Chicken Stories- Update

Hey, remember me? Audrey from the chicken coop (photo1). I told you our story a while ago and believe it or not, I’m still around. I’m more than 6 years old, ancient for chickens who still lay eggs and I still do – not every day but in the spring with lots of sun and good food and nice caretakers I got back into the swing. A white egg almost every day. Can you see my ear lobes on the photo? They are white, that means white eggs. The sad news is that some of my old companions died – Hilary (photo 2) all beautiful white feathers and ear lobes – competition?  no, we did not fight for food or anything else. She stopped laying eggs a while ago  and then because of old age she passed away recently. The caretakers gave her a beautiful last resting place (photo 3) – nice people. And a month earlier  Wackelkopf (photo 4) who had joined us just a year or so ago, passed away. A sad story – she was an outcast almost from the beginning because of a shaky head and nobody (including me) were nice to her (photo 5). Sorry Wackelkopf, but life is tough (also for chickens) and then you die. One of the caretakers took you home and tried to make the transition as comfortable as possible. I wasn’t around but hope you had no pain. Who is left from the old guard?  Ruby (some call her Phoenix) who Tessa, the young caretaker, picks her up like a baby, she says, and puts her on her lab (photo 6). Copper, another oldie, (photo 7)  prefers the fly on the older care taker’s lab. Those are my only 2 companions from many years ago. Everybody else was replaced with a mix of brown and white and I have had a hard time to keep them apart. Judge for yourself (photo 8 – 13) The last replacements came only a few weeks ago and some of them are already laying eggs – the caretakers must love that. Tessa named all of them and she is the only one who knows who is who – Brownie, Honey, Sugar, Chocolate, Buttercup, Cotton Candy and  Caramel. I don’t know who is who but still they all follow my orders..

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Painting is Fun / Malen macht Spass

At the end of the day you have produced something – to look at, perhaps even to hang on the wall if you like it enough. Very different from writing that for me is hardly ever done. Every time I open a page I start changing – a sentence here, a word there – a never ending story. But a painting is finished, at one point. You can change things, of course, but not ad infinitum, with water colors the paper will eventually dissolve.

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27th BERLIN & BEYOND March 2023

WERNER HERZOGRADICAL DREAMER Director/Writer Thomas von Steinaecker

Visionary, hypnotic, mythical, radical, rapturous, ecstatic, cosmic, impossible. Those are the adjectives used by a number of big names in the film world – Nicole Kidman, Christian Bale, Chloé Zhao, Joshua Oppenheimer, Volker Schlöndorff, Wim Wenders – to describe Herzog and his work at the beginning of the documentary. German filmmaker Thomas von Steinaecker, unknown in the US and unknown to Werner Herzog when he was approached by him about making a film for his 80th birthday. Known for being difficult, willful, particular and opinionated regarding documentaries that Herzog likes to do himself – even about himself —  von Steinaecker succeeded. He wrote him a letter, as suggested by Lucki, Herzog’s brother, – perhaps handwritten what he used to prefer over typed letters – and Herzog said yes. The result is an attempt to look into the phenomenon of Werner Herzog, the fascination he has with young filmmakers, especially in the US. where his career as documentary filmmaker took off with Grizzly Man (2005). Germany had not embraced his early films not even Aguirre or Fitzcarraldo and when Lessons of Darkness (1992) was slammed at the Berlin Filmfestival by audience and press Herzog took his toothbrush, he said, nothing else, and his wife and left for Los Angeles and never returned to Germany. Steinaecker took him to the small house in the Bavarian mountains where he grew up after the war and to the waterfall, the landscape of his soul, that brings tears to Herzog’s eyes. Even fans and connaisseurs will find something new in von Steinaecker’s film like the very different view German and US audiences have about Herzog and his films. His “German” voice in the Simpsons and other cartoons have given him a wide audience in the US as an ambassador for Germany humor, says Wim Wenders.

