Randall Halle and Margaret McCarthy,
(Detroit: Wayne State University, 2003)
442 pages. UCSB: PN1993.5.G3 L54 2003.
Cinema in Democratizing Germany.
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995)
364 pages. UCSB: PN1993.5.G3 F35 1995.
Anton Kaes, From Hitler to Heimat
(Boston: Harvard University Press, 1989)
273 pages, UCSB: PN1993.5.G3 K2913 1989
Book Essay by Joseph Chapel
For Prof. Marcuse’s upper division lecture course Germany Since 1945
(course homepage)(see also Works Cited, below)
UC Santa Barbara, Winter 2004
About the author:
Essay (back to top)
German Film as a Window to History
Since the collapse of Hitler’s Third Reich and the end of censorship the movie industry has been able to make any movie they desire without fear of a cruel dictator intervening or fear of punishment. Using this filmmakers have been making films since the end of the war in 1945, and these films have depicted (whether intentionally or not) the state of the German nation and their relationships with foreign powers at the time. This paper will look at three films (Green is the Heath, Das Boot, and Run Lola Run) made at crucial eras in German history: soon after the end of World War Two, during a divided Germany, and post-unification. The plots in these films and the events surrounding the making of and/or release of the film will help to take a look at the condition of Germany at each time period. In each film we can recognize the idea of transculturalism and hybridization of Germany with the rest of the world. Transculturalism and hybridization is the coming together of two cultures and combining them so they are interwoven, but that one does not seem to be more prevalent.
Hans Peppe’s Grün ist die Heide (Green is the Heath), made in 1951, relatively soon after the war, has (beneath the love story and father/daughter relationship) the underlying themes of forming a new Germany with new a homeland for the millions of refugees the war has created. It also tries to maintain the German tradition. The film starts with Helga and her father Lüdersen leaving the eastern lands that have come under Soviet rule, and settling with relatives in Lüneburger Heide. Helga soon adapts to the new life but her father continues to hunt on the heath, even though it is against the law. Forester Rainer is attempting to catch the poacher and Lüdersen confesses to Helga that it was him and he promises her that he will stop. Meanwhile, a circus has just come to town with Nora, who is a long lost friend of Helga’s, and then a police officer is found dead. The district judge assumes that the policeman was killed by the same man who has been hunting. The film follows the typical description of a Heimatfilm and Forester Rainer falls in love with Helga and the district judge with Nora. After a large city shooting match, Helga and her father prepare to leave and he goes into the heath one last time and sees a man killing a deer. He attempts to approach the man but is shot and wounded. The police catch the man, who was working for the circus, and he admitted to hunting for food for the circus animals and for killing the police officer earlier. With the capture of the poacher, no one suspects any longer that it was Lüdersen and he remains in town with his daughter. Towards the end of the movie Nora injures herself and is unable to continue on with the circus. She stays in town with the district judge. A typical happy ending is in place.
Before diving into the depths of German identity, one most first look at the end of the war, the end of Hitler’s reign, the new borders set forth by the Allied powers, and at the newly displaced people, many who wish to return to their previous homes, and others looking for new places to live. In Green is the Heath the Lüneburger Heide serves as a focal point of displaced people. In the city you can find people from all over Europe. Alasdair King states that the Heimat genre in general deals with "conflicts over borders, territory, and identity" (King, 131). In this way Green is the Heath stays true to its roots in dealing with the issue of homeland, and where one belongs in this new Germany after the war. King continues his statement of the popularity of Heitmatfilm and the importance of belonging by saying, "It is easy to overlook that the Heimatfilme achieved its greatest popularity at the beginning of the 1950’s, at a historical moment when political debates concerning…mass migration were particularly prevalent" (King, 133). At the time when Germany was attempting to rebuild itself with its new borders and many displaced peoples, a genre of film emerged out that often had to deal with the coming together of displaced people in a new homeland, and showing how they adapted to their new environment. The new Germany was trying to come back together after it had been demolished by the Third Reich. With the many new displaced people settling in new areas, the homogenous civilization that the fanatical Nazis had attempted to create was falling apart. This could be seen in one of the key scenes of the film, at a shooting match. The coming together of the townsfolk and foreigners who are trying to make this village their new homeland can be "seen most clearly at the Schützenfest (shooting match), where the village community is shown to be surprisingly heterogeneous, composed of refugees and newcomers" (King, 137). Much in the same way that Lüneburger Heide served as the new homeland for Heide and her father, the "Heimatfilm of the 1950’s also tried to impart a new feeling of home…to the millions of refugees and exiles who had lost their homelands" (Kaes, 16). Elaborating this theme, Heide Fehrenbach also emphasizes that in Green is the Heath "as in other Heimatfilme, the real problems involved in the assimilation of the refugees" (King, 134). One last example of the theme of displaced persons and finding a new homeland can be seen towards the end of the film when Lüdersen addresses the crowd:
My dear friends, allow me to say a few words before I take leave of you…I
speak not for me alone, but for the many others who have found a second
home [Heimat] here among you. I will never forget the days I was allowed
to be with you in the Heide, in the Heide that has also become my second
In these ways the film portrays what was going on at the time of publication (1951): as Heide and her father are trying to find a new home, Germany in general is attempting to mix together and start over by finding a new homeland and discovering who they are.
