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06/11/2009

From the Feuilletons

From the Feuilletons is a weekly overview of what's been happening in the German-language cultural pages and appears every Friday at 3 pm. CET.. Here a key to the German newspapers.

Writing on the Wall

Neue Zürcher Zeitung
31.10.2009

The East German writer Volker Braun remembers the time, in the run-up to 1989, when writers played an important role in the GDR: "The relationship between literature and politics was a precarious one, particularly because literature was taken seriously, because new books were awaited anxiously and feared. Not since Horace and Ovid had literature so concerned or outraged those in power, or empowered the man in the street. People did not read the printed books, they read the banned books. Discussions and conspiracies alike all centred around the fundamental issue of how to define our role in society?" But then history turned 'on its heels' and Braun was forced to face the fact that "it was our own movement only for a moment. The GDR disappeared just as it was starting to get interesting and our readers and audiences became speakers and actors themselves."


Frankfurter Rundschau 03.11.2009

Cultural studies academic Olaf Briese talks, in an interview to Andreja Andrisevic, about the aesthetics of the Wall which, in the West, was seen as a symbol of power and death and in East, was hidden away in embarrassment: "White, smooth, grouted. The concrete aesthetic. Unlike the early wall which was a wobbly, cobbled-together affair, this was industrially constructed, from vertical concrete slabs. Their compulsive orderliness gave them an air of geometry, seriality. I call this the aesthetic of standardisation and objectivity. No-frills construction, very much in the spirit of modern architecture. The Bauhaus aesthetic you might say."


Frankfurter Rundschau 04.11.2009

The East German writer Reinhard Jirgl does not mince his words when Nicole Henneberg asks his opinion on the fall of the Wall: "One thing we should clear up is that this was no revolution. The heroic rhetoric of those weeks was mixed, in typical GDR fashion, with Christian undertones. I found it utterly disgusting, that whiff of sacristy. People today are proud of the so-called 'peaceful revolution'. It's idiotic. There was no coup, no revolution, just a semi-hostile civil-service takeover of a concern called the GDR, which was economically, militarily and morally bankrupt. The Federal Republic of Germany, which was slightly more solvent in these areas, performed the takeover and changed itself in the process, as is the case with all factory takeovers."


Die Welt 05.11.2009

Gerhard Gnauck talks to the author Andrzej Stasiuk about the fall of the Wall, which (he was living in the depths of the Polish countryside at the time) was of no interest to him whatsoever. Today Stasiuk admits to having posthumous sympathies for the GDR – up to a point – he does accuse its people of not protesting since 1953. "Those in the Federal Republic seconded this silence to the letter. And both sides were keeping a timid ear out for any angry outbursts from the bear in the East towards those awful, idiotic Poles. It was not enough that the Poles were tormenting and torturing the bear, wearing him down psychologically – no, they also had to listen to the cowardly instructions from the West. So you could say that there is a certain amount of bad blood in Poland. We never came to terms with communism, we took to the barricades, spilled blood, created an underground state like during the Second World War, and in the end, the Germans won."


From the blogs 06.11.2009

Kultiversum trawled through the archives of Theaterheute magazine and fished out a conversation between Michael Merschmeier, the dramatist Heiner Müller, and two other key figures from the GDR theatre: Ulrich Mühe (the Stasi protagonist in the "Life of Others") and Hilmar Thate - just after it was announced that the now famous November 4th demonstration had been authorized. "Question: Do those in power still have control over how much they will have to yield in order not to lose everything, or is the opposition movement gaining such momentum that it can no longer be stopped?
Ulrich Mühe: They are only moving forward to avoid having to change the constitution.
Hilmar Thate: Things are not going to plan pretty chaotically.
Mühe: And they know that the only issue is the fundamental one of whether the GDR will exist in the future or not.
Müller: It would be boring if it no longer existed."


Other stories:

From the blogs 03.11.2009

In her acceptance speech for the Franz-Werfel human rights award, Herta Müller sharply criticised the German Evangelical Church for continuing peace talks with the Romanian regime after bowing to pressure to disinvite her and her husband, Richard Wagner, from attending the Church Congress back in 1989. In his Achse des Guten blog, Richard Wagner remembers: "The representative of the Geman Evangelical Church in Hermannstadt at the time, was the late Bishop Joachim Heubach von Schaumburg-Lippe. He was known to the public for his opposition to women priests and for his equally forthright denial of Ceausecu's destruction of the villages. It was official Romanian policy to deny the destruction of the villages. All this was reported at the time, but it has been buried now, and no one thinks about these things when the same people do the same things all over again. The communist sympathisers have given way to the Islam sympathisers. They, the sympathisers, deceive us with collective amnesia. It's as if Mephisto had become a democrat and God suddenly sympathised with him."


