The title of the text “Straschek 1963–74 West Berlin” is as simple as it is informative: it is a subjective, self-reflective insight into Günter Peter Straschek’s eleven years in West Berlin. During this time, he was many things: filmmaker, film historian, film theorist, writer, politically active in the protest movement of 1968 and part of the first generation of students at the Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin [German Film and Television Academy Berlin] (DFFB). Straschek’s fellow students included people like Helke Sander, Harun Farocki, Hartmut Bitomsky, Johannes Beringer and Holger Meins. His essay provides unique access to the film-aesthetic and -theoretical debates and practical-political discussions of a generation of filmmakers who were to fundamentally renew filmmaking in Germany, and whose political and formal experiments made the preceding generation of Oberhausen Manifesto filmmakers look staid. Born in Graz on 23 July 1942, Straschek merged his experiences and interests from his West Berlin period into one condensed virtuoso composition for the magazine Filmkritik. Straschek created a constellation of various text types, such as political-theoretical and film-aesthetic reflections, anecdotes, diary-like entries, letters or even feeding instructions for Danièle Huillet’s cat. It is a text montage that most filmmagazine editors today would probably shorten considerably and change formally. The text owes its publication in this form to the spirit of the time, but especially to the editorial guidelines of Filmkritik, which was certainly the most prominent film magazine in the German-speaking world at the time.
– Julian Volz1
A fascist out of stupidity. Intellectual complicity coupled with the opportunism typical of actors, which leads them to do anything for a “good role.” What’s more, Veit Harlan was a rotten director and Kristina Söderbaum is a dumb cluck. De spite all that, I shall take the liberty of defending both of them, to the extent that they were made to serve as stand-ins and scapegoats for all too many Nazi abominations. Dozens of slimy fellowtravelers used Harlan to clear their own names. Just one example: according to what Harlan told the director Franz M., the actor Albrecht Schoenhals tried out twice for the role of Jud Süß. He was, for Harlan, simply “not good enough.” Today, Schoenhals poses as an “antifascist” and has incriminated Harlan in various trials. There weren’t as many Nazis in theater and the movie industry (Maria Paudler or Hilde Krahl, Carl Auen or Eugen Rex) as people are inclined to believe. To be sure, there were still fewer antifascists. An apolitical social stratum of parvenus interested only in material security and social recognition, most actors are ready and willing to perform for anyone and everyone as long as they’re granted personal liberties in exchange. And, to some extent, film and theater types were granted such liberties in the Nazi period. One shouldn’t pretend, today, that these poor artists suffered terribly under the terror regime. The opposite is true: subjectively, those were their best days, thanks precisely to their economic + artistic wellbeing (after the Jewish competition had been driven off) as a middleclass stratum of a particular stamp. “Serious Nazis” or “apolitical” or “against Adolf from the very first”: in our sector, all of them belonged to one and the same pack. I would stand up for Harlan & Söderbaum for that reason alone.
[I’m glad to hear that, for similar reasons, Kortner is supposed to have been prepared to shake hands with Harlan in public, in a posh Munich hotel. In the end he didn’t, because then he “would have had to write letters for the rest of [his] days, to friend and foe alike.”]
Born on July 23, 1942, in Graz, I left Austria at the age of nineteen. In 1963, I moved to West Berlin. In the years in between, I was on the road. These trips through Greece, Turkey, Israel, and most of the Western European countries were a getaway; I experienced them, from first to last, as an emancipation. Abruptly, I became acquainted with many other conditions, situations, people, modes of behavior, languages, and other things besides; I had to get by somehow in all sorts of jobs; I was forced radically to alter my thinking and reorganize my priorities. Nothing I’d learned in school was of any use; everything turned out to be different. I’d gone womanless in Graz, although I had shyly desired a few girls; I made up for lost time in that department too, and in a big way. It was like a high, like teething. Much of what I experienced then became easier to understand only in retrospect, in West Berlin. Since then, I’ve had a Goethean relationship to changes of locale.
If half a dozen movies by John Brahm or Edward Ludwig or Jacques Tourneur or Frank Borzage or Edgar George Ulmer were shown on TV, it would be possible to stage the same sort of farce – as¬suming humbug can be fun – as in Douglas Sirk’s case not long ago. It seems that first-class crafts¬men have to be played up and made over into cin¬ematographic geniuses. One flips back through the Cahiers du cinéma of a decade ago, and the hour of Enno P. cum spouse sounds – hopping oth¬er people’s trains and fobbing himself off in these parts as a locomotive engineer. If I had the time and inclination, I could, with a beta camera and TV, make Ulmer into the greatest director since Griffith. [Should my financial situation deteriorate again, I plan to offer Hanser a monograph on the American-¬Indian director Horace “White Feather” McFarland (1883–1944).]
