Thursday, May 10, 2018

A "Dark"-Guide to Germany

This post comes out of a new series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to mini-podcasts I'm doing with Sean T. Collins answering questions by listeners of the podcast. Give the Patreon a look!
 
If you watched Netflix' "Dark", and you're not from Germany, you might stumble over certain cultural things and historical references that you don't get, with this movie being set in Germany and all. Fear not, noble Patreons, I'm here to deliver you from ignorance. *pompous fanfare* 
 
- What's weird is the placement of the show in German limbo. The actors mostly have very precise prenounciations of words (in that they're speaking overly clearly, emphasizing every syllable), with no real discerneble accent. It's utterly unclear where exactly in Germany this is supposed to be, which of course is intentional on the creator's part (at least according to Netflix). But Winden in the show is really Nowhere Town. It feels incredibly German, but at the same time, it doesn't. It's a bit like Hawkins in Stranger Things, which if you weren't told that it's in Indiana could be practically any small town in the broader midwest. But this not being able to place the town and yet have it recognizably be a German small town (that school!) really strongly feeds into the eeriness of it all.
 
- The period appropriate clothing etc. is great, especially for the police. I laughed out loud when the policeman (Egon) in 1986 drove that damn small Volkswagen Golf. Those cars were becoming ubiquitous in the 1980s and continued their strong appearance throughout the 1990s. Newer models (google them) still look recognizable like the one in 1986, with smoother curves, and are still a staple today, although not in the numbers of those two decades. I've driven two models myself (a Golf II and a Golf III), as well as the limousine variant. 
 
- The yellow jacket that Mads (the dead boy) from the 80s wore is protesting the civilian use of atomic power - "Atomkraft Nein Danke", "Nuclear Energy No Thank You" - whereas Nena from the famous "99 Balloons" song protested atomic bombs and missiles. Both protest movements were incredibly strong in the 80s and helped fuel the rise of the (at that time very alternative) Green Party in Germany (which entered parliament for the first time in 1983). The Greens have since become considerably more conservative and are comparable to centrist Democrats. 
 
- The coroner invited the policeman to a party, his wife makes "these new jugoslavian hacked meat thingies". He means Cevapcici, which are by now a staple in Germany you can get everywhere. We have a lot of Balkan restaurants now because of how many of them fled here when Yoguslavia broke down in the 1980s and especially 1990s, so nice touch. 
 
- The cholocate bar "Raider" is a pretty crowd-pleasing effect; the damn thing changed its name into Twix (which is its name today) in the early 1990s, and anounced that with a famous jingle in TV ads: "Raider heißt jetzt Twix, sonst ändert sich nix" (Raider is now Twix, everything else stays the same"). So putting those bars all over the 1986 storyline is an easy way to communicate the time difference.
 
- They really went overboard with all the period detail. Every shot screams of its respective decade, from the cars and their door closing mechanisms to the clothing to accessoires. Really, really well done. Same is true for 1953, which isn't such a well-known period here. I guess I know how that stuff looks because I'm a history teacher and all, but they did it well, and they also nailed the class structures of 1950s Germany (young Egon being deferential like a snail to Mrs. Doppler, for example), and the ridiculous short leather trousers with long socks were ubiquitous in that time period, a direct continuation of the Nazi era. Where America was already transitioning into Jeans, Germany still had no youth culture and looked just as it had in 1933. I don't know if American viewers experienced this as a bit retro in comparison to the US in 1953; if so, it's because it was. Germany only caught up in living standard at the end of the 1960s.
 
- When Mrs. Nielsen is asked about her husband and answers "He's dead", with her new landlady backing off ashamed, this is of course because of the war. Germany lost around 45% of the generation of Egon and Tronte's dad, so this wasn't exactly a rare occurance. Worse, literally over a million of Wehrmacht soldiers was MIA, not KIA, and the Soviets didn't exactly release prisoner lists (as Tannhaus helpfully points out in the episode in question, Stalin died only a few months before). The last German POVs, captured in Stalingrad 1943, were released only in 1955 - after a personal intervention of then-chancellor Adenauer with new strongman Chruschchev. They were the last to return home. So even in 1953, whether someone had fallen, was still captive, or was missing was a fraught, sensitive topic, a metaphorical minefield. 
 
- This makes young Helge playing soldier in the Luftschutzbunker in the Doppler backyard, which had been in frequent use only nine years prior, especially poignant. The boy is around 10 years old and knows perfectly well how the Kar-98 rifle and hand grenades he mimicks are supposed to work, including the tactics of getting behind cover and everything. The war loomed large, even though the population tried what they could to forget about it. This dissonance - suppressing any discussion of the war, what happened in it, its causes and the crimes of the Wehrmacht and SS - and how ubiqitous it was in daily life because all of the principal actors were still running around, often in positions of power, and many people were missing because they were dead, led to a giant backlash in the late 1960s, were the youth movement aggressively demanded of their fathers to own up to what happened in their drive to protest the German republic. However, this was very navel-gazing, and the Holocaust - although it recieved huge attention for the first time in 1966 due to the Auschwitz trials of that year - remained in a backseat of historical memory. It was only in the 1980s and especially in the 1990s that Germany and its society at large really came to grips with the Holocaust and made it into a central part of German identity, in a move that is yet without example in the world.

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