For the True, Beautiful and Good – the German cultural world
Land of the poets and thinkers. Goethe was German, as were Beethoven and Bach. And yet this land of culture still has no national authority with overall responsibility for culture for the country as a whole. According to the Basic Law, culture is the responsibility of the individual federal states. These see themselves as the guardians and supporters of cultural federalism in Germany. Why is it that cultural affairs in Germany are something that the nation itself as a whole cannot, or is not meant to, govern? Ever since the era of Kaiser Wilhelm II in the late 19th century, German culture as the expression of a single German nation was suspected of being the reflection of a craving for status. The disaster of National Socialism ultimately resulted in a re-alignment. Following the Second World War the opinion gradually gained sway that Germany would only be able to return to the world community if it avoided all semblance of exaggerated emotionalism as regards the national culture, which in turn led to a rejection of any form of national cultural policy in Germany.
Yet in Germany cultural institutions are more widely spread than in most other countries. Cultural federalism kindles the ambitions of the individual federal states. Cultural policy is local policy. The state of Baden-Württemberg uses culture as a “soft factor” in its promotional activities. Film promotion has also become an instrument of federalgovernment. Money flows from wherever films are produced. Since the late 1990s the Ruhr region, the mining and steelworking district in North Rhine-Westphalia, has been re-inventing itself as a successful cultural region. Only since1998 has a State Minister for Culture and Media been part of the Federal Chancellery in Berlin. Since then Germany has once again seen this or that cultural matter as being something the entire country should be involved with.
Federal film production was re-organized, and the German Federal Cultural Foundation founded. Berlin is increasingly turning into a cultural magnet and has already become a unique cultural force, a melting pot of cultures, whose museums are a reflection of the entire history of humanity. The Holocaust Memorial in the heart of the city is testimony hewn in stone to how Germany as a cultural nation is dealing with its history. It is impressive proof of a form of national cultural policy that has become necessary since the dawn of the new century. Cultural federalism can likewise be maintained; it continues to act as guarantor for a highly diverse, sophisticated cultural scene in Germany.
Outside the country, German theater frequently has a reputation for being brash and self-absorbed. It is, however, theater with a system behind it that is admired the world over. Even small towns boast opera houses and ballet troupes as well as theaters; overall there is a distinct theater world, a well-established network of state, municipal, traveling, and private theaters. As the student revolts of 1968 died down a broad-ranged theater scene also emerged: the fringe groups – who even today are the symbol of an uninterrupted passion for theater that wants to take the limelight. In Germany a lot goes into this system: in terms of stimulus, attention and money. For many this is a luxury, especially as box office takings amount to a mere 10–15 percent of theater expenses. Private theaters are also included in the public system of subsidization – for example the famous Berliner Schaubühne, which was founded and heavily influenced by renowned director Peter Stein. Admittedly the system has long since reached its zenith and is now in a difficult position because time and again art is measured in terms of the material requirements.
For a long time Peter Stein was considered to be a unique figure in German theater. As opposed to other directors he created an oeuvre that is clearly recognizable by virtue of the continuity of repeated motifs, themes and authors. A theater of memory, with a directing style that takes its cue from the text. There are worlds between today’s up-and-coming generation of dramatists and a Peter Stein, Peter Zadek and Claus Peymann, the head of the Berliner Ensemble. Contemporary theater can no longer be portrayed using the vocabulary of the 1968 rebels. Terms such as enlighten, instruct, expose, and intervene sound antiquated. The theater of today’s young people no longer sees itself as being avantgarde; it strives for independent forms of expression.
Following the euphoria with youth of the 1990s, when names such as Leander Haußmann, Stefan Bachmann and Thomas Ostermeier grabbed the headlines, a phase has emerged in which directors such as these have become theater managers.
Together with his Berliner Volksbühne, Frank Castorf, well known for taking plays apart, and dismantling and putting text together again, has become a role model for this new generation of dramatists. Christoph Marthaler and Christoph Schlingensief also represent a different interpretation of what theater is about, namely a platform that responds to the displacements following the end of the Cold War and the emergence of global capitalism. Directors such as Michael Thalheimer, Armin Petras, Martin Kusej, René Pollesch and Christina Paulhofer have created styles of directing that prioritize style over content; traditional narrative methods that stick close to the text are not something they are necessarily familiar with. What determined German theater for some 250 years, the confrontation with society, has given way to colorful variety, as is demonstrated by the annual Berliner Theatertreffen. Theater, however, ha never ignored the era in which it is played. It has to create images of our life. And it is remembrance work. This is why theater is subsidized: for this very public function.
