17 Nov 2010

I’m (Not) Singing a German Song

Posted by PF at 7:00 ...

There is no doubt that the Germans have a problem with their national identity. A main reason for this is certainly the national excess of German fascism under Hitler. In 1982 the German band Nichts sang “Deutsch sein, niemandem sagen. Nur Angst vor Fragen, Scham für mein Land” (Being German, don’t tell anyone. Only fear of questions, shame for my country.). It took the summer’s tale of World Cup 2006 to free at least waving with German flags.

When Conscientious recently featured Marita Bullman’s work “Es gibt immer was zu tun”, Jörg Colberg remarked his amazement how few German photographers explore what being German might mean. When I read this, I wasn’t sure that there are so few positions about this and collected on trial some works which address ‘being German’ in many ways.


It is true that two very important books about post-war Germany are not made by Germans. Swiss photographer René Burri photographed “The Germans” (1999) and the American Leonard Freed presented his German experience in “Made in Germany” (1970).

But also on the German side important works can be found on post-war Germany. For example the book of the recently rediscovered photographer Dirk Alvermann “Keine Experimente” (1961) or the book “Unter Krahnenbäumen” (1958) by the cologne-based artist Chargesheimer.

Photographic chroniclers of what is or should be German have been always there. Think of Robert Lebeck’s famous portrait “Deutschland im März” (1983), Stefan Moses’ portraits of people in East and West or Timm Rautert’s book “Deutsche in Uniform” (2007).

But work of outsiders like Dietmar Gottschall with the posthumously published book “Deutsche Bilder 1965-1980″ (2010) must be mentioned as well.
In East Germany there were photographers like Thomas Steinert and Roger Melis, who documented the everyday life.


Time after time outstanding photo books have been published providing exceptional views on Germany and what ‘being German’ might imply.
Dirk Reinartz’s merciless “Kein schöner Land” (1989), Gabriele and Helmut Nothhelfer with their socially-inspired “Lange Augenblicke” (1993), Joachim Brohm’s US-inspired “Ruhr” (2007) and Michael Schmidt’s all overwhelming “Irgendwo” (2005). And last but not least Andreas Herzau’s “Deutsch Land” (2006), who explored the country in street photography style.

Political views are represented as well. Astrid Proll’s controversial book “Hans and Gretel” (1998) illustrates the history of German Autumn (operations of the terrorist organization RAF). Thomas Demand delivers icons of political discomfort (”Bathroom”) and Eva Leitolf’s book “Deutsche Bilder – eine Spurensuche” (2008) shows crime scenes of xenophobic violence in Germany. Not at least Sven Johne’s “Ostdeutsche Landschaften” provides a clear commentary on contemporary German history.


And also the younger German photographers cover the theme ‘being German’ again and again. Marcel Krummrich explores in his work “Heimatbaukasten” the German concept of native country, Anna Simone Wallinger photographed in “Container” asylum seekers in Berlin. Frauke Schumann’s “Ein Stück Deutschland” shows the happiness of German camping, Fee Hollmig explores with “Wo Fuchs und Hase” the province of Lower Saxony in the style of Todd Hido. Sven Gatter portrays in “Gewöhnliche Leute” the East Germans in their spare time, Franz Bischof travels to the “Nordseestrand”, Germany’s favorite holiday destination. Michael Slogsnats wonderful long-term project “Heimatphotografie” shows the region Bordesholm in a documentary style, Jakob Börner’s “Grundsicherung” makes German welfare recipients visible. And can you imagine a work being more German like the “Sammlung Funktionaler Absichten”? Ralf Grossek delivers an almost scientific research of Germany’s affinity to tidiness and its failure.
Finally, here is “Die Kunst Deutscher zu sein” (The art of being a German), a project by students of the University of Applied Sciences in Dortmund with 24 works on the subject.

In my opinion it does not depend to the German photographers, if the Germans do not know who they are or who they were. The images are there.

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5 Response

  1. Comment without gravatar

    Guido Steenkamp

    via website

    17 Nov 2010

    Peter, even though i am a big fan of your blog, i disaggree with your introduction to this topic. It’s true that for a long period of time most Germans have had a problem with their national identity. Nevertheless, i believe that this has changed over the last couple of years. You used a quote from the German band “Nichts” of the 80’s to underline your statement. I’d like to respond to this by quoting contemporary German singer MIA with “fragt man mich jetzt woher ich komme / tu ich mir nicht mehr selber leid” (You ask me now where I come.
    I no longer cause myself sorrow). I think that’s more likely what the young generation of germans will answer when asked about their country.



  2. Comment without gravatar


    via website

    17 Nov 2010

    Hi Guido,

    thank you for reply. Maybe I was a bit imprecisely in my introduction. I used the quote from the old Nichts song “Deutsches Lied” to illustrate the general uneasiness of Germans with their national identity. The subsequent remark about World Cup 2006 should have point up that this state is changing. Maybe this wasn’t clear enough.

    I really like your MIA quote, which illustrates quite well that the younger generation in Germany is much more unprejudiced regarding their national identity. But you have to keep in mind that the band MIA has been attacked as national-minded for this and other similar songs. See for example this article.

    When I talk with young Germans nowadays it is quite obvious that their self-image as Germans is easier than in older generations. But on the other hand it must be seen that the German uneasiness with national identity is still noticeable in many social discussions. And this will surely persist for many years.

    Best, Peter

  3. Comment without gravatar

    Guido Steenkamp

    via website

    17 Nov 2010



  4. Comment without gravatar


    via website

    18 Nov 2010

    Kritisch mit der Geschichte des Landes umzugehen, in das ich zufälligerweise hineingeboren wurde, heisst doch nicht, dass man ein “Problem mit dem Deutschsein” hat. Ich empfinde das als etwas Positives und wundere mich manchmal warum ein krititisches Nationalverständnis gemeinhin als “Problem” gesehen wird, ein hirnloses Fahnengeschwenke in anderen Ländern aber als “normal”. Da finde ich doch eher letzteres problematisch. Und gut so, dass sich die Schwarzrotgolderei in Deutschland auf Volksfeste wie WMs beschränkt. Jedenfalls was die Mehrheit der Bevölkerung angeht.

  5. Comment without gravatar


    via website

    22 Nov 2010

    Great post, Peter.