Physical Dramaturgy: Ein (neuer) Trend?

Dramaturgie im zeitgenössischen Tanz ist ? positiv gemeint ? ein heißes Eisen. Idealerweise sind Dramaturginnen und Dramaturgen während der Erarbeitung eines Stücks die besten Freunde der Choreografen. more more



Schröder's brilliant decisions

Writer Georg M. Oswald takes a critical look at "Decisions", the memoirs of former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder

What would happen if everyone writing their memoirs had to have their memories, their assessment of things, of themselves and their life's work evaluated against all the autobiographies that had ever been written? What would happen, for example, if before he started hitting the keys, a politician, a former chancellor perhaps, was forced to stand before the bookshelf and spend at least an evening or two having a long hard think about what the European culture he had represented, defended and absorbed so deeply had already produced in this particular area.

Perhaps he might stumble across Rousseau's "Confessions" where on the very first of almost a thousand pages the boldness, even presumptuousness of the formulation of his intent sends a shiver down your spine. "Here is what I have done, what I have thought, what I was. I have told the good and bad with equal frankness. ... I have shown myself as I was, contemptible and vile when that is how I was, good, generous, sublime, when that is how I was." Is this not the very purpose of such an enterprise? Indeed it is. Rousseau was not a man who held himself in modest esteem. At another point on page one he writes, "I am not made like any that I have seen; I venture to believe that I was not made like any that exist." Gerhard Schröder also has no modest opinion of himself – unfortunately though he is made like plenty of others who overestimate themselves. His book reads as follows: "With all the self-awareness I have at my disposal and which is based on my achievements, I have never ceased to wonder at my own abilities."

And just in case you were wondering too, never once in this book does Schröder presents himself as contemptible or disreputable. Every one of his decisions was right, every one of his proposals, crowned with success. There are no blunders to speak of. If anything did go wrong, it was the fault of others, whose weaknesses he is magnanimously prepared to overlook, as long as confessions were made. Of course other people have different opinions, one is a democrat after all, but these opinions are "absurd", "distorted" "unrealistic" by turns and if he feels himself being backed into a corner, then an "I'm certain of it" or an "I am utterly convinced" always comes in useful for silencing persistent doubters.

It would be exaggerated to talk about Schröder's language, so we'll stick to his choice of words. Adjectives such as "major", "important" and "significant" are on double shifts. This is quite normal for a politician. As is a predilection for euphemism. But over the course of 515 pages this is a tough test of patience for any reader. The talk is of "distant Chernobyl", for example, at precisely the moment when it becomes clear that Chernobyl is anything but distant.

When he worries about the "young" soldiers (what about the older ones?), whom he packs off to war (not referred to as such of course), he does not send them to their deaths, but "into an uncertain future" which, one ventures to add, might be over only too quickly if, in Kabul for example, they happen to be sitting in the wrong truck. Human lives, when the talk turns to victims who make "action" (i.e. war) necessary, are "innocent" as a matter of principle as if there were such thing as "guilty" lives rather than plain old guilt. Excursions into the world of literature are largely unrecognised as such and go radically pear-shaped every time.

The terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 was not aimed only at the World Trade Center but at "what holds our world together at the core." If we remember, Faust tried in vain to make a pact with the devil to find out exactly what this might be, but he never finds out. Schröder however seems to know it only too well. Faust's problem "That I no more with sweat-drops sour / To say what I know nothing of, may need" is not his. So why quote him?

Another example: "I remember times when I would awake with a start from a sleep plagued by anxious dreams" - to discover that he'd turned into an insect? Hardly. Despite having the same initials Gerhard Schröder is no Gregor Samsa and "Metamorphosis" wouldn't have crossed his mind when he penned these words, but he certainly wanted to lend them some sort of literary overtone.