Foreign Cultural Policy
Alongside classical diplomacy and foreign economic policy, foreign cultural and education policy is the third pillar of German foreign policy. The goal: to provide a upto-date image of Germany in the European integration process and to participate in fostering mutual understanding between peoples. The German Federal Foreign Office only implements part of the cultural policy, tending instead to commission intermediary agencies such as the Goethe-Institut or the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (ifa). The Goethe-Institut runs 147 cultural institutions in 83 countries, 13 of them in Germany. They offer German lessons, assist foreign teachers of German, organize readings, theater and film events and discussions. ifa is primarily engaged in cultural dialog. Since 2003, in cooperation with the Federal Foreign Office and non-profit foundations it has financed cultural centers above all in the Middle and Eastern Europe. German schools abroad are also of great importance. There are 117 of them, with a total of 70,000 pupils (53,000 are not German nationals). With the “Schools: Partners of the Future”, the Federal Foreign Office is specifically supporting school work abroad. Here, for example, a network of partner schools is to be established in which German is taught as a foreign language. Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 the Federal Foreign Office launched a special program entitled “European-Islamic Cultural Dialog” to help improve mutual understanding.
Germany’s reputation as a musical nation is still based on names like Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Handel and Richard Strauss. Students from around the world flock to its musicacademies, music lovers attend the festivals – from the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth to the Donaueschingen Festival of Contemporary Music. There are 80 publicly financed concert halls in Germany, the most important being in Hamburg, Berlin, Dresden and Munich as well as Frankfurt/Main and Leipzig. In recent times in the race for the annual critics’ “Opera House of the Year” prize it was Stuttgart that most frequently came out on top. The Berlin Philharmonic, under the star British conductor Sir Simon Rattle, is considered to be the best of around 130 symphony orchestras in Germany. The Frankfurt “Ensemble Modern” is a fundamental engine room behind contemporary music production. Every year it masters some 70 new works, including 20 premieres. In addition to maestros such as Kurt Masur and Christoph Eschenbach, of the young conductors Ingo Metzmacher and Christian Thielemann in particular have come to the fore. Of the artists, the soprano Waltraud Meier, baritone Thomas Quasthoff and clarinetist Sabine Meyer are among the best in the world. The violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter even has an enormous following beyond classical music enthusiasts.
Karlheinz Stockhausen, the pioneer of electronic music and his traditionalist opposite number, opera composer Hans Werner Henze, have had a resounding influence on contemporary music since the 1950s. Nowadays there are a wide array of stylistic trends: Heiner Goebbels combines music and theater, while Helmut Lachenmann takes the possibilities of instrumental expression to the extreme. Wolfgang Rihm reveals how in the way it is developing it appears possible for music once again to become more comprehensible. On the other end of the musical spectrum, pop singers such as Herbert Grönemeyer have been enjoying success with songs in German for years now, as have the Punk rock band “Die Toten Hosen“, the Hip-Hop group “Die Fantastischen Vier” and “Tokio Hotel”. Furthermore, over the past few years young artists such as the singer Xavier Naidoo (of the group “Söhne Mannheims”) have been successfully basing their work on American soul and rap. Most recently, thesuccess of the Berlin band “Wir sind Helden” has influenced a whole new wave of young German bands. The founding of the “Pop Academy” in Mannheim clearly demonstrated the wish to put German pop music on an international footing.
Shortly before the dawn of the new millennium a firework woke the slumbering German film industry: Tom Tykwer’s 1998 film “Run Lola Run”. The experimental comedy about the redhead Lola, fate, love and chance captures the spirit of the late 1990s. The global audience saw Lola’s daredevil race against time through the streets of Berlin as a metaphor for the restlessness of an era. “Run Lola Run” proved to be an international breakthrough for director Tom Tykwer and Franka Potente, who played the leading role.
For the German cinema it marked the beginning of a revival. For the first time since the era of the great Rainer Werner Fassbinder (died 1982), foreign commentators once again began to enthuse about German cinema, which is now enjoying international success. In 2002, Caroline Link won an Oscar for “Nowhere in Africa” and in 2007 Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck won the cherished trophy for his film “The Life of Others”, and the same year the Cannes International Film Festival awarded its prize for best script and its special prize to Fatih Akin for his film “The Edge of Heaven”. In 2007, Tom Tykwer’s film of Patrick Süskind’s best-selling novel “Perfume” won the German Film Prize in six different categories.
