Representation of East German Identity in Frank Beyer’s Spur der Steine
“Aus jeder Mark, jeder Stunde Arbeitszeit, jedem Gramm Material einen größeren Nutzeffekt”
(Losungen des Zentralkomitees der SED zum 1. Mai 1978)
Frank Beyer’s Spur der Steine (Trace of Stones) is a controversial 1966 film production released in East Germany that had long been anticipated by Party officials, film artists and the general public. Not only was it the most expensive DEFA- production of the day, but its story had caused debate within the studio in the months leading up to its short-lived release. Beyer’s work presents multiple perspectives on a construction site crisis and thereby openly questions the possibility of “communion between individual destiny and collective destiny predicated by socialism’s utopian goals” (Feinstein, 2002: 176). Still, as Feinstein asserts, it “represents [an] attempt by an East German director to envision the GDR as a forward-moving society in a fashion that was critical yet affirmative of the socialist project” (Feinstein, 2002: 177).
Yet state-organised thugs rioted during its premiere, and this circumstance was subsequently used as a means of justification to ban the film in the GDR after it had been shown in cinemas for a mere three days (Feinstein, 2002: 2). Marlen Köhler, a journalist from Die Freiheit (Halle) who was present at one of the first viewings of Spur der Steine, observed a round of talks after the screening. A viewer in the audience summarised what many felt after being exposed to the movie for the first time. S/he was amazed by the film’s “topicality after twenty-three years, about how we still have the same problems as back then…initiatives from below that hit up against frozen power structures, obsolete ideas about morality, dogmatism, careerism and ass-kissing” (Feinstein, 2002: 3).
Initially, Frank Beyer pointed out during an interview about his motifs for making this film that his work’s main intention was to explore the relationship between the individual and the society surrounding it. In this respect, it was of great interest to him to illustrate individual achievements that facilitate social coherence but at the same time to identify the constraints of socio-political expectation. As his film was based on the best-selling novel Spur der Steine (1964) by Erik Neutsch, Beyer was oblivious to the risk of his production being blacklisted. Hence, he was taken by surprise when his film was deemed “flagship of the negative”, in other words “partei- und staatsfeindlich” (dangerous and subversive). When faced with the stage-managed riots at the premiere of Spur der Steine, he was shocked to discover that the methods used by the SED were similar to those used by the NSDAP during the Third Reich. This realisation marked a turning point in Beyer’s perception of the Party and entailed his alienation from the SED’s cultural policies. (Beyer Interview) The following analysis will focus on the three protagonists Hannes Balla, Kati Klee and Werner Horrath who get involved in a love triangle which threatens to undermine the whole construction project and triggers three personal dilemmas. Their struggle with the concept of socialist conformity in relation to true inward conviction constructs the heart of the story. Beyer’s depiction of the three main characters elaborates on GDR everyday-life and it critically questions the enforcement of Party discipline and supervised state mechanisms. Maybe the most poignant character in Spur der Steine is Hannes Balla, leader of the work brigade. His assertiveness and physical strength inspire the awe and respect of his co-workers. Even though he is not a member of the Party, he represents “precisely the type of figure Party leaders desired as an embodiment of the proletariat and the new society; […] a rebel and a free spirit who wears a pearl in his ear“(Feinstein, 2002: 183). Indeed, his civil disobedience becomes apparent when he instigates his colleagues to bath naked in a nearby pond in the middle of town. As a gesture of solidarity with one of his peers, who does not wear knickers under his black corduroy suit, he proclaims, „Einer alleine schämt sich - los, alle nackend ’rin! “ (Spur der Steine, 7:10) The infuriated police officer, who orders the men to instantly leave the pond, is impulsively pulled into the water by Balla. Consequently, Hannes is accused of “Erregung öffentlichen Ärgernisses and Widerstand gegen die Staatsgewalt“(Spur der Steine, 12:37). Yet, due to his extraordinary achievements on the construction site, the Party commission decides not to persecute him for his offence. Despite labelling him “Räuberhauptmann“(Spur der Steine, 12:50), “Anarchistenlümmel” und “Halbkrimineller” (Spur der Steine, 29:55) the officials assume that without Balla work efficiency would possibly decrease and they, therefore, appreciate his presence at the construction site as it serves as a role model for dedication and good work ethic. Still, his unwillingness to convert to socialism constantly causes friction with the political leaders of the site as Balla refuses to obey orders. When Werner Horrath introduces himself to the brigade as the new Party secretary, Balla responds bluntly, “Erklär dem Herrn, dass hier Partei gemacht wird, wenn ich vom Bau bin!“(Spur der Steine,14:48). Another example of his reluctance towards the politicisation of the construction work involves him proclaiming, “Du hast mir gar nichts zu sagen, ich bin nicht in der Partei! “(Spur der Steine, 28:48) Moreover, Balla appears to be fully aware of his role on the construction site and uses his privileged position to threaten the officials by announcing,
„…ich halt mich an meine Beschlüsse und wenn Dir das nicht passt, dann gehen wir dahin, wo man uns nicht belästigt […], dahin wo Dein Sozialismus `nen Dreck wert ist“(Spur der Steine, 29:42).
Even Werner Horrath, who is initially humiliated publicly by Balla, tolerates the rebel on the site because he understands that progress is only possible with hard-working individuals who have a clear vision and ambition. In defence of the friendly rogue, he asserts, „Feiglinge und Dummköpfe in die Reihe zu kriegen, das ist einfach […] aber wir brauchen Leute wie Balla“ (Spur der Steine, 30:34). Eventually, Balla’s softer side comes to the light, namely when he becomes emotionally involved with his superior, Kati Klee. Slowly, his willingness to modify some of his political views becomes visible as he humorously confesses, „Mit Ihnen würd ich mir sogar ’nen DEFA-Film angucken!“(Spur der Steine, 31:22).
- Quote paper
- Kathrin Marisa Leimig (Author), 2008, Representation of East German Identity in Frank Beyer’s 'Spur der Steine', Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/167452