Tag: history

… 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.

Interesting Women : Sophie Dorothea, Prinzessin von Ahlden

I read about AURORA von Königsmarck (1662-1728) (Ger., Eng.), and somewhere in the back of my balding head a little bell was ringing. AURORA is one of the many lovers of FRIEDRICH AUGUST I. of Saxony (1670-1733) (Ger., Eng.) (called “The Strong”, der Starke) ; she even became his official maitresse, and gave birth to the Saxonian duke’s (and as AUGUSTUS II. Polish-Lithuanian king’s) illegal son MORITZ (1696-1750) (Ger., Eng.), who later became Maréchal Général des Camps et Armées du Roi, Marshal General of France.
As I read AURORA seemingly felt real affection to the crowned Lothario, and she even could build a relationship with FRIEDRICH AUGUST’s conniving wife CHRISTIANE EBERHARDINE of Brandenburg-Bayreuth (1671-1727) (Ger., Eng.). AURORA tactfully choose to move to Goslar (whc) and give birth there (MORITZ was born on the 28th of October 1696), while CHRISTIANE brought the only legal son of her husband to the world on the 17th of October 1696 in Dresden. When AURORA came back to Dresden she already had been replaced as the rambling ruler’s favourite. She received a position as abbess of Quedlinburg Abbey (Ger., Eng.). She used her remaining life to take care for said abbey, and had to see about the family inheritance matter that resulted from her brother’s disappearance.
And with this brother we finally approach the Interesting Woman of this post, SOPHIE DOROTHEA von Braunschweig und Lüneburg (1666-1726) (Ger., Eng.).
SOPHIE was the only daughter of the duke of Braunschweig-Lüneburg, and – and this was something unusual for the time – she came from a loving family. Her parents were devoted to each other, loved her only daughter, there was a real family life. SOPHIE received a good education, was open-minded, teachable – she grew up in a carefree environment in Celle castle.
PHILIPP CHRISTOPH von Königsmarck (1665-1694) (Ger., Eng.), AURORA’s younger brother, spent his childhood at the court of Celle (Ger., Eng.), and knew SOPHIE since their childhood days. He went to Oxford to study, finally choose a military career. After wandering & fighting through Europe he returned to Hanover in 1688, serving as colonel in the house guard of duke ERNST AUGUST of Hanover-Lüneburg, as Oberst der Leibgarde. This duke had a son called GEORG LUDWIG (1660-1727) (Ger., Eng.), who later was known as GEORGE I. of Great Britain, and who was, since 1682, married to our lovely SOPHIE.
SOPHIE did not want this marriage, the whole thing was a political & dynastic arrangement. In the beginning it seemed to shape up reasonably well, dutifully the pair produced two heirs (son GEORG AUGUST (1683-1760), later GEORGE II. of Great Britain, husband of this Interesting Woman, and a daughter SOPHIE DOROTHEA (1687-1757)). But after the birth of the second child the couple drifted apart.
GEORG LUDWIG openly favoured his maitresse MELUSINE von der Schulenburg, while SOPHIE rediscovered her inclination towards PHILIPP CHRISTOPH. This seemingly went unnoticed since 1691, became a serious liason in spring 1692, and finally resulted in a stout martial row : After a heated dispute with her husband, in spring 1694, SOPHIE grabbed some things and went back to her parents, back to Celle.
They sent her back. For political reasons, they needed Hanover’s help in an actual war against Denmark, so her father – again – put the interest of the “state” over the interest of his only daughter.
In summer 1694 SOPHIE and PHILIPP plotted an escape, they wanted to flee either to Wolfenbüttel or to Saxony. But, of course, the plan was disclosed to the court : The traitor was CLARA ELISABETH von Platen (an ancestor of our AUGUST), who had tried to convince PHILIPP CHRISTOPH that it would be a good idea to marry her daughter : PHILIPP refused, and CLARA ELISABETH took her revenge.
PHILIPP vanished on the 2nd of July 1694, after he had met SOPHIE for a last time in the old Leineschloß (Ger., Eng.). This is all what is known for sure about his fate. It is very likely that he was murdered, either on command of ERNST AUGUST or his son GEORGE LUDWIG. SOPHIE would never know what happened to her lover. Some years ago bones were found in the Leine castle, but DNA testing could establish that these are not PHILIPP’s remains.
SOPHIE had to take all the blame. She was divorced from her husband, and kept in a small castle in Ahlden (Ger., Eng.), effectively in solitary confinement, for the rest of her life – from 1694 to 1726, 32 years.
She spent the first years in a kind of apathy, only later she tried actively to change, to better, her situation, with no result. Visitors were basically not allowed, with the exception of her mother. After the latter’s death in 1722 SOPHIE was alone. The military detachment consisted of forty men, their only task was to guard one woman. In the beginning she was only allowed to move inside the castle, later she was allowed, of course under heavy guard, to walk in the grounds. After some years even riding in a coach was allowed. It is possible that they all became a little … strange there, over the years.
In early 1726 she suffered a stroke. Without regular exercise and movement she had become fat, but eating was seemingly her last joy. She had feverish colds, colics, and finally she went to bed in August 1726, and would not get up again. She refused any food consumption, any medical help, effectively starving herself to death. She died on the 13th of November 1726 at the age of sixty.
The autopsy provided evidence of gallstones and a liver failure. GEORGE forbid any public display of mourning in Hanover and London, and was furious when he heard that the court in Berlin wore black. The guards had no instructions for a burial, so they put her corpse in a lead coffin, put the thing in the cellar, and waited for orders.
These came in January 1727, and said basically “Heck, bury her in the yard without any fuss !” This was not possible for some weeks because of heavy rain, so the casket came back into the cellar and was covered with sand.
In May 1727, clandestinely, in the night, SOPHIE DOROTHEA, princess of Ahlden, was buried in St. Marien (Ger.) in Celle.
What a life.