Süddeutsche Zeitung 05.11.2009

Catrin Lorch is relieved to see that the German artist (b.1926) Gustav Meyer is at last getting the credit he deserves, with a series of international exhibitions, one of them in London's Serpentine Gallery. "His sketches, models, designs and manifestos have come together to form an oeuvre which is not sparse and conceptual in its monumentality and unfailing radicality, but rich, vivid and beautiful. Like the project 'Stockholm June 1972' which, at least as a conceptual sketch, made it into the catalogue of Harald Szeeman's legendary Documenta in the same year. The idea was to back up 120 cars around a square plastic cube, which would gradually fill with exhaust fumes during the duration of the exhibition, until it became an opaque grey. The materials were collected together last year for the first time at the Sharja biennial, but phase two has yet to be realised ('The cars will be driven into the tent where they will explode.')


Die Tageszeitung 06.11.2009

Christian Semler and Stefan Reinicke talk to the Nazi historian Susanne Heim about the 9th November pogrom night of 1938. She has just published a book on the event, which largely draws on previously unpublished sources. She comments: "I know that an 850-page volume of documents is not going to be an airport bestseller. But if you look a little more closely, you see there is so much that we still don't know about this event. Take, for example, the question of how many Jews were killed in the November pogrom. The official figure is 91, but no one really knows. There are just so many unanswered questions."

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Saturday 11 - 17 December, 2010

A clutch of German newspapers launch an appeal against the criminalisation of Wikileaks. Vera Lengsfeld remembers GDR dissident Jürgen Fuchs and how he met death in his cell. All the papers were bowled over Xavier Beauvois' film "Of Gods and Men." The FR enjoys a joke but not a picnic at a staging of Stravinsky's "Rake's Progress" in Berlin. Gustav Seibt provides a lurid description of Napoleonic soap in the SZ. German-Turkish Dogan Akhanli author explains what it feels like to be Josef K.
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Saturday 4 - Friday 10 December

Colombian writer Hector Abad defends Nobel Prize laureate Mario Vargas Llosa against European Latin-America romantics. Wikileaks dissident Daniel Domscheit-Berg criticises the new publication policy of his former employer. The Sprengel Museum has put on a show of child nudes by die Brücke artists. The SZ takes a walk through the Internet woods with FAZ prophet of doom Frank Schirrmacher. The FAZ is troubled by Christian Thielemann's unstable tempo in the Beethoven cycle. And the FR meets China Free Press publisher, Bao Pu.
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Saturday 27 November - Friday 3 December

Danish author Frederik Stjernfelt explains how the Left got its culturist ideas. Slavenka Draculic writes about censoring Angelina Jolie who wanted to make a film in Bosnia. Daniel Cohn-Bendit talks   about his friendship, falling out and reconciliation with Jean-Luc Godard. Wikileaks has caused an embarrassed silence in the Arab world, where not even al-Jazeera reported on the what the sheiks really think. Alan Posener calls for the Hannah Arendt Institute in Dresden to be shut down.
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Saturday 20 - Friday 26 November, 2010

The theatre event of the week came in a twin pack: Roland Schimmelpfennig's new play, a post-colonial "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" opened at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin and the Thalia in Hamburg. The anarchist pamphlet "The Coming Insurrection" has at last been translated into German and has ignited the revolutionary sympathies of at least two leading German broadsheets, the FAZ and the SZ. But the taz, Germany's left-wing daily, says the pamphlet is strongly right-wing. What's left and right anyway? came the reply.
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Saturday 13 - Friday 19 November, 2010

Dieter Schlesak levels grave accusations against his former friend and colleague, Oskar Pastior, who spied on him for the Securitate. Banat-Swabian author and vice chairman of the Oskar Pastior Foundation, Ernest Wichner, turns on Schlesak for spreading malicious rumours. Die Zeit portrays the Berlin rapper Harris, and the moment he knew he was German. Dutch author Cees Nooteboom meditates on the near lust for physical torture in the paintings of Francisco de Zurburan. An exhibition in Mannheim displays the dream house photography of Julius Schulman.
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Saturday 6 - Friday 12 November, 2010

The NZZ asks why banks invest in art. The FAZ gawps at the unnatural stack of stomach muscles in Michelangelo's drawings. The taz witnesses a giant step for the "Yugo palaver". Bernard-Henri Levy describes Sakineh Ashtiani's impending execution as a test for Iran and the west. Journalist Michael Anti talks about the healthy relationship between the net and the Chinese media. Literary academic Helmut Lethen describes how Ernst Jünger stripped the worker of all organic substances.
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Saturday 30 October - Friday 5 November, 2010

