Posts tagged ‘goebbels’

November 10, 2010

“Degenerate art” on display again in Berlin after 69 years

WE TYPICALLY ASSOCIATE BURIED treasure with desert islands and remote monasteries, but sometimes it’s lying right beneath your nose. That’s what Berlin workers discovered earlier this year when they came across a lost trove of so-called degenerate art that had been eliminated from the city’s collections during the Third Reich. “Degenerate art,” of course, was the Nazi term for any kind of modern non-representational or else all-too realistic painting or sculpture that did not fit into the regime’s conception of a heroic Aryan…

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April 7, 2010

Poland and Russia mark 70th anniversary of Katyn Massacre

Memorial in Katyn Forest

TODAY, RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER Vladimir Putin and Polish prime minister Donald Tusk are scheduled to take part in a joint ceremony marking the seventieth anniversary of an historical event. This sort of item would normally fall under the news desk, since government leaders are constantly marking historical events of one kind or another. But this ceremony is different, since it is taking place in Katyn Forest near the Russian town of Smolensk, where – among other places – up to 22,000 Polish officers and other members of the Polish elite met a gruesome death at the hands of Josef Stalin’s NKVD secret police.

Pursuant to a secret clause of the Hitler-Stalin Pact and following Germany’s attack on Poland on September 1, 1939, Soviet forces…

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December 4, 2009

Happy 106th birthday, Johannes Heesters!

Johannes Heesters, 1903-

WHILE IT IS NOT exactly what the Germans call a “round birthday,” by the time you turn 106 every birthday is something to celebrate. This time it is the turn of the Dutch-Austrian singer and actor Johannes Heesters. He is not only the world’s oldest active stage performer, he is also one of Europe’s most controversial.

Heesters was born in Amersfoort, Netherlands on December 5, 1903. As a child he dreamed of becoming a priest. He later embarked on a banking apprencticeship before discovering his true vocation as a performer. At the age of sixteen he began to study music and acting, appearing on the stage for the first time in 1921. His film debut followed in 1924 as a supporting actor in the Dutch movie Cirque Hollandais. But silent movies could not satisfy the young tenor’s ambitions and Heesters continued to seek stage roles. In 1927 he auditioned for the German band leader Harry Frommermann, who would subsequently found the fabled “Comedian Harmonists,” but refused to sign a contract when Frommermann told him that he would not receive a wage for the first several months. Heesters landed his first major role on stage in 1930 and went on to become an accomplished operetta singer, debuting at the Vienna Volksoper in 1934…

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November 10, 2009

Day of destiny: Germany and November 9

Berlin Wall

FOR AS LONG AS there have been calendars, specific dates have marked significant historical and spiritual events in their respective societies. The Americans celebrate their independence on the fourth of July, the French mark the storming of the Bastille on the fourteenth of July, and the British commemorate the infamous Gunpowder Plot on the fifth of November. Every other country – and just about every religion – also celebrates certain days that changed the world. New dates can appear at any moment. In today’s America, the magic date of 9/11 now trumps all others and determines much of our national identity. Germany is no exception to this phenomenon, although it is unique for having one day in its national calendar so pregnant with meaning that they have a special name for it: der Schicksalstag der Deutschen (the fateful day of the Germans). They mark this day not on 9/11 but on 11/9, i.e. on November 9. The events that have occurred on this day span the entire spectrum of human experience, from defeat to shame, from the profoundest horror to redemption and rebirth. It is the date itself that ties these seemingly random events into a neat package and gives both structure and an astonishing level of meaning to one of the most turbulent histories any nation has ever experienced – and inflicted on the rest of the world. It wasn’t always this way, but November 9, 1848 happened to be the day that German revolutionary Robert Blum was executed by firing squad in Vienna. His death at the hand of reactionary Austrian soldiers marked the symbolic defeat of the Revolution of 1848, which set the cause of German democracy back by generations. Exactly sixty years later, as a new rebellion broke out among the soldiers and sailors of the defeated German Empire … Continued…

October 30, 2009

“Metropolis” lives! The return of a cinematic masterpiece

 Metropolis

EVERYBODY HAS SEEN THE images, but how many have sat through the whole thing? In 1927, Fritz Lang first unleashed his 204 minute-long studio-busting sci-fi flick Metropolis on the public, the answer is “precious few.” It bombed at its opening in Berlin on January 10 of that year and it did little better in a somewhat shortened version that premiered in Stuttgart and Munich on August 25. It was not until Paramount Pictures took mercy on this beached whale of a would-be epic, hired scriptwriter Channing Pollock to cut it way down to a form that at least Americans could swallow, that the film finally started to attract an audience. “Metropolis knew no boundaries and had no logic,” Pollock later explained. “I gave it my own meaning.” This version, running to around an hour and a half, became the one the world would proceed to call Metropolis, a movie that everyone knew about but hardly anyone actually liked.

Sure, the visuals were always stunning – visionary even (director Luis Bunuel called it “the most wonderful picture book you could imagine”) – but good visuals do not a good movie make. The generally poor film quality we usually got to see on late-night public TV was one stroke against it, and the even worse (and widely divergent) soundtracks were another. But most of all, the egregiously dysfunctional story of Freder Fredersen, the naïve but courageous son of the great city’s lord and master, and the Christ-like figure of Maria, the prophet of Metropolis’s vast proletarian underground population, whose implausible love for each other brings the two seemingly irreconcilable classes together, seemed both cloying and downright insulting. As one critic wrote in the Berliner Börsen-Courier the morning after the 1927 premiere, “[Screenwriter] Thea von Harbou has invented a preposterous plot whose motifs are stuffed to the gills. (…) She continually works with hollow feelings. Horrible. A serious topic is transformed into gruesome kitsch. [It is filled with] special effects, not because ideologies themselves cause explosions, but because the film wants to show off its tricks. The conclusion – the tearful reconciliation of employer and employee – [is] appalling.” …

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