Title: Interview with Peter Märthesheimer
Author: Fareed Armaly, 1991

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Interview with Peter Märthesheimer

Fareed Armaly


Peter Märthesheimer is the producer of such projects as Acht Stunden sind kein Tag (WDR, 1972), Berlin Alexanderplatz, scriptwriter for such films as Die Ehe der Maria Braun, Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss, Lola

"The lineage of aesthetic and representational theory behind the Arbeiterfilme is not exhausted by Lukács and Brecht. It is worth considering too the influence of Ernst Bloch, whose category 'Der aufrechte Gang' was appropriated by Ziewer as the title for his third film and by Märthesheimer in his essay 'What can the hero do'.

Bloch argues for a reality of contradiction, the contradiction between, for instance, an individual's own economic interest in the maintenance of capitalism and his or her ethical commitment to a praxis of revolution;or between non-synchronous but contemporaneous modes of production, the dominant residual and emergent as formulated by Raymond Williams in Marxism and Literature and for a hermeneutic system that attends to the dialectical aspect of these contradictions.

Bloch stands then, in the construction of the Arbeiterfilm, as a sign of the importance of the representation of the imaginary as well as real relations, of the 'personal' as well as the 'political', of the domestic as well as the productive economy, and for the importance of ethical as well as material aspirations in the living out of people's lives."

Collins and Porter: WDR and the Arbeiterfilm. 1981

Fareed Armaly: Pertaining to your production of the television family series Eight hours are not a day, the series director, Rainer Werner Fassbinder made some statements which can be read as related to your essay The occupation of a Bourgeois genre. He said: "Family series are what Germans like watching", and intended to 'occupy' the genre.

Peter Märthesheimer: This was my intention. But it was his intention then too. Mein Bezugspunkt, mein Bezugssystem waren ganz klar nicht amerikanische Serien, sondern es waren deutsche Serien. Family programs-die Familie Schölermann hießen die. Funny programs, sehr harmonisch and people were used to look at it. It was great success with the German audience.(1)

F.A.: The television audience is often considered as 'the public', an amorphous composition with diverse stratas, supposedly brought together into one homogenous viewing community by televisions informing structure of agreement and shared accord. For example, with 'family characters', the expectations are of stories reflecting 'harmony'. So this reuse of the family programming was something of a considered tactic?

P.M.: Ich versuche mich zurückzuversetzen in diese Zeit. Ich glaube, Ihre Frage hat mich deshalb so verwirrt, weil sie nichts mit meinem Kopf zu tun hat, weil so das Denken nicht läuft. Das Denken läuft so: Ich möchte etwas hervorbringen, eine Produktion, die das Publikum erreicht -das ist das Problem jeder Vermittlung-und zum Anderen hatte ich, das hängt auch mit meiner Biographie und mit meinem Studium zusammen, bestimmte kritische Vorstellungen über den Zustand der Gesellschaft. Nun wollte ich beides zusammenbringen.(2)

F.A.: In that interview Fassbinder stated one first creates a potential audience : "Then such and such a family comes to people regularly in their homes and they can do what the characters do. From then on one can attempt to introduce political content." Do you think this was the function?

P.M.: At this time it had been the function. Today I'm more sceptic about it. But in these days we were successful with the transport of the idea.

F.A.: Why would the possibilities be there at WDR at this time? It's unusual for a TV-station?

P.M.: Today it would be unusual, but in this time, the late 60s, beginning 70s, this was a time of ... die ganze Gesellschaft war aufgeregt;die ganze Gesellschaft hatte ein Gefühl von: 'Wir haben die alten Strukturen, im Grunde die Strukturen der Vor-Nazizeit, die dann eben in die Nazizeit übergingen, die haben wir restauriert.' Das Wort nach 1945 hieß ja nicht 'Aufbau', sondern 'Wiederaufbau'-'reconstruction', not 'construction'. Und es war in der Tat eine perfekte Rekonstruktion der Weimarer Zeit. Das war eben die Adenauer-Zeit. Und diese Zeit war die Willy Brandt-Zeit gewesen. Also ein erster linker Bundeskanzler, seit 1933, also 30 Jahre später, der auch für eine Utopie stand; der für seinen Entwurf stand, wie die Gesellschaft veränderbar sein sollte. Dann gab es die kritischen Studenten, die Universitäten brachen auf. Das gesamte gesellschaftliche Klima war im Grunde sehr günstig. Ideen kommen immer dann-jedenfalls Ideen für ein Massenmedium, wenn das gesamtgesellschaftliche Klima so ist. Und insofern war es damals überhaupt nicht ungewöhnlich. Dem Projekt Acht Stunden sind kein Tag sind andere Arbeiterfilme vorausgegangen, die vor allem von der Berliner Filmhochschule kamen. Die haben mir aber nicht gefallen, weil es so ein realistischer approach zur Wirklichkeit war. Es war eine Art Verdoppelung dessen, wie es ist. Und ich dachte, wenn man schon ... Ich muß noch etwas hinzusagen. Was damals stark in mir war, war die Überzeugung, hier mache ich die Kommunikation, dort kommt sie an und es wird sich etwas ändern. The communication will change something. Das war so eine Grundüberzeugung, die ich heute nicht mehr teile, aber damals habe ich sie geteilt. Ich dachte, ich drücke hier auf den Knopf und dort geht das Licht an. Es war auch ein allgemeines Gefühl, nicht nur mein Gefühl. Wenn man schon in einer solchen Position innerhalb eines Massenmediums sitzt, heißt das, dass man an einem Abend 10, 20, 30 Millionen Menschen zugleich erreichen kann. Ich habe dies stark als ein Privileg empfunden und als eine Verantwortung. Die sind 'less educated than me', die sind 'less privileged than me', und ich bin sozusagen verantwortlich, responsible to take care of them and to look, dass ihre Lebensumstände besser werden.(3)

F.A.: Could one say that with this aspect of WDR programming there was somewhat of an experiment, of sorts?

P.M.: Ich hatte nicht die Vorstellung, dass es ein Experiment ist.(4)

F.A.: Aber bei anderen Stationen - Bremen oder Hamburg oder Bavaria - war es nicht so.(5)

P.M.: Nun gut. Der Westdeutsche Rundfunk ist, das muß man sehen, ein sehr großer Rundfunk, d.h. Bremen macht zwei Produktionen pro Jahr, der WDR macht ungefähr zwanzig Produktionen pro Jahr. D.h. Bremen hätte es gar nicht machen können, wir aber hatten das Geld und die Sendetermine, um es zu probieren.(6)

F.A.: In much of the American or English material published on this time period of the WDR (the 70s, where von Bismarck (Intendant) and Dr. Rohrbach (Chief of WDR drama department and cultural productions) and yourself are working in the terms of certain types of production, there appears to be a sense of the experiments within. There are arguments occuring in the newspapers, as well as writing or statements from von Bismarck, from Rohrbach, from yourself. The goals of addressment or organizing an audience in the U.S. are thought out in a much different scale from the beginning. The producers or larger network stations don't work to define a particular situation. In terms of most cultural productions, the development and resolidifying the lines of established genres persists. It's clear that a television producer won't be publishing in newspapers about 'occupation of a bourgeois genre', or for that matter citing Ernst Bloch, or even mentioning 'working-class'. This occured in Germany completely within the structure of one of the largest stations. Within the American framework, such television networks aren't required or obliged to state such intentions, nor would have to do so. In fact, the opposite is perhaps more the case. Particularly when doing so would result, as it did, with problems, partly infering that politics in some way is involved. This would certainly not tranaslate to an economic success, more so, it would assist in losing any advertisors or sponsorship.

P.M.: First of all, during the time I worked in the WDR, money played no role at all. We had money enough. It was public money. You didn't need to be successful in an economic sense. Eight hours are not a day is a production of WDR personnel. Today it is still public money which is there, but today, because the budget is smaller, you have to look at a relation between input of money and output in terms of audiences, but during the 70s you didn't care. Yes, the production had a large audience share. But the thinking wasn't :"We need a large audience out of economic reasons", but rather, we would reach all. Everyone who makes a communication loves that not only you and you are listening but that millions of people should listen to my wonderful ideas.

F.A.: Obviously some did, the WDR productions drew a name from the conservative press: 'Rotfunk'.(7) You have produced many of the films which come out of various circumstances that brought together, within the WDR, a particular set of individuals working in view of some intended directions. How did the internal discussions occur, arguments internal to and aware of the character of the collaboration with the directors involved?

P.M.: Damals ging es nicht um Erlaubnis. Ich fange mal bei mir an. Ich bin sozusagen ideologisch geprägt. Ich bin von meinem Studium her Soziologe und dann auch noch von einer Universität, wo die dortige Soziologie 'Kritische Theorie' hieß, also Adorno. Das ist meine Prägung. Jetzt bin ich als Redakteur zunächst mal nahezu autonom, solange ich nicht gegen die Rundfunkgesetze und die allgemeinen Gesetze verstoße. Solange ich erfolgreich bin in meiner Arbeit wird jeder sagen: "Aha, du willst das und das produzieren, produziere es." Jeder Vorgesetzte wird erfreut sein, wenn ich ihm ein interessantes Projekt unterbreite und sagen: "Ach, das ist ja interessant, die Idee mit den Arbeitern." Nun ging die Anregung - ich komme jetzt zur zweiten Stufe in der Hierarchie - von Rohrbach aus, und zwar von der ganz einfachen Überlegung: 2/3 unseres Publikums sind Arbeiter, aber unsere Filme spielen bei Ärzten, Professoren, Fabrikanten usw. Warum machen wir nicht mal was anderes. Das war ganz naiv und unschuldig. Rohrbach war der Nicht -Ideologe, deswegen habe ich gesagt: "Ich bin der Ideologe." Daraufhin habe ich als Redakteur gesagt: "Ja fein, das ist gut.Ó Dann kam dieses spezielle Konzept. Rohrbach, wie ich sagte, ist der Nicht -Ideologe, er ist ein liberal denkender Mensch, und er ist an Erfolg interessiert. Er will, dass das Fernsehspiel des Westdeutschen Rundfunks erfolgreich ist. Dieses Versprechen löse ich ein. Die Serie war erfolgreich. Jetzt kommt eine Ebene, die Sie nicht erwähnt haben, die aber ganz wichtig ist. Das ist der damalige Fernsehdirektor, Werner Höfer. Bismarck spielt dabei eine ganz wunderbare Rolle, nämlich gar keine. Bismarck war ein Intendant - das gab es auch nur damals in den 70er Jahren - der sein Amt verstanden hat als Repräsentant dieses Senders. Alle Redakteure sollten sich glücklich fühlen, wunderbare Programme machen, und er hat sich die überhaupt nicht angeguckt. Zum Bismarck wurde ich nur in zwei, drei Krisensituationen gerufen, und zwar Wochen nach der Ausstrahlung des Programms. Da hatte er sich das Programm selbst dann noch nicht angeguckt.(8)

F.A.: What were the crisis?

P.M.: Jemand hat dagegen protestiert, ein einflußreicher Politiker hat sich beschwert, die Industrie hat sich beschwert. Der Redakteur mußte kommen und dann wollte Bismarck nur wissen: "Wir haben da ein Problem, was sage ich jetzt den Leuten?" Vom Redakteur wollte er sozusagen mit Argumenten ausgerüstet werden, und deutlich machen, dass er für ihn kämpfte. Bismarck war sozusagen der alte preußische Offizier. Er trägt die Verantwortung für seine Leute, aber kämpfen sollen die Leute selbst. Er ist der Gutsherr, wir sind das Gesinde. Also Bismarck war ein Mann des Laissez-faire. Er ist der gute Vater und die Arbeit machen andere, die Spezialisten. Und zwischen Bismarck und Rohrbach gab es nun Werner Höfer, der Direktor, der spielt in der Tat eine ganz große Rolle, weil er dieses Aufbruchsklima verkörpert hat. Höfer war auch kein Ideologe, sondern ein Journalist. Ein Journalist, der primär daran interessiert war: alles, was wir machen, muß auf irgendeine Art und Weise auffallen. Vielleicht sind die Leute dagegen, vielleicht regen sie sich auf.(9)

F.A.: Which people?

P.M.: The audience.

F.A.: The term 'the audience' is a wide one.

P.M.: Critics. Und Politiker. Höfer war der Meinung, ein Programm, das von allen Politikern gelobt wird, muß ein beschissenes Programm sein. Aus. Wenn alle Politiker sich aufregen, dann muß es ein interessantes Programm sein. Nicht ideologisch gedacht, sondern auffällig, also Marketing, wenn man so will. Das war das Klima, in dem so etwas entstanden ist, also das ist sozusagen das Umfeld von Kultur.(10)

F.A.: Is it normal, is it standard, that people with the higher positions in television stations involved with TV-production are somehow also in politics?

P.M.: Heute ist das ganz ungewöhnlich, in dieser Zeit schien es normal zu sein. Der Nachfolger Bismarcks war ein Sozialdemokrat, Bismarck war gar nichts. Er hat vielleicht sozial-demokratisch gewählt, vielleicht auch nicht. Er war Bismarck als Person. Herr von Sell war Sozialdemokrat, und in seiner Antrittsrede an die Belegschaft hat er als seine Hauptaufgabe, die er sich stellte, bezeichnet, dass es ihm darum gehe, diesen Sender regierbar zu machen. Er meinte, dieser Sender sei, wie er ihn übernommen habe, nicht ordentlich genug. Er müsse ihn jetzt in eine Form kriegen, so dass man ihn beherrschen kann. And that's the difference von den frühen zu den späten 70ern. Oder jedenfalls war das Spezifische an dieser 'Rohrbach - Höfer - Bismarck - Periode', dass sie liberal waren.(11)

F.A.: The American or British texts focus point to this period as one successful instance of public broadcasting - a commentary to their respective situations, in a sense, and a sense of fascination that the German TV. programming structure, although set up by the allies, has no correlatable model at all in the commercial or state televisions of the reorganizers, the U.S. or England. There is 'audience' understood as a public which the media is responsible to, seen constituted as groups, and in this instance, a set of productions was established to address society as structured within terms of a working-class environment. Is this addressment in 1970 or '72 to 'the workers', to better picture them?