If You Write It, They Will Read It

Now let’s imagine you are a nobleman, living at the beginning of the 16th century in Middle Europe. You hang around the court of the Emperor and help to administer the Reich.
Your ruler decides to promote you and sent you as ambassador to the Czar.
What do you do ?
Certainly you turn to your database – that is the library – and look for a tome, manuscript or print, that describes what you need to know, like where to go, how to travel, whom to bribe.
Shock Hubbub, Panick & Confusion – no such book : You have to write it yourself !
Enter Sigmund von HERBERSTEIN (1486-1566) (Ger., Eng.).
Sigmund was a third son, so his chances to inherit a lot were pretty small. But his father took care to give his son a good education, and – what is even more important – this education fell on a good soil : Sigmund was interested in nearly everything, and very curious.
From 1514 on he lives at the court of Emperor Maximilian I. (1459-1519) (Ger., Eng.), he stays in service until 1553, for nearly forty years.
At the beginning of the 16th century existed only few permanent representations, usually a ruler choose one person for a special commission, a special envoy. HERBERSTEIN carried out 69 such missions, 30 saw him visiting Hungary, 15 took him to Poland and two into the Moscow State.
The first major journey was not successful. He was sent to Denmark in 1516 : Isabella (1501-1526) von Habsburg was married to king Christian II. of Denmark, who had earlier met an Netherlandish girl, taken her to Copenhagen and lived openly with her. The girl’s mother, an innkeeper called Willems, seemingly run the state. The king not only deeply insulted his wife, but also the house of Habsburg in toto, and there was no successor in sight due to a lack of consummation. Within a few years this remarkably dumb sovereign had insulted all rulers in the neighbourhood, was forced to flee the country and take asylum in The Netherlands where his legal wife died.
HERBERSTEIN should admonish the crowned ass, what he did to no avail, but in such a way that the king was not upset (and not cancelled his connection to the House of Habsburg). Interestingly Sigmund’s last mission in 1553 was to accompany another young Habsburgian princess, Catherine, to Cracow, right into another unhappy marriage.
Also Sigmund’s second mission in 1517 was not successful, when he was sent to Moscow to broker an armistice between Poland and the Moscow State. Nevertheless he showed great diplomatic skill in this mission – and he stayed in business. He reported to the Emperor personally, and old Maximilian seemingly was fascinated by the stories about this strange land & country in the East. So when a second mission to Moscow was necessary in 1526, now under the emperors Charles V. and Ferdinand I., it was only natural to have Sigmund take part in it – even Madrid (Charles V.) proposed his name. HERBERSTEIN was not only sent over in diplomaticis, but Ferdinand told him to collect any information about the country, the society, and put special emphasis on the religious situation. In the end Sigmund von HERBERSTEIN was sent to write the first regional and cultural study about unknown Russia.
He returned back to the Emperor’s court at the 13th of February 1527, and shortly afterwards presented his report. Sadly we know nothing about this report’s fate. In the 1530s Sigmund was looking for a humanist to work on his text, to have it stylistically improved, but we do not know what came out of this. It is not clear if the text that was finally printed 22 years later – in 1549 : Instant success, 20 more imprints until 1600 – is identical or, if not, how close related to the first version.
HERBERSTEIN lived on to see the success of his book, and in his autobiographical writings, which are also very instructive, he mentions that knowing the Slovenian language was very helpful for him. Sigmund was born in Wippach in Slovenia, and he put a lot of effort in learning the language of his peasants as a youth. So knowing a Slavonic language was very helpful for him on his travels in the East, less perhaps in Poland where the nobility was fluid in Latin and Italian, two other languages Sigmund verifiably spoke.
His text * is an interesting read, still after five hundred years.

* I used : HERBERSTEIN, Sigmund von : Das alte Rußland. In Anlehung an die älteste deutsche Ausgabe aus dem Lateinischen übertragen von Wolfram von den STEINEN. Mit einem Nachwort von Walter LEITSCH. Unter herausgeberischer Mitarbeit von Paul KÖNIG. 2. Auflage Zürich 1985 (Manesse Bibliothek der Weltgeschichte) (Rerum Moscoviticarum commentarii).
LEITSCH (1926-2010) was an Austrian professor of history at the university of Vienna, I used his Nachwort / postface.