Borges in place of Tucholsky

by Jeