We Do The Real Thing


The brain of Ulrike Meinhof is in the german news again. It has turned up in Magdeburg, having been transferred there a few years ago so that research could be carried out on it. It looks like they wanted to find out something about evil. “All problems start in the heads of a few, not in the damaged structures of society”. Meinhof wouldn’t have liked that conclusion, nor would Horst Herold, Baader-Meinhof’s big opponent, the head of German police. Herold was on the far left and throughout his life he tried to explain the goals of Baader, Meinhof, Ensslin and the german Red Army Fraction. “The terror brain will be buried in Berlin” wrote the BILD-Zeitung, the rightwing paper which was the other big opponent of the RAF. Meinhof, a popular  journalist and important society figure, was from the beginning the iconic face of the Baader-Meinhof-group. A symbolic asset that turned out to be worthless as soon as they went underground. But people still recall Meinhof as the serious icon of the armed fight, maybe because she had less of a Rock’n Roll attitude than Andreas Baader or his big love, Gudrun Ensslin.

Andreas Baader was a small time criminal from Munich when he came to Berlin. He impressed the students by charming women and by stealing cars and handbags. The rest of the RAF were students or writers and became outlaws; in my eyes Baader traveled the opposite course- he was an outlaw and became a revolutionary theorist. On their way to Paris Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin repeatedly changed cars, even though nobody was following them. Before they burned down the Frankfurt department stores Baader saw “Pierrot Le Fou” by J-L. Godard and said: “Ha, that’s only a movie. We do the real thing.” Baader’s favourite film was an Italian Western called “Il Silencio” with Klaus Kinski, as Locco, the bad guy who wins in the end.

Baader’s duty in the RAF was to hire new people and sell them his thriller, “Here, try a gun!” Since people who got close to the group were extremely leftist already and knew as much as was possible about Lenin and Mao; Baader only had to make sure they felt like characters in a gangster movie. In this way he criminalized them, so there was no going back. Baader was a man of action while Meinhof remained embroiled in Marxist doubt: “When the time for uprising has come it’s already too late to prepare it”. Baader’s response was: “What army can afford to doubt?” They lived in flats which were dressed like offices, they switched cars, constantly changed hair colour, wore wedding rings matched with fake wedding photos. Gudrun Ensslin was finally arrested in the most expensive fashion store in Hamburg trying on a blue leather jacket.

I was very young at the time and remember Germany only as permanently grey and snowing most of the time. The first images in colour were from the Olympic Games in’72. I remember the red and green track suits of the policemen on the concrete roofs of the Olympic village during the “Black September” attack on the Israeli accommodation. (Much later I found out that the name “Black September” referred to the destruction of the El Fatah camp by the Israelis, where Baader, Ensslin and Meinhof were trained in Jordan in the summer of 1970). I was too young to understand what the fight was about and we didn’t have anything to oppose all this greyness until Punk appeared, save for American movies and Andreas Baader. For me as a kid Baader was an actionhero, the front man of a band. And this image of Baader died in 1972. This self-invented rock n roll star, Baader the movie star, was terminated by his arrest in Frankfurt on the first of June. The moviestar Baader would have wanted a shoot-out at the end. So I have seen Baader always as a co-author not only of this Hollywood denoument, but also of the rest of the RAF myth, wherein fiction and fact  are inseparable. Later in prison he took another part. They were the victims of the system. The RAF had now a clear goal: freeing the first generation.

The left always had a problem with Baader because in the end he insisted only that the RAF were tough, that they put being tough at the core of their lives until being tough could come to define  their identity, he asserted that he wanted to become a projectile; all of which which sounded more like military existentialism than Marxist-Leninist analysis. The Baader-Meinhof group very early on made their lives and the lives of others liable for the truth of their ideas. Was Germany ready for a revolution? They saw it as an experiment: You have to find out if the armed fight is possible.

