"Cape of German Hopes". Exploring German culture in Cape Town

A Reflective Essay supporting the Documentary Film 'Cape of German Hopes'

Master's Thesis, 2011

47 Pages, Grade: 75




1. Introduction

2. Theoretical Framework

3. The Documentary Film 'Cape of German Hopes'
3.1. The Making of the Documentary
3.1.1. Preproduction Period
3.1.2. Shooting Period
3.1.3. Post-Production Period
3.2. The Examination of the Documentary
3.3. Problems and Limitations
3.4. Promoting the Documentary

4. Conclusion

Appendix I: The Poem
Appendix II: The German Song
Appendix III: Survey & Questionnaire


Documentary Film List


Documentary film, in the words of Linda Williams, always has the receding goal of finding “some form of truth”. Yet documentary film as an art also blurs the notions of fact and fiction and runs the risk to construct reality rather than merely show it. This dissertation paper is a Reflective Essay supporting the documentary film 'Cape of German Hopes' and aims, with special references from the director's and editor's perspective, to back up the documentary by explaining more in depth about the motivation, goals and achievements of the film.

The documentary is a journey that explores life experiences of German families and people of German heritage who settled in Cape Town. It uncovers how they seek to find a balance between their cultural heritage and the culture they are living in. In selected scenes, the paper illustrates how the protagonists on the one hand open up to the South African culture, but on the other still manage to keep their typical 'Germanness'. As migration increases around the world, the studies of its cultural consequences concern more and more people. Exploring cultural aspects of other social groups implies dealing with anthropological terms like identity, transnationalism and acculturation. But it is difficult to define, what shows itself only in full play. Consequently, the documentary film wants to serve not only the German community in Cape Town, but also function as a blueprint for other immigration groups living all over the world

1. Introduction

“ Ex Africa semper aliquid novi. ” (Pliny the Elder)

Human beings always have had a strong interest for the lives of others. The more distant and exotic the country, the juicer and more exciting the news out of it. The drive to know new things pushed the boundaries further and further. Images and messages from Africa especially have thrilled and amazed people from the Western world. Many issues have come to light since the days of the first German Africa explorer Prof. Dr. Heinrich Barth who started the European academic study on African history in the middle of the 19th century. In those days new insights were difficult to spread. Today, with the possibilities of new media, information is fast and easily accessible.

Parallel to the acceleration of the exchange and the increase in mobility, the interest in accounts of other peoples' lives on distant places grew. With the revolutionary technical invention of motion pictures, storytelling became a new dimension.

This Reflective Essay is supporting the documentary film 'Cape of German Hopes' which deals with German culture in Cape Town. Though it is a cultural topic, it is not an anthropological work. But as the film is exploring the life world of other people, it has to include necessarily anthropological elements. Writing about issues like identity, cultural heritage, transnationalism and acculturation is not an easy task. Dealing with it on film is an even bigger challenge. Hence, this paper aims to back up the documentary by explaining more in depth motivation, aims and achievements of the film.

The documentary film 'Cape of German Hopes' is a journey which explores German culture in Cape Town. It looks into the life of several German families or people of German heritage in order to understand how they deal with being part in two so remarkably distinctive countries. The five central characters/couples and the places where they live, work and play, form the focus of the story and guide the audience to an understanding of the bigger German network. The film uncovers how many Germans seek to open up to an African culture while keeping their typical 'Germanness'. It also explores the distinctive differences and the surprisingly similar historical parallels between Germany and South Africa.

Chapter two provides a theoretical framework to the documentary. After a brief outline which helps in embedding the genre of documentary into the history of films, key notions such as ' transnationalism ', ' identity ' and ' acculturation ' are addressed. A full description of the making of the documentary will be found in chapter 3.1. It explains the process of developing the idea in the preproduction period and ends with reflections on the editing process during the post-production period. Chapter 3.2. deals with a detailed examination of the different acts of the documentary. It explains the meaning and reason behind selected key scenes and interprets poem as well as music as important elements of the narrative storytelling.

Chapter three ends with reflections about problems and limitations of the production. Additionally, a sample of ideas of how to promote the documentary is provided. The conclusion finally reflects on the achievements of the documentary and sums up its most important findings.

