site of the museum can be accessed at http://www.neuegalerie.org/
This will certainly not be the last and ultimate documentary made about the events that precluded and picked that night of November in 1989 when the infamous Wall of Berlin fell, signaling that the process of ending the Communist rule in Europe had reached the point of no return. It was screened by the European culture channel ARTE a few months ago at the anniversary of two decades from the events. The timing was good and the main chance and value of the film is that it caught alive many of the protagonists of the drama that took place in 1989 and received direct testimonies from some of the heads of the former regime like Egon Krenz, Hans Modrow, Gunther Schabowski. No doubt that future documentaries will use the footage and especially the interviews.
Erich Honeker - source: www.knowledgerush.com
Although the end of the drama is well known, it is still amazing to get back in time in the last year of the German Democratic Republic ruled by Communists, to see and hear about a regime unable to cope with the reality, unwilling to talk and hear with its own people, caught in its own web of lies and propaganda, paralyzed and incapable to act. The focus of the film is on the individuals and the state and party apparatus that was leading the DDR. While some of the politicians at the top had at least a partial understanding of the problems of the country, there never was a real move towards reform and the change came too late and was thought as being too small in order to be able to save the system.
Egon Krenz - source: http://archiv.ddr-im-www.de
Some of the external aspects of the situation are less dealt in the film. While the relationship with the Soviet Union and the role of Mikhail Gorbachev is widely described, little is being said about the role played by Ronald Reagan’s United States or Kohl’s West Germany. The popular movement that started in the summer with the massive flux of refugees crossing the borders open in Hungary increased in intensity with the workers movements that shadowed the operatic festivities put together by Honecker at the 40th anniversary of the DDR, and culminated with the night of the fall of the wall and opening of free circulation in Berlin.
Checkpoint Charlie the night the wall fell - source: Bundesarchiv
The documentary is well made, but relies too much on the interviews, and film footage leaving an impression of monotony. These were great events in the history of Germany and Europe, and more emotion would not have been out of place. The rare moments that break the routine are the ones when the human dimension of the principal players of the drama is caught on screen, The policeman who arrested Honecker tells the story of the omnipotent leader of yesterday reduced to his feeble human dimension. And then the final image on which the credits are run showing Egon Krenz, the last leader of the party and of the politburo standing in the plaza in the center of East Berlin while bulldozers tear down the monstrous building of the Palace of the Republic, the ugly architectural symbol of the deceased East Germany.
The full title in German of the film is ‘Das weisse Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte’ – ‘The White Ribbon – A German Children Story’ which could translate as ‘story for children’ or ‘story about children’. A story for children it certainly is not – Michael Haneke is the author of some of the most disturbing movies I have ever seen, and if there is some sense in age rating of movies, I would avoid showing his films to children under a certain age to protect them emotionally. It is a story about children, and the film can certainly be categorized in the genre of these horror stories where the Devil seems to be incarnated by innocence, and for sure a good one in the genre. Haneke knows how to create and maintain tension, how to film the real while suggesting the missing, how to pass the anxiety beyond the polish of civility. But the film tries to be much more.
The White Ribbon / Das Weisse Band
We are actually warned from start what the film is about. The story happens in the year prior to the first world war, in a rural area of Germany, where the social and moral system in place for centuries seems to have little chances to change. Peasants work the Baron’s fields and gardens, the priest and the Church defend the existing order and the morals, teacher and priests are not more than associates of the existing order. And yet strange things start to happen, some get obvious explanations in the human conflicts, other remain unsolved – accidents, deaths, violent deeds. As the story is told by the teacher of the village many years after the events we know exactly the location in time of the events, and we know that the storms of history will blow up the whole system and apparent tranquility of life soon. However, before war starts the life fabric seems to deteriorate from inside, the whole society and its institutions – church, medical practice, family fife – are deeply sick.
The thesis of Michael Haneke is not far from the one of the American author Norman Mailer in his book ‘The Castle in the Forest’ (I wrote about it in Romanian at http://updateslive.blogspot.com/2007/12/castle-in-forest-de-norman-mailer.html). As Mailer goes back into the ascendancy of Adolf Hitler trying to discover the roots of evil in his family life and sins of his ancestors, Haneke takes a more general approach and tries to discover the roots of Nazism in the internal conflicts, the puritanism, the unspoken dark secrets of the family life of a constrained society. Obsession with order and discipline, education by punishment and guilt, tight guarding of the appearances of morality without deeds being true to principles do not necessarily lead to the order and quietness that is aimed, but long term can generate quite in the contrary. In a society where speaking the truth and revealing the evil at small scale are less important than keeping appearances of social order the freedom is in danger the evil can develop at bigger scale.