In my film I always wanted to retain a conceptual unease, to keep and restore a sense of ambiguity. The shoot-out ending is a big question mark, with no answer proposed. On the other hand it is romantic and almost in a “spiritual” way right for me personally. If you do a biography you must make sure that it isn’t pretending to be the same thing as life. Life is always more complicated and complex. I tried to rearrange the (hi)story and mediate an image Baader seemed pretty sure about. You can’t separate what is made and what is real.

Terrorism itself lives from staged images. When the RAF bombed a US HQ in 1972 they knew that the german public would recognise the similarity between the news photographs of American soldiers walking through destroyed cars and buildings with the images they knew from the Vietnam war.

In “MaoII” by Don DeLillo the famous writer Bill Gray talks to the terrorist George Haddad (there was a Dr.Wadi Haddad and a Dr.Georges Habasch “Al Hakim, the doctor”, both were Lebanese leaders of the militant Palestinian PFLP):
“For some time now I’ve had the feeling that novelists and terrorists are playing a zero-sum game.”
“Interesting. How so?”
“What terrorists gain, novelists lose. The degree to which they influence mass consciousness is the extent of our decline as shapers of sensibility and thought. The danger they represent equals our own failure to be dangerous.”

My favourite contribution in this year’s Documenta was by The Atlas Group. An imaginary foundation, created in New York in 1999 by Lebanese Walid Ra’ad. It focuses on the civil wars in Lebanon from 1975-1991 and presents a fictional archive, which contains Films, photographs, and a notebook by a Lebanese historian with photographs of car-models involved in bombings. Another work “Secrets in the Open Sea” consists of 29 large blue photographic proofs which were found underneath the 1992 bombed commercial districts of Beirut. The Group claims to have sent 10 prints to a lab in Paris for technical analysis and discovered latent images in the blue which represented black&white prints of individuals who had been found dead in the Mediterranean.

Marcel Duchamp said, in art there is no solution because there is no problem. Today the Miss World Competition was transferred from Abuja, Nigeria to London “in the interest of Nigeria and the competitors.” More than a hundred people died already and as I write the rioting continues, because the newspaper “This Day”  has proposed that the prophet Mohammed would have liked beautiful women. President Obasanjo couldn’t calm the masses in a television speech. This week the new James Bond Movie comes to german cinemas. Well isn’t it too late, years to late, too far from reality, too many quotation marks, too many drinks, too many bad girls? Bond has become a retro fool. Its become boring, every cheap launch party looks like a Bond movie. Who could save Bond? Aki Kurusmäki? Mike Leigh? Or Mullah Omar? The Taliban leader who first appeared by commanding the destruction of the Buddha statues at B­amiyan and finally disappeared by leaving behind only one photograph. We are in the middle of an image war and we can’t expect peace.

I am working on three ideas, films maybe, trying to explain Germany to myself. One is about Claus von Stauffenberg, the man who tried to kill Adolf Hitler in 1944. Stauffenberg came from a writer circle centered around the poet Stefan George who invented “The secret Germany”. Stauffenberg,a General, planned the conspiracy for many years, lost his arm in the war and was shot on the 20th of July 1944, the day the attempt on Hitler’s life failed.

The second is about Hannelore Kohl, late wife of chancellor Kohl. She committed suicide in 2001, after suffering from a light allergy. In her last months she had to live in total darkness, like a vampire she only could leave the house at night, while her husband was fighting a charge of corruption, a story that encompasses the extreme glare of publicity and intense private darkness.

The third is a contemporary western. Nietzsche, Marx and Freud come to a small town and want the same woman.

I feel like a paparazzi of history, chasing forbidden images. I am not a documentarist seeking that which lies behind the image. It is not about destroying or raising icons or idols. I’m with Bruno Latour(curator, with Peter Weibel, of the wonderful exhibition “iconoclash” at the ZKM in Karlsruhe), Latour has proposed a new reading of the second commandment: “Thou shall not freeze-frame any graven image!”

Once more Haddad from “MaoII”: “The artist is absorbed, the madman in the street is absorbed and processed and incorporated. Give him a dollar, put him in a TV commercial. Only the terrorist stands outside. The culture hasn’t figured out how to assimilate him. It’s confusing when they kill the innocent.”