P.M.: No. Just to deal with problems of the 'working class'. Rohrbach wouldn't use the word 'class'. Er meint, wieviele Leute in unserem Publikum einer bestimmten Schicht angehören. There's a difference between 'class' and 'group'.(12)

F.A.: There are many discussions during the time-period concerning the critical attempts at a synthetic fiction/documentary. In one instance, this is related to those films or series that are loosely pulled together under the title 'Arbeiterfilm productions'. The problems are often of appearances and intentions, what other themes or problematic narratives may actually in the end also be paralleling the intended main narrative. Considering your intentions in terms of 'occupying of a family program', etc. Could that strategy be considered as a viable option within television production today?

P.M.: Ich nehme an, dass ein Begriff, der damals überhaupt eine große Rolle gespielt hat, der auch in diesem Aufsatz vorkommt, wichtig war: 'Der aufrechte Gang'. Er ist von einem Philosophen, der damals sehr häufig gelesen worden ist, von Ernst Bloch, und meint, dass die Menschen im bürgerlichen Zeitalter nicht mehr unter ihren Herren gebeugt, sondern aufrecht gehen. Die Prämisse des ganzen Experimentes war ganz einfach die, dass wir - jetzt meine ich wirklich Fassbinder und mich - den Menschen zeigen wollten, dass sie nicht so ängstlich gebückt, sondern dass sie aufrecht gehen sollen, und wenn es Probleme gibt, sollen sie aus einem sehr starken Ich -Bewußtsein heraus sagen: "Ich bin ich. Und ich will das nicht so, ich will es anders." Das ist die ganze Ideologie. D.h. die Ideologie der Sache ist im Grunde, zu sagen: "Leute, es macht Spaß für euch selbst zu kämpfen." Nichts mit Klassenkampf. Just a fight for yourself, what you think is right, and you fight for it.(13)

F.A.: As the individual is a member of the working class, and not an individual in, for instance, simply any outlying resedential districts, this takes on another meaning?
P.M.: It has another meaning. Der Zuschauer, auch der Arbeiter -Zuschauer, is used to look at television plays, wo ein Chefarzt sagt: "So wird es gemacht, das ist mein Wunsch." Der Chefarzt geht aufrecht. Oder er sieht einen Unternehmer oder Fabrikanten, der sagt: "So wird es gemacht." Alle gehen aufrecht, nur die Arbeiter nicht, die kommen immer so daher. Die kriegen immer die Befehle von anderen. Der ganze Kunstgriff, oder das, was damals auch das Aufsehen erregt hat, war, dass dort-aber das hatte auch sehr viel mit dem zu tun, was man gesehen hat-der Hauptdarsteller Gottfried John nicht so aussah, wie Arbeiter in deutschen Fernsehspielen gewöhnlich aussehen. Er war auch nicht so gekleidet wie Arbeiter normalerweise. Es war nicht realistisch.(14)

Description of the first seconds of introduction to Eight Hours Are Not A Day:
Family is sitting around table.'Son-character' opens champagne bottle. It explodes and spills on the lap of 'aunt-character'. She stands up, pulls her arm back and then slaps son. Little girl at table laughs. 'Father -character', sitting next to her, slaps her. Uncomfortable silence at table and all focus on this incident. Little girl leaves table. Stands in hallway, looks back in resentment. Exchange of glances between characters. 'Father character' apologizes weakly to those at the table. Normal conversation resumes. Champagne is poured.

F.A.: The program experiments with a combination: the 'acceptable' face of a family series with the viewpoints normally belonging to the Arbeiterfilm, with the perspective of a Fassbinder. It proves successful, in terms of attracting an audience. The criticism of that time appears dismayed that in the end, the family is called upon again, 'the largest unit of the bourgeois structure'; the individual's strength is seen to be produced through that constellation of family. It's functioning to promote many other aspects of a family series. The family wins.