All this is spoken in few words by the off-screen commentary of the village teacher who tells the story, but is not explicit in the cinema language of the film. The impact of the film would not have been that deep without the master cinematographic treatment that Haneke applies to the story. First the black and white image fits perfect the world that is being described, and not only because its a world still lit by gas lamps, but also because the lack of colors reminds the classic German expressionist films that caught in the epoch contemporary or soon after the action of the film takes place the same type of angst. Then the acting is simply amazing. Many of the important characters in the film are kids or teenagers, and Haneke had to do a rigorous selection to select his best actors. he succeeded at utmost, I have seldom seen such a range of kids characters, each of them different, human, true. They seem to belong to their time, and to live through the painful coming of age, which is their growth into maturity in a world which becomes ugly.The tension between the not so innocent childhood they are going through and the adult world that tries to educate them by oppressing their feelings, punishing and inflicting them a permanent state of guilt is well acted and described beyond words.
Haneke avoids to make a harsh judgment. The whole fabric of human relations is not dark, we do have a love story between the teacher and nanny and we do have the innocent gesture of a kid trying to provide consolation to his father by making him a present that is the most important thing in his universe, which say that even in the darkest times and circumstances there is still hope that a flame of humanity is kept alive. He does not completely solve the mystery of everything that has happened on screen. As in real life some facts remained unexplained, and judgments, even historical judgments need not be fully radical, and and good that such it is.
More details and comments can be found at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1149362/. The film took the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year and is a candidate for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar this year, with good chances to win the prize.
The New Year broadcast of ARTE brought to my attention the cabaret music of Max Raabe.
Born in 1962 Raabe leads Palast Orchestra – a band continuing the tradition of German cabaret music in the 1920s and 1930s. The above video is made at the Carnegie Hall concert which is also presented in the documentary film of ARTE.
Raabe has a great scene presence, voice and humor. His repertoire covers not only German music but also many of the vocal standards of the pre-war songsbook.
Berlin in the 20s was a fascinating place – great art and entertainment was created at that time under the gathering clouds. Raabe renews some of that tradition in music, and continues it in the 21st century.
Intr-o discutie pe una dintre listele internetice verisoare a venit vorba despre Wannsee. Colegi de pe acea lista au vazut un film, cred ca o docudrama despre conferinta tinuta la 20 ianuarie 1942 in care a fost pecetluita soarta evreilor din Europa. Nu am vazut filmul (inca) dar am fost la Wannsee in 2007 si pot adauga cateva fotografii de la fata locului la aceasta dezbatere. Multumiri Marianei Smilovici, o parte dintre fotografii ii apartin – pe vremea aceea ea fotografia mai mult decat mine.
Wannsee este o suburbie a Berlinului pe malul lacului cu acest nume, un fel de Snagov situat la o distanta comparabila cu locul de agrement al bucurestenilor de capitala. Peisajul este idilic.
56–58 Am Grossen Wannsee
Conferinta a avut loc intr-o vila situata pe malul lacului la 56–58 Am Grossen Wannsee, construita in 1914 si cumparata de SS in 1940.
Wannsee - in muzeu
Dupa razboi locul a devenit muzeu, in mare parte datorita eforturilor istoricului Joseph Wulf, el insusi supravietuitor al Holocaustului.
Wulf nu a apucat insa sa vada locul transformat in muzeul si memorialul care este astazi. S-a sinucis in 1974 impartasind soarta multor alti supravietuitori care nu au fost capabili sa duca povara ororii, si dezamagit de taraganarea deschiderii muzeului. Abia in 1992 muzeul si centrul de documentare au fost deschise publicului.
Conferinta de la Wannsee a fost pregatita cu meticulozitate in lunile care au precedat-o.
Printre particpantii la conferinta s-au aflat Reinhard Heydrich caruia avea sa i se incredinteze misiunea de a rezolva ‘problema evreiasca’ conform planurilor si deciziilor conferintei, si Adolph Eichman.
Cu meticulozitatea si ordinea specific germane au fost inregistrate dezbaterile si hotaririle conferintei. Secretarul conferintei si raspunzator cu protocolul care a pecetluit deciziile a fost Eichman.
who is a Jew - varianta Nurnberg
Criteriul dupa care a fost stabilita evreitatea celor care aveau sa devina victimele solutiei finale au fost legile rasiale promulgate la Nurnberg in 1938 si aplicate initial in Germania.
Statisticile pe care le-au avut la dispozitie planificatorii Holocaustului includeau populatia evreiasca din toate tarile Europei, URSS, nordului Africii si Orientului Mijlociu. Erau impartite in doua categorii: A – tari aflate deja sub ocupatie germana, B – tari neutre sau aflate in conflict cu Germania. In total aproximativ 11 milioane de evrei. Au reusit sa ucida ‘doar’ 6 milioane.