Okay, so Schröder wasn't out to prove his literary prowess, and he certainly didn't take up the "vast challenge" of writing this book because his publisher offered him near on a million euros to do so: it was "to review things". The reviewing takes place over ten chapters. Number one deals with his childhood. Which he spent in Bexten. Conditions were poor, means scarce but even then the ball was round and the determination huge. "Acker" (slogger) was Schröder's nickname as centre forward for the local Talle sports club. When the Germans win the football World Championship in 1954, Schröder is ten, and he watches the final against Hungary on the telly.

"I can list all the names of the German World Championship team of '54 off the top of my head. Perhaps not every day, but whenever I needed to feel my feet on the ground, images from those days would regularly pop up in my mind. Many a political summit, many a banquet, which as chancellor I couldn't avoid, lost its obviously overblown significance."

At the premiere of national film director Sönke Wortmann's film "The miracle of Bern" in 2004, the chancellor, as he "admitted" in an interview afterwards, shed many a tear. This story which the media hungrily devoured was clearly quite free of obviously overblown significance. Because Schröder is himself a hero of Bern, at least in spirit, or rather a hero of Bexten, which is basically the same thing.

Chapter one ends with Schröder's time as premier of Lower Saxony. He takes us on a romp through his most important political successes before tucking into the real meat. Chapters two to ten deal with the chancellorship. The themes are forced labour compensation, the Kosovo conflict, the Alliance for Jobs, the power struggle with Oskar Lafontaine, cabinet reshuffling, the China trip, 9/11, Enduring Freedom, his vote of confidence, the Iraq war, the French-Russian-German alliance, a spot of domestic policy (BSE, floods etc.) re-election in 2002, Europe as world power, Agenda 1010, Putin's Russia and the 2005 elections.

Unfortunately there's nothing here that the average newspaper reader won't already have come across in those seven years, even less perhaps. The at once astounding and exquisitely comforting piece of news that Schröder has to share is that during his entire time in office not a single mistake was made, at least not by him, or at least all challenges were tackled in the best possible way, which is why the SPD is still active in government in a third legislative period, which "fills" Schröder whom the SPD naturally has to thank for all this "with satisfaction".

Of course there were some real problems, such as the war in Kosovo. "We had to fulfil our obligations to NATO. There was no ducking out." Room for manoeuvre: none. Oh yes, and we thought it would be contradictory to be elected by the former followers of the former peace movement of the eighties, and then run off to bomb Belgrade. Then with Afghanistan, a couple of Red-Green do-gooders immediately started kicking up a fuss in the Bundestag and refused to understand that there was no going back. The allegiance to NATO left no room for manoeuvre. Chancellor Schröder called for a confidence vote and because no one was that keen to surrender the so-called responsibility of government so quickly after all, everyone voted in favour of joining Enduring Freedom. Now that's convincing decision making!

The media soon adjusted to the new circumstances. But just when they thought things were starting up again, this time in Iraq, Chancellor Schröder pulled the rug out from under them. "I have ensured that Germany will not take part in the Iraq War. But of course it will fulfil its duties to the NATO Alliance."

Aha. And we thought it was a contradiction to fly "No War" banners out the window and at the same time guarantee fly-over rights, take-off and landing rights and security services. But things are not as simple as all that. We did not take part in the Iraq War because there was no UN mandate to do so. But we did provide the USA with logistical support and the help of "our services," as Schröder discretely calls the Federal Intelligence Services. Of course Schröder doesn't mention that "our services" by the looks of things also had a hand in the torturing. But even the least insightful will by now have understood why that was necessary. And why was that exactly? You've got it, Our allegiance to NATO. Selling German voters this squaring of the circle as opposition to the war has to be seen as Schröder's major political deed, one that won him a hard-earned re-election victory in 2002.

Once, one single time, something appears in his memoirs which at first glance might be taken for an unconscious early stage of self-criticism. But this turns out to be an optical illusion. "Despite the rational necessity and the conviction that we were doing the right thing, collectively and individually we all had moments nagging doubt. It was clear to me that fulfilling our obligations to NATO would be the acid test for the SPD – Green Party coalition's ability to govern. Nevertheless we managed to reach agreement through on-going talks, in which of course Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping also had a part. In public discussion about this time of change in German foreign policy, Scharping played an important role, one that cannot be valued too highly."