While at the beginning of the new millennium it was comedies that surprisingly boosted German movies’ prospects – such as Hans Weingarten’s “Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei“ (2004) – by the end of the first decade attention focused on serious films. The themes have remained the same, however: The tragicomedy “Good Bye, Lenin!” (Wolfgang Becker, 2003) was a success in almost 70 countries because it portrayed the failure of socialism, and Donnersmarck’s “The Life of Others” (2007) tells the story of life and suffering in East Germany’s police state. German films are successes because they use national themes when telling universal stories. And the filmmakers filter the stuff of which their movies are made from the history and difficulties in their own country.
Fatih Akin, a Hamburg citizen with Turkish roots, tells the story of life in Germany at breathtaking speed. In his prize-winning movie “Head-On” (2004), which among others won the B.I.F.F, Golden Bear, he offers us the love story of two Turks brought up in Germany, and how they are crushed between the two cultures. The story is brutally precise, but deliberately not a tear-jerker. And in 2007 in his “Edge of Heaven” Akin tells the story of six people in Germany and Turkey, whose lives are tied up by destiny.
The Gold “Lola” in 2007 went to the jailhouse drama “Vier Minuten” by Chris Kraus. And Monica Bleibtreu received the German Film Prize for the best lead actress for her role in this dramatic tale of two women and a piano. The renaissance of German film has a strong footing. So the prospects for the German film industry are great.
Since the 1990s German painting and photography haveNbeen enjoying international success. Abroad, this new German painting revelation is known under the label “Young German Artists“. The artists involved come from Leipzig, Berlin and Dresden. Neo Rauch is the best known representative of the “New Leipzig School“. His style is characterized by a new realism that has emerged, free of all ideology, from the former “Leipzig School” of East German art. The paintings reveal for the most part pale figures that would appear to be waiting for something indefinite; a reflection, perhaps, of the situation in Germany at the beginning of the new millennium. So-called “Dresden Pop“, propagated among others by Thomas Scheibitz, references the aesthetics of advertising, TV and video to playfully deal with the aesthetics of finding certainty in the here and now.
For most young artists, dealing with the Nazi era, as was the case in the works of Hans Haacke, Anselm Kiefer and Joseph Beuys, belongs to the past. Rather, a “new interiority” and an interest in spheres of experience that collide with one another are emerging in the art scene: The works of Jonathan Meese and André Butzer reflect depression and compulsive phenomena; they are seen as representatives of “Neurotic Realism“. The subject of Franz Ackermann’s “Mental Maps”, in which he points out the disasters behind the facades, is the world as a global village. Tino Seghal, whose art exists only at the time it is performed and is not allowed to be filmed, is aiming for forms of production and communication that have nothing to do with the market economy. The interest shown in art in Germany can be witnessed at the documenta, the leading exhibition of contemporary art worldwide held every five years in Kassel.
As opposed to the Fine Arts – whose importance is underlined by the boom in the foundation of new private museums – photography in Germany had to struggle for a long time to be accepted as an art form in its own right. Katharina Sieverding, who in her self portraits sounds out the boundaries between the individual and society, is considered to be a 1970s pioneer.
The breakthrough came in the 1990s with the success of three young men who studied at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art under photographer duo Bernd and Hilla Becher: Thomas Struth, Andreas Gursky and Thomas Ruff portray in their pictures a double-edged high-gloss reality and possess such a trailblazing influence that internationally they are simply referred to as “Struffsky“.
Radio and television also play their part in the overall reach of the German media. Having begun in the 1920s(radio) and the 1950s (television) as public network institutions, since the 1980s the colorful spectrum of a dual system made up of public network channels and private stations has emerged. Nowadays some 460 radio stations, for the most part local and regional in character, compete with each other. Some 75 public network radio stations vie with around 385 commercial stations. Overall, in its history radio has undergone a change of function. After the introduction of television it tended to develop more as a parallel medium, and in terms of listening hours achieves about the same figures as TV.
There are differences in the television structure on two levels, national and regional, and between general and special interest channels. Germany has some of the largest public (ARD and ZDF) and private (RTL, Sat1, ProSieben) broadcasting houses in Europe and the world. Depending on the technical platform (terrestrial, satellite, cable, broadband, mobile), and on whether reception is analogue or digital, more than 20 different public TV channels can be viewed, including the two national channels ARD and ZDF, as well as regionally produced offerings broadcast nationwide, such as WDR, MDR, BR and special interest channels like docu-channel Phoenix and kid’s TV KIKA. Then there are three international broadcasters: Deutsche Welle, Franco- German arte, and Austro-German-Swiss cultural channel 3sat. The digital strategy pursued by ARD and ZDF also endeavors to provide a TV media library available round-theclock and new online and mobile products. Here, there is a constant threat of conflict with the private channels, who fear competition will be distorted by the strong influence in the market of the “subsidized” stations.