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  • Gun­der­mann: Swan song on a work paradigm


    Jörg Markowitsch 

    The biopic 'Gundermann' (2018) reveals en passant the decline of open-cast mining in Lusatia and the fleeting work paradigm of the German Democratic Republic.

    Upon seeing “Gun­der­mann” for the third time, and still getting goose bumps for the third time, as Alexander Scheer (alias Gun­der­mann) sings “The sad song of the otherwise always laughing aeroplane”. A key scene in the multi-award-winning biopic about the early departed East German singer-song­wri­ter and miner Gerhard Gun­der­mann (“Gundi”), who got involved with the STASI. The scene, as well as the song, are able to bring two essential elements of what made up Gun­der­man­n’s per­so­na­li­ty and life, to the point: Having to climb on the bucket wheel excavator at dawn and composing songs. The song ends, the recruit­ment into the STASI begins.

    Much has been written about the clever staging of Gun­der­man­n’s STASI past, which com­ple­te­ly avoids a black-and-white depiction. Similarly written about the out­stan­ding per­for­mance of Alexander Scheer, who slipped into Gun­der­man­n’s skin in the truest sense of the word and inter­pre­ted his songs on par with the original, and thus osten­ta­tious­ly.  The awarding of the German Film Prize for the best male leading role was probably never as easy as it was that year. Inci­dent­al­ly, there were five other prizes awarded: best film, best director, best set design, best screen­play, best costume design.

    Appar­ent­ly unnoticed, possibly also because it was com­ple­te­ly inci­den­tal, but no less present, the reviews glossed over the vivid portrayal of a working reality we no longer see. There are still open-cast mines in Lusatia and elsewhere in Germany in operation, and even bucket wheel exca­va­tors — next to which the mobile exca­va­tors look like toys. Note­wor­thy scenes like the one in the film, in which Helga, a petite frail excavator driver about to retire, ana­chro­nisti­cal­ly trains her colleague Gundi, are largely passé today. In any case, the high degree of work ori­en­ta­ti­on and duty as well as soli­da­ri­ty within the brigade, i.e. the work paradigm of the German Demo­cra­tic Republic (Thaa 1989; Wierling 1996) which is clearly depicted in film and music, are also history.

    Inte­res­tin­g­ly enough, however, the changes brought about by the fall the Berlin Wall (’die Wende’) is hardly noti­ce­ab­le in Gun­der­man­n’s working world. While the fashion, the living con­di­ti­ons and the concert culture in the two periods depicted, the mid-1970s and early 1990s, differ signi­fi­cant­ly and thus make the frequent Taran­ti­no­es­que leaps in time easier for the viewer and yet, this does not seem to apply to Gundermann’s work envi­ron­ment at first. Gundi on the excavator seems soot­hin­gly timeless: the sudden melodic tran­si­tio­nal cuts, indeed the inter­lo­cking of his music-making and his exca­vating effec­tively cha­rac­te­ri­ses an under­stan­ding of work that could only have existed before ‘die Wende’ – one would think.

    According to this, only Gundi’s lonely car journeys through land­s­capes that were entirely sacri­fi­ced to the pro­duc­tion of electri­ci­ty connect culture and work. This is precisely where Europe’s largest arti­fi­cial lake landscape is now being created. The film, not the lakes, will keep alive a sense of a vanished work paradigm.

    Refe­ren­zen:
    Wierling, D. (1996). Work, Workers, and Politics in the German Demo­cra­tic Republic. Inter­na­tio­nal Labor and Working-Class History, 50, Labor under Communist Regimes, 44–63.
    Thaa, W. (1989). Die legi­ti­ma­to­ri­sche Bedeutung des Arbeits­pa­ra­dig­mas in der DDR. Poli­ti­sche Vier­tel­jah­res­schrift, 30(1), 94–113.

     

    Gundermann, 2018, Deutschland, Trailer 

    Trauriges Lied vom sonst immer lachenden Flugzeug, Gundi Gundermann, 1988 

    Gerhard Gundermann (Alexander Scheer)

    Anna Unterberger andAlexander Scheer

    STASI Officer (Axel Prahl)

    Excavator Driver Helga (Eva Weißenborn)

    Gundermann-Filming in opencast mining Nochten

    Gundermann-Filming

    Tags

    Gun­der­mann: Swan song on a work paradigm

    Jörg Markowitsch 

    The biopic 'Gundermann' (2018) reveals en passant the decline of open-cast mining in Lusatia and the fleeting work paradigm of the German Democratic Republic.

    Upon seeing “Gun­der­mann” for the third time, and still getting goose bumps for the third time, as Alexander Scheer (alias Gun­der­mann) sings “The sad song of the otherwise always laughing aeroplane”. A key scene in the multi-award-winning biopic about the early departed East German singer-song­wri­ter and miner Gerhard Gun­der­mann (“Gundi”), who got involved with the STASI. The scene, as well as the song, are able to bring two essential elements of what made up Gun­der­man­n’s per­so­na­li­ty and life, to the point: Having to climb on the bucket wheel excavator at dawn and composing songs. The song ends, the recruit­ment into the STASI begins.

