17/03/2005

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.

Die Zeit, 17.03.2005

"He has none of Gerhard Richter's cool distance, none of Werner Tübke's elegance. Heisig's work is a wild thrashing thing, a carnage of colour, hand-to-hand combat with art". Hanno Rauterberg portrays the East German painter Bernhard Heisig on his eightieth birthday. Heisig was honoured for his art and vilified for his attraction to power, whether under National Socialism or in the German Democratic Republic. "His commitment to independence outrages many. He construes the autonomy of art differently, for him freedom only becomes alive when it is won through sheer stubbornness. 'Avant-garde,' says Heisig, 'is a pallid cliche. The idea of the artist as outsider and genius, a fountain of creativity, with no need for teachers, without rules, spurting originality till he drops, is pure nonsense!'" Heisig is known as the German war painter of the 20th Century. He went to Normandy for Hitler at the age of 16, was punished at 36 by communist leader Walter Ulbricht, then awarded the National prize by Ulbricht's successor Erich Honecker at 46. In 1986, he painted the West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. Heisig took up a teaching position at the Hochschule für Graphik und Buchkunst in Leipzig in 1954, now the Leipzig Academy of Visual Arts, where he taught three generations of art students including successful contemporary painters such as Tilo Baumgartel, Tim Eitel, Martin Kobe and Neo Rauch.

Swiss author Adolf Muschg tells of his travels through German cities as official juror for the 2010 Cultural Capital of Europe programme. Muschg admits that he lost his heart in Görlitz, which borders Poland in eastern Saxony. "We were unanimously enamoured with the city. At the end of our tour we admitted it like a secretly shared love. What makes Görlitz so different? First: it is not one, and not fifty cities, but two: Görlitz and Zgorzelec. The Polish city is so worn down, the way you imagine cities in the East. And the Neisse river front is full of holes, like a bad set of teeth. But the population relocated to the region from East Poland in 1945 has had children and looks to the future. Their city has an improvised feel, like the model for the 'Bridge Park' shown to us by one Pole. He seemed to have no official status, and presented his project beside the open hatchback of his delivery wagon, next to the shoemaker's workshop of the religious mystic Jakob Boehme (more). But the most spectacular thing about the Polish Neisse riverbank with its wastelands, hourly hotels and dusty stores is the view of Görlitz. The first draft of the jury report called it 'the prettiest city in Germany'. We couldn't leave that in the report, but the truth is the truth."


Süddeutsche Zeitung, 17.03.2005


A festival in Berlin's Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of World Cultures) focusses on the concept of beauty with particular emphasis on China. Arnd Wesemann reflects on different ideas of beauty. In the West, he writes, beauty has been "robbed of its power because it has defected to the side of advertising, computer animation and plastic surgery. And because beauty contradicts the principle of egalitarianism." But the worm is turning. To illustrate his point Wesemann cites a recent performance from British artist Vanessa Beecroft at JFK airport in New York, where she positioned "two dozen mouth-wateringly gorgeous black models naked in shackles. America wanted to protest, but by alluding to the legacy of slavery and inflamed desire for beautiful others, Beecroft silenced her critics." And what about the Chinese? Wesemann quotes Chinese choreographer Jin Xing: "Chinese bodies look weak in comparison with beautiful African bodies. And the Chinese don't have the overriding sense of envy and justice that makes the bodies hard and the people rich in the West. But the concept of spending money in a fitness studio is still utterly alien in China. The Chinese work hard because true beauty for us is wealth."


Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 17.03.2005


Arab expert Tilman Nagel continues the excellent NZZ series on Islam and Europe by asking whether violence against people of other faiths is not to a certain extent intrinsic to Islam. His matter-of-fact reply: "Without resorting to polemics one can safely say that the Koran and the Sunna expressly advocate the use of violence against people of other faiths, particularly when it serves the interests of the 'best community ever produced for mankind' (Sura 3, 110). Muslim legal scholarship adheres unflinchingly to this tenet and still approves, for example, of killing those who convert from Islam to other religions."


Die Tageszeitung, 17.03.2005

At the start of the Leipzig Book Fair, which runs in the Saxon city from March 17 – 20, the current literary mood in Germany is not entirely rosy: "A lot of diffidence, not much Chutzpah, a lot of grey in grey - a lot of tristesse", writes Gerrit Bartels. "If you read the books published this spring like tea leaves, German contemporary literature seems to be in the same place as it was in the early to mid 90s. After that, pop literature launched its victory march and everyone wrote from the hip for a couple of years. Now we're seeing a kind of hangover mood. Everyone is sure that a new time is dawning, but no one seems to know the lay of the land."


Frankfurter Rundschau, 17.03.2005

Andreas Dresen has made a film version of Christoph Hein's novel "Willenbrock", the story of an East German engineer who turns to used car dealership after the fall of the Wall. Heike Kühn reports: "Axel Prahl plays Willenbrock. Just from the way he laughs you can see he is not someone to take no for an answer. He has a house in Magdeburg, a country home, a charming wife and a tantalising lover. Sometimes he ensnares his customers with friendliness, sometimes with a distinguished air. There seems to be no tone Axel Prahl is unable to hit", writes Kühn. "But when Russian burglars maltreat Willenbrock and his wife, another side comes to light. The robbers cannot be identified with certainty, and get off unpunished. "The couple's possessions then become a weight about their necks. Willenbrock and his wife live behind fencing and barbed wire, their alarm shrieks the moment they set foot inside their home... There is no legal certainty, there are no rules to protect the West from the hunger of the East. Andreas Dresen's 'Willenbrock' manages to link the capitalistic economy of love with the collapse of the socialist world order."


Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 17.03.2005


Patrick Bahners argues vehemently against uniting the Berlin memorials under a central body. Until now the monuments have been limited to "authentic" locations of the police state, the German resistance, and sites where the Holocaust was planned. Bahners seems to fear a sort of high court of historical correctness: "A limitation of the right of assembly is planned for the 60th anniversary of the German capitulation on May 8. This forebodes that the future will see increased dispute about which opinions on Nazism should be expressed at all among decent people. The politics of history are bound up with access to public space. Anyone who contravenes the taboo against making historical comparisons brings a moral death sentence down on himself. With the memorial year it is becoming apparent that one should no longer talk about deportation of Germans or bombing of German cities without at the same time naming the German war of aggression as 'the' cause." Bahners is responding to opinion pieces by Ulrich Herbert (see In Today's Feuilletons, March 4, 2005) and Götz Aly (see In Today's Feuilletons, March 1, 2005), who accused the memorials' organisers of sloppiness and regionalism.

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