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19/09/2005

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.

Monday 19 September, 2005

First reactions on yesterday's federal elections...


The results of yesterday's federal elections were far closer than anticipated. The strongest party was the CDU/CSU, with 35.2 percent, the second was the SPD with 34.3 percent. But this is widely seen as a personal defeat for CDU chancellor candidate Angela Merkel, who looked set for an absolute majority just a few months ago. Both Merkel and incumbent SPD chancellor Gerhard Schröder are claiming the chancellorship for themselves, as the jostling to form coalitions begins. Possible coalition partners are the liberal business-oriented FDP (9.8 percent), the left-leaning Linkspartei (8.7 percent) and the Green Party (8.1 percent).

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes: "All that Schröder has really shown with his astonishing come-back prior to the election is that he is the best man to whip up enthusiasm for the SPD since August Bebel, who led the party in the late 19th century. His talent as political communicator, populariser and actor is compelling, even fascinating. But unfortunately as chancellor he was, and is, miscast."

Bettina Gaus writes in a commentary in die tageszeitung that Angela Merkel is a wash-up as a politician, and not as an East-German woman. "The chancellor candidate aroused the impression that she wanted to bring about political change. Away from the traditional Rhine Capitalism of the Federal Republic, towards the minimal 'night watchman state' and the privatisation of the major social risks. What she didn't see was: Rhine Capitalism is not a socialist invention. Apparently there is a social consensus that does not want to see the existing 'right of the stronger' to be given ideological underpinning."

Writing in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Heribert Prantl is delighted that all at once many things are possible and nothing is out of the question. "This election result, which opens up the way for so many venturous, even foolhardy coalition options is a first in the history of the Federal Republic. It is not an alarming situation, it's simply new. The political power relationships in Germany are doing a square-dance. And the country has a new image: the big two parties are no longer so big, the smaller ones are no longer so small. Besides the truncated CDU and a SPD, which gained power in their traditional stronghold states, the smaller parties are now a middle-power."

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung writes that the standoff between the major parties is the worst outcome possible. "The current situation leaves no viable options for the future, and that is a calamity of huge proportions. One is tempted to say this fact must first sink into the collective consciousness. The German people must look in the mirror and ask what they really want. Only then can parliament adopt legislation allowing it to dissolve itself in an orderly way, and give voters a second chance. There must at least be a sufficient majority for that."

Uwe Vorkötter, editor-in-chief of the Berliner Zeitung, writes in a commentary titled "Merkel's Victory, Merkel's Defeat" that a grand coalition of centre-left and conservative parties is possible. "At best, the grand coalition can accomplish a limited mandate. That consists of de-blocking everything that has been blocked until now. For example there is a list of all subsidies that are long overdue to be dismantled, a list Roland Koch (CDU premier of Hessen) and Peer Steinbrück (former SPD premier and now opposition leader in North-Rhine Westphalia) have agreed on."

In the culture section of the Berliner Zeitung, Arno Widmann looks back on the past two legislature periods. "Seven years of SPD-Green Party rule was not an era, it was a breather.... In 1998 there was no Red-Green project. There was no idea of what a new order for the Federal Republic of Germany might look like. There was not even a government programme, and for anyone who can remember that far back, there was not even a governing team."


In other stories...

Frankfurter Rundschau, 19.09.2005


Peter Michalzik finds Christof Nel's staging of Euripides' "The Bacchae" at the Schauspiel Frankfurt "crude"; the only seductive thing about it was Josef Ostendorf's Dionysus: "Dionysus! That is brave. The god of intoxication and theatre, the great seducer and destroyer, a guy with a huge gut and tits, naked except for a flowered skirt on his haunches and square sun glasses? His blond curly hair is combed back, a little feminine. He tells us how Zeus burnt his mother and how Thebes, the city of his birth, still refuses to accept him as Zeus' son. He's been exiled, a refugee. And now he returns home. Then this naked fat man says, somewhat playfully, "that's me" and raises his right leg suggestively. This Dionysus seems injured, shy, benign and he's got his grip on us; we already believe it's him. And we believe that Josef Ostendorf is a huge rogue, the most commodious seducer that one can possibly imagine."


Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 19.09.2005

Paul Jandl has visited the Burgtheater in Vienna fifty years after its reopening, and writes an entertaining article about life behind the scenes. For example novice Teresa Weißbach (photo), who jumps in one production from a height of five metres into a cushion – which one hopes the stage hands have properly prepared. Her elderly colleague Ignaz Kirchner comments: "'She's young. No, I wouldn't do that. All you need is one so-called human error and you end up sitting in a wheelchair.' Playing the dying servant Firs in Chekhov's 'The Cherry Orchard', Kirchner drags himself across the stage before the curtain falls. 'If I die in just any old way and the curtain falls on top of me, I'm toast for the rest of my life.'" In another article, Barbara Villiger-Heilig writes on the secret passageways in the huge theatre.


Botho Strauß special

The Schauspielhaus Zurich has launched its season, the first under the directorship of Matthias Hartmann, with his staging of Botho Strauss' comedy "Nach der Liebe beginnt ihre Geschichte" (after the love, begins its story). The critics are divided. Christopher Schmidt, writing in the Suddeutsche Zeitung, is decidedly unimpressed by Hartmann's opening work. "He exhausts the technical apparatus with cool perfection. A high-end performance of fine mechanics is executed, which will appeal to the clockmaker in every Swiss."

The play reminded Barbara Villeger-Heilig of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung of Michel Houllebecq's most recent novel "The possibility of an island"; both are works "where humanity is fighting against the loss of the ability to love. Two neo-romantics. Both are asking the question how a woman and man can find each other in today's panorama of existential orientations. Both criticise the changing spirit of the times, both contrast it with their conservative notions of commitment."

And FAZ critic Gerhard Stadelmaier hails the performance to the heavens: "'Nach der Liebe beginnt ihre Geschichte' is a pious comedy for the society to come: the drama of a dramatist's conviction that there has to be something to hang onto in this non-committal world."


Saturday 17 September, 2005


Die Welt, 17.09.2005

Historian Gerd Koenen writes an engaging article on the "pre-political enthusiasm" with which German intellectuals looked to Russia in the 1930s – and at the same time failed to see what was happening in the West. "As a negative indicator, you could take the fact that 'Russian Berlin', with its enormous density of emigrant artists and intellectuals, was emptying at a dramatic rate as early as the mid-1920s. The reasons were not only social, they also had to do with the reigning atmosphere. 'White' Russian immigrants, whether socialists, liberals or monarchists, Jewish intellectuals or Russian nobles, were treated as 'has-beens' much more categorically in Germany than in France or America."
See our feature article "Thankmar, the young Krahl" by Gerd Koenen.

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