RABIYE KURNAZ VS. GEORGE W. BUSH Director Andreas Dresen, Writer Laila Stieler

German-Turkish comedian and TV presenter Meltem Kaptan stars in a docu-drama about the true story of a mother’s fight for her son’s release from Guantanamo. The David vs. Goliath story well known to movie audiences is getting a new twist. Andreas Dresen, a frequent guest to Berlin & Beyond with compelling dramas like Stopped on Track and Halbe Treppe is trying out new territory with mixed success. Presenting a deeply serious incident of recent German/US history with a comic approach is daring. Meltem Kaplan carries the story and rightly was given at the Berlinale the best actress award. She shines at home next to her husband and sons or in the Mercedes she drives around Bremen where her husband works for the car company. But once Rabiye and Docke, her human rights lawyer, leave Bremen and bring their case to the US supreme court the larger than life matriarch next to the stiff, serious Docke feels out of place. We hear that her son was badly tortured, photos of the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib don’t mean anything to Rabiye. Andreas Dresen’s earlier films with characters disapproving the circumstances and at the same time loving life reveal an authenticity that this film does not. RABIYE KURNAZ VS. GEORGE W. BUSH has a hard time to reconcile the horrors of Guantanamo with Rabiye’s determined, naive and feisty fight against the system.

RHINEGOLD  Director/Writer Fatih Akin, Book Giwar Hajabi

Fatih Akin’s adaptation of German rap star Xatar’s 2015 autobiography ’All Or Nothing’ has all the bombast of something larger than life. The energy and intensity of the film’s first 20 minutes feels like an onslaught. In the Syria of 2010, Giwar Hajabi, aka Xatar (Sakraya) is thrown into a brutal, crowded prison cell and tortured to make him reveal the whereabouts of a stash of stolen gold. The experience sparks childhood memories of his composer father Eghbal  and his imprisonment at the start of the Iranian revolution in 1979.  When the breathless narrative slows and settles it becomes a more involving film, anchored by a charismatic performance from Emilio Sakraya. He makes Hajabi an attractive, sympathetic, and incorrigible bad boy, revealing intelligence, charm and ambition operating beneath the two-fisted tough guy character he has chosen to assume.It is a very macho, testosterone-fuelled world with most female characters pushed to the sidelines. Once the film starts to carry the story a committed Akin steers it to the finish line as a stranger-than-fiction biopic.


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The central characters are two women in their forties going through a mid-life crisis: Lydia Tár, the creation of Todd Field the film’s director & writer, and Empress Elisabeth, recreated through the modern lens of Austrian director Marie Kreutzer. Although living more than a hundred years apart in very different social settings  from very different backgrounds they share something that not only destabilizes their lives but destroys it.

Kreutzer’s reinterpretation of the historical Empress Elisabeth who has attracted ongoing attention in film, theater and television over countless years has caused some controversy. Disregarding the traditional rules of the biopic the film disappointed those who had hoped to find the drama and turmoil of the historical Empress – and her life was full it –  but delighted those who thought Kreutzer’s modern interpretation – often compared with Princess Diana in Pablo Larrain’s Spencer, transcends eras.  Corsage focuses on the 40th year of Elisabeth’s life – not an obvious turning point but more the extension of daily routines and frustrations. Subjugated by a husband and his court she detests, Elisabeth continues her daily beauty protocol she seems to have imposed on herself  with baths, exercises, measuring her waistline, eating barely anything to make sure the corsage won’t need to be loosened. Though she lives in luxury and is free to move around her castles, explore languages, science, literature, follow her objects of desires – from riding instructor to cousin King Ludwig of Bavaria – she wants more. She feels trapped, suffocated because the dictates of the court demand of her only one thing – to represent at the side of her husband with what she is famous for: Beauty. Kreutzer’s film is a delicate work of contradictions that comes to live through the nuanced performance of Vicky Krieps. She masterfully shows the two sides of Elisabeth, a decoration piece and a defiant non-conformist who sticks out her tongue or gives the finger – modern acts of  insurrection that the director added to make a timeless statement about women’s repression. However, Krieps’ empathetic performances does all that – she did not need the tongue and the finger and the songs.  Elisabeth is suffocating in a golden cage with only one door left open to escape to freedom. To delete all traces she cuts off her famously long hair, fits up a doppelgänger and introduces a lover to the emperor. The opening shots of the film show Elisabeth in a bathtub holding her breath under water for a long time – practicing diving or drowning? The final scene is a dive into the deep with no return. (The “real” Empress Elisabeth was assassinated in 1898 by an Italian anarchist at age 61. Her only son Rudolf died in 1889 at age 31 in a suicide pact with his mistress.)