Trying to find a new homeland after the country has been destroyed physically and emotionally/mentally, goes hand in hand with making a new German identity to live in the new land. As King puts it, "linked to this attempt to achieve a new sense of belonging…in the western states came the task of forging a new German identity" (King, 134). Forging this new German identity did not come easily as Germany suffered from mass homelessness and food shortages after the war. Along with this there were often conflicts between natives of a land and the new foreigners. This can be seen in the relationship between Heide and her father Lüdersen. While Heide is able to adapt quickly to the new land, her father sticks to his former ways and continues to hunt even though it is against the law in this new land. Although her father eventually adapts after his good deed of finding the poacher, this is more due to the fact that Heimatfilme involved happy endings, than accurately representing German history. Along with Lüdersen forging a new German identity, the forester also becomes a new German. After forester Rainer discovers that it is Lüdersen hunting, he gives him and Heide a chance to leave instead of arresting Lüdersen and abandoning Heide. This shows that Rainer has avoided "becoming yet another unfeeling civil servant ‘just following orders’" (Fehrenbach, 155). As Fehrenbach points out, "a bit of legal latitude goes a long way after national socialism, and [Rainer] is intended to be perceived as a principled humanitarian, a man with a heart – something that signals his difference from the Nazis." In this way Rainer has forged a new identity and changed from a Nazi to a humanitarian. Throughout the film Green is the Heath German history surfaces and through the film one can gain a metaphorical depiction of the new ideas and conflicts that arose after the end of the war and the Third Reich.
Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot, which came out in the early 1980’s, shows West Germany’s desire to fit into the west, a goal they had been attempting to achieve since the Adenauer era, and it also shows West Germany’s representation of itself in World War Two. The West Germans attempted to paint a picture of World War Two soldiers as victims, not perpetrators in a fanatical ideological extermination plan.
Das Boot opens up in a bordello that is full of German soldiers who are going to ship off the next day. Once aboard the ship and at sea the soldiers practice drills and then go on a hunt for British ships. On their way home they are given orders by a ‘high command’ to go through the Strait of Gibraltar and attack Allied ships. This appears to be an impossible task to the soldiers on board the U-boat submarine. While in the Strait of Gibraltar the U-boat is hit and starts to sink. The soldiers on board the ship repair the ship and come home to a small welcome. As they reach the port they are bombed by Allies and all but one soldier is killed.
Director Wolfgang Petersen had the common goal of most West Germans, to become ‘westernized’, a common thought in West Germany after the end of the war and continuing in the 1980’s. Das Boot was Petersen’s stepping stone to make it in the west. The film had very many elements seen in Hollywood and led Petersen to make the films In the Line of Fire and Air Force One. With the popularity of Air Force One Petersen was seen as a ‘success’ in the west, finally accomplishing the goal he set out to obtain with his first film Das Boot. After the split of Germany and the building of the Berlin Wall, West Germany left its counterpart in East Germany and sided with the Western Allies. This caused East Germany to be disappointed in its Western brethren. Brad Prager describes Das Boot as "simultaneously [being] an extension of New German Cinema projects and a Hollywood-inspired film" (Prager, 237). The popularity of Das Boot continued and led to the popular American films The Hunt for Red October, Crimson Tide, and U-571. Through the Hollywood performance seen in Das Boot and Petersen’s (along with West Germany’s) acceptance into Western culture, they (Petersen and West Germany) have finally forged their national identity with that of the West. Along with assimilating with the Allied powers, the West German film Das Boot shares many elements prominent at the time with the United States.
At the time of Das Boot the filmmakers were often too young or not yet born at the time of World War Two. Also during the early 1980’s the West Germans were trying to come to terms with themselves and the soldiers of the Third Reich. This ‘coming to terms’ become obvious at President Reagan’s speech at Bitburg Cemetery where Reagan pardoned the German World War Two soldiers by saying "they were victims, just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps" (Reagan). Although this caused great controversy in the United States, it was seen in Germany as a sign that the Americans were willing to forgive their German allies. The soldiers in the U-boat are removed from the ‘high command’ and are not seen as "Nazis nor even German sailors, but soldiers in a universal sense, identified with other soldiers in the world" (Prager, 253). By removing the Nazism from the soldier, the film (and society) is already beginning to absolve the soldiers and take away their responsibility in the war and place it upon the ‘high command.’ This absolving of responsibility is also shown in the film when the crew’s morale is down and they play a British World War One record, which instantly puts the soldiers’ moods up. One last, great absolving of guilt and of universal soldiery is seen when the crew becomes upset after they torpedo a British ship and are unable to save the crew and watch as they burn alive. By universalizing the idea of soldiery, the guilt is taken away from the low crewmen and placed upon the evil ‘high command’. This absolving of guilt to make the soldiers appear as if they had nothing to do with the war is a common practice and can be seen in films in the United States as well.