P.M.: The family wins, yes. Ich denke heute anders darüber. Ich denke, es ist damals sehr überschätzt worden, und ich nehme an, wenn wir die Serie so fortgesetzt hätten, diesen Entwurf ... Ich glaube, der Erfolg dieser Serie bestand nicht in den Hauptdarstellern Gottfried John und Hanna Schygulla, sondern der Erfolg dieser Serie bestand in den Nebendarstellern. Die Nebendarsteller waren diejenigen, die 'Familie' repräsentierten. Oma und Opa, Mutter und Vater, also Figuren aus dem bürgerlichen Genre selbst, aus diesem platten sozusagen. Nun würde ich sagen, es ist trotzdem interessant zu sehen, wenn es gelungen ist, etwas zu vermitteln von diesem kleinen, aber auch sehr großen Gedanken, nämlich des 'Aufrecht-Gehens'. Wenn es gelingt, dem Zuschauer eine Freude zu machen, indem er sieht dass und wie jemand kämpft. That's enough.(15)
Eight hours are not a day was an approach that we took the characters and put an idea in their heads which they hadn't in reality for themselves. The author put the idea in so far that he left the balance between fantasy and description because he didn't describe, like Ziewer and Runge [Märthesheimer produced as well]. Erika Runge was the one who described in the first step and in the second step tried to bring out what had been in the heads of the people. The other approach is to take the characters, the people, and not to describe them, but to take them like you take a pot and put the idea in their heads. To use them. They are characters, but synthetic characters, not taken out of reality.
An author who wants to tell a story has to deal with characters. Take Eight hours: First step: The main character. Second step: The character has a girlfriend. He's in love or something. Then: He has parents, or he's in conflicts with his parents. You think in social stereotypes. And the stereotype is the grandmother - the beloved grandmother stereotype. You look at it and say: "Now I have my characters." You look at it and it's a family. I think this 'topos family' is quite natural if you want to tell stories. You need characters, and you come through to the form of the family. If you think as a storyteller, in the category of 'cowboy' being your main character, you think of his second character, his horse-but not his grandmother.

F.A.: TV programming structure is both informed by and is part of the formation of aspects of changing social habits-TV culture. So for instance, a program, its characters, the narratives, are considered not only within the repetitive security and frame of a hour long series and it's narrative storyline, but within other structures, for instance: the more contemporary situation of viewers switching channels all the time-what is today called 'entertainment slalom'. This other kind of unity (or is it 'interconnectedness'?) - that of 'watching TV' - is perhaps the subject of-and today itself the actual story -which is being transmitted. Perhaps today the first subject of every story is 'watching TV' as television literally concerns its power to inform the individual of the view out of the room's window, and not so simply the other way around. It reflects more than just a family to a family (with the family series) or the current news events to the current viewers. It is an operation that unifies a diverse set of communities into one nation of viewers.
Within the logic of that development the notion of a 'synthetic character' suits the main needs of the television media, where categories such as 'personality' or 'star' are demanded of-or desired so-to be both that, and somehow, as well, just their opposite. The audience sees themselves reflected as-identifying with-a 'personality'. These character's story continues endlessly into the viewers experiance and frame of time, by nature of the lack of distinguishing boundaries between news, fiction, commercial, game show, etc.
Along with the moment of what is called 'Arbeiterfilm productions', and also during the early 70s, 1970-'72, appeared Wünsch Dir Was, the live TV family game show, which also had a very large viewing audience, and which also gained notoriety by intentionally using the family entertainment genre -this time in terms of game show. Judging by the comments and press of that time, by nature of the programs live 'actions', it puts together another kind of 'critical family entertainment'-as it was called by both press and producers. Today, it's insightful in the way it reflects aspects of its era. The 'story' is that of every family comprising the audience, restaged again and again by the three real families appearing as contestants. Inevitably, these contestants in their actions allowed for the audience the chance to display the artificial qualities of the 'family characters'. The husband and wife hosts for the show, were real 'personalities'. The success of the show was perhaps in the revealing of the family as characters.

P.M.: Yes, but it's not the matter of 'family'. 'Family' is only the material, the interesting thing is the approach to it. The approach to it in the 70s, for instance as you mentioned Wünsch Dir Was, had been a critical approach to family. These games had a name, I believe, of 'harmony game'. But it was a game that when the audience is laughing-which is the best for the producer of the show-the laughs had occured not when the family was in harmony but when the family was in conflict. This had been the approach in the 70s. The audience was open to laugh about conflicts in the family. Today I believe the aspect is not conflict but harmony.
I think that the historical process has been somewhat of restoration. I think people might think today: "freedom is a category of political thinking, the state is free etc., but it has nothing to do with me. My own life is getting a cheap pullover and getting a cheap car and getting to bed to sleep and let the world go its own." I think that the state of society is enormously disinterested in public affairs. This means, that neither I, or you, or she, is responsible for what is going on. Evidently no one is responsible except politicians. They should do their job. This atmosphere of the 70s, and this is the point, had been one of a collective feeling of: "I can make things right and I'm responsible for it." The feeling is such that today the individual doesn't play any role anymore.

F.A.: By 1976 both you and Dr. Rohrbach, greatly responsible for the productions, leave to work at the Bavarian Film studios. After a long tenure, von Bismarck leaves as Intendant. Is it that the combination of political structures for cultural productions is no more possible, or a new structure was considered necessary, something other than the direct attempts now known as Arbeiterfilm?