2. Theoretical Framework

“ Reality television is not the end of civilisation as we know it; it is civilisation as we know it. ” (Germaine Greet)

Human beings have always had a special fascination for 'reality-based' programmes like television news, documentaries or reality TV. Documentary films already date back to the beginning of filmmaking at the end of the nineteenth century. The first short films by the Lumière brothers such as ' Workers Leaving a Factory' (1895) or 'Train Arriving at a Station' (www.filmsite.org) used film simply to record reality, i.e. to 'document' it. Though the fictional branch of filmmaking, which developed into the feature films of Hollywood, enjoyed bigger commercial popularity, the more 'serious' documentary film cannot be thought away from the stage any more (O'Shaughnessy & Stadler, 2005). The documentary genre changed over the course of the years, producing more provocative films like Michael Moore's ' Bowling for Columbine' (2002) or more experimental ones like Zina Saro-Wiwa's ' This is my Africa' (2010). Yet, they would all remain true to the original meaning of the Latin word 'doceo' from were 'documentary' derives: the mission to warn or advise and raise awareness, in one way or the other, about important issues in the world.

Good documentaries engage the audiences on more than just one level. Apart from the immediate story plot and the characters, there is also a deeper layer, called theme in literary terms. A theme is the “general underlying subject of a specific story, a recurring idea that often illuminates an aspect of the human condition” (Bernard, 2003). The documentary 'Cape of German Hopes' tells an overarching story of German life experiences at the Cape. The underlying themes include double-identity, integration and how to keep your cultural heritage when living in a foreign country. It also unpacks sensitive issues like belonging and acculturation.

Academic context

One of the biggest global challenges of our time is to comprehend how groups from different cultural and social backgrounds can live peacefully together within the same space. In this regard it is not only crucial to increase research in the field of human migration and integration, but also to provide cultural awareness in order to generate a greater understanding for each other.

The phenomenon of globalization has changed the nature of migration. As a result of new, more affordable and more accessible technologies which helped increase mobility, more and more people will not live their whole life in the country of their birth (Gaude, 2004). With the Internet and its communication systems it is easy to keep in touch with one's home country even when living on another continent. Social and geographical spaces do not need to be congruent any-more and immigrants can now claim more than one home country. The multiple connections of immigrants to both country of origin and host society, implies the use of the term 'transnationalism'.1 Also the protagonists of 'Cape of German Hopes' maintain intensive ties with South Africa and Germany, calling home 'here' and 'there'.

Closely linked to the concept of 'transnationalism' is the concept of ' identity ':

This is so, because, on the one hand, many peoples' transnational networks are grounded upon the perception that they share some form of common identity, often based upon a place of origin and the cultural and linguistic traits associated with it. [ … ] On the other hand, [ … ] the identities of specific individuals and groups of people are negotiated within social worlds than span more than one place. ” (Vertoc, 2001)

Transnational connections do not only affect how collective identities are being constructed, maintained and negotiated, but also make a significant impact on the second generation. The children of immigrants are born with strong ties to a cultural heritage of the country that they have never or perhaps only briefly been in touch with. In the documentary this is exemplified by an interviewee who is the daughter of a (mixed-race) South African-German couple. Although she declares to feel more South- African than German, she struggles with definitions about her identity. Her - and also other interviewees' - attitudes towards the homeland was often an ambivalent combination of distancing and yearning which is typical for immigrants (Shuval, 2002).

Another theoretical framework applicable to the documentary could be ' acculturation '. It implies a fourfold classification describing how individuals respond to new cultural contexts: assimilation is the strategy where the individual does not maintain any contacts with his or her original culture, but seeks interaction only with the host society. Separation occurs when the individual does not pursue any contact at all and only holds on his/her original culture. The integration strategy implies an interest in preserving home ties, but also a strong involvement in the host culture. In contrast, marginalization means that the individual has lost both its contacts. This categorization suggests a linear process, but as Bhatia & Ram (2009) rightly point out various structural and sociological forces can easily influence an immigrant's journey through acculturation. Also various scenes about discrimination in 'Cape of German Hopes' reflect that immigrants or their children experience different - and sometimes changing - psychological positions of feeling assimilated, separated, marginalized or integrated.

As the documentary deals with many diverse elements of the human condition, finding only one theoretical approach to frame it is difficult.

The documentary concludes on this topic with Bhatia & Ram (2009) on the note that:

“ [A]cculturation is process that involves continuous, contested, negotiations that will forever be in progress as an immigrant grapples with his/her place in the larger structures of the history, culture, and politics. ”

Background on Germans in Cape Town

“ Caput Bonae Spei Hodiernum ” , a scripture published at Nuremberg, Germany in 1719, was the only writing in respect of South Africa for the whole German-, Dutch-, English- and French-speaking world for half a century (Reinhardt, 1952). Its writer, rector Peter Kolb, was supposed to live at the Cape for a research period of three years. He stayed longer.