    Much has been written about the clever staging of Gun­der­man­n’s STASI past, which com­ple­te­ly avoids a black-and-white depiction. Similarly written about the out­stan­ding per­for­mance of Alexander Scheer, who slipped into Gun­der­man­n’s skin in the truest sense of the word and inter­pre­ted his songs on par with the original, and thus osten­ta­tious­ly.  The awarding of the German Film Prize for the best male leading role was probably never as easy as it was that year. Inci­dent­al­ly, there were five other prizes awarded: best film, best director, best set design, best screen­play, best costume design.

    Appar­ent­ly unnoticed, possibly also because it was com­ple­te­ly inci­den­tal, but no less present, the reviews glossed over the vivid portrayal of a working reality we no longer see. There are still open-cast mines in Lusatia and elsewhere in Germany in operation, and even bucket wheel exca­va­tors — next to which the mobile exca­va­tors look like toys. Note­wor­thy scenes like the one in the film, in which Helga, a petite frail excavator driver about to retire, ana­chro­nisti­cal­ly trains her colleague Gundi, are largely passé today. In any case, the high degree of work ori­en­ta­ti­on and duty as well as soli­da­ri­ty within the brigade, i.e. the work paradigm of the German Demo­cra­tic Republic (Thaa 1989; Wierling 1996) which is clearly depicted in film and music, are also history.

    Inte­res­tin­g­ly enough, however, the changes brought about by the fall the Berlin Wall (’die Wende’) is hardly noti­ce­ab­le in Gun­der­man­n’s working world. While the fashion, the living con­di­ti­ons and the concert culture in the two periods depicted, the mid-1970s and early 1990s, differ signi­fi­cant­ly and thus make the frequent Taran­ti­no­es­que leaps in time easier for the viewer and yet, this does not seem to apply to Gundermann’s work envi­ron­ment at first. Gundi on the excavator seems soot­hin­gly timeless: the sudden melodic tran­si­tio­nal cuts, indeed the inter­lo­cking of his music-making and his exca­vating effec­tively cha­rac­te­ri­ses an under­stan­ding of work that could only have existed before ‘die Wende’ – one would think.

    According to this, only Gundi’s lonely car journeys through land­s­capes that were entirely sacri­fi­ced to the pro­duc­tion of electri­ci­ty connect culture and work. This is precisely where Europe’s largest arti­fi­cial lake landscape is now being created. The film, not the lakes, will keep alive a sense of a vanished work paradigm.

    Refe­ren­zen:
    Wierling, D. (1996). Work, Workers, and Politics in the German Demo­cra­tic Republic. Inter­na­tio­nal Labor and Working-Class History, 50, Labor under Communist Regimes, 44–63.
    Thaa, W. (1989). Die legi­ti­ma­to­ri­sche Bedeutung des Arbeits­pa­ra­dig­mas in der DDR. Poli­ti­sche Vier­tel­jah­res­schrift, 30(1), 94–113.

     

    Gundermann, 2018, Deutschland, Trailer

    Trauriges Lied vom sonst immer lachenden Flugzeug, Gundi Gundermann, 1988

    Gerhard Gundermann (Alexander Scheer)

    Anna Unterberger andAlexander Scheer

    STASI Officer (Axel Prahl)

    Excavator Driver Helga (Eva Weißenborn)

    Gundermann-Filming in opencast mining Nochten

    Gundermann-Filming

    Tags


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    About this blog

    By selecting a film or an image, this blog literally illus­tra­tes the vast sphere of work, employ­ment & education in an open collec­tion of academic, artistic and also anecdotal findings.

    About us

    Konrad Wakol­bin­ger makes docu­men­ta­ry films about work and life. Jörg Mar­ko­witsch does research on education and work. They are both based in Vienna. Infor­ma­ti­on on guest authors can be found in their cor­re­spon­ding articles.

    More about

    Inte­res­ted in more? Find recom­men­da­ti­ons on relevant festivals, film collec­tions and lite­ra­tu­re here.

    About this blog

    With picking a film or an image, this blog literally illus­tra­tes the vast sphere of work, employ­ment & education in an open collec­tion of academic, artistic and also anecdotal findings.

    About us

    Konrad Wakol­bin­ger makes docu­men­ta­ry films about work and life. Jörg Mar­ko­witsch does research on education and work. We both work in Vienna. Infor­ma­ti­on on guest authors can be found in their respec­ti­ve articles.

    More about

    Inte­res­ted in more? Find recom­men­da­ti­ons on relevant festivals, film collec­tions and lite­ra­tu­re here.