That's true. We remember how after he got over his nagging doubt, Scharping splashed around in the pool with countess Pilati in a way that cannot be valued too highly, of course not without previously calling up a photographer from Bunte magazine.

And otherwise? Vladimir Putin? A flawless democrat. Thank God for that, we were under the impression he was conducting a war of extermination against the Chechens, and possibly shares political responsibility for hired killings such as that of the critical journalist Anna Politkovskaya. But things just look that way for us ignoramuses. The book tells us nothing about Schröder's involvement in the Russian gas industry, nothing about the role played by the Federal Intelligence Services in the "war against terror" under his government, and nothing about whether he now assesses political events differently than in the past. To his critics he says: "Unfortunately there is no protective clothing against short-sightedness and stupidity." And we shouldn't, he goes on, dare to disagree.

Schröder says that "Bundeskanzler" (Chancellor) is the appropriate title for addressing him, now as in the past. So what if he still thinks that's what he is; other people think they're Napoleon. And he tells us that when "Decisions" is made into a movie – which will certainly happen very soon - he would prefer to be portrayed on the silver screen by Götz George. Instantly this actor's sterling performance as Hermann Willie in Helmut Dietl's movie "Schtonk!" springs to mind. Perhaps he's still got the costume and accessories. But who will play Scharping and Lafontaine? The best would be for them to play themselves. Any character actor would despair at being offered roles like that.

In closing, one could ask what sense it could have to buy such a book aside from making Mr Schröder a bit richer and oneself a bit dumber. Well, let's be honest: none at all! It's reading fodder for the herd. Onward and upward: the quicker we can forget it, the better!

Gerhard Schröder's memoirs "Entscheidungen" are published by Hoffmann and Campe.


The article originally appeared in German in Die Welt on October 28, 2006.

Georg M. Oswald is a labour lawyer and author. His most recent novel "Im Himmel" is published by Rowohlt.

Translation: lp, jab.

Get the signandsight newsletter for regular updates on feature articles. - let's talk european.

More articles

No one is indestructible

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

TeaserPicA precision engineer of the emotions, Peter Nadas traces the European upheavals of the past century in his colossal and epic novel "Parallel Stories", which was published in English in December. The core and epicentre of the novel is the body, which bears the marks of history and trauma. In his seemingly chaotic intertwining of lives and stories, Nadas penetrates the depths of the human animal with unique insight. A review by Joachim Sartorius
read more

Road tripping across the ideological divide

Wednesday 1 February, 2012

TeaserPicThe USA and the USSR should not simply be thought of as arch enemies of the Cold War. Beyond ideology, the two nations were deeply interested in one another. Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov were thrilled by the American Way of Life in 1935/6, John Steinbeck and Robert Capa praised the sheer vitality of the Russian people in 1947. Historian Karl Schlögel reviews a perfect pair of travel journals. Photo by Ilf and Petrov.
read more

Language without a childhood

Monday 23 January 2012

TeaserPicTurkish-born author, actor and director Emine Sevgi Özdamar was recently awarded the Alice Salomon Prize for Poetics. Coming to West Berlin in 1965, Özdamar first learned German at the age of 19. After stage school she went on to become the directorial assistant to Benno Besson and Matthias Langhoff at the Volksbühne in East Berlin while still living in West Berlin. Harald Jähner warmly lauds the author's uniquely visual sense of her acquired language and her ability to overcome the seemingly insurmountable dividing line through the city.
read more

Friendship in the time of terror

Monday 9 January 2012

Nadezhda Mandelstam's personal memories of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, her intimate friend, offer a unique and moving testimony to friendship and resistance over decades of persecution. Published only after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, the text is still unavailable in English but has recently been translated into German. A unique historical document, celebrating an intellectual icon in an age of horror. Portrait of Akhmatova by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin.
read more

