DISPATCHES / 2005
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this evening's performance of Dispatches. Please could I remind all patrons to keep their mobile phones switched ON for the duration of this performance? Once again we ask all audience members to keep their mobile phones switched ON for the duration of tonight's show."
Film starts on second projection screen. The following text is a voiceover:
I arrive. And very quickly, I try to indulge myself in traditional German customs - to ingratiate, or rather, integrate with the good people of this land. So following in the footsteps of your Chancellor Schroder, I make my way to the Konnopke's Imbiss, on the corner of Danziger Strasse and Schoenhauser Allee. It was here in 2001 that Gerhard ordered one of the Currywursts that has made this establishment famous throughout Berlin - although I'm sure he didn't have to queue quite as long as I did!
His action was in response to the outbreak of BSE, and its human form, CJD. The disease is transmitted by the consumption of infected meat products. It was a political masterstroke, with Schroder declaring he wasn't about to let an illness that attacks the central nervous system, (leading to a painful and protracted death) stop him from eating what he wanted. Schroder's transformation from a 'poor mans Blair' to a 'man of the people' was complete. My reason for making this Imbiss pilgrimage was in the spirit of assimilation - what can I learn from you? Your culture, customs and cuisine? For too long the assumption has been you come to someplace from somewhere else, and you do it all your own way, without trying to absorb, or even engage with the values of your adopted country. So by partaking in this most quintessential of German activities, I hoped to become more like you.
Whether or not the Currywurst that Schroder ate at konnopke's Imbiss was infected with BSE is irrelevant to my argument. Schroder was known for his prodigious consumption of Currywurst's before his gesture of solidarity with sausage consumers and Imbiss proprietors. Therefore we have to bear in mind the incubation period of the human form of BSE -that is, CJD. It can be anything up to 12 years before symptoms of the illness appear, so we have to consider the possibility that regular patrons of Konnopke's Imbiss, including Chancellor Schroder may only now be in the early stages of mental deterioration associated with this illness. The symptoms are wide ranging, but can manifest themselves in poor judgement, questionable decision making and erratic, and unpredictable behaviour patterns.
So in the grandest if ironies, it could be argued that the situation Germany now finds itself in could be because of one of these:
Robin proceeds to address the camera, sincerely, with a politicians gravitas:
Perhaps I know what you maybe thinking. Who am I? Who am I to come to your country, eat a currywurst, and then claim that gives me the right tell you how things are? Who am I to come to your country, eat a currywurst, and then claim that gives me the right to tell you how things should be? Who am I to come to your country, eat a currywurst, and make the ridiculous assertion that there are beef products in a currywurst? Who am I to come to your country, and question the mental stability of your current Chancellor? Therefore, who am I to speak with authority on your country's multifarious and complex system of governance? Who am I to comment that clearly the influence of your country as a player on the world stage is in steep decline? Who am I to question why you have so many fit and healthy young men and women, ready and able to work, but instead benefiting from your notoriously generous welfare system? Who am I to suggest that your eventual status as Europe's economic basket case is just around the corner? Who am I? Who am I to pass comment on your day to day affairs? On issues of public sanitation? Infant mortality? Public transportation? Who am I to speak on issues of public transportation? Who am I to say that the ticket inspector who threw me of an S-Bahn train, between Bellevue station and the Haupt Bahnhof, despite the fact that I had a valid 'Tageskarte', a 'Tageskarte' he tore up in front of my face. Who am I to say that this man (increasingly angry and aggressive) was a fat, sweaty, bloated, sausage eating, beer swilling, BAVARIAN PIG?
I'm sorry. I didn't mean that. I don't know if he was Bavarian, to be honest. I don't know what a Bavarian looks like. It's just an ill informed assumption on my part. That also goes for my previous litany of clichés and provocations regarding the state of Germany, most of which are clearly not true. So no more comments regarding this proud nation's sad, inexorable economic decline, and certainly no more Bavarian pigs.
Monologue switches back to voiceover:
I needed to get out of the city, so to make my peace with the people of Bavaria, and to get a sense of their visual characteristics, I decided to visit a festival celebrating their costume, customs, cuisine and culture. This festival was in a place called Potsdam, in the heart of Bavaria.