Throughout history, there were many Germans like Peter who could not resist the pull- factors of the Cape's natural beauty: at the end of the eighteenth century more than half of the white population of the Cape was of German heritage (De Kadt, 2002). These Germans of the first generation were mostly men who soon merged into the South

African population (Schnell, 1954). Later, German-speaking settlers would start to create their own schools and churches, and express “very clearly the determination to distance itself from other settlers and to remain 'German'” (De Kadt, 2002). Cape Town, situated at the peak of the 'rainbow nation' South Africa, is a melting pot for many diverse cultures. The Germans amongst them are very dominant, not only due to their considerable number (between 20.000 and 30.000, plus an increasing number of 'swallows', Gaude, 2004), but also because of their distinctive 'Germanness'. The German cachet which stands for quality is internationally known and popular also in Cape Town. But the German pragmatic mentality bears a possible conflict regarding the nonchalance of South Africa's 'mother city'.

Exploring this social group in particular at the Cape promises not only to be highly fascinating, but has, in my case, also a personal motivation which will be explained more fully in Chapter Three.

Ethical considerations

Sergej Eisenstein argued that “A good film deals with the truth, not with the reality.” Many filmmakers think that some staging is legitimate if it serves the larger purpose of presenting information (Bordewell & Thompson, 2010). We know that even Lumière had his workers inside the factory instructed to wait there until he would start shooting. By just walking past the camera without acknowledging it, the real event was already distorted. An ethical question about documentary films arises from that: Do they 'show' reality or do they ' construct ' it?

Bernard (2003) notes that

“ The power of documentaries comes from their veracity, and it's undermined if people discover that in the interest of a compelling argument, they've been misled. ”

The discussion is a difficult one, but something is certain: all kinds of writers do have some sort of social responsibility to inform and inspire humankind without deliberately misinterpreting the facts (Beker, 2004).

When I did the documentary about Germans in Cape Town, my intention was to create a better understanding for the German society and mentality. Cape Town is the home of many different cultures and subcultures. This enriches the city on the one hand; but on the other, this also leads to an even bigger cultural fragmentation. With my film, I wanted to contribute to the cultural exchange and generate a mutual understanding. In general, the making of the documentary was influenced by Jill Godmilow’s (1997) argument that

“ So good filmmaking (responsible filmmaking) should always be good art, good education of the mind. ”

3. The Documentary Film 'Cape of German Hopes'

3.1. The Making of the Documentary Film

“ At its most basic, a story has a beginning, middle, and end. ” (Bernard, 2003)

What sounds obvious to most of us can easily be lost in the heat of the documentary filmmaking. Also to me, this simple clarification was most valuable and served as a guideline throughout the whole film making process.

3.1.1. Preproduction Period

The idea

In August 2010, I first had the idea to make a documentary film about German expatriates in South Africa. Due to practical and logistic reasons, it quickly became clear for me that focusing specifically on the “little German colony” at the Cape would be a good idea. What grabbed me most about this topic was, in a nutshell, the question of how Germans manage to make a foreign country their home without losing their German identity as their strong point of reference.

During my research, I was surprised by the overwhelming number of Germans, whose characteristics are known for being organized and well-structured, that had decided to settle in South Africa. South Africa, with its more laid-back mentality, does not seem to be the perfect place to satisfy German aspirations and needs. And on the other hand, the 'typical' German behaviour, especially with its perfectionism, is often misunderstood as pessimism. It seemed to me, that these contradictions could only amount to problematic and conflicted situations. Due to my Italian upbringing in a German environment, I was especially sensitive to this possible clash of life and work attitudes. I have been torn between two life philosophies for my entire life, which in its most simple form could be described as: “Working for a living” versus “Living for work”. As I experienced many times as an Italian living in Germany, “la dolce vita” and strict discipline rarely go together. Now I was curious to explore how German-South Africans would reconcile this difference in mentalities. Moreover, I wanted to illustrate that Germans living abroad would present themselves as reluctant to fully integrate into their adopted society. Rather, I set out to show that they would form an insular interconnected German community in the Cape. As a foreigner living in Germany, this was especially important to me. For many years Germany refused the idea of being an immigrant country itself. By failing to integrate incoming populations, they ignored pressing immigration concerns. Going in depth into this discussion, would go beyond the scope of this paper, but let me mention one persisting point from this discussion about integration of foreigners in Germany: it is believed that cultural conflicts emerge from the fact that foreigners are not prepared to integrate fully into the German society.2 It was somehow expected, that foreigners should accept the German culture as the guiding culture ('Leitkultur'), regardless of their background. Immigrants, who wanted the possibility to climb the social ladder, had to adapt to German society. Efforts to treasure the original foreign culture and tradition were and still are confronted with the accusation of forming a 'parallel society' within the German society. But as Bhatia & Ram (2009) point out:

“[...], it is simplistic to assume that the burden of acculturation whether successful, failed, or reversed, and reworked lies primarily with the individual.”