Only a few women conductors have succeeded in the male dominated classical music world, even fewer have positions in first class orchestras, and no woman ever has had the leading position at the Berlin Philharmonic – except Lydia Tár, who broke the glass ceiling. Ambitious, talented, compulsive, charismatic she worked her way up from humble beginnings to the top and while bathing in fame and success the clock started ticking. Both films, Corsage and Tár, focus on the 40th year of their protagonist’s life, and both women stumble over the hurdles that come with fame and privilege. We meet Tár on the conductor’s podium in Berlin rehearsing Mahler’s fifth symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic. She is in control of every bar like great conductors are. However she is more than a conventional conductor – she is a woman and she is going through a crisis. She can not communicate with her students, they seem live in a different orbit. She has no time for her daughter, resolves her conflicts like all others by showing off her frosty omnipotence. Tár’s wife is concert master in the orchestra, a powerful position she had before Tár was hired. However both their professional and personal relationship seems to be steered by the baton of the music director. The turning point arrives when a previous conducting student accuses Tár of a sexual relationship that has destroyed not only her career but even her life. Tár denies any wrong doings in this and other hints at love affairs with former students. The film never reveals crucial events, blurs or eliminates details. A calculated measure of doubt cast throughout the more than two hour long movie will hardly turn the protagonist into a sympathetic victim. While the counter culture and the courts pronounced her guilty the predator on the loose pursued her next object of desire.  But Tár survives the downfall. Banned from the world of classical music she finds an orchestra in a far away Asian country where she conducts what she detests most – kitschy film music.

What inspired Todd Field to create Lydia Tár? Why did he set the story in the concert hall of one of the most prestigious orchestras on the globe and not in Silicon Valley or the White House? Todd’s knowledge or insight in the classical music world could not have been the driving force – too much in the film does not make sense. And Tár, a failed music director, will not be the role model for young women with an eye on a leading post in the top ten orchestras. However Tár will stay with us in Cate Blanchett’s powerful interpretation of a woman in crisis. Omnipresent in every shot Blanchett shines – with an Oscar in close reach.


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26th Berlin & Beyond (March 11-16, 2022)


DEAR THOMAS/Lieber Thomas –  Director Andreas Kleinert, Writer Thomas Wendrich

Rebel. Poet. Revolutionary: LIEBER THOMAS is director Andreas Kleinert’s declaration of love to the writer Thomas Brasch. Brought to life congenially by actor Albrecht Schuch  the B&W biopic of East German writer and filmmaker Thomas Brasch (he came to the Goethe-Institut San Francisco for a reading in the 90s) takes place mostly behind the Iron Curtain, also the former home of the director, which adds to the authenticity of this portrait of rebellion and excess. It reveals a deeply subversive artist who finds comfort on neither side of the Wall (Talinn Black Nights Film Festival). 


NEXT DOOR/Nebenan – Director Daniel Brühl, Writer Daniel Kehlmann/Daniel Brühl

Daniel Brühl’s directorial debut pokes fun at the not so attractive version of his privileged, celebrated self. With the help of writer Daniel Kehlmann the navel-gazing satire takes a bad turn when digging into gentrification and much more. An older neighbor (Peter Kurth) who in Hitchcock style has watched the actor and his family for years through their glass windows and credit cards is ready to take his revenge.


MR. BACHMANN AND HIS CLASS/Herr Bachmann und seine Klasse – Director/Writer Maria Speth

Seventeen years of teaching at any school is a long time – teaching teenagers is more challenging and teenagers coming with a migration background and speaking many different languages is even more demanding. I taught for 20 years a variety of students, mostly between 12 and 22 and when I finally quit I asked myself, was I a good teacher? Did I leave my mark on anybody? What does it take to be a good teacher?