I am, and no mistake, a dyedinthewool Austrian (am one: that is, have remained one). My contempt for my compatriots & homeland is proof enough. The fact is that I know of no state in modern history that, first (in 1938), behaved as shabbily and, second (in 1945), got off so lightly, with impunity even, while stubbornly refusing all insight down to the present day. Indeed, Austria has the gall to pose as the victim of a surprise attack. Ultimately, what disturbed the Austrians about Nazism was that the Prussians ran it in such unslovenly fashion. Nowhere in the world is there still as much Nazi riffraff as in Austria. Talented, but spineless. An impressive decadent culture on into the 1920s; a couple of splendidly mad writers; excellent musicians; and a handful of good actors. The best thing about Austria still seems to me to be its passport. To understand how shitawful this country is, it’s enough to know that Stalin didn’t want it even when it was handed to him on a platter.
If they showed something on TV, after the credits, about how programs are produced and the way the work on them is organized; if they provided easily understood information on production costs, allowing the audience to glean a few banal insights (the price of a stage costume for Dietmar Schönherr, such as that suit that he magnanimously lets children besmear on Wünsch Dir was in order to demonstrate the benefits of “progressive” education to their parents; if Robert Lembke’s, Erik Ode’s, and Anneliese Rothenberger’s salaries, or those of the Tatort crew + consorts could be compared with a film editor’s monthly pay; if the script department had to explain its choices in partisan rather than “democratic” fashion; if budgetary matters and hiring policies were rendered transparent; if the TV establishment showed a readiness to demystify itself a little – the result would be much more political, in my view, than many a sniveling flick that so ostentatiously announces its intentions to “transform people’s consciousness” as to make the question about what it all costs stick in their throats.
For obvious reasons, I have no contact with prostitutes. I don’t need it, and I’ve never had the dough; above all, the rules of the game would spoil my fun. As a young man, of course, I cruised Kärtnerstraße and the side streets thereabouts after going to the theater in Vienna. (Basement avantgarde: I used to hitchhike the two hundred kilometers from Graz to Vienna, sleep over in the park, and head home the next day; I became a past master in the art of forging parental signatures for school.) A good fifteen years later, I patronized a reasonably nice and rather chubby whore for sentimental reasons. After one or two of the usual polite remarks to the effect that I’d turned in a good performance, she explained to me that she worked in this job only because she had to pay Herr Professor SoandSo a fee for an operation. Her daughter had gone deafanddumb with shock when she, the mother, was beaten up by the pimp she’d been married off to; the little girl had had to witness the scene. This woman impressed me. While, in “our circles,” the pressure to innovate is such that one has constantly to serve up fresh intellectual inanities, and every insight is given a modernistic touch for sales purposes, this working woman wasn’t under any obligation to concoct trendier baloney, because, in Austria, the old baloney is good enough. Just imagine the same chubby whore on West German TV, gasping and in a decent sweat, with, between gasps, long pauses in which she thinks things over: “the contradictions in our society … Now I gotta haul my ass to the street corner every night.”
In fall 1963, I was determined to settle in the German Democratic Republic. I wanted to work in a factory. More: I was convinced that I had radically to alter my existence. In East Berlin, however, I was sent from one ministry to the other for days on end, and my request was politely declined. The first German workers’ and peasants’ state had no use for an Austrian without a profession who went around criticizing everything. I will be forever grateful to it for that.
We became acquainted at the Berlinale, shortly after that memorable July 4, 1965, premiere. Today, we’re close friends. I know no one else in the whole field as passionately, tenaciously, and conscientiously devoted to making movies as the two of them are. They are among the few people in this business who really work [(instead of fooling around). They direct political movies, not movies about politics], and who I can rely on. Let me repeat it for those who don’t know it yet: their films are the most exciting, progressive films in cinema today.
I suspect I feel so close to the two of them because I believe myself to be caught in a similar quandary: the need to recognize that one must, by means of a false line of conduct, come closer to one’s goals with integrity and dogged personalized effort, and at the price of material hardship, rather than becoming a quasi-victim, in a small political faction, of imponderables that leave no room at all for various forms of work. S.H. represent a scarcely imaginable intensification of individual effort, of what one (or two) people can accomplish in a business dominated by “pimps and whores.” It is a struggle, naturally, and a struggle that betrays traces of asceticism as well as transfigured anarchism and moralism; immense nervous strain matched by great power of endurance; and a masochism that is tapped as a source of new achievement – amid the most severe material hardship. [I would never be capable of all that, but, then again, I don’t have a Danièle H.] There nevertheless is something to the criticism that is often leveled at them (and occasionally at me): that they’re “aristocrats.” Someone who has resolved to wage singlehanded combat cannot not be. But no one should follow S.H. down the same path. They are unique human specimens. The industry wouldn’t tolerate a repetition. Ultimately, what we see in S.H. is simply the one successful example of the resistance of which there is such great need. Not a word about the victims in this business (not all whores and pimps). Given our friendship, I can say: S.H. as model, not as solution.
[Yet Werner D., Hartmut B., and Harun F. came to the conclusion (which I too would like to endorse) that the only good movies left are those by old timers such as Ford or Hawks. In the case of S.H., the solution was found: adding JeanMarie to Danièle.]
A secretary who works for the Westdeutscher Rundfunk’s editorial board wants to screw along with the others in my porn film, but won’t go to bed with me. Now that’s what I call morals.
The cinema seminars led by Dr. (subsequently Prof. Dr.) Friedrich K. at the Technical University’s Institute for Language in the Technical Age were of crucial importance for me. Although inventorying film takes on the basis of movement, field size, or the axis of action wasn’t particularly productive, “movie sense” was subjected to discriminating analysis and brought down to earth. A twentyminute oral presentation about a twominute shot called for precise observation and precise thinking. It was in these seminars – in which, for the first time, I went endlessly back over individual reels, concentrating on just one element each time (camera work, lighting, sound, editing, the actors, the props, and so on) – that I began to understand just how unantiintellectual cinema could be (although the type of training we received in those days could only seem excessively positivistic to me). In my years at the TU (1964–66), Dr. Friedrich K. – despite his disappointing publications, cowardly behavior, and lack of solidarity – had become my teacher in the field of cinema.
Here is what would have become of me if I’d met people’s expectations for me as a budding talent (in Graz):
A novel with the Residenz publishing firm in Salzburg and prose in manuskripte. Starting out from Graz, “a hotbed of young talent and an inside tip,” I could have booked a trip that would have taken me all the way to the “literary FRG” [Federal Republic of Germany]. I’d have hung around in one or two bars with a couple of artists day in, day out, getting tanked and giving a couple of representative petty bourgeois specimens the business, to the amusement of one and all. Boozing, badmouthing, and apoliticism are the ingredients that go into the making of today’s Styrian poet. If, thereafter, I’d had my “writer’s crisis,” I’d have had to drop my pants and show a waitress the moon – that scandalizes the big bad bourgeois and would have made me the talk of the town again. By the age of thirty-five, I would have been a sacrosanct local monument and, at sixty-five, would have received an honorary professorship. It is true that, in between, my fame would once again have sunk to the local level; once the myth is set in motion, there’s nothing one can do to stop it in one’s lifetime.
At seventeen, a gung-ho Bohemian who loved to pick fights (one of our favorite activities was to eat goulash in the “Sportbuffet” at four in the morning, dead drunk, and then go hunting for “Nazi swine” in the vicinity; my parents had to cough up for new frames for my glasses), I made the acquaintance of the old men who, for the cheapest rotgut, were only too happy to tell you what great local talents they’d been twenty, thirty, or forty years ago – and it was true! In a country as backward as Austria, mired in a cult of the rural and out of the competition (in the negative sense), apolitical and antianalytical, one insensibly draws closer – because one is perpetually preoccupied by the quagmire one is trying to get out of – to the very bourgeoisie one thinks one is attacking by way of private effrontery, artistic avant-gardism, and conceded privileges. Not a single idea, movement, or party far and wide (certainly not the Austrian Communist Party) that might be of some help. What’s left is inbreeding, with the hope of the asifnot.
