7/28/2010

a case of city amnesia

A shallow recent film on a kind of wishfull city amnesia made my friends wonder, so here some ideas on it's psychological background. The film is a late version of some silly internet joke on Bielefeld, a middle sized town in the german provinces, and expresses it's strange longing for amnesia. Being in itself just a typical german town, because of which some big opinion- and market research companies settled there, with history tracing back to the origins of the german founding myths (more, more) and behaving during the past century not worse than everywhere else in Germany: Here you see the Synagoge burning 1938. The population protested against the crude pogroms because it asked for distributing valuable furniture instead of throwing and smashing it into the streets. Camps for slave labour supplied ca. 100 companies in the city, as usual those times. In the weekends, people enjoyed rides to such a camp and this Stalag nearby, watching the inmates running after potatoes thrown over the fence. Some rural people stayed honest (film). After WW2 Bielefeld recivilized quickly and was even considered for becoming Germany's next capital, by the locals again after the german reunification, still causing a strong animosity against it's more successful competitors. Now it is one of the highest appreciated places for living in Germany, making the mentioned desire for amnesia even more puzzling.

The movie version of this wish for nonexistence actually belongs as latest and most weird phase to the particular german way of history-exorcism in post WW2 german popular culture:
Phase 1 from the 1950's on by the comedian Heinz Erhardt, connecting to and then exorcizing nazi patterns of emotions by a kind of stubborn infantilism and anancastic humor at the edge of Goebbels rhetoric (youtube1, youtube 2).


Phase 2 was the psychological core of german criminal telenovellas from the 1960's on, when the calm and rational detective substitutes the shrieking nazi, here a collection of the key scenes, when murder cases, as slightly alienated uncoverings of dark war secrets, are communicated and calmed down. Actually, media specialists know since long that those crime series were invented by a former nazi who tried to overcome his own past by that. An open media secret in Germany. Such series' international success make one wonder ...

Phase 3 was the famous game show by Hans Rosenthal, a jewish Berliner barely escaping the KZ. The show's title "Dalli-Dalli" was the call of the nazi-wards in Poland when they made the jews run more quickly from the final train stations into the camp. "Dalli-Dalli" spread into the german language and had allways an association as the voice of an evil authority imediately before turning to violence. "Dalli-Dalli" was a kind of final warning. Notice the slightely transformed jewish stars in the background.

All that worked well, so why the need of the shallow phase 4 in that movie now? It is because the previous phases only work *retrospectively*, after the dark past is behind. In Bielefeld's case, this did not happen, the boundary was blurred and the past streched into the present.E.g. after WW2 e.g. Himmler's wife and daughter were given a home in Bielefeld by an influential Ex-Nazi-support group, among the recipients of support was probably Mengele. There is a permanent battle on the name of the city art hall local industrialists sponsored. It's architect, co-founder of the american Nazi-party ("He attended one of Hitler's Nuremberg rallies in 1938, and in 1939 he followed the German army into Poland. "We saw Warsaw burn and Modlin being bombed," he wrote afterward. "It was a stirring spectacle." quotes the W-Post): "I have no excuse (for) such unbelievable stupidity ... " Founded by a local member of the Himmler-fan-club, then named for Kaselowski, a friend of Himmler, with opaque involvement in robbing jewish businesses. (The investigating historian felt the need to secure documents from destruction or manipulation by transfering them into an other country.) Now the art hall got rid of that name, but locals succeeded in naming a nearby street after Kaselowski. When Frank Gehry recently participated in designing a new part of that art hall, he too made startling comments: "Ich werde täglich mit großer Dummheit konfrontiert." Until the german reunification, Bielefeld was the dangerous hotspot of german neofaschism, which then moved into the former GDR. Slave work continued until the mid 1970's, but with children in orphanages instead of POW's and ethnic minorities. After a holocaust-memorial lecture in the local university, citizens of neighbouring towns who still hide goods (books, art, etc.) from jews who exchanged them for money and food during their flight had contacted an aquaintance for how to get finally rid of the remains. Supressed into the subconsciousness, weird feelings in visitors express usually just indirectly, e.g. the puzzled reaction when the city's PR dept. asked a gourmet journalist for a visit: "Was tue ich am Rande des Teutoburger Waldes, werden viele Leser jetzt fragen. Die Antwort ist einfach: Ich suche die Herausforderung ..." But now, Bielefeld seeks for salvation in dementia, for relief by nonexistence.