Mr. Bachmann gives the answer to my questions. Be openminded, be compassionate, lead them with strength and honesty towards knowledge and success and on that path offer them a variety of activities they can engage in, especially art and music – lots of music because that’s what most teenagers can relate to. Mr. Bachmann, a musician and sculptor himself, had the right background for this immense task. Teaching a class of teenagers whose first language is anything but German in a town with a long history of heavy industry opens a small window into our present multifaceted world, not just in Germany. The filmmaker spent an academic year with Mr. Bachmann in his classroom, we, the audience,  spend three and a half hours with him and his class. We get insights in his teaching, not much in Mr. Bachmann, the person, we get to know his 15 students, their strength and fears and weaknesses. The film has been compared to  Frederic Wiseman’s long documentaries that focus more on social structures than on individuals – here the teacher is the center, perhaps a reason why the film might not have suffered from cutting it to a shorter version.                                                                                                                        After 17 years of teaching Mr. Bachmann retires. His students transfer to different schools that he had recommended for them. Will they succeed? Did he give them a lasting foundation for our challenging, complicated world? Will they build on what he gave them?  Mr. Bachmann does not leave us with tears over his retirement but with a glimpse of hope for his class and the future.


PS Don’t miss Peter Luisi’s PRINCESS – his films are always a special treat

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WHAT DID YOU DO DURING COVID, OMA? (includes more on the Chickens)

My granddaughter Ella asked me that question and here is what came to mind.

I watched a lot of films on MUBI which became my favorite screening channel. I used to watch movies in the theaters, also with you, Ella, remember? But lying on the couch in my living room is something I learned during Covid and I like it. Will I go back to the theatres? I hope so. Next week the 25th edition of Berlin & Beyond  – May 25 to May 30 – will screen 2 films in theaters, the rest online. As a co-founder and long-time director I was asked to contribute one of my favorites. I suggested a few  films, most of them small productions that were not available so I ended up with Christian Petzold’s YELLA, and I am glad to see it again. A mesmerizing, compelling film that has Petzold’s unmistakable signature. A suspenseful thriller embedded in Germany’s past, elegant, clean cinematography and at the center the fabulous Nina Hoss, his long time collaborator. 

I watched Baby Sasha grow from a few weeks to a few months. Then he was packed into an astronaut’s suit and flew with mommy to Budapest without Oma – but I will visit soon. 

I watched you, Ella, navigate through zoom school and it was hard – you need real people to learn from – but you learned plenty from watching ipad, and from helping your sister Tessa get through the Covid isolation. Doggie Millie (adopted after Cleo’s sudden heart attack)) helped as well and was the only unhappy one when school opened again.  

Like everybody else I started baking bread – and pizza –  and I really like it!

We saw another chicken die – Pumpkin RIP – and 4 new ones arrive that started laying eggs. And we found out that the color of the egg matches the color of the chick’s ear.  

And I saw the monster house next to my cottage getting bigger and higher.  

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A Sad Update to the Chicken Stories

Granny was hacked apart by a hawk. We all witnessed the attack and ran inside only Iris must not have made it to safety. When we huddled together for the night Iris was missing and she never came back.  She disappeared without a trace, not even a black feather in the yard. Could the hawk have been so greedy that he lifted her off the ground after devouring Granny? While we were running inside? No remains were found, no blood, no feathers, no screaming… Tux died today after a short illness of unknown causes. And Sugar stopped laying the XL eggs that we all so admired, especially our caretakers – may be they were too big.  So we are now reduced to a small family of 7 and only Brownie still lays an egg every day.

Hope next time we will have better news to report. Stay tuned.


