From the Feuilletons


Peter Handke awarded the Heinrich Heine Prize of the City of Dusseldorf

The Heinrich Heine Prize of the City of Düsseldorf (not to be confused with the Heinrich Heine Prize of the GDR, which was awarded every year from 1950 - 1990), is given out every two years and includes 50,000 euros in prize money. It is awarded to personalities whose literary works promote human rights and social and political progress, and foster understanding and solidarity between peoples. This year the jury has awarded the prize, traditionally handed over on December 13, Heine's birthday, to Austrian author Peter Handke. Handke recently came under fire for his vociferous support for Slobodan Milosevic, after which the Comedie Francaise took his play "Voyage to the Sonorous Land or the Art of Asking" off its 2006/2007 roster.

Writing in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Saturday, Hubert Spiegel distinguishes between the decision taken by the Comedie Francaise and the jury's choice: "The decision made by Marcel Bozonnet, head of the Comedie Francaise, is by no means an act of censorship, as some maintain. Because it is the right and the duty of a theatre's artistic director to decide on what gets performed." But things are different for the Düsseldorf prize: "Does the jury sincerely contend that Handke's appearance at the grave of mass murderer Slobodan Milosovic will advance understanding between nations? Does the brazenness with which Handke glosses over Serbian crimes and denies ethnic cleansing foster solidarity between peoples?"

Joachim Güntner comments in Monday's Neue Zürcher Zeitung: "Heinrich Heine and Peter Handke as soul-mates: a possible field of research. But the problem is that the list of similarities would not be very long. H & H do seem to share a certain irritability which sometimes results in the spontaneous administering of slaps to the face. And they share an allergy to platitudes, an abhorrence for things bourgeois and an anti-militaristic spirit. But then things get difficult. Heine's heavenly gift for humour which shuns anger and alleviates pain, his quicksilver irony and diabolic spirit, none of this is shared by the emotional phenomenologist Handke."

In Monday's Die Welt, Uwe Wittstock looks for a way out of the conflict. "Several jury members have already distanced themselves from the decision, which still has to be endorsed by the city council. The SPD, the Greens and the liberal FDP, who together make up the majority, are all vehemently opposed to Handke. But a veto by these aldermen – like the decision by the Comedie Francaise not to produce 'Voyage to the Sonorous Land or the Art of Asking' – would put Handke once more in the role of the persecuted martyr. The situation is ripe with difficulties. Perhaps a way out would be for the jury – which includes Gabriele von Arnim, Sigrid Löffler, Julius H. Schoeps and Christoph Stölzl among others – to expressly state that the Heine Prize has been awarded to Handke the author, and not Handke the holder of absurd political positions."

Monday 29 May, 2006

Der Tagesspiegel, 29.05.2006

This year's offerings at Cannes were rather middle of the road, writes Jan Schulz-Ojala, despite or perhaps because of the lashings of politics and sex. That Ken Loach took the palm was fair dues and symptomatic: "An old master of European auteur cinema has won recognition at Cannes, and the competition was indeed lifted with mature auteur films. The prizes for Pedro Almodovar's audience favourite 'Volver' similarly attest to the strength of the sort of cinema which Cannes has supported for a quarter of a century. Once again the older generation are a nose ahead of the 40-year olds – even if the Frenchman Bruno Dumont, the Mexican Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and the British newcomer Andrea Arnold landed other important prizes. But even here: no surprises. No great celebrations, no mourning. The 59th Cannes has no catastrophes and no happy end. It is one which could have provided no one with grounds for mad celebration or better still impassioned fighting. Which is why everyone set off on for some unedifying trendscouting in the mountain of images, which has seldom formed a more disparate set of peaks."

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 29.05.2006

Iranian author Amir Hassan Cheheltan writes that even Iranians are having a hard time getting a grip on what is happening in their country: "The city of Tehran represents the entire country, if in a somewhat accelerated form. Here people are attempting to harness nuclear technology, while in parliament representatives protest against the presence of women in football stadiums. One member of parliament recently declared: 'Just as it is a sin for man to see women naked, it is unsuitable for religious reasons for Muslim women to see men's naked legs.' (...) Transferring the Iranian reality one-to-one onto Western conceptual systems can never make clear what's going on in the country. But it's not just the West that's incapable of understanding Iran, even the Iranians can't understand themselves."

Saturday May 27, 2006

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 27.05.2006

"Firstly he is the heir to John Paul II, secondly he is the head of all Catholics and thirdly, his Polish is not that good yet." With his humanity, Pope Benedict XVI is being warmly received by the Poles, writes Andrzej Stasiuk. "Benedict XVI is after time immemorial a 'good German' in the Polish collective consciousness. Perhaps even the first ever. I have no idea whether the Holy Spirit thinks in national, historical and political categories. Presumably it thinks universally and took this opportunity to turn its attentions towards this peculiar knot of hate, fear, pain and ignorance in which two great European nations are embroiled. This was an excellent move on the part of the Holy Spirit."

Die Welt, 27.05.2006

Tilman Krause unpicks the repressive image of Wilhelminian Germany. In spite of all the ostracism and criminal prosecution of homosexuals, in large cities and in Berlin in particular there was a relatively gay-friendly climate. "Gays were visible, they had a presence in the media and in real life, which is by all means comparable with the situation today. And in the Reich's capital, which since the time of Frederick the Great had been an Eldorado of homosexual love (the first writings about the 'scene' there were published in 1782) the gays made a considerable imprint – and this goes for the workforce right through to courtly circles – on the face of city. When Oscar Wilde told the court that homosexual love was one that dared not speak its name, this might have been the case in England but it certainly did not apply in Germany. The bathing rules on display at the first "Berlin Outside Baths" for example, stated respectfully: "Homosexual gentlemen are requested not to draw attention to their predisposition.' Which is something they otherwise were accustomed to doing."

Der Tagesspiegel, 27.05.2006

The Berlin Philharmoniker under Simon Rattle have not lost their sound, writes Christiane Tewinkel in a contribution to the debate (see our article "Rattle's downward roll"). But she is concerned about the orchestra's image of exclusivity. "Someone like Sir Simon Rattle, who says that if he believes in anything, it's that 'this music is for everyone', is right on one hand. On the other, however, he is mistaken about the extent to which classical music continues to thrive on distinction and, in the case of the Philharmoniker, on the concept of elitism. The educational project and Rattle's grass roots approach have undoubtedly made waves which have swept the country. There has been an essential change in the way music is taught, a U-turn from reception back to active music production. Yet all this threatens its brand essence: is youth work really appropriate to the desired image? Is the Philharmoniker really an everyman's orchestra?" - let's talk european