Deutschland im Herbst (Germany in Autumn) (1978)




Director:     Alf Brustellin, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Alexander Kluge, Maximiliane Mainka, Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus, Peter Schubert, Bernhard Sinkel, Hans Peter Cloos, Edgar Reitz, Katja Rupé, Volker Schlöndorff.

Starring:     Wolfgang Bächler, Heinz Bennent (TV committee member), Wolf Biermann (Himself), Joachim Bißmeier, Caroline Chaniolleau, Hans Peter Cloos (Foreigner), Otto Friebel, Hildegard Friese, Michael Gahr, Vadim Glowna (Freiermuth), Helmut Griem (Mahler's interviewer),  Hannelore Hoger (Gabi Teichert), Petra Kiener, Dieter Laser (TV committee member), Horst Mahler (Himself).

trying to form an idea about the state of German politics in the age of terrorism, year 1977


Spoiler Warning:

A man captured by terrorists, Hanns Martin Schleyer, writes a letter to a son or daughter saying he's in good health but his captors don't give him much information about the latest news.  "The kidnappers' aim, after their demands are rejected and I am liquidated, will only lead to more victims.  From what I know about the planned Ponto Kidnapping and my own case, this aim will be achieved."  He writes that more terrorism will come.  The leaders of West Germany, Helmut Schmidt, Helmut Kohl and Genscher, should know this. 

The news media are at the funeral of Schleyer. 

Frau Wilde, a mother with five children, wrote in 1945, near Hitler's end.  "Once a certain level of atrocity has been reached, it's irrelevant who is responsible.  It simply has to stop."

The famous German director Rainer Fassbinder calls up to see if he can get the last part of his interview taken out.  He was criticizing marriage saying that it's probably good if his films break up couples already in bad relationships.  He says the institution of marriage is just so artificial in the first place.  Later he comes home and kisses his male partner, Armin.  He wants to know what's the most recent news of the airplane hijacking.  Armin is of no help there.  The two get into a dispute about what should happen to the hijackers (Armin wants them shot or hanged).  Then Fassbinder tells Armin to get out of his apartment.  Armin leaves. 

Fassbinder gets his Armin back.  (some male nudity)  Fassbinder calls Ingrid and says the latest news is that Baader, Ensslin and Raspe are all dead.  "They killed themselves in their jail cells."  Fassbinder feels sick about what happened.  He can't eat.  In fact, he throws up what's in his stomach.  He later calls for a drug delivery. He shouts out:  "Yeah, I'm depressed!  I can't go on!  I can't work anymore!"

Interspersed through these events is an argument between Fassbinder and an older woman politician who argues that today people on the left shouldn't speak out because their words will just be used against them in the hysteria about the airplane high jacking.  Fassbinder criticizes her for saying that people shouldn't speak out in this frenzied atmosphere.

Fassbinder snorts what is probably cocaine.  He hears police sirens coming to the apartment building.  He rushes to throw his drugs down the toilet.  But the police are not coming for Fassbinder.  He then gets into another argument with Armin, who goes out for a beer.

When Armin comes back, he has brought a man home with him who has nowhere to sleep.  This makes Rainer very angry and he tells Armin to throw the man out.  So Armin throws the man out of the apartment.  Then Armin asks his partner what did he do that for?  Fassbinder starts crying.  Armin tries to comfort him. 

Deutschland  über alles is played while images of ancient Germanic heroes and heroines are shown. 

Gabi Teichert, history teacher, since the autumn of 1977 has had doubts about what to teach in her classroom. "She's been in search of the foundations of German history."  With a shovel, she starts walking out on the snow-covered landscape.  She digs for prehistoric artifacts. 

Mayerlink Castle.  The Crown Prince's mistress.  The couple commit suicide.  "God save Emperor Franz."  "Suicide is for those who don't fit in this world."

Documentary film.  Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, hero of Africa. Father of the current Stuttgart mayor, Manfred Rommel.  In autumn 1944, killed by the state with poison.  He was given a state funeral. 

Gabi Teichert is in trouble with her superiors. They say she is confused about German history and, therefore, her classroom teaching is "inappropriate".  

October 25, 1977.  In front of St. Eberhard's Church, Stuttgart, West Germany.  There is a state memorial service for Hanns-Martin Schleyer. 

Footage of the assassination of the King of Serbia.  This was a murder by the German secret service in Marseille, France 1938.

Back at the state ceremony for Schleyer, a Turk is apprehended by the police for carrying a rifle.  In poor German the Turk says that he just did buy the rifle:  "I wanted to shoot a pigeon for lunch."

In the automobile factory, the workers take a moment of silence for three minutes in honor of Schleyer.  95% percent of the workers are foreigners. 

At the ceremony there are from 450 to 550 guests for dinner.   

A man beats down a woman in public.  A woman passing by in her car stops, gets out and goes after the man, who runs away.  She then takes the woman to her apartment.  She washes away the blood from the woman's face and hands. 

Prison inmate Horst Mahler, former radical lawyer, sentenced to 14 years in prison, 7 of which are already served.  He is supposedly a founding member of the RAF [Red Army Faction--  a Marxist and Maoist terrorist organization in Germany; a network of underground guerillas who committed acts of violence in the service of the class struggle; a successor to the Baader-Meinhof Gang; became one of Europe's most feared terrorist groups; disbanded in 1998.  from]

The woman who saved the woman who was being assaulted is Franziska Busch, who works in a political group.  She goes with a renowned TV director.  She has read seven of Horst Mahler's work and she wants to get some clarification from him. 