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Here we are: of all colors – brown, black, white, light brown, dark brown, orange, sprinkled — of all Shapes – small, big, skinny, voluptuous — of all Characters – independent, aloof, social, cuddly, skeptical, curious, lazy, shy — and of all Ages – from 5 months to more than 5 years and that is pretty old for a chicken, be assured. We all get along fine, except for little fights over special treats and we used to lay those beautiful eggs of all colors but no more. Something happened gradually over several months and by the summer we all had stopped laying eggs. So sad, because the ladies who take care of us tried so hard to get us back on track with special treats – MacDonalds for chickens, they said, and special worms. Really delicious. They took some of us on their lab, patted our feathers, fed us out of their hands but nothing worked. One of the ladies has a little helper, perhaps her granddaughter – you can see her on one of the photos with Ruby. We love that little girl but she didn’t succeed either. No eggs. Yup, thats true. It has been an unusually hard year and I tell you why.


   I’m Audrey — like Audrey Hepburn, you guessed it. I look like her, they say, with the white top hat and the slim, elegant shape. I don’t know Audrey Hepburn, but if she looks anything like me she must have been beautiful. I have been around for about 4 years and most of them with my beloved brother, the rooster in our family of ten. He picked me as his closest companion over all the other beauties in the coop. Good choice. We were an attractive couple,  visitors took photos of us all the time. Max, like Maximum, that was his name. He died last winter all of a sudden. No slow ailing into nothingness. Just dead one day lying under the oak tree. I was devastated. Could not lay any eggs anymore. Would run around the garden looking for him. Stopped eating even the special treat that we got more often after Max had died. Perhaps to make us forget our Max but I’m still thinking of him with tears in my eyes. And I still run around looking for him. My closest friends among the chicks, Iris, the black one, and Hilary all in white, keep reminding me to slow down. Hilary and Iris are not really close friends like Max was, but we look good together since our colors match – black and white and grey feet – not yellow like ordinary chickens. It has been almost a year since Max left us and I can’t lay eggs anymore. Every other day I used to lay a perfect snow white egg and would get a special reward from him – he would surprise me by jumping on me and giving me a big big hug. Max, I miss you so much.


  So why do I not lay eggs anymore? I can tell you. I don’t like what’s been going on this year. Max disappeared. Audrey, my sometimes companion,  got depressed. All our helpers came with a diaper around their face. Couldn’t recognize them anymore and it was hard to understand what they were saying. We used to love to talk to them in the morning when they fed us and cleaned up our poo. They did understand our chicken language – and we their  people languages that inspired us, or at least me, to lay a dark brown egg every day.  But that changed. With all the turmoil we had to go through I started loosing my precious feathers. I do have a lot of them, not like little Ruby, who really can’t afford losing any. (See this photo with the little helper, I think her name is Tessa.)  But you could hardly notice the loss on my big black coat – only I did. And that was in the middle of the summer, not like winter when that usually happens. In any case, that’s why I stopped laying eggs. But let’s listen to Ruby, Pumpkin, Hilary and Copper and the newcomers Sugar and Brownie. They might also shed a bit more light on their sisters’ death shortly after they had joined us. So sad.


 Some people call me Phoenix but ever since little Tessa showed up my name changed to Ruby. I joined the flock some years ago, was handed over the fence by the kids of the nursery school next door. I do like little kids, they hug me, feed me and carry me around like a baby because I was different from the others – smaller, grayer, never laid eggs on a regular basis, only once in a while, and all that made me an outsider to the gang. The big ones, especially Iris and Granny and Copper pushed me away when special goodies were handed out so I relied on  my little helper to feed me. Tessa is very concerned about my well being but she did not hand out much of that special “junk food” I liked so much. Why not? I asked her and she said that her mother, one of the caretakers, couldn’t afford buying special treats anymore for the chickens and for her. The virus had made her poor. I wish I could lay an egg every day just for little Tessa. But it doesn’t work. Something  stopped a while ago. I’m glad though that I can still be here and hope to spend the rest of my life with Tessa under the big oak tree.


Even though I’m not the oldest of the bunch but you can see why they gave me that name. I have a beard and hair – or soft down feathers on my feet my chest, my face, like an old rooster. But I’m not a rooster – I assure you – I used to lay eggs but when it got so hot this year and there was nothing but smoke to breathe all day and night I couldn’t lay eggs anymore. I lost a few feathers over the summer but not enough to keep me cool. I’m looking forward to the colder months and will see if the eggs will come back.