P.M.: It's something I do not understand fully, but I often try to make it clear to me. It seems to me to be some kind of zufällig. Es erscheint mir wie ein merkwürdiger Zufall, dass bestimmte Personen, damit meine ich mich, Rohrbach, Fassbinder, Bismarck, Höfer, zusammentreffen innerhalb eines ganz bestimmten Klimas und einer ganz bestimmten Zeit. Mich gibt es noch, Rohrbach gibt es noch, Höfer und Bismarck gibt es nicht mehr, aber es gibt andere. Fassbinder gibt es auch nicht mehr. Nun denke ich, dass die gleichen Personen innerhalb eines anderen Zeitabschnittes nicht mehr auf solche Ideen kommen würden. There is some form of coincidence or historical circumstances-das deutsche Wort dafür, ein modernes, heißt 'Zeitgeist'. Not only the producers have changed, but society has changed. The climate in society, the consciousness of the audience has changed. The 70s have been a period of reform. Reform means changes, smaller changes, but changes with the direction future. I feel that this time is going to the opposite, in the direction Vergangenheit, some kind of a restoration. In so far my mind is affected by this. Why shouldn't it? I'm a member of this society.(16)

F.A.: These films were noted for working with both sides of a classical subjective/objective binary-adding to the supposed 'objectivity' (exterior), documentary the 'subjectivity' (interior) of a character. Was this a problem, that it's not exact in a sense of being classifiable, it's not simply reconstructable along lines of categories such as 'fiction', 'documentary', 'entertainment', etc.

P.M.: The audience doesn't care about that. Only the critics find this a problem and care about that. Sie setzen Maßstäbe. Ein Kritiker braucht ja immer einen Maßstab, um ein Urteil zu treffen. Wenn er einen Film mit einem Arzt sieht, hat er eine Vorstellung, wie ein Arzt aussieht. Und jetzt sagt er: "So ist ein Arzt." Besonders deutsche Kritiker-ich weiß nicht, vielleicht sind amerikanische Kritiker klüger-vergleichen gerne mit der Wirklich-keit. Das ist der Maßstab. Es ist auf den ersten Blick völlig klar, dass dies eine Familie ist, die wir erfunden haben-so sind Arbeiter im statistischen Sinne nicht. Klar, sie sind ja auch synthetisch gemacht. I think, it plays an important role, that working class is some kind of a category in the mind of people-der Begriff 'Bürgertum' ist völlig verschwunden. Man weiß nicht mehr, was ein 'Bürger' ist. Man würde sagen: Jeder. Der Kanzler sagt in seiner Ansprache "Bürgerinnen und Bürger". Er hat völlig vergessen, dass 'Bürger' eine soziologische Kategorie ist. 'Angestellter' ist keine Kategorie mehr heutzutage im Bewußtsein. 'Arbeiter' ist eine Kategorie wie 'Zigeuner'. 'Arbeiter' ist noch eine Kategorie. Insofern verlangt man, oder verlangen die Kritiker von einem Arbeiter eine realistische Darstellung. Ein Cowboy ist ein Cowboy. Nobody in Germany knows a Cowboy in reality. Everybody accepts that it's some kind of a myth. Er akzeptiert das Bild, das er auf der Leinwand sieht. Aber die Arbeiterklasse hat noch nicht einmal die Freiheit anders zu sein als der Bürger es sich vorstellt. Working class hadn't the liberty to be different than what is preformed in the head of the viewer.(17)
It is interesting that the reason why they stopped this series had to do with society, but not in a political sense. I think you can read it in one of these essays, but in short: The Ernst Bloch-category 'aufrecht' means not to have in mind the rules of the society. The rules of the society don't allow one to 'go upright', they mean 'Anpassung' (adaption). I think it's interesting that the leaders of the working class themselves applaused to the series, z.B. the Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund. On the other side they told us: But where are the rules the working class has to live with? The rules they meant were: Where are we, the functionaries of the working class. We couldn't use them in the series, because we didn't want that only the functionaries could 'go upright' and the others had no head for them-selves. And in so far the representatives of this working-class took care that this program would not become so anarchistic, as it seemed to them, but orderly, more orderly.
We had a large discussion in WDR. There were about 200 or 300 representatives of the Ruhrgebiet-working class. And one after the other went to the microphone and said: "Wonderful, that finally there is a series about problems of working class people, but unfortunately you don't have the representatives in it. It's not orderly." We knew it wasn't orderly;the approach had been anarchistic. Anarchistic means individually. And so this process of restoration, as I felt it, was initiated ironically not so much by CDU or by employers, but by the working class representatives themselves. It's a rather German behaviour. Things should go orderly. And even culture should be in order.