Also in Cape Town, I found that Germans would manage to live in a largely interconnected 'bubble' within the 'mother city'. But my intention was not to judge the German community in Cape Town. To the contrary, I wanted to show that forming a network of confidence and acquaintances with fellow countrymen is a cultural phenomenon that happens with every immigration group and in every immigration country. Especially when living abroad, seeking your compatriots' company helps to reconnect and keep in touch with your original country. In this way, one's own cultural heritage becomes the constant in an increasingly mobile society.

My goal was to take the German audience along with me on this journey of exploring the German community in Cape Town. But consequently, the documentary film would also function as a blue print for other foreign cultures living all over the world.

Putting a team together

To make a good documentary is impossible on your own - and even if it was, I would prefer working with a team. For me it is important that different backgrounds come together over a project because in discussing issues and exchanging opinions many new and good ideas naturally come up. Seeing the same things from a variety of eyes is not only productive but also highly fascinating on an anthropological level. I received my first Master's degree in Philosophy. I have always valued eclectic approaches that encourage collaboration in creating and illustrating 'the bigger picture'.

My study peer and friend, Lemay Llorente Quesada, joined the project, as producer and responsible person for camera work, almost immediately. I was happy with her decision to make the film to her Masters Creative Production as well. This would mean not only to share the responsibility of the making of the documentary, but also a more personal involvement and dedication from her side from which the project would only benefit. Due to different personal relationships and connections to Germans in South Africa and elsewhere, Lemay has a basic understanding of the German way of thinking and behaving. As a young Cuban immigrant to the United States of America, she also shared the experience of immigration with all its issues and benefits. This was valuable for me for two reasons: first, it is important to have a non-German view on the topic in order to make the documentary also interesting to audiences outside the German community. Second, her migration background would help to shape the documentary in a way that would make it applicable for other cultures living in foreign countries all over the world as well.

I was very pleased to gain Sorrel Adams as camera woman for our team. I had worked with her on other projects and appreciated her natural eye for camera views. She brought a necessary South African perspective into the project. After all, the documentary should also appeal to South Africans with an interest in international topics as well as to an international audience interested in a South African (sub)culture. With Chloé Adams, also a Centre for Film and Media student, who did the sound, our team was complete and ready to start shooting.

Probing characters and locations

It was not difficult to detect traits of German culture and tradition in Cape Town. Apart from being uniquely distinctive, especially abroad, the German ex pats also deliberately express their culture by reproducing popular German events such as the 'Oktoberfest' (the biggest Volksfest in the world) in their adopted homes. In Cape Town, institutions like the local German International School of Cape Town (DSK - Deutsche Schule Kapstadt), which organises an annual “DSK School Basar” with 'typical' German features (sausages, beer, German folk music) and the “ Deutsche Klub in Kapstadt ” (German club of Cape Town) which has existed since 1930, form a network throughout Cape Town which allows the German community to treasure their culture and tradition on the African continent. No matter where Germans live, the 'Made in Germany'- cachet is always with them: Cape Town hosts several German bakeries, German butchers and German shops. There is also a German hair dresser, a German dentist, a German book store, a German estate office, German job agencies and not to forget the German builders and car mechanics. The German reputation stands for quality, especially abroad. Their own people are their main target audience, because only Germans know how Germans like it best. After all, aren't they known for always wanting it their way? Or is this just an antiquated stereotype of Germans? Is the German culture more merged with that of the Cape than assumed or would we, with a segregated German community, find the stereotypes confirmed?

Excited, we embarked on our journey to explore the different facets of German culture in Cape Town. Additionally, and in order to make sure that we were anticipating the correct clichés about German culture, we conducted a small survey (see Appendix III) amongst our friends and acquaintances. The results confirmed our expectations about the German stereotype.


1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transnationalism

2 See Vertoc (2001): “Among other issues currently raised in this filed, one view holds that transnational ties weaken immigrants' integration in the receiving country.”

Excerpt out of 47 pages


"Cape of German Hopes". Exploring German culture in Cape Town
A Reflective Essay supporting the Documentary Film 'Cape of German Hopes'
University of Cape Town  (Centre for Film and Media Studies)
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cape, german, hopes, exploring, town, reflective, essay, documentary, film
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Anna Sacco (Author), 2011, "Cape of German Hopes". Exploring German culture in Cape Town, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/274515


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