The literary Styrians’ respectable success in West Germany isn’t hard to understand. It’s no accident that the writers from Graz were imported at a time (in the wake of Peter H.’s success) when they could be utilized to counter the trend toward politicizing art in West Germany. The often embarrassing productions of West Germany’s pack of “leftwing” writers offered good reason to think that the plan was by no means doomed to fail. Austrian writing is, in fact, considerably subtler and more entertaining than anything Grass, Walser, Hochhuth & Co. have to offer. Ultimately, no politically articulated resistance could be opposed to the powerful politicization and heightened consciousness of West Germany’s cultural sphere: after the Nazi experience, that was, even for an antiliberal bourgeoisie, pretty much out of the question. It was then that Graz’s hour struck. Graz as exotica, a town located somewhere on the way to the Balkans, well-known for its dirt-cheap doctorates and to people who motor down the highway toward Greece. What’s more, artists in Graz are still like writers always were and ought forever to be. In Graz, one can still go into raptures over Benn without being reviled as a fascist; things are still peaceful at the university; nothing resembling change is to be feared there. Today modernism is cultivated only in cultural capitals; the avantgarde comes from the provinces (in plagiarized form, to be sure, or as new editions, but, since Nazism wiped everything out, that isn’t overly conspicuous). Graz was in a position to provide fairly pristine Bohemianism, decadence, and artistic poses to sustain the fuss generated by the artificially resuscitated nostalgia. Not, moreover, in the absence of a certain tradition: Austria’s gaze has been turned on its decline for a century now. Not that anyone means to do anything about it; one simply stares, enthralled and proud, at the artistic products that take this hopelessness as their subject. The necessary restoration (dilapidation) is undertaken every couple decades or so, and is called avantgarde. But the Prussians are, in any case, blind to all that.
Je später der Abend, a talk show. May 1, 1974. I know dumb women, nasty homosexuals, dirty people of color, and stingy Jews, and am certainly no misogynist, racist, anti-Semite, etc. The dirty tricks and crimes directed against minorities and other (socially) enfeebled groups take extremely varied forms and, in a relatively liberal country such as West Germany, are also relatively progressive. Or camouflaged. What cynical contempt for other people lies concealed in the blither about how women, gays, people of color, Jews, Gypsies, immigrant workers, or delinquents are “people too,” just like “you and me,” and so forth. When, on this talk show, Inge Meysel dropped the remark that her best friends were homosexuals (as Jews were, it will be recalled, in the 50s and 60s; perhaps immigrant workers or Gypsies will also come into fashion some day – I myself am placing my bets on people of color), her moderatorfriend indignantly spread his peacock’s tail and even had the effrontery to summon his wife to the bar as crown witness: in other words, Vivi Bach was supposed to tell Inge Meysel how superbly antihomosexual Dietmar Schönherr can be in bed. To say yes or no in a friendly tone to an unpleasant rentboy in a shabby train station toilet is, in my opinion, more progressive, decent, and courageous than this defense of minorities on TV or in a bar, which entails no obligation to do anything at all – to say nothing of the cynicism that consists in keeping a couple of arty homosexuals in reserve (oh, how sensitive and clever they are! and what’s more, they never harass women, etc.) as social ornament.
Over against that, we must, all aspirations to liberation notwithstanding, emphasize and defend difference, precisely, as a right and a value stemming from special qualities. Homosexuals aren’t “just like” heterosexuals; in the struggle to assert themselves in society, they should never abandon their interests or “save themselves” by kowtowing to a pseudosocial theory that would make everyone the same, abandoning themselves in the process. This holds for women and delinquents in particular.
Thirty-four students, most having already completed (or abandoned) courses of study in some other field or having various kinds of professional experience, now resolutely awaiting the chance to realize long suppressed ideas, and generally equipped with prior theoretical training and self-confidence; a cowardly and insufficiently qualified teaching staff letting itself be pushed back and forth between the student body and the administration; said administration overtaxed by the difficulties stemming from the Academy’s recent foundation; and lastly, the innocent years of the student rebellion = 1966–68, I studied directing in the German Film and Television Academy in Berlin, Inc. (DFFB).