1. P.M.: This was my intention. But it was his intention then too. My point of reference, my system of reference was quite clearly not American series, but German series. Family programs-the Schölemann family they were called. Funny programs, very harmonious and people were used to looking at it. It was a great success with the German audience.

2. P.M.: I am trying to recapture the way it was at the time. Your question confused me so much because it has nothing to do with what's in my head, because my mind doesn't work that way. It works this way: I would like to create something, produce something that gets to the audience - this is the problem of any mediation - and on the other hand, and this is a result of my biography and my university studies, I had certain critical ideas about the state of society. And now I wanted to bring these together.

3. P.M.: Today it would be unusual, but in this time, in the late 60s, beginning 70s, this was a time ... all of society was up in arms;all of society had the feeling that the old structures -actually the pre-Nazi structures that then were taken over by the Nazis - had all been reinstated. The term used after 1945 was not 'construction' but 'reconstruction'. And in fact it was all a perfect reconstruction of the Weimar period. That was the Adenauer era. And then came the Willy Brandt era. Which meant the first leftist federal chancellor since 1933, 30 years after, who stood for a utopia, stood for a blueprint according to which society can be changed. Then there were the students who were critical, the universities that got going. The whole social climate was basically very favorable. Ideas always come up - at least ideas do for a mass medium - when the overall social climate is like this. And so at the time it wasn't at all unusual. Before Eight hours are not a day were other working class films that were mostly turned out by the Berlin Film School didn't appeal to me, because it was all such a naturalistic approach to reality. It was a kind of doubling of the way things are. And I thought if you do something ... I have to add something here. My own very powerful conviction at the time was that I'm the one who is setting up this communication: it gets transmitted there, and something is going to give. The communication will change something. This was a basic belief that today I no longer share, but then I did. I thought I push this button here and the light goes on there. It was the general feeling then, not just my feeling, that if you actually hold such a position in a mass medium, which means reaching an audience of 10, 20, 30 million people in one evening, you felt that it was a privilege and a responsibility. They are 'less educated than me', they are 'less privileged than me', and I am responsible to them-responsible to take care of them and to see that their living conditions improve.

4. P.M.: I didn't think of it as an experiment.

5. F.A.: But at the other stations - Bremen, Hamburg or Bavaria - wasn't this thought to be the case?

6. P.M.: OK. You have to recognize the fact that the West German Broadcasting Station (WDR) is a very large network. Bremen does two productions a year, WDR does about twenty a year. In other words, Bremen couldn't have done it. We had the money and the broadcasting time to try it in.

7. Rotfunk = 'The Red Network'

8. P.M.: It wasn't a question at the time of getting permission. I will begin with myself. I have been more or less ideologically stamped. I am a sociologist and, moreover, took my degree at a university where sociology was called 'critical theory', which means Adorno. That was what stamped me. As TV producer I was at first almost completely autonomous as long as I didn't break any general rules. As long as I was successful in my work, everyone would say: So, you want to produce that and that, produce it. Any boss was happy if I delivered an interesting project and would say: Oh, that's interesting the idea with the working class. Meanwhile the incentive - and now I am getting to the 2nd level in the hierarchy - came from Rohrbach and from a quite simple logic: two -thirds of our spectators are worker but our films are about doctors, professors, factory owners, etc. Why don't we do something different? It was all very naive and innocent. Now Rohrbach is not an ideologist, so I said: I'm the ideologist. And at that point as producer I said: OK, fine, that's great. Then this special concept was added. Rohrbach, as I said, had no ideology; he is a liberal thinker and he is interested in success. He wants the TV plays on the WDR to be successful. This is a promise I uphold. The series was a success. Now a different angle comes into play that you haven't mentioned, that's very crucial. That's the TV director at the time, Werner Höfer. Bismarck plays a really wonderful role in all this, namely, none at all. Bismarck was chief executive - and this was only possible in the Seventies - who understood his official position as being one of representing the network. All the producers were supposed to be happy and make wonderful programs that he didn't even bother to look at. I was only called in to see Bismarck two or three times in crisis situations and that was weeks after the program had been aired. He hadn't yet seen the program himself.

9. P.M.: Someone had protested, an influential politician had complained, big business had complained. The producer was called in and then all Bismarck wanted to know was: We have a problem, what should I tell these people. He only wanted the producer to more or less furnish him with arguments that would win his battles for him. In other words, Bismarck was the old type of Prussian officer. He accepted responsibility for his men but they were expected to do their own fighting. A lord of the manor and we were the farmhands. Bismarck was a man of 'laissez faire'. He was the good father and the work was done by others, the specialists. And between Bismarck and Rohrbach there was Werner Höfer, the director, and he played a very great role indeed, because he embodied this climate of social upheaval. Höfer, too, was no idealogue, he was a journalist. A journalist whose primary concern was: Everything we do must in some way or other call attention to itself. Maybe the people will be contra, maybe get excited.

