Tag: Deutsche Aktwerk

… That Becomes Even Stranger

The mentioned “Aktwerk” contains 24 photographs by 14 different photographers, all names unknown to me – here’s the list : Willy Zielke (3), Heinz von Perckhammer, Bruno Schultz (8), Carl Semon, Alfred Grabner, Viktor Hayd, Trude Fleischmann, Max Rothkegel, Franz Grainer, Heinz Hajek-Halke (2), Franz Kepler, Ewald Hoinkis, Ursula Lang-Kurz und Heinrich Iffland.
I looked through the names and read wikipedia-articles, as far as they exist, and the last one – yes, I do lists from behind, the “wrong” way ; I simply do this, I can’t explain – and the last one was Willy ZIELKE (Ger.) (1902-1989) “…. photographer … expressionistic … who did “Das STAHLTIER” …” – ?
What ?
I thought I knew the canon of expressionistic German fillums from the 1920s & 1930s, but this one had escaped me. Also ZIELKE’s biography. He learned in Munich at the Staatslehranstalt für Lichtbildwesen in 1923 and 1924 (what later became the Fachakademie für Fotodesign), and was teaching there from 1928 until 1936. He took part in the Werkbundausstellung “Film und Foto” and so became known to a wider audience. In the early 1930s he started to make films, his first independent solo work was “Arbeitslos – Ein Schicksal von Millionen” (Unemployed – One of Millions) from 1933.
ZIELKE was commissioned to produce a film for the hundredth “birthday” of the Deutsche Reichsbahn, this is the already mentioned “Stahltier” from 1935. The heads of the railway expected a nice advertisement or promotion picture, and were less than underwhelmed with the finished product – much to ZIELKE’s shock and dismay.
He constructed a story around a Werkstudent / student employee who has to complete field training with a group of workers ; the relationship between the group and the “intellectual”, ongoing engineer, develops, especially because the young man knows the history of the railroad and tells & explains it to the workers. As I read the picture does not follow ns aesthetics, does not use contemporary symbols, depicts neither student nor workers as aryan superhumans or lies about the history of the steaming engine. In fact ZIELKE did an aesthetically outstanding artful picture in the category corporate film / Industriefilm that the purchaser did not like : They blabbed something about “communist aesthetics” and threw the thing in the drawer.
Interestingly this film later was used within the training of cameramen for German propaganda units, as example for what is possible.
After the war a complete copy was found in Paris, but the successor of the Deutsche Reichsbahn, the Deutsche Bahn, still regarded the film as “not publishable”, and urged ZIELKE to shorten his work. So from circa 1955 onwards exists a crippled 50 (?) minutes version of the original 70 minutes film. Only much later, in the 1980s, the uncut original was shown publicly.
ZIELKE’s STAHLTIER (GOd, what a title !) brought him to the attention of Leni RIEFENSTAHL. She had him as collaborator for her Olympia films, and ZIELKE independently made the “Prolog” for the pictures. There was a contract, and he had it notariazed, nevertheless he is not in the credits of said picture(s), RIEFENSTAHL just dispersed him.
What follows is disputable. It is a fact that ZIELKE from February 1937 until August 1942 was held as patient in the mental asylum / Kreisirrenanstalt Haar. He describes it as kidnapping and accuses RIEFENSTAHL of pulling strings. I am not convinced, RIEFENSTAHL simply would have not needed to do something like that. She was in a nearly untouchable position in Nazi Germany. Earlier she even had shown the STAHLTIER to GOEBBELS and argued for the picture – in vain, GOEBBELS simply did not like it.
I think ZIELKE suffered from a nervous breakdown, the diagnosis “Verfolgungswahn” / paranoia / delusions of persecution may be valid or not, I have no clue. ZIELKE was castrated while in Haar, against his will, but according to the law, as a German judge told him after the end of the Third Reich when he asked for compensation. ZIELKE says he was subjected to experiments, but I think that was not verified. He was glad not to be executed (Ger., Eng.), Haar was part of the murder machinery.
In August 1942 RIEFENSTAHL – of all humans ! – took him out from Haar, and used him as cameraman for Tiefland (Ger., Eng.).
ZIELKE survived the war, started to produce small films in the 1950s and worked as cameraman again. I read that at the beginning of the 1970s, when he was completely out of the public’s eye and forgotten, a French collector “borrowed” his collection of negatives, and “forgot” to give it back. At least one of his negatives was sold for a pretty large sum via an auctioneer’s house while ZIELKE had to live from benefits. He died in June 1989, 86 years old.
What a life.