As far as I can remember, we didn’t, couldn’t, do much more than raise a ruckus. Yet many stories about wild times in the “Berlin Film Academy” have made the rounds and been built up into a legend and source of burgeoning myth (my film A Western for the SDS would provide a sufficiently edifying account). To write the present notes, I reread the “papers” we produced in those days – and was shocked by our postpubescent, sometimes apolitical attitude. Not that we should be embarrassed by this today: faculty and administration deserved no better. It was, after all, our politics that expanded the “space for liberal pseudofreedom” to three or four years and enshrined that as a right for the benefit of later entering classes. (They didn’t capitalize on the opportunity: the DFFB is today a pension fund for future exleftists.) Even with my foible for hyperbole, I’m not wide of the mark when I say that the teachers learned more from us than we did from them. This by no means applies to the “purely technical” side of things: in that respect, some of the faculty were quite competent, such as the film editor Helmut H. But my remark holds as far as understanding critical reasoning goes, or, again, the ability to learn to see things and circumstances in unaccustomed ways. Characteristic of the majority of the (constantly changing) faculty was a mishmash of copious feeling and a certain amount of experience and technical knowhow compounded with little thinking and no politics. With us, it was the opposite, carried too far. Communication with the teachers (the director responsible for me was Jiři W. from Prague, who emigrated to Rome in 1968 …) was impeded by the fact that they couldn’t understand us at all and had only the vaguest notion of what it was we had set out to achieve. The “moderns” around George M. were no less “unaware” than their seniors; I categorically refused to be trained in camera work by Gerard V. Those from whom we’d been expecting something turned out to be still more bitter disappointments than the others. Ulrich G. soon proved to be a coward who maneuvered between the administration and the student body, although he was the administration’s staunchest lackey. Today, this seems pretty understandable to me: he had a family to feed, was working freelance, and his job (ordering film classics and, by way of introduction to them, reading something from his own book, which, according to its title, was a history of cinema) netted him 2K a month. What was repulsive wasn’t so much his behavior at the DFFB – he hated us, after all – but his socialdemocratic film philosophy of moderation, the golden mean, mediocrity. Fairly progressive as far as content was concerned, a bit less progressive on form (although the two shouldn’t be separated, of course . . .), unwaveringly dazzled by Russian films, dispassionately weighing everything up a thousand times over and then putting it in order like postage stamps, averse to all exaggeration or, perish the thought, partisanship, so bland he stank. Hence Ulrich G. is the ideal jury member; he’ll turn up at all the festivals and in every selection committee to the year 2001.
I have nothing against my colleagues (nothing for them, either).
Dr. Heinz R. and Erwin L. were the academy’s directors. Since neither had understood very much about film or the movies, they displayed not the least sensitivity to the medium. But whereas Dr. Heinz R. is a professional administrator, good at drumming up money and at organizing things, extraordinarily industrious, and careful never to show his ignorance by expressing a personal opinion about film or the movies, Erwin L. was sheer laziness and fraud. He was a blusterer who spouted statements such as “film is a concretization of time”; he had, at least, the same opinion of us as we had of him. What was unforgivable about him was, along with an ostensibly antifascist Mein Kampf, the amateurishness of his bluffing (about how he’d had breakfast with Ingmar Bergman or an aperitif with JeanLuc Godard). Berlin’s municipal government noticed this soon enough, and a director was sent packing. Today one must give Dr. Heinz R. credit for not unskillfully steering the film academy, his life’s work, through our student rebellions. In the process, to be sure, he aged noticeably.
I myself was expelled together with other leftists after my second semester because of my “utter lack of talent” and “artistic incompetence”; after a major fight, we were all readmitted as special status students. Near the end of my third semester, I was once again – this time for good – thrown out for insulting the administration: all I had called them was “coolies at the Berlin municipal government’s beck and call.” Eighteen more students followed us out around six months later. My semesters at the DFFB remind me of Die Lümmel von der ersten Bank, with me in the role of “Pepe: His Teacher’s Fright.” At any rate, the whole rigmarole was for me less a “coming to consciousness” than the belated climax of a carefree youth that was now drawing to a close, a last chance to sow my wild oats. A piece of cinema that had nothing to do with film.
Of my whole mishpocha, Rudolf S. is still the one for whom I feel the greatest affection. At any rate, I feel closer to this family underdog than to the whole pack of relatives on my mother’s side, who have erected the Styrian middleclass idyll into a façade behind which hysterical nastiness and ignorance run rampant. Even my male and female cousins my age are virtuous in a way that makes one gag. In such “distinguished circles” (in which the classification of individual family members as Communists, Socialists, or Nazis serves merely as a decorative emblem of the clan’s liberalmindedness), Uncle Rudi wasn’t particularly popular. A municipal employee after World War II, he didn’t exactly bust ass, so to speak; always found himself on the “sunny side of the street” (although my father was always the “harder worker and more decent sort”); carried on endlessly with women (if he didn’t score with one, he tried his luck with her sister or girlfriend); constantly ran up debts; and was, as a rule and with certain interruptions, decently soused every day. The fact is that he preferred going to the nearest bar to going “to the opera or a concert”; to his dying day, he could never tell the dative from the accusative, and he was “no child of the intellect”; yet he made appearances in bars as “Dr. Ott” and, at a performance at the opera, expatiated about the function of the conductor, “who doesn’t even play an instrument.” But Hitler meant war: that much my uncle knew. While a couple relatives of ours were mixed up in Nazi business that I continue to refrain from putting in writing only at my parents’ request, Uncle Rudi was, as one who did everything he could to duck his duty on the Eastern Front, an active antifascist. In boot camp, he was already hard at it shooting to miss. In the Soviet Union, he tried improbable things to get sick: for example, he drank liquid margarine in hopes of coming down with jaundice. Nothing seemed to work. In the end, he made himself a sandsausage, carrying it around with him under his uniform, and constantly pounded himself on the knee with it. Then he went with his contusions, welts, and wounds to the doctor, who soon had him pegged for a shirker and, in the end, a selfmutilator. If he came back the next day with a knee like that, the Nazi doctor screamed, he’d have him shot. But Uncle Rudi didn’t fall into such primitive traps; he went to the orderly the next day too – and was put on sick leave.