Similar to the ways the Germans absolved the soldiers’ guilt from World War Two, their now Western allies in America were doing the same thing with the Vietnam War. Absolving guilt by way of film is not solely concentrated in Germany. U.S. presence in Vietnam was (and still is) very controversial, and the tactics used in Vietnam came under great scrutiny by the populace. With the killing of innocent women and children the American soldiers in Vietnam were put in much the same position as the German soldiers in Germany during World War Two. The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now are two popular American movies that absolved the soldiers’ guilt by showing the soldiers to be "unwilling and typically at too young an age – shipped off to Vietnam with no guidance other than the indifferent orders handed down from ‘high command’" (Prager, 239). Using film, the Germans and Americans both attempt (and to a degree succeed) in exonerating the soldier’s guilt in the war by reducing them from ideologists to naïve soldiers following orders, making the two nations very similar.
After the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the unification of Germany, Germany set a course for transcultural filmmaking that can be seen in the film Run Lola Run. As Christine Haase explains, "in order to confront, compliment and better understand transcultural production…German mass culture…needs to be reexamined, especially in its increasingly globalized context" (Haase, 397). In the film Run Lola Run Germans were no longer trying to assimilate into Western culture, but rather to maintain their own culture while simultaneously embracing Western culture.
Run Lola Run takes place in modern Berlin with the two major characters Lola and Manni, her boyfriend. Manni is a small ‘underworld’ operator who at the beginning of the film loses DM 100,000 that he is supposed to return to his brutal crime boss. He calls Lola in a panic and tells her that if he does not come up with the missing money in twenty minutes, he will end up dead. Lola frantically runs around trying to come up with the cash and the film shows three scenarios. Google marcuse 133c to find where this essay is published on the web. Throughout the scenarios, Lola interacts with people in different ways and this affects the outcome. In the first scenario, Lola ends up being shot and killed by a police officer. In the second scenario, Manni ends up being hit and killed by an ambulance. In the last ending, Lola comes up with the money but by the time she gets to Manni, he has already recovered the money and the two of them find a happy ‘Hollywood’ ending.
Run Lola Run achieves its transcultural goal by using its American influences to gain popularity, while not giving in to the Hollywood glamour and is in this way able to gain international/transcultural success. Run Lola Run achieves international success by meshing American pop culture, especially with the MTV generation and by having ‘punk’ main characters with a matching soundtrack. However, through the American pop culture the film does not give up its Heimat identity. The film shows transculturalism and hybridization. American movie critic Rob Blackwelder claims that the film is a "festival circuit smash hit from Germany that’s already become a pop culture phenomenon in Europe" (Blackwelder). From its German origin, the movie’s popularity quickly spread to the rest of Europe, and then across the ocean to the United States. Run Lola Run has become a symbol of transculturalism and has gained international success by Tom Tykwer not having "to fight off Hollywood constantly, either for political-philosophical reasons or in an attempt to gain creative distance" (Haase, 298). This reasoning can be placed into historical context in the fact that the Berlin Wall has been torn down and the populace is no longer controlled by its government but can show its true views on society and also remain creative. At the same time, Germans can make a film that will become popular over continents. Haase sums up the idea of transculturalism and hybridization by saying "Tykwer appropriates by way of innovation and reinterpretation, bringing together the old and the new, the serious and the entertaining, the transatlantic and the continental, offering a fresh perspective on sights that have become all too common, habitual, and accepted," or in simpler terms "is a pizza topped with caviar, prepared by an Austrian chef, and sold in Tokyo to a Finnish tourist still Italian?" (Haase, 413).
Through German films produced since the end of World War Two, the viewer can not only watch a form of entertainment but is able to delve into German history and view it not from hindsight but by a contemporary (at the time) producer. By watching films from three crucial time eras: Green is the Heath (at the end of the war), Das Boot (in the 1980’s), and Run Lola Run (post unification) the underlying conceptions of what Germany is and who the Germans are as seen through the theme of transculturalism and hybridization. This theme is prevalent throughout the three films and three eras and is shown to viewers in each film. Green is the Heath shows how the war caused massed homelessness and many displaced people had to find new places to live. In these new places the natives of the village often had to deal with living with foreigners (hybridization) and had to change so everyone could live together peacefully, as seen through Lüdersen and Heide trying to adopt to the new village and as seen through the masses of people emigrating from lost territories of Germany into West Germany. In Das Boot the Germans tried to absolve their guilt of World War Two in much the same way as the United States tried to absolve its guilt in the Vietnam War. A different form of hybridization took place at this time: Germany tried to become like its transatlantic counterpart, the United States. This is seen in the film when the German soldiers break down as they see British soldiers burning alive. In Run Lola Run Germany is no longer trying to become like America, but is trying to adopt some of its ways, while staying true to their own tradition. This hybridization of two cultures leads directly to transculturalism and this is seen in the film by the appearance of the characters and the soundtrack. Hybridization and transculturalism have shown up in three periods since the end of World War Two. This makes it evident that Germany is always willing to change to fit into the present time period.
Works Cited (back to top)