Analysis: What Germany is all about today

By STEFAN NICOLA, UPI Europe Correspondent  |  Feb. 17, 2009 at 6:18 PM
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BERLIN, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- Germany is a Big Brother state; Germany is detaining intellectuals for no reason; Germany let an innocent man rot in Guantanamo -- those are three of 13 directors' opinions included in a film compilation that aims to dissect what Germany in 2009 is all about.

"The Germans are characterized by the fact that with them, the issue of what is German will never die out," said Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th-century German philosopher.

The new movie "Germany '09," unveiled with great fanfare last week at the Berlin Film Festival, is a collaboration of 13 directors who have each answered that question in a 12-minute short film.

Some of the films in "Germany '09" are bleak, some are funny and some downright bizarre; they deal, for example, with globalization, the economic crisis and the life of a peculiar Iranian immigrant who runs a brothel in Berlin. A large number of directors, however, touched on terrorism and security in Germany.

"Germany '09" comes three decades after film giants such as Volker Schloendorff and Rainer Werner Fassbinder teamed up to produce "Germany in Autumn," which covered the nation's mood during the Red Army Faction terrorism of the late 1970s.

Today, the threat of terrorism and the ensuing security measures launched by the German government seem to occupy Germany's filmmakers once again.

Fatih Akin, the acclaimed German director of Turkish descent, with his film "Being Murat Kurnaz" indirectly criticizes German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier for not doing enough to get Kurnaz out of Guantanamo.

The film re-enacts a newspaper interview with Kurnaz, a Turkish national born in Germany, who was held in Guantanamo for nearly five years without charges.

Kurnaz was freed and turned over to German authorities in 2006 only after German Chancellor Angela Merkel personally pleaded for his release.

However, Kurnaz could have been freed as early as September 2002, when the Pentagon offered to release the harmless inmate to Germany. The government in Berlin at the time refused, because it deemed Kurnaz a security risk -- a decision made by a high-profile government group that included Steinmeier.

Kurnaz says he could "never forgive Steinmeier" for not getting him out of the torture prison when he had the chance to do so. This fall, Steinmeier is bidding to become German chancellor. It's easy to predict what Kurnaz and Akin think of that ambition.

Kurnaz was arrested in Pakistan shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, at a time when the world seemed to be on a collective hunt for terrorists. According to authorities in Berlin, Germany has moved up the list of terror targets, and German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble repeatedly has tried to expand the powers of police and spy agencies to hunt for terrorists.

These days, officials want to capture terrorists before they actually attack -- a legal tightrope walk that can lead to false imprisonments when Big Brother-like observation measures go overboard, as shown by Hans Weingartner in his film "Preventive Action." It is based on the true story of Andrej Holm, a young German university professor who was spied on for nearly a year and then arrested by police special forces as a terror suspect, despite no significant evidence against him. Holm's arrest led to harsh protests from the academic community and an intervention by Germany's Supreme Court, which annulled the arrest.

This bleak look into Germany's security scene sparks anxieties that Dany Levy is trying to relieve with his comedy "Joshua."

The Swiss-born filmmaker stars as himself, a Jewish man living in Berlin, who is trying to combat his notorious pessimism about Germany's future. A psychologist orders a treatment with a wonder drug that helps Levy see Germany's mostly unfriendly citizens through rose-colored glasses. All of a sudden, they are dancing, smiling and kissing. Levy joins in, but is then terrified by the sight of his little son Joshua taking off and flying across the Berlin sky. The baby boy crashes into the chancellor's office and lands on Angela Merkel's lap, which of course leads to a major terror scare and the baby being arrested. While the German secret service tries its best in the interrogation, it does not get anything out of Levy's son. Instead, Joshua manages to escape and flies into gloomy eastern Germany, where a group of neo-Nazis see a new "Fuehrer" in the baby boy. It makes perfect sense that Levy decides to stop the treatment.

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