A man says:  "We're making a film about the political climate in West Germany after the Schleyer kidnapping."  So they ask Mahler about his view of recent events.  Mahler says he sees the act in the context of the events of 1945, but also of 1967, 1977 and 1978.  The year 1945 marks the crippling of the political power of German fascism.  But internally there was no anti-fascist revolution in West Germany.  This was rectified by the 1967 student revolts. 

Franziska Busch attends a screening of the filmed interview with Mahler.  She's in the theater with Fassbinder and another director.

Mahler says a lot of the cause of the decline of the student revolts was primarily due to the inexperience of the political left in West Germany.  The director of the film says that just as important was the resistance from supporters of the existing government in West Germany. Mahler agrees with that.  He goes on to ask the question, how can a person like Ulrike Meinhof kill another person, or find his death acceptable?  People like Meinhof are criminal murderers.  They carry radicalism too far.

Munich, West Germany, Saturday, October 15, 1977.  A man comes into an apartment where a pretty woman is living.  He says he was just in a car accident and that's how he got the nasty cut on his forehead.  He asks for a glass of water.  While the woman gets the water, the guy puts a bowl of fruit over the newspaper.  When the woman comes back with the water, she removes the bowl and sees the man's picture in the newspaper.  His picture appears with other wanted radicals.  She gets a bit scared, but keeps her composure.  She asks the stranger to wipe the blood off his face.  He goes to the bathroom.  When he comes out he says he can't stand the sight of blood either.

The political group that Franziska Busch belongs to is producing a film that is reminiscent in form of the revolutionary films of the '20s -- a silent film with revolutionary workers.

A couple is stopped at a border crossing and their papers are checked.

The German Military Railway in WWI, 1914-1918.  History teacher Gabi Teichert learned from a thick book that since 1918 the German anthem is frequently sung with this railway-influenced text:  "From the Maas to the Memel, from the Etsch to the Belt, Deutschland, Deutschsaland über alles, Germany above all in the world."  Gabi comments:  "What fairy-tales they tell the people!"

Rosa Luxemburg said before her death, "Germany has only one alternative: socialism or barbarism."  This is combined with film of people hanged by the Germans in public. 

The German army on autumn maneuvers.  They play war games.  A woman says no, she is not afraid to see the tanks around her area.

Late autumn, 1977, National Convention of the German Social Democrats in Hamburg.  The guest speaker is the Swiss author Max Frisch.  He stresses that the radicals in prison must not be able to communicate with the radicals outside prison.

A film based on a play by Sophocles is shown of two sisters talking about their two brothers.  They first present a disclaimer statement.  One sister says that one of their brothers was buried in the ground, but Creon would not allow a burial for the other brother.  So the one sister, Antigone, says she will bury their brother herself, if need be.  The other sister says that it's foolish to try and thwart the will of Creon.  And her sister should not bury their other brother.  This makes Antigone say that then she will bury their brother without any help from the other sister.  A man involved with making the film says he can't stand the waiting and leaves the room.  The woman, Antigone, goes to the site where her brother's naked body lies.  She pours some sand over the body and guards grab her for this.  Antigoner has to appear before Creon.  She says she knew it was forbidden, but she did it anyway. 

The man who left the room now returns.  A man says that the disclaimer text is not clear enough.  The rebellious sister, Antigone.  The disclaimer text is too noble.  The problem is that Antigone is too much like a modern German terrorist.  One  of the film makers says it's a terrible day, when not even Sophocles can be put on film.  One of the critics says the next word will be "censorship" followed by "fascism".  Another criticism is that the film topic is too topical at this time with the burial of Schleyer and the burials of the three terrorists in the Dornhaldenfeld Cemetery.  It's just not the right time for the classic play. 

At the end of the play the heroine is hanged. 

The man making the decision of where to bury the three terrorists was Mayor Rommel.  He made the decision quickly so as not to prolong the agony of debate on the question of where to bury the terrorists. 

A couple decide to put on a funeral meal for the terrorists.  The woman says they have had other clients who were not so agreeable.  There were lots and lots of people at the burial of the terrorists.  Also present waere lots of police security.  A helicopter flies overhead.  The news media is also there in droves.  Some of the radicals at the funerals wear bandanas over their lower parts of their faces.  The graves are covered with planks and then with dirt.  Police on horseback wait a bit hidden in the woods.

"Once a certain level of atrocity has been achieved, it's irrelevant who is responsible  It simply has to stop."



The kind of sentiment among young radicals in Germany was very familiar to me as we had a similar situation in the USA.  The radicals started out very naive about the resistance they would eventually get from the government and the people.  When much of their work and ideas were continually stymied and blocked, many of the radicals became extremist radicals.  In Germany they compared the democratically elected government with the government of Hitler.  Of course, the comparison is much exaggerated, but it did help justify acts of violence used by the extremist radicals.  But even in democracies, most of the people are not going to tolerate political kidnappings and political murders or political bombings.  So, if these extreme measures are adopted by the extremist radicals, they should expect to be hunted down and killed or hunted down and sent to prison for long terms of time.  It doesn't mean that democracy is not a good form of government.  But there are limits to what democracies can put up with from extremist radicals and the extremists have to be curbed.

The film is a good example of New Left thinking common in the west at that time.  They sympathize with the radicals and, in a very real sense, they condone and apologize for radical extremist killings of citizens.  Blah, blah, blah, been through all of that before.  Yes, fight for justice and truth but don't start bombing and killing.  It just forces the country into a nasty fever of backlash which is even more conservative than the previous period of conservatism. 

So if you're a leftist extremist, you might like the film.  I didn't care for it.  I will say it was rather a creative way to examine a current political atmosphere.  Just wish the creative minds were not so pro-extremist. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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