27/03/2006

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 27 March, 2006

Berliner Zeitung, 27.03.2006


Just over a month ago the actor Thomas Lawinky shot to infamy when he ripped a notebook from the hands of Germany's most famed and feared theatre critic, Gerhard Stadelmaier (more here). It now turns out that during his stint in the East German army, Lawinky acted as an informer for the Stasi, or Ministry of State Security. Ulrich Seidler reports in detail what he learned from Lawinky about his time in the Nationale Volksarmee. "At first he wrote 'dyslexic reports', that is silly stories he'd made up. But these soon got him into trouble with his commanding officer, who made it very clear that there was no fooling the Stasi. Lawinky realised they wouldn't give up until they got results. He intercepted letters and reported on fellow soldiers with family in the West. 'The question is, when do you cross the line.' He was determined to hold out for eighteen months and not go to prison... Even though he was in the army he set up a store and made a fortune selling Walkmans. At the same time he sunk deeper into the Stasi mire. In one case that meant denouncing a sergeant who was planning to desert. He was caught leaving the compound in civilian clothing, and jailed for months in Neubrandenburg."


Die Welt, 27.03.2006

Vaclav Havel sympathises with the post revolutionary disillusionment in Ukraine, which in its first free elections amazingly voted for the communists. "During my time in prison, I spent years longing for freedom, but when I was finally released I had to make decisions the whole time. When you're suddenly confronted with countless options on a daily basis, you get a headache and sometimes subconsciously long to be back in prison. This depression is probably unavoidable. But when this happens to society as a whole the way out is though upcoming generations." Because Ukraine, according to Havel, belongs to a unified Europe, not to Russia.


Süddeutsche Zeitung, 27.03.2006

Author and doctor Jens Petersen ("Die Haushälterin") comments on the current protests by German doctors (news story), explaining that doctors are victims of both underpayment and an antiquated hero cliche: "Doctors – weren't they enthusiastic livingroom musicians, Tuscan travellers, sterling representatives of the upper middle class? Suntanned tennis players with spicy love affairs? Dramatic figures who even in their weak moments have an air of tragedy about them? Where do all the pale, unkempt slogan chanters and banner wavers come from that we see each night on the news? The image of the doctor has fundamentally changed in the last two decades. Perhaps the media interest in the current protests has less to do with the scandalous working conditions of young doctors than with the discrepancy between two cliches: on the one hand that of the traditional hero in white, the representative of a post-war Federal Republic of Germany steeped in confident affluence, and on the other hand that of the slave in the white tunic, the symbol of an overtaxed, under-equipped, eroded social system."


Saturday 25 March, 2006

Die Welt, 25.03.2006

"France is Dorian Gray." The paper prints an essay by French writer Cecile Wajsbrot, in which she describes the deep insecurity of a country that refuses to acknowledge the history of the 20th century. "After 1945, France leapt out into the abyss as if it still had firm ground under its feet. It continued to live as if nothing had transpired, as if it had all never happened, the war, Vichy, the collaboration, the deportation and extermination of the Jews. 1945 was not a watershed in French history, certainly no more than 1939. Despite the end of the collaboration in 1944 and the subsequent wave of cleansing, despite some convulsions, continuity prevailed. Some Vichy laws remained after 1945 and are still in force today. Some of the institutions set up by the Vichy regime still exist: the personal identification card, mother's day, the national police, the national film centre... France did not change at all after 1945."


The 4th Berlin Biennale opened on Friday and led visitors down the length of Berlin's gallery-strewn Auguststraße, through a former Jewish girls' school, the Ballhaus or dance hall, a church and a number of private apartments.

Niklas Maak, in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, was pleasantly surprised by the event. "There was a widespread assumption that curator Marizio Cattelan, who is famous for his burlesques, would turn the Biennale into some hyper-extroverted and ironically splintered bazaar for art and slapstick of every shape and form. But the opposite is the case. This Biennale is enormously precise, melancholy and almost unnervingly serious about pathos, shock and catharsis through art. What the curators (the other two being Ali Subotnick and Massimiliano Gioni) are attempting is a deep archaeological probe into the shaky foundations of the new Berlin, into its lost destinies and histories – and into art's history of seeing and showing."

Jörg Heiser, writing in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, found the Biennale "mercilessly consequential in two respects. Firstly it never once wavers from its thematic keynotes: paranoia, unheimlichkeit and depression. And secondly it is predominantly curated with reference to specific works rather than general oeuvres. ... Within its broad thematic outline of existential questioning, the strategy of making an unsentimental return to psychoanalysis and Surrealism, and of keeping a tight sceptical lid on all throbbing forebodings of disaster and conspiracy lurking behind normality has by and large succeeded."

But in the Tageszeitung, Harald Fricke is a little taken aback by the lack of political content. "It's a long time since an exhibition went so all-out for effect, monopolising the viewer with obsessive phantasmagoria. After the last documenta exhibition which was intended as proof of contemporary art's political know-how, and the 3rd Biennale curated by Ute Meta Bauer in 2004, which was set up as an urban sociology theme park, Gioni, Subotnick and Cattelan have parted ways with the primacy of theory."

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