As a child, I listened spellbound to his war stories. Uncle Rudi went wild when he told stories about the “magnificent Russian girls” in Odessa and Kharkov; but he also went wild when he – the first to do so – told me about the crimes that “our side” had perpetrated in that country, adding that he understood “the Russian” thanks to that.
Later, we saw each other only rarely. When I was studying at the DFFB, he once asked me whether I could make a doctor movie there. I said I couldn’t. He asked me whether I had anything to do with actresses such as Romy Schneider, Senta Berger, or Elke Sommer. I said I didn’t. Disappointed, he never mentioned my “higher education” again.
Without a doubt, Uncle Rudi had moments of genius. There was, for example, his readiness, when doing crossword puzzles, to write on into the black spaces without batting an eye.
In 1966, I went with JeanMarie S. to Graz, where Not Reconciled; or, Only Violence Helps Where Violence Rules was shown. I gave a talk that served as a kind of introduction. While the “intellectuals” there pompously hauled out their Joyce to explain the movie, Uncle Rudi told me, a few days later, the “story of the succeeding generations of a family of architects,” demonstrating a degree of understanding that I would never again encounter, even later.
When Uncle Rudi died in Graz on June 28, 1973, at the age of sixty-four, of cancer of the liver, he weighed fifty-six pounds.
It was late at night in Oberhausen’s main train station, and I needed another seventy pfennigs or so for a ticket to Darmstadt, where I was expected. I approached a couple people whom I’d encountered every day in the festival hall, assuring them that I would immediately return the sum in the form of stamps. They refused. Then someone very thin came along; he gave me a mark and wanted to offer me a cup of coffee. We traded addresses and I hurried to the platform. Not long afterwards, the young man visited me in West Berlin. We met again during the DFFB admissions exam (as he was filling out the questionnaire, he asked me how to spell “feuilleton”) and, eventually, we discovered that we’d both been accepted at the Academy for fall 1966. That’s how my friendship with Holger M. began.
As a result of the steadily mounting conflicts with the academy’s administration and supervisory board, and after the shock caused by the murder of Benno Ohnesorg, Holger M. was one of the people who were politicized with the speed of light. In untold nights in bars that lasted until dawn, I drummed the basic theses of Marxism, so to speak, into Holger M.’s head. In the following years, we were very close. He did the photography for my Western for the SDS – he was without a doubt our best cameraman at the DFFB; we worked out a series of projects; we fought with cops (in Berlin and also on trips to Pesaro and Venice that were a lot of laughs); we traveled to Frankfurt, because S.H.’s Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach was showing there. (That was the first and only time I saw Holger M. excited and stirred by a movie. He very emphatically defended the famous shots of the sea and moon at the end of the reel.) Holger M.’s idea of comradeship was based on very special principles; they found expression, for example, in his pronounced willingness to lend everything he possessed very generously, but also in his desire to borrow everything. He was unusually reliable and helpful. As an autodidact and a student who had earned his secondary school degree at a state college of fine arts, he had a distinctly anti-intellectual attitude. Once, he came back disgusted from the meeting of a committee that was planning a May Day demonstration: the students in the committee had only talked and talked, whereas the one proletarian in attendance had been able to provide concrete information (about how to put a water cannon out of commission). From then on, it became Holger M.’s special role to interrupt discussions after a while with an antitheoretical “bullshit!”; he would bring the problem down to the simplest criteria of feasibility and size up the organizational possibilities. This took on crucial importance, although the first seeds of a tendency to try to change people’s consciousness through provocative actions were unmistakable. All in all, we must have made a good team, because we could complement each other.
