(The Medium is the Message / Fifteen Ways of Looking at a Jubilee)
Dir: Dietmar Hochmuth
64 min., Video, Color
Produktion: SelbstFilm - hergestellt mit freundlicher Zurückhaltung des MDR, WDR, SDR, SR, SWF, ZDF u.v.a.m. Buch: Dietmar Hochmuth. Kamera: Dieter Chill. Schnitt: Regina Fischer.
Kontakt: SelbstFilm, Lebuser Str. 13, D - 10243 Berlin. Tel./Fax: (49-30) 427 35 44. eMail: PotemkinPress@msn.com
Thu 20.02. 17:30 Arsenal
Torgau, the sleepy little town in ,northern Saxony' (formerly ,southern Prussia') is today - now that it is possible to excavate all sorts of (his)stories - more laden with history than hardly any other place. In the time of classical wars Torgau was - because it is situated in front of an Ice Age end moraine landscape - really an ideal place to build a fortress - and it was therefore at the mercy of the world powers: Prussia, Saxony, Napoleon, Hitler - until at the last plebiscite in 1990 the county of Torgau left the region of Leipzig (i.e., the former Prussia) and joined Saxony.
And Torgau is also the place where the Americans and the Russsians met in April 1945, on a bridge which was demolished two years ago. Actually, this symbolic meeting wasn't planned very far in advance. It was more or less inevitable because it became suddenly apparent to the military leaderships at both the Kremlin and the White House that, since they had opened the 2nd front, they had to meet at some point, whilst marching towards Berlin from east and west. And it happened that the famous meeting of 25th Apil 1945 was only planned by the military strategists on 20th April, exactly five days before it happened. Resentment and suspicion existed on the two sides, and a certain amount of relief also, when the half-staged handshake took place. It was reproduced for the ,historical photo', and in the print medium world of the 1940's the photo was published 48 hours later on the front page of the New York Times from where it was sent around the world.
The partition of Germany, as a result of the outcome of the war, which was sealed on the bridge of Torgau, was always very poignant in the post-war era. For forty years, the GDR bureaucrats celebrated "the victory of the GDR people, alongside the victorious Red Army, over the Hitler-Fascists" in Torgau. The Americans couldn't stand the bridge any more than the Russians could: the cold war followed the ,hot' one, and the bridge was forgotten. The event itself was celebrated more and more privately and by veteran organisations. (Remember: Joe Polowsky - an American dreamer - a strange chap, whose last wish was to be buried in Torgau in 1983).
Even after the fall of the Berlin wall, Washington found a new excuse every year for not sending high level military or diplomatic representatives. Also, together with the GDR, the regular subsidies for the celebrations of the offical history came to an end, so that many newly founded profit-conscious Historical and Traditionalist Societies took the initiative for the remembrance celebrations, for which no one was prepared. Sponsors had to be found so that Coca Cola and Jazz could flow over the Elbe meadows, because for the free state of Saxony this event is purely cultural - sometimes third-rate politicians are delegated to attend and the Saxon state pays, if at all, for travelling jazz bands, but never for the veterans. A Russian bank made it possible - at the last moment - for 50 veterans, invited privately by the citizens of Torgau, to travel here, most certainly for the last time in their lives. 184 American veterans attended, they came by bus via Amsterdam, plus a traditional military unit from Colmar and a military band. But photos with Russian soldiers or Russian military equipment were strictly forbidden for active American soldiers. The breweries of the area took every opportunity to sell their barrels of beer, and so in the midst of all this a ,Day of German Beer' was celebrated, plus aerobics and the cheap sale of ex-GDR Army military articles. The young people, who sold these called them ,stuff from the war. History can absorb a lot. But only and always as war.
This April, the fiftieth since the war, the famous Lieutnant Robertson came to Torgau, today he is a respected and rich neurosurgeon in LA; he drove along the same patrol route, together with Alexander Silwaschko, who came from the other side of the bridge and is also on the photo. Hundreds of cars and Jeep Club members from all over Germany, buses and so on joined them on this route, which was closed off between Wurzen and Torgau; even though hardly any of these drivers knew what the reason for the ,celebration' was, they enjoyed playing cowboy games. Silwaschko, who is Ukranian, now lives in Belo-Russia, in a way in a foreign country, and receives a pension of $15, which wouldn't be enough to live, if it weren't for the ,Tourism of veterans'. On the other hand, Robertson could have paid for the whole lavish ,show' by himself.
The celebrations, called ,Down by the Riverside' are a gigantic show for some of the older citizens of Torgau (like the GDR Intelligentsia, which has been pensioned off early), not only a longed-for change in the tedium of their pre-pension life, but literally necessary for their existence on state-funded work schemes as part of the new economic miracle in the ex-GDR. (Dietmar Hochmuth, February 1997)
Dietmar Hochmuth was born in 1954 in East Berlin/GDR. 1973-79 he studied at the State Institute for Member States of the Soviet Union (WGIK) in Moscow in the Director's class under Georgi Danelia. Later, assistant director and director at the DEFA Studio for feature films, Babelsberg. Worked at the same time as author, translator and publisher (with Oksana Bulgakowa). 1992/3: Die Freunde der Deutschen Kinemathek, Publications and film programming. 1996: Founded Potemkin Press (Film literature, new media). Lecturer at the dffb (Berlin College for Film and TV).
1979: this evening, tomorrow morning. 1983: My father is a thief. 1988: In one breath. 1989: Searching for motives. Since then documentaries: 1992: At home in a foreign country. 1993: Scattered Scene. 1994: Our Berlin still has a first name. 1995: South-West Germany in Moscow. Looking for motives, last clapperboard. 1996: THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE and others.
© 1997 by International Forum of New Cinema. All rights reserved.