The only account of ZIELKE’s biography and his film is found here (part I) & here (part II) (Go there for pictures !), written by Manfred POLAK. Of course my scribble heavily relies on Herr POLAKs work.
It would be very helpful if the article by Herr POLAK would be translated professionally into English. Also English versions of the German wikipedia articles about ZIELKE and Das STAHLTIER would be very helpful.


An Ugly Story to Start With …

It was Joyce (an old lady who lives in a house somewhere near the Great Lakes, Green Bay ?, who sadly has not blogged since 2012 ; maybe she died), who once used the expression “down the rabbit hole” for my meandering through “stuff” : One starts “here”, gets distracted, follows leads and detours, only to come out over “there”, having created a thread, on one hand unique, but meant to be followed by others, so not so unique any more.
I like the image of the rabbit going down, sub terra, following subterranean routes, weaving a fabric, a tissue, ein Gespinst, that underlies what we see, or better, what is shown. The mycelium under the mushroom. If one is not so friendly, one may call it prattlebabblerigmarole …
While I recover from this nasty infection I spend too much time online. Lately I scrolled through a site with old photographs, and saw a pretty unimpressive nude study (Halbakt, semi nude, is the correct term I think) ; what caught my eye was not the lady’s bust, but the caption : “From Deutsche Aktwerk”. Frankly, I first thought this to be a joke : this title must be something satyrical from the sixties or seventies ; but no, it is a real publication – here is a more or less actual, American advertisement.
Looking in a trusted search engine (hint : not gargle) lead to the wikipedia-article about Herr Bruno SCHULTZ (Ger.), who was the editor of said “Aktwerk” (here is a correct description by an antiquarian, German only, sorry ; 24 b/w images on cardboard, pretty good print, Berlin 1938).
Sadly the article is in German only, and gives no dates, I would very much like to know what happened to SCHULTZ after the war. SCHULTZ was from 1927 to 1938 editor of Das Deutsche Lichtbild, a magazine open to avanteguarde and generally progressive artists, lauded by so different persons as Reichskunstwart (Ger., Eng., not an ns institution !) REDSLOB (Ger. only) and Bauhaus-professor MOHOLY-NAGY (Ger., Eng.).
After 1933 SCHULTZ marched onwards, the 1934 edition was dedicated to the FUEHRER “in endless love”. SCHULTZ became a Hauptmann, captain that is, in the propaganda department of the OKW (Ober-Kommando der Wehrmacht), no doubt a “Druckposten” he got via “Vitamin B” (Ger.), something administrative friends made possible for him, anything but the front, yeah.
He finally became a swine in 1944. His flat had been bombed and together with his wife he was relocated to a villa near Berlin. There also lived the writer KNAUF (Ger., Eng.) and the caricaturist OHSER (Ger., Eng.). OHSER did not keep his mouth shut in the air-raid cellar and in February 1944 SCHULTZ denounced both in writing directly to GOEBBELS. End of March both were arrested. GOEBBELS was pissed off and told FREISLER (he may rot in hell eternally, Ger., Eng.) to make it snappy, so the “lawsuit” started on 6th of April. OHSER hung himself the night before the “trial”, KNAUF’s head was chopped off on 2nd of May ’44. His widow, Erna, was charged with 585,74 RM for proceedings and execution.
Some place freed in that villa.
History is stories. History is human lives. Nothing else.
But I did not want to tell this ugly story from the German forties, in fact I found something else.
I am very sorry to stop right here & now, but I am tired, and have to read additional stuff. I’ll jump the rabbit hole tomorrow again, all for your pleasure. Of course.