 Hilary – as in Hillary Clinton with white suit but only one L . From her I must have inherited my intelligence, grace and beauty and I’m proud of it. If only she had become the president instead of that rude, ugly guy with fake orange hair. I’m not the president of our chicken community – Iris or Audrey came closer to it before the pandemic changed everything. Yes, Corona starting with C divided this year in BC (before) and AC (after) , better would be DC – during Corona – because it is still around. Almost all people visiting us still wear the mask. Why don’t we have to put one on our face? I heard the virus originated from a market place in China where birds spread it to humans. We are birds too. A mask, please!


I joined the family more than 6 years ago and I became very cosy with whoever is feeding us. I like to sit on our caretaker’s legs – if they have time to sit down at all. Do you like my colors? Brown and light gray almost blue sprinkled into the light brown and a dark brown collar. Like Ruby I like being petted and hugged. I wish it would happen more often but this year during corona times even we chickens – except Ruby – had to stay 6 feet apart from most of the caretakers. Are we and perhaps our eggs carrying the virus too? So better not to lay any eggs to stop the spreading.


 Round, orange, with some dark speckles but  not ready yet for soup or pumpkin pie – even though I stopped laying eggs. Why, you are asking. Well, the answer is not so simple. I came to the coop about 5 years ago, laid many, many eggs but it stopped. I don’t know why. The virus, the smokey air, the young newcomers who don’t really socialize with me – and then two of them even died.  Strange things happened in our coop this year. I think I have done my share of laying eggs and am ready for retirement.


Black and white and that’s it. No other resemblance to those fine guys in tuxedos. I’m always pushed aside in the coop, you see Iris and also Brownie, the latest addition to our family, looking at me as if I don’t belong here – although I have been around for many years – and I’m pretty too, don’t you agree. I think, Pumpkin is right. After having laid many eggs we deserve a comfy retirement. I’m looking forward to it.


Hi we are SUGAR and BROWNIE – I’m sure you can figure out who is who. Let’s start with the sad news. We arrived together from a farm close to Yosemite with our beautiful sister COOKIE who got sick and died. The caretakers tried hard to make her feel better with hand-fed goodies, a safe place separate from all the others who attacked poor Cookie – Sugar and I did not. We watched her fade away and hoped that whatever she had would not get us. So scary with this dangerous virus going around. Cookie found a beautiful resting place near by, next to the rooster Max. We did not know him. Cookie was replaced by another Cookie from the same farm near Yosemite and that Cookie also died after a short illness. You see the three stones with flowers, the family grave. Very strange what happened to our Cookies. It must have been the virus but nobody else got it. Sugar and I became strong beautiful women. It took a while to find a comfortable place in our new family of 8 ladies, some of them, especially black Iris, can be very aggressive. And even my sister Sugar lately developed a mean streak attacking me over goodies. But we always end up making peace, go to our nests and lay an egg – every day. Sugar’s is huge, XL, said our caregiver, mine more size M, and lo and behold, even black Iris started laying a dark brown egg again. She would watch me on the nest and when I was done she would sit down right after me in the same warm nest and lay an egg that she then pecked to pieces. What a bummer. It made the nest sticky and uncomfortable but she stopped doing that. The other day the caretaker wrote with big black ink the number 3 on the calendar. Three eggs that day. So, be assured Ladies, better times are ahead. Cheers to 2021!




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A Day in the Times of Corona

Good morning sunshine, a fine day is in the air. With a cup of hot tea a short walk through the community garden to the chickens. They can’t wait for food and company. Audrey, always stylish in black with a white box hat, controls the flock.


Enkelin Tessa loves Ruby and, of course, we stay 6ft apart. Oma with mask and gloves and wipes.  On the way back we pick some greens – kale, mache, beets – from my piece of the garden for lunch and dinner.

After catching up with nothing but depressing news a bit of brain exercise – the MINI  crossword puzzle. Then a late morning walk to my favorite place, the water reservoir with splendid views of the wetland projects at Hamilton. I made  5,437 steps, not quite enough, but beautiful steps.

