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29/11/2005

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.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 29.11.2005

Not only does Deutsche Bahn (German Rail) seem to be leaving Berlin (for Hamburg), Samsung is closing its last remaining plant in the industrial district of Oberschöneweide. Christian Schwägerl makes a melancholy foray through the "workers' city with no work": "When the Wall came down in Berlin, the city had four-hundred thousand jobs in industry. A hundred thousand disappeared with unprofitable East German enterprises, two-hundred thousand in the West due to a cut in subsidies, isolated location, suffocating bureaucracy and high labour costs. This is a radical encroachment into the identity of the city which was one of the world's largest industrial centres and which is only slowly beginning to see itself as a victim of globalisation. Samsung is not alone, thousands of jobs are currently under threat. If developments continue at this rate, in five years time, there will not be a single industrial job remaining in Berlin."


Die Tageszeitung, 29.11.2005


"The Germans have a complete obsession with their chancellor. For them, the chancellor is the democratic version of a king or a Pope. Nothing is comparable, certainly no other political office," writes art historian Wolfgang Ullrich, noting that it is unimaginable in Germany that a former chancellor should take up another job, for example minister or Volkswagen dealer. "Unlike in Hegel's day, no one in Germany expects philosophy to express the times, or the mentality of an entire generation. This role has been passed over to the chancellor (and not the president, mind you!). The chancellor owes at least a part of his legitimation and charisma to the fact that he is possessed by something like the zeitgeist. This is probably also an explanation for why most German chancellors hold out comparatively longer than heads of government in other democracies. People are afraid to exchange them too quickly, because that could be taken as a sign of wanting to go against the course of time."

Katrin Bettina Müller was deeply impressed by William Forsythe's dance piece "Clouds over Cranach" which premiered in Frankfurt on Saturday. The piece, which is about "changing perspective, stepping into the picture, being moved, changing from witness to sympathiser", was inspired by two images which were hung at the theatre exit. "One is a Reuters press photo taken in a war zone, with burning cars and a body being carried away by men in uniform, with no further clues as to where it was shot. The second is a crucifixion scene by Lucas Cranach from 1503 which is unusual not only for the complete asymmetry of the composition but also for the extreme pathos in the contortion of the bodies." Forsythe's group choreography echoes "the groups of figures who bore witness to extraordinary events in paintings of the Middle Ages... There are moments when you can almost feel the icy cold gripping them in the pit of their stomachs, you can feel their pulses accelerating and their circulations grinding to a halt".


Süddeutsche Zeitung, 29.11.2005

Sociologist Ulrich Beck congratulates his colleague Martin Bolte on his 80th birthday, taking the opportunity to celebrate his field of study, which died out "some time in the 90s" in Germany. "One thing German sociology is not, is curious about the society in which we live, this radically changing society, which remains hidden to us behind the facade of social stability. On the contrary. Infused with a good, professional conscience, it transformed itself into a sociology without a society. And it corresponds to a society without sociology, which awaits nothing from sociology, but which is also becoming alienated from itself. But the craziest thing is that neither side seems to miss the other at all."
See our feature "The big lie", by Ulrich Beck.

Peter Konwitschny
's version of Richard Strauss' opera "Elektra" was a bloody massacre – which premiered in February in Copenhagen and is now showing in Stuttgart's Staatsoper. "An axe splits open a skull, the bloody regicide is performed in mime while the orchestra warms up. And the king's three little children, in the iron grip of the queen, are forced to witness the act of horror. After just two hours of opera, Atrides' clan and their servants are mown down by a hail of bullets against a background of video fireworks." Wolfgang Schreiber is not only gob smacked, he finds the whole thing plausible. "When Konwitschny tells you that he had always been interested in "making theatre of all the thoughts in one's head", then it no longer seems surprising that his 'Elektra' tragedy found a bizarre counterpart in his new production of the comedy 'Così fan tutte' in Berlin's Komischer Oper - at least as far as explosive endings are concerned. In 'Elekra' the cast are pumped full of bullets, and Don Alfonso demands at the end of Così not only that two couples find each other, but that everybody, the audience included, should tie the knot. This director has always stood out for his radically systematic thinking ahead and thinking through of a story."


Die Welt, 29.11.2005


Tilman Krause remembers German dandy Count Harry Kessler (1868 – 1937, image here), whose voluminous diaries have just been re-edited in German: "Kessler had a quick wit and a lively spirit, and the main butt of his attacks was the German incapacity for good taste – no one described the Wilhelminian absence of style as scathingly as he did. We could badly use a man like Kessler today – in the cultural as much as in the political sphere, or in both, although in view of our current roster that would be reaching for the stars."

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