Cue video footage of aforementioned Bavarian festival, replete with lederhosen, beer drinking and oom-pah bands. At this point in the performance, the audience are asked to text in comments regarding the show:
Robin interrupts the footage to speak live to the audience again:
Sorry, just going back to the incident on the S-Bahn train between Bellevue and the Hauptbahnhof. Somebody I spoke to about this did say that she thought the actions of this ticket inspector suggest that he may have been - an Easterner. And she told me that these Easterners, these 'Ossi's' are perhaps a little less progressive, shall we say (pause). Look, this isn't something I really want to dwell on, so let's just put it down to the fact that he was an East German, and say no more about it. But, to be honest, I agree with Edmund Stoiber on this one. These proletarians just aren't educated. They're unsophisticated people - frustrated - unlike my new found Bavarian friends, who seem to be in touch with, and at ease with their cultural roots, their earthy folk traditions. But back in Potsdam, (Bavaria) and several Loewenbrau beers later, I still felt my attempts at assimilation were not proceeding as quickly as I had originally hoped. But then, I started seeing these faces:
It seemed that everywhere I went, I was being watched. These faces gazed out at me with hope, promise and expectation. And then I came to realise, that as a naturalised German citizen, I had to choose one of these faces.
But these faces were unfamiliar. Some seemed confident, self assured - others less so.
Then, in another part of town, the faces started getting bigger. These faces seemed increasingly desperate, their expressions twisted, and pained. Who are these people? And what do they want?
AND IS THIS THE BEST YOU HAVE TO OFFER? Well let's throw it open to the people in the audience if we can. Sandra, any messages or comments so far?
At this point, any messages received from the audience were read out by the technician:
And is this the best you have to offer? Remember, democracy is a gift, as is freedom of speech. Please, make use of it. Because for me, as election fever hits Germany, it's not so easy. So to be able to engage in some kind of meaningful political discourse with my German friends, I've had to go back to the realm of rudimentary German political theory. And through this research, one story has stood out for me. It's the story of a woman, and her climb to the top of the political tree. It's a story of adversity overcome, a story that should serve as an inspiration, and an example to ALL German women.
The input is switched to a live camera feed:
'Mutter geht in die Politik.' I found this book in the apartment in which I've been staying, and I must say it's been invaluable in helping me garner a sense of your country's multifarious and complex system of governance, your attitudes towards political process, and in particular, an initial understanding of your attitudes towards female politicians. The book is aimed at children, and hence presents itself from a childlike perspective. My skills in translation remain underdeveloped, but for example, in the introductory passage on page seiben, I am asked these key questions:
'Have you wondered who in particular what is learnt in school? Who decides whether a new hospital will be built, or how fast the cars on your street are allowed to journey?' Or how transparent and clear are your ticketing systems on public transport - to make sure that staff are properly trained to not falsely accuse an innocent member of the public going about their daily business. This corruption must be stamped out.
Recording of Richard Wagner's Tanhauser now plays:
'Das hier sind die Wagner s: Vater, Mutter, Sabine und Michael. The Wagner family live in a medium sized town in Germany. Both children go to a PRIMARY school. Also, the father goes to the school he is a teacher, a lehrer. The mother stays at home, and looks after all.' And to be honest, I m with Paul Kirchoff one this one. But for the purposes of my argument, I now choose to reposition my loyalties away from the simple, backward, feeble minded rural Bavarian volk to align myself with these modern, urban, educated, professional white collar Westerners. And it s on page zwolf we start seeing this face.
And I must say, it s a pretty face, even in its hand drawn manifestation. Also, it s only now by looking at the posters that I find out her full name: Gisela Wagner. That s a pretty name. G-i-s-e-l-a Wagner. So if this moderate, benign &feminine face was a choice, should I choose it? How am I to know whether Gisela Wagner will represent my interests, my concerns and experiences:
DAS IN EINE TAGESKARTE! ICH BIN NICHT EINE GASTARBEITER!
