Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Thursday, Feb. 29
The Indiana Daily Student

arts

Terror films, fashion stir German left wing revival

BERLIN -- They kidnapped business leaders, gunned down police officers and hijacked an airliner. But even after Sept. 11, the failed German revolutionaries who spread fear in the 1970s and '80s have acquired a certain chic. \nLeft-wingers were always nostalgic for the ideals of the student movement from which the feared Red Army Faction terrorists sprang -- strident opposition to the Vietnam War, rebellion against their parents' silence on World War II, a society still not completely purged of old Nazis. \nNow a wave of films giving the terrorists a more human face, and a series of cheeky fashion items, suggest a broader recasting of history is under way. Some, including Germany's president, are worried by the Red Army Faction's pop culture revival, while others see in it a harmless expression of a bygone era. \n"There's an in-crowd who thinks it's chic to make the RAF into Robin Hood figures," said Klaus Boelling, who was the government's spokesman when the violence reached its bloody peak 25 years ago this fall. \nOn Oct. 18, 1977, Boelling told a relieved nation that German troops had freed 86 hostages on a Lufthansa plane hijacked to Mozambique to force the release of three jailed RAF leaders. The three, Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof and Jan-Carl Raspe, committed suicide in prison after the attempt failed. \nBut it was also Boelling's job, the following day, to announce that the kidnapped head of the nation's Industry Federation, Hanns-Martin Schleyer, had been found shot dead in the trunk of a car. \nThe Red Army Faction went on to bomb U.S. military targets and assassinate a string of business and political figures. It only formally disbanded in 1998, although it had been inactive for some years. \nSeveral cases remain unsolved and suspects are still on the run. Yet filmmakers and writers, many from the same generation, have already begun to re-examine the period, placing a focus on the perpetrators that rankles older Germans. \nOscar-winning filmmaker Volker Schloendorff paved the way in 1999 with "The Legends of Rita," about a young woman swept into the terrorist movement by idealism and love. \nThe trickle has become a flood, with at least half a dozen new films in cinemas and on television this year. \n"Black Box Germany" featured a gripping interview with the widow of Alfred Herrhausen, the chairman of Deutsche Bank killed by a bomb in 1989 -- and balanced it with a portrait of Wolfgang Grams, an RAF terrorism suspect who, according to an official investigation, shot himself to death in 1993 as police closed in. \nOthers include "The State I Am In," described by Der Spiegel magazine as an "RAF road movie," and "What To Do In Case of Fire," an attempt to make amateur bomb-making into sentimental comedy. \nMost disputed is the movie "Baader," about the male half of the Baader-Meinhof name that evolved into the RAF. It drew stinging criticism at this year's Berlin film festival for glamorizing the era -- but still walked off with a prize. \nThe movie, by little-known German director Christopher Roth, begins with a pounding punk-rock soundtrack and spends two hours painting a stylish picture of Andreas Baader as a moody maverick with a taste for fine clothes and fast cars. \nIt ends in his fictional death in a defiant solo showdown with dozens of armed police, strutting out of a garage where he had been cornered, pistols blazing. Baader was actually captured and imprisoned in 1972, five years before his suicide. \nSome critics defend the Butch Cassidy-like embellishments as little different from any Hollywood director's efforts to freshen up a plot. But others say even that is done badly. \n"It lacks a sense of timing, plot and tension," the left-leaning Tageszeitung daily said, judging that the film ultimately "capitulates before the RAF myth." \nAddressing relatives of the terrorists' victims on the 25th anniversary of the Schleyer killing, President Johannes Rau expressed concern that young Germans know too little of what really happened. \n"For many, the acronym RAF is foreign, a phenomenon, almost a phantom," he said. \nWhile praising some documentaries for capturing the fear of the RAF years, Rau said others "seem to me to be strangely distanced and sober. They lack feeling and compassion." \nAttention also has focused on the recycling of RAF symbols, such as its trademark machine gun and red star. \nStores have marketed underwear bearing the slogan "PRADA-MEINHOF" -- a play on "Baader-Meinhof" making unauthorized use of the fashion company's name. A Berlin boutique offers T-shirts for infants with "Terrorist" in bright colors across the chest. \n"The symbols of murder have surfaced in stylish ad campaigns, as if the terrorists were heroes of pop culture," Rau complained. \nStill, others argue the terrorists could only be remodeled because the leftism of the period is no longer relevant. \nForeign Minister Joschka Fischer was once a street-fighting anarchist leader in Frankfurt -- part of the mystique that has helped make him the country's most popular politician. Lawyer Otto Schily, now Germany's interior minister, once defended Baader in court. \nFilms such as Roth's, wrote the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, show just "how completely the memories have lost their political content, and into what deep sediment October 1977 has sunk." \n"So much time has passed that it has a different value today," said Christoph Heiss, an unemployed 40-year-old, after seeing "Baader" at a Berlin movie theater. "It's already a matter for history -- even for pop history"

Get stories like this in your inbox
Subscribe