“Vaterland,” a short explanation
It was those black-and-white pictures of mountains:
shoe-mountains, suitcase-peaks, skeleton-canyons.
How many gold teeth are needed to make a hill?
In the middle of the 70’s Germany suddenly realized
it was high time to cope with the past. That is why my generation’s history books were screaming:
“Take a good look! We all are guilty of this horror.”
I admit I have a disturbed relationship with German
history, talking about 1933 to 1945. I wasn’t born until
1958; nevertheless I’m branded.
Afterwards I had difficulty pronouncing certain words. Vaterland (Fatherland) for example. And Führer (guide/leader) was only possible in connection with other words like Museum or Reise (travel). Until recently I was too ashamed to say “I’m German.” I lied instead.
My mother assured me that no one in our family “had done something” or “had known.” Well, my father had been a leader in the Hitler-Youth, but that… and she had only been eight when the war was over… kids don’t know better.
My father never wanted to talk about the past.
I guess I never really asked either.
Or relationship had anyhow been rather wordless and difficult.
Strangely enough it was just his words that would change everything. After his death a tiny red notebook turned up. On its cover he had engraved “1945” with a pencil, over and over again. I can sense why. In the little calendar there simply wasn’t enough space for all those emotions. It is the war diary of some eighteen-year-old stranger, who realizes on the 8th May 1945 that he never had been part of the Good side, but was one of the Bad. That he had swallowed without question every poisoned word, every rotten lie he had been served during his childhood.
But this little booklet isn’t about history. It is about survival. About a teenager being a prisoner of war. About two escape attempts. The second succeeds, followed by a long march from Hungary back to Hamburg.
The text is almost illegible. Almost pragmatic[S1] . Almost deceiving. But gratifyingly I don’t find any trace of the “Nazi-German” my father had been bombed with daily while growing up: geliebter Führer (beloved leader), gerechter Krieg (righteous war), rechtmässiger Lebensraum (legitimate habitat, the territory considered necessary for national survival), Herrenvolk (master race), Rassenschande (race dishonor), Endsieg (final victory)…. Instead it teems with comrades and comradeship.
The strange boy interests me. I want to know more about him and start to ask questions; questions that had not been asked in the former present, which we hardly even ask ourselves today. Present turns into past real fast. And then, with the results of history-writing at hand, we are always suddenly so much wiser. And think we’ve got the right to judge and condemn.
But this work doesn’t excuse anything or anyone. “Vaterland” is an exclusively artistic attempt to show an alternative past in a parallel reality.
A personal peacemaking with my father, with my and the German history.
watch the interview with the artist on YouTube