Our first disagreements cropped up during the Frankfurt secondary school student film project. They had to do with the status of cinema as an instrument in the praxis of societal change. Neither of us thought this very likely to succeed; but where, for Holger M., the conclusion was to abandon the job and profession and go work in another field, I insisted that we should organize our own field of activity to make it more effective. I argued that changing professions and working one’s way into the rank and file was an individual solution. Whole groups couldn’t be expected to change professions, I said; the better alternative was to politicize one’s own métier, however unproductive that might seem. Another bone of contention was our attitude to anarchism. I myself am not opposed to anarchistic acts as such, but I think that they should only be brought to bear on historically urgent situations. For political and strategic reasons having to do with the balance of power, not for moral reasons, I ruled them out for Western Europe for the time being. Holger M. made the diametrically opposed choice. The emerging fragmentation of the Left required that we go our separate ways. Unlike many other examples (not the most pleasant), this had no effect on our friendship. We saw each other for the last time in Mainzerstrasse, as he was moving out and I was moving in. A couple weeks later something like a dozen cops stormed the apartment. When I learned of his and other people’s arrests on June 1, 1972, I was shocked and saddened, although I had been prepared for the news. This isn’t the place to explain these feelings – except, perhaps, to affirm a solidarity that goes far beyond political factions and tactical considerations.
Since the years of the Cultural Revolution, I’ve been on the side of the People’s Republic of China – and am fairly well informed about Peking’s politics, although the sources are relatively difficult of access, and I am no Sinologist nor do I have the time to study the situation systematically. I find certain foreign policy tactics impenetrable, and the same holds for the unMarxist cock-and-bull story involving Lin Piao; I would like to be able to assess the power factor represented by the army better; as an outsider, I’m unable to make “purely political” sense of China’s behavior toward the Soviet Union (which displays certain parallels with the German Communist Party’s behavior toward the social fascists in this country prior to 1933). Let me make four remarks on the subject:
1) There is an everincreasing number of reactionaries who sigh with deep relief when someone votes for the People’s Republic of China, that is, against the Soviet Union. Soccer player Breitner is no recommendation, nor is the whole China fad. That is admittedly embarrassing, and one can’t but wonder why this is happening.
2) The way socialism has evolved in the People’s Republic of China is so peculiarly conditioned by historically determined social developments specific to that country that we can derive models for our own development from it only with the greatest caution (that’s why it’s easier to learn from mistakes in Soviet development than from Chinese advances). Unfortunately, no one has had greater difficulty understanding this than the MarxistLeninist factions. The MarxistLeninists should attach the label “revisionist,” used so irresponsibly today, precisely to their own desire to transpose code words that indicate determinate contents for a determinate country in a determinate phase of socialism.
3) The writings of Chairman Mao Tsetung are so hard to understand precisely because they’re so easy to read. (Some years ago, I went to the trouble of comparing all the German language editions of the Red Book with each other.) Mao becomes comprehensible only when one grasps that he hasn’t contributed a single new thought to MarxismLeninism. His genius resides, rather, in his application of MarxismLeninism’s methods and ideas to the concrete Chinese situation. The texts by Mao that are so greatly appreciated in this country, namely, his “most philosophical” texts, such as “On Practice” and “On Contradiction,” are, in my opinion, his weakest, while his many shorter pieces, which we can barely understand, are the real source of his power to move people to action. This inversion has its explanation in the fact that we mistakenly read into these writings what is abstractly comprehensible (to us); that, however, is precisely not what is/was of decisive importance in Mao for China.
4) History doesn’t end with socialism; socialism too has its history, which it has very little desire to understand in a materialist way. For me, the People’s Republic of China represents, today and for the foreseeable future, the most advanced (hence not the only) component of the socialist movement. That is why I am on its side – not because the PRC is infallible or because I believe in Mao as some believe in the good Lord. This remark is addressed to the “Maoists” for whom only purity exists: a world historical ideal of purity as an intoxicating drug. When the first problems and perturbations arise, these people turn away in disappointment. That seems to me to be fundamentally unMarxist behavior.
The singularly passionate relationship with a woman from Graz with whom I had already been secretly in love for years. What brought us together was that curious desire to discover and like in one’s partner what one doesn’t possess oneself – indeed, what one didn’t at all want to be, what one’s previous existence had been so radically opposed to. For those of us who like banalities: I cherished what was “bourgeois” about her, and she cherished what was “unbourgeois” about me. And we loved each other quite a bit.