Just one drop of forgetfulness

Thursday 8 December, 2011

TeaserPicThis year is the 200th anniversary of the death of German writer Heinrich von Kleist. The author Gertrud Leutenegger has a very Kleistian afternoon on Elba, when she encounters the Marquise von O in the waiting room of a very strange eye doctor.
read more

German Book Prize 2011 - the short list

Tuesday 4 October, 2011

TeaserPicEugen Ruge has won the German Book Prize with his novel "In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts" (In times of fading light), an autobiographical story of an East German family. The award is presented to the best German-language novel just before the start of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Here we present this year's six shortlisted authors and exclusive English translations of excerpts from their novels.

read more

Torment and blessing

Wednesday 28 September, 2011

Chinese dissident Liao Yiwu escaped into exile in Germany in July this year. His new book about his life in Chongqing prison has just been published in German as "Für Ein Lied und Hundert Lieder". Both book and author have a life-threatening odyssey behind them. I am overjoyed that Liao Yiwu is here with us and not at home in prison. By Herta Müller
read more

In the vortex of congealed time

Monday 12 September, 2011

No other European city suffered more in World War II than Leningrad under siege, when over a million people lost their lives. Russian literature delivers a rich testimony of the events which have been all but forgotten by the West. Only a few works, though, also do the disaster aesthetic justice. By Oleg Yuriev
read more

My unrelenting vice

Tuesday 6 September 2011

In this apology for the vice of reading, Bora Cosic describes the magnificent and fantastic discoveries of one of its practitioners – revealing how texts contain what we bring to them, how we sometimes read without reading and how books are not only found in books but many other places. 
read more

Potential market, no buyers

Monday 4 July, 2011

The most successful Croatian book of 2008 sold exactly 1,904 copies. Not what one could really call a market, although together the successor republics represent a single language community. A look at the situation of publishers and authors in the former Yugoslavia. By Norbert Mappes-Niediek.
read more

Head versus hand

Monday 27 June, 2011

TeaserPicThis year's German International Literature Award goes to "Venushaar", a Russian novel that starts out as a dialogue between an asylum seeker and an immigration officer, and opens into a vast choir of voices. A conversation with its author Mikhail Shishkin, a literary giant in his own country, and his German translator Andreas Tretner. By Ekkehard Knörer. (Image: Mikhail Shishkin © Yvonne Böhler)
read more

Cry for life

Monday 20 May, 2011

Algeria's youth: Frustrated, isolated and in the stranglehold of clandestine political structures. Young Algerians are rebelling against being locked in traditional political and social structures, but have no chance of a national uprising like that in Tunisia, says Algerian author Boualem Sansal. An interview with Reiner Wandler.
read more

Witness to intellectual suicide

Tuesday 3 May, 2011

TeaserPicOn what would have been Romanian philosopher E.M. Cioran's 100th birthday, Suhrkamp has published a volume of his essays from the 1930s, "Über Deutschland". Effervescing with enthusiasm for Hitler and fascist ideas, they cast a dark shadow over his later writing. Fritz Raddatz wishes he'd never had to read such abominations and bids a former companion a bitter farewell. Photo: E.M. Cioran © Surhrkamp Verlag
read more

RIP Andre Müller

Wednesday 13 April, 2011

TeaserPicAndre Müller Germany's most insightful and most feared interviewer is dead. Elfriede Jelinek said of him in her obituary: "Andre Müller goes all the way into people and then he makes them into language, and only then do they become themselves." Read his interviews with Ingmar Bergman and Hitler's sculptor Arno Breker in English. Photo courtesy Bibliothek der Provinz
read more

A country on the edge of time

Monday 4 April, 2011

TeaserPicSerbia was the country in focus at this year's Leipzig Book Fair – its extensive literature seems to be bound up in the straitjacket of politics. Serbia is having a hard time with Europe, and Europe is having a hard time with Serbia. Although there are signs of a softening stance, the country is still locked up in the self-imposed nationalist isolation into which it manoeuvred itself as the aggressor in the Yugoslavian war of secession. A visit there inspires mixed feelings. By Jörg Plath
Photo: Sreten Ugricic
read more