10. P.M.: Critics. And politicians. Höfer was of the opinion that a program praised by all the politicians must be lousy. If all the politicians get worked up, then it must be an interesting one. Not ideologically thought out, but it gets attention -marketing if you will. That was the general climate in which this took place, in other words, its cultural context.

11. P.M.: Today this would be quite unusual. Then it seemed normal. Bismarck's successor was a social democrat, Bismarck was nothing at all. Maybe he voted for the social democrats, maybe not. He was Bismarck the personality. Mr. von Sell was a social democrat and in his official speech to the staff he described the main task he set himself to be that of making the broadcasting network governable. He meant: the network as I have taken it over is not quite orderly enough;I have to get it into such shape that I can completely control it. And that's the difference between the early and the late Seventies. Or at least that was the specific case of the 'Rohrbach - Höfer - Bismarck period', that they were liberal.

12. P.M.: No. Just to deal with problems of the working class. Rohrbach wouldn't use the word 'class'. He meant how many people in our audience belong to a certain social group. There's a difference between class and group.

13. P.M.: I take it that a term that at the time played a big role and that has also come up in this article was a very crucial one: 'standing erect or tall' [der aufrechter Gang]. It was used by a philosopher who was read quite a lot at the time: Ernst Bloch. The fact that people in bourgeois society shouldn't go bowed before their superiors, but should stand tall. The premises of the whole experiment was quite simply that we - and now I really mean Fassbinder and myself - wanted to show people not to go around anxiously, but to walk with their heads up, and when problems arise to say out of a great well of self -confidence: I am who I am. And I don't want things this way, I want them that way. That was the entire ideology. All of which means that the entire idealogy basically stated: You people, it's great fun to fight your own battles. No class war. Just a fight for yourself, what you think is right, and you fight for it.

14. P.M.: It has another meaning. The spectator, also the working class spectator, is used to looking at television plays where a hospital superintendent says: It's to be done this way;that's the way I want it. The hospital doctor stands tall. There's a business man, a factory manager, he says: It's to be done this way. He stands tall. Everybody stands tall, only the workers don't. They just shuffle along. They always take orders from somebody else. The whole art of ..., or what caused all the stir at the time, was - and that really had a great deal to do with what you had seen up to then - the fact that the main character, Gottfried John, did not look like a worker in a German television play. He wasn't dressed like a worker normally was. It wasn't realistic.

15. P.M.: The family wins, yes. I think differently about this today. I think it was at the time greatly overrated and I assume that if we had continued the series, this model ... I think the success of this series was not due to the main characters, Gottfried John and Hanna Schygulla, but was due to the supporting characters. The supporting characters were the ones who represented the family. Grandma and grandpa, mother and dad. In other words, characters from the bourgeois genre itself. I would say it is nevertheless interesting to see if it succeeded to mediate from this little - but also from this large - thought, this aufrecht gehen. If it succeeded to bring the viewer pleasure while they are watching both - that and how - someone is fighting. That's enough.

16. P.M.: It's something I don't understand fully, but I often try to make it clear to myself. It seems to me to be some kind of coincidence. It seems to me to be a strange coincidence that certain people - and I mean me, Rohrbach, Fassbinder, Bismarck, Höfer-come together at a certain time in a certain climate. I'm still around. Rohrbach is still around. Höfer and Bismarck aren't, but there are others. Fassbinder is also not around anymore. I think now that the same people in another time wouldn't get the same ideas. There is some form of coincidence or historical circumstance - the German word for this, a modern one, is 'Zeitgeist'.

17. P.M.: The audience doesn't care about that. Only the critics find this a problem and care about that. They set up criteria. A critic always needs a criterion in order to arrive at an opinion. If he sees a film with a doctor, he knows what a doctor looks like. And now he says: That's the way a doctor is. Especially German critics. I don't know, maybe American critics are smarter and like to compare to reality. That's the criterion. It's clear from the first moment you see them that this family that we invented is not working class in a statistical sense. It's clear;it was made up synthetically. No one knows what a bourgeois, a citizen, is;you could say: everyone is. The chancellor addresses the 'citizens' in his public speeches. He has completely forgotten that 'citizen' is a sociological category. Office employees are today not a category in anyone's consciousness. But a 'worker' is a category like a 'gypsy' is. A cowboy is a cowboy. Nobody in Germany knows a cowboy in reality. Everybody accepts the fact that he is some kind of myth. He accepts the picture of him that he sees on the screen. But the working class does not even have the liberty to be different from the way the bourgeois pictures him. Workers hadn't the liberty to be different than what is performed in the head of the viewer.