She had always had the best grades, was a junior lecturer at the university, was very intelligent, could talk + listen, and was one of those women who, albeit sensitive, have no need to go on constantly about liberation. She seems never to have got beyond being a genuine liberal. Everything was orderly with her; she always managed with the money she had, and had a savings contract with a buildings and loan association; confronted with the usual gossip and her family’s embarrassment over the fact that she was “going out” with me, a good-for-nothing without a profession, she behaved bravely. A great many of this sensitive woman’s distinguishing traits were alien to me, or I was fundamentally opposed to them; in others, they would have annoyed me to the point of making communication impossible. Something similar may have held the other way around for her. On her way out of a rotten, unsatisfying marriage with another Graz intellectual, she may have seen in me a solitary fighter who refused to bow to certain constraints – she called this my “freedoms” – even if these “freedoms” consisted in nothing more than being able to sleep in and run up debts, or in the fact that I was brazenly self-taught. She valued the dialectically schooled interlocutor in search of a strong partner, and my conscious egoism, in particular, must have been, for her, a provisional self-defense against social constraint and a middleclass upbringing. Bed, to be sure, was what welded us together. Thus it was that, after a year and a half, a very brief exchange was all it took to show us that we were altogether different, even opposites. As if suddenly realizing we had been skating on thin ice – we went our separate ways while preserving, thanks to artful stage direction, a mutual affection. She has remarried in West Germany and has a fiveyearold son.
Early in 1968, Holger M. and I went to Munich on assignment from the student council. In response to a looming court action against a didactic film we had made at the DFFB – The Making of a Molotov Cocktail – we contacted filmmakers who could testify as “expert witnesses” (the way German literature professors had testified in the department store arson trial against Teufel & Co.). Embarrassed and uncomfortable, they tried to wriggle their way out of the affair; Alf B. was the only one to show us solidarity and demonstrate organizational competence. Dr. Alexander K. invited us to a dinner “in the name of the institute in Ulm,” watched our short film, and took us on a walk around the block; at the corner of Leopoldstraße and Ainmillerstraße, he took his leave of us with the remark that he was afraid he couldn’t write us a letter of support, because Molotov Cocktail wasn’t [sufficiently . . .] dialectical, unlike the two of us. When I told JeanMarie S. about this, he growled that, for K., dialectic consisted in taking a hefty swig before hurling the bottle.
No feel for everything that capitalism has transformed … when the suspense builds up toward the end, as in a detective novel; when one waits spellbound for concrete factual hints, and “contradictions of capitalism” become, metaphysically, the culprit. Really, every last halfwit in this country knows that these contradictions exist. What they look like, how they can change/disguise themselves and how they can be turned to the advantage of the unprivileged – that should be the substance of the whodunit.
I’m embarrassed to have to reveal myself as a “conservative” person once again, but, for quite some time now, I’ve been reading a couple pages of the MEW [Collected works of Marx and Engels] every day. I by no means wish to insult the writing of the New Left (in all its political tendencies); however, what makes for the love, enthusiasm, and fierce interest cum excitement that I bring to my reading of Marx & Engels (of Engels as well, I expressly affirm, since he’s often underestimated or denounced out of ignorance) is the methodical nature of their work. I have, to date, found this methodical capacity so brilliantly and strikingly developed only in Marx & Engels (it is, moreover, easier to perceive and grasp in their letters and lesser-known articles). Even if Marx & Engels err a hundred times over – and it takes no great effort to prove that they do – they err while demonstrating a human capacity to know and change that is better able than any other to correct mistakes. That is the Marxist method – not slapping convenient facts together, adorned with selected quotations, in order to fabricate an ideological picture. By reading, every day, a couple (preferably “unknown”) pages of Marx & Engels (in the MEW, which is, after all, outstanding), one finally understands what is at stake, and understands it better than from the nth paperback about German literature and revolution, opera and the class struggle, and the like.
- 1. Julian Volz, “Prolegomena. Straschek 1963 – 74 West Berlin (Filmkritik 212, August 1974)”, Sabzian (2022)
This text was originally published as “Straschek 1963-74 Westberlin” in Filmkritik vol. 8, no. 212 (August 1974), and will be published in 4 parts on Sabzian in the coming months.
CINEMATEK and the Goethe-Institut Brussels will dedicate a retrospective and an exhibition to Günter Peter Straschek in June 2022.
This project was realised with the support of the Goethe-Institut Brussels.
With thanks to Karin Rausch, Julian Volz and Julia Friedrich and the Museum Ludwig Cologne for providing the english translation.
Image (1): Günter Peter Straschek (middle), Carlos Bustamante (left) and Johannes Beringer (right) on the set of Labriola (1970). Photo: Michael Biron.
Image (2): Günter Peter Straschek in Es stirbt allerdings ein jeder, fragt sich nur wie und wie Du gelebt hast (Holger Meins) (Renate Sami, 1975)
Image (3): Filmemigration aus Nazideutschland (Günter Peter Straschek, 1975)
Image (4): Lotte H. Eisner in Filmemigration aus Nazideutschland (Günter Peter Straschek, 1975)
Image (5): Filmemigration aus Nazideutschland (Günter Peter Straschek, 1975)