Although I am also given a list of the main political parties in Germany, the protagonist of book remains totally non-partisan - at no point are we told which party Gisela Wagner is representing, or more importantly, who she is opposing. Perhaps this is because the status of an opposition candidate is often not an enviable one. I have been struck by the naïve purity of your campaigning techniques. You have much to learn regarding the fine art of brutal caricature. Whereas your parties will show their candidates in their own one dimensional right, the inferred question seemingly being, is this face the right one for me, in and of itself? The more effective British way is to show altered images of the opposing candidate. As a case study, we can witness the experience of Michael Howard, leader of the opposition English Conservative party. During the recent May election, Howard was variously caricatured in Labour Party campaign posters as a flying pig, a blood sucking vampire and Fagin As the child of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, I'm sure the irony was not lost on him. But how does this feel? I decided to ask him:
The final insult followed as the programme drew to a close:
Well let's throw it open to the people in the audience if we can. The question was, 'is the this the best you have to offer?'
Sandra, any responses?
More audience comments...
Remember, democracy is a gift, as is freedom of speech. Please, make use of it. But for this to work, perhaps a more pointed question is required.
The second night of the performance coincided with the televised debate between the two candidates. At this point, the television was switched on, and left running for the duration of the show:
As I keep saying, all I have to go on is image, although at the moment, I can't see anything. So as the duel gets underway, watch very carefully. Forget individual policies, forget your own established biases, and just LOOK. How are they performing? Who is performing better? Meanwhile, let's see how Gisela Wagner's campaign is progressing. 'In the last week, in front of the choice stand also Sabine and Michael, often Saturdays with their mother at the 'hustings', in the pedestrian district. She distributes luft balloons...and (I don't know if I've got the translation right here, but 'INFECTS (Anstecker) people' with the name of the party. That makes fun. Sabine sees mother's enormous picture on the colourful posters. She has pride of it. Her mother has now well known become.' Unfortunately, this is where we must end the story of Gisela Wagner, as I don't want to give away the outcome of the election in September. Suffice to say, this is a children's book, so it's a foregone conclusion that we will have some kind of happy ending.
But I will say this - what's remarkable is that by the end of the book, Gisela Wagner has undergone a complete metamorphosis. Let's take her clothing as an example. We go from the slightly hippyish, thrift shop garb on the first 20 or so pages. Even on page 23, she looks slightly dowdy with this trademark red overcoat, and chunky scarf. But the last images we see of Wagner on pages 36 and 37, when she has triumphantly entered the Bundestag we see a woman transformed. Note the 'serious' grey suit. Even her hair appears to have been tidied up. Metamorphosis therefore, is a prerequisite. So now Gisela Wagner is on the campaign trail. So let's go back to Cologne, and hear the real voice of Germany:
Part of the video footage in the performance involved a video diary of a trip made to Cologne during World Youth Day, a Catholic festival where the new Pope Benedict was due to have a meeting with Angela Merkel. Although the attempt to gather footage of this meeting was thwarted, several other strange interactions occurred. This interview was conducted with a preacher who repeatedly claimed to have 'drunk a cola with Jesus'.
PREACHER: Jesus Lives! Hallelujah! I met him! I drank a cola with Jesus!
PREACHER: Und du! Do you believe in Jesus?
ROBIN: When did you drink a cola with him?
PREACHER: Thirty years ago.
ROBIN: Where did this happen?
PREACHER: In Eindhoven. I live in the Netherlands, and then I tell the people already, twenty six years, I tell the people that they have to turn to Jesus. And after I told the people to turn to Jesus, I met him. So, I don't need to believe anymore Jesus is alive, I know he is alive!
ROBIN: And this was just in a bar?
PREACHER: No, no, he showed me his hands and his feet, and they were almost healed. They were only to see his scars. So I don't need to believe anymore Jesus is alive, I know Jesus is alive.
ROBIN: And you had a coca cola?
ROBIN: Not a Pepsi?
PREACHER: (Laughter) It was a popular...it was a Pepsi!
ROBIN: Could I ask you something?
ROBIN: Are you following the election in Germany?
PREACHER: The election?
ROBIN: Yes. Schroeder, Merkel.
PREACHER: The Merkel? No.
ROBIN: You don't know who Angela Merkel is?
PREACHER: No. (pause) I know what a Merkel is!
ROBIN: What's a Merkel?
PREACHER: The things that Jesus did.
V/O: So armed with this succinct and effective campaign slogan, I return to Bavaria one last time, making sure that I purchase a Zone C extension to supplement my valid Tageskarte.
concludes with a series of images of Merkel filmed an election rally in
Potsdam intercut with a variety of defaced campaign posters. Using curry
flavoured ketchup, beer and paint, Robin attempts to replicate the Merkel