Now that German TV has just beatified Pope Pius XII, Rolf Hochmuth tells die Welt where he got the idea for his play "The Deputy". The FR celebrates Elfriede Jelinek's "brilliantly malicious" farce about the collapse of the Cologne City Archive. "Carlos" director Olivier Assayas makes it clear that the revolutionary subject is a figment of the imagination. The SZ returns from the Shanghai Expo with a cloying after-taste of sweet 'n' sour. And historian Wang Hui tells the NZZ that China's intellectuals have plenty of freedom to pose critical questions.
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Saturday 23 - Friday 29 October, 2010

Author Doron Rabinovici protests against the concessions of moderate Austrian politicians to the FPÖ: recently in Vienna, children were sent back to Kosovo at gunpoint. Ian McEwan wonders why major German novelists didn't mention the Wall. The NZZ looks through the Priz Goncourt shortlist and finds plenty of writers with more bite than Houellebecq. The FAZ outs two of Germany's leading journalists who fiercely guarded the German Foreign Ministry's Nazi past. Jens-Martin Eriksen and Frederik Stjernfelt analyse the symptoms of culturalism, left and right. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht demonstratively yawns at German debate.
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Saturday 16 - Friday 22 October, 2010

A new book chronicles the revolt of revolting "third persons" at Suhrkamp publishers in the wild days of 1968. Necla Kelek is appalled by the speech of the very Christian Christian Wulff, the German president, in Turkey. The taz met a new faction of hardcore Palestinians who are fighting for separate sex hairdressing in Gaza. Sinologist Andreas Schlieker reports on the new Chinese willingness to restructure the heart. And the Cologne band Erdmöbel celebrate the famous halo around the frying pan.
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Saturday 9 - Friday 15 October, 2010

The FR laps up the muscular male bodies and bellies at the Michelangelo exhibition in the Viennese Albertina. The same paper is outraged by the cowardice of the Berlin exhibition "Hitler and the Germans". Mario Vargas-Llosa remembers a bad line from Sweden. Theologist Friedrich Wilhelm Graf makes it very clear that Western values are not Judaeo-Christian values. The Achse des Guten is annoyed by the attempts of the mainstream media to dismiss Mario Vargas-Llosa. The NZZ celebrates the tireless self-demolition of Polish writer and satirist Slawomir Mrozek.
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Saturday 2 - Friday 8 October, 2010

Nigerian writer Niyi Osundare explains why his country has become uninhabitable. German Book Prize winner Melinda Nadj Abonji says Switzerland only pretends to be liberal. German author Monika Maron is not sure that Islam really does belong to Germany. Russian writer Oleg Yuriev explains the disastrous effects of postmodernism on the Petersburg Hermitage. Argentinian author Martin Caparros describes how the Kirchners have co-opted the country's revolutionary history. And publisher Damian Tabarovsky explains why 2001 was such an explosively creative year for Argentina.
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Saturday 25 September - Friday 1 October

Three East German theatre directors talk about the trauma of reunification. In the FAZ, Thilo Sarrazin denies accusations that his book propagates eugenics: "I am interested in the interplay of nature and nurture." Polemics are being drowned out by blaring lullabies, author Thea Dorn despairs. Author Iris Radisch is dismayed by the state of the German novel - too much idle chatter, not enough literary clout. Der Spiegel posts its interview with the German WikiLeaks spokesman, Daniel Schmitt. And Vaclav Havel's appeal to award the Nobel prize to Liu Xiabobo has the Chinese authorities pulling out their hair.
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Saturday 18 - Friday 24 September, 2010

Herta Müller's response to the news that poet Oskar Pastior was a Securitate informant was one of overwhelming grief: "When he returned home from the gulag he was everybody's game." Theatre director Luk Perceval talks about the veiled depression in his theatre. Cartoonist Molly Norris has disappeared after receiving death threats for her "Everybody Draw Mohammed" campaign. The Berliner Zeitung approves of the mellowing in Pierre Boulez' music. And Chinese writer Liao Yiwu, allowed to leave China for the first time, explains why schnapps is his most important writing tool.
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Saturday 10 - Friday 17 September, 2010

The poet Oskar Pastior was a Securitate informant, the historian Stefan Sienerth has discovered. Biologist Veronika Lipphardt dismisses Thilo Sarrazin's incendiary intelligence theories as a load of codswallop. A number of prominent Muslim intellectuals in Germany have written an open letter to President Christian Wulff, calling for him to "make a stand for a democratic culture based on mutual respect." And a Shell study has revealed that Germany's youth aspire to be just like their parents.
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Saturday 4 - Friday 10 September, 2010

Thilo Sarrazin has buckled under the stress of the past two weeks and resigned from the board of the Central Bank. His book, "Germany is abolishing itself", however, continues to keep Germany locked in a debate about education and immigration and intelligence. Also this week, Mohammed cartoonist Kurt Westergaard has been awarded the M100 prize for defending freedom of opinion. Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a speech at the award ceremony: "The secret of freedom is courage". The FAZ interviewed Westergaard, who expressed his disappointment that the only people who had shown him no support were those of his own class.
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