My afternoon activities: reading and napping, practicing 5 easy pieces on the piano – always Bach – writing in my favorite place, the kitchen – and cooking dinner.

A spectacular sunset by the playground that was taped off limits. But life goes on while we are all sheltered in place. Nieta Ella (she goes to a Spanish school) turned 7 – a small party without Oma. Daughter Milena got married – no party. But spring has been painting it’s own colorful party and I’m happy to witness it in good health.


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EFFIGY – Poison and the City


On April 21, 1831, the last public execution in Bremen took place on the Domhof in front of a huge crowd of 35,000 curious citizens. Gesche Gottfried, 46 years old, was beheaded for having poisoned 15 people close to her over a stretch of 15 years, including her children, parents, brother, husbands, lovers, neighbors and friends. A stone with a cross, in the pavement of the Domplatz, memorializes the spot of her beheading and legend has it that people still spit on it. Gesche Gottfried confessed to have fed her victims Mäusebutter, pig fat mixed with arsenic, easily available over the counter to kill mice. Why did she do it? A question that she never answered during her three years behind bars; a question that has puzzled those who knew her, as well as psychologists, historians, writers, and filmmakers who again and again have tried to make sense of her gruesome murders. Germany’s first female serial killer who had risen to a status reserved mostly for men, was also known as the “Angel of Bremen” because she took good care of her victims. She sat at their bedsides like a loving nurse, mother or daughter while they were in pain and dying. Was she looking for love? Fassbinder wrote “Bremer Freiheit” about Gesche Gottfried, a play turned into a TV drama. Did she, an intelligent, attractive and seductive women, simply live at the wrong time, as Fassbinder implied? Was killing the people around her, Gesche’s  tormented path to freedom? Secretly she had learned French and to play the piano, how many other secrets did she have? At 21 her father forced her to marry a well-to-do impotent alcoholic …her first victim.

At the 1998 Berlin & Beyond Film Festival GESCHES GIFT, a first feature by Walburg von Waldenfels was on the program. A powerful psychological thriller trying to get into the head of the serial killer. EFFIGY – POISON AND THE CITY (an underwhelming title), also Udo Flor’s debut feature, takes a different approach. Flor has added a second woman protagonist, a young law student who arrives in Bremen in 1828 from the University of Göttingen and narrates the events (in English). Cato Böhmer’s dream is to become a lawyer. However, she is barely accepted in Bremen as the apprentice to Senator Droste, who is in charge of the Gottfried case. Böhmer soon convinces the senator with her acumen and understanding that she is the right person for the case. A hint of attraction between the two women – both fighting a system that is set against them – touches those central scenes played convincingly by Suzan Anbeh (Gesche) and Elisa Theimann (Cato). Gesche, unpredictable, flirtatious and caring, opens up to Cato and eventually confesses to the murders. Unfortunately, much of the film is slow and quiet which seems to suck the suspense out of the story. Too many distracting side-plots with long-winded conversations  dominate the action which does not end with the execution, alas, but with red rain from the Sahara falling on Bremen. Closing the frame story, Cato Böhmer comes back from studying in the United States and tells us that she did not give up on the very male dominated world of law.

The film will be shown at the SF INDIE FEST on January 31, 7.15 pm and February 4, 9.15 pm at the Roxie.

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HOW TO BUILD YOUR DREAM HOUSE on a Small Lot in a Historic District of San Francisco.

The lot is 25 ft wide in a historic district. The existing one family home (yellow, 2200 sqft) can not be erased – so what do you do to build a comfortable home with 7000 square feet living space? That’s what we need for two people, minimum, really. But on this lot you can’t go up, not right or left you can only dig deep. So add 2 underground levels with elevator from garage to the highest roof deck, (there is a 2nd one, of course) turn the garden into concrete  (inside / outside living adds more space)  with a little bit of green here and there for the eyes; add big glass boxes to the existing structure and bingo: there is the dream house. Will show you the result when it is done in 5 years from now and up for sale. See the yellow vests on the photo? They are not digging for gold, or bones or other archeological finds, no, just to prepare for the walls that need to be there to support the dream house. Lots of jackhammering to get rid of the rocks that prevented the houses from collapsing in the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes. Those rocks have to go. Luxury is coming with glass and steel and concrete where nature dominated the scene. Nature is overrated. Only the old lady next door does not agree. She likes flowers and plants (see those photos of flowers and blossoms around her cottage – like everywhere on Face Book – boring). Why did they build that cottage in the first place? Would be so much easier to triple the size of the yellow house without that stupid cottage next door and that woman who spends too much time at home. She got a set of beautiful headsets from us, the best, even 2, one for visitors. She writes, she says, and the noise is excruciating. Hmm, not with the headset. We also put up a high dark-green dust curtain next to her lemon tree and rose bush (see photo). They will not survive, she says, her roof deck is already covered with yellow dust and she has been coughing since the digging started. She is exaggerating.  Anyhow, this is all we can do and we are doing the right thing. Helping to bring badly needed luxury living to this vibrant neighborhood. That’s why all the building commissions and the appeals board gave us the green light and told her when she appealed the permits: Wake up lady, this is San Francisco. If you don’t like it, move someplace else. Yes, move and we will happily buy your house.

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Peter Handke & Deutschstunde

When Austrian writer Peter Handke was recently honored with the Nobel Prize for literature, it caused quite an uproar. His political views, not his writing immediately became the center of attention by journalist and fellow writers. During the Yugoslav war of the 1990s, Handke, who has Slovene roots on his maternal side, developed a strongly pro-Serbian stance, resulting in his 1996 book A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia, in which he painted Serbia as the true victim of the conflict. In 2006, he spoke at the funeral of the Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milošević, declaring: “I don’t know the truth. But I look. I listen. I feel. I remember. This is why I am here today, close to Yugoslavia, close to Serbia, close to Slobodan Milošević.” Speaking to Austrian media after the Nobel Prize was announced Handke said: “I’m standing at my garden gate and there are 50 journalists – and not from a single person who comes to me do I hear that they have read any of my works or know what I have written,” And he concluded that he will never speak to the media again.

The Nobel committee has made a troubling choice. I love some of Handke’s earlier works, his plays and scripts turned into unforgettable films by Wim Wenders. Kindergeschichte (1981) tells the father’s story of raising his young daughter after a divorce, Der kurze Brief zum langen Abschied (1972, the road story of a young man traveling across the United States in search of his estranged wife (reminiscent of Wim Wenders’s Alice in the Cities (1974)) Wunschloses Unglück (1972), a semi-autobiographical story about his mother who took her own life. No doubt Handke is a great writer although his later works did not make it into my top ten list. Does he deserve the Nobel Prize? That highest recognition should be given to writers who we admire whole-heartedly for their writings and if outrageous political views overshadow the writing the Nobel Prize is not the right choice. No.

The recently released film Deutschstunde  is another troubling choice. Why make another film based on Siegfried Lenz’s novel Deutschstunde (1968) that focuses on an overly authoritarian father who blindly follows orders given by the Nazis and forces family and friends to do the same. Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon did all that with much more depth, horror, insight and beauty. The trouble with Deutschstunde is that filmmaker Christian Schwochow and his mother who wrote the script decided to stick to the novel which portrays the painter Emil Nolde as a Nazi victim. Extensive research on his life and work documented in a recent exhibition in Berlin has revealed that Nolde was not just a member of the Party but also an outspoken anti-semite, who tried to cozy up to the authorities which was not always successful – some of his paintings ended up at the degenerate art exhibition in Munich. But still Nolde made more money with his art than other German painters before, during and after the war. The film shows us a slice of Nazi drama in a small village by the north sea around Nolde’s home. Beautiful cinematography of seascapes are the backdrop for stylized images of discipline, submission, terror, confusion and pain. The images don’t go beyond that, they don’t dig into the past, the present or the future. Like Nolde’s beautiful paintings they remain on the surface. Christian Schwochow is a talented filmmaker and I had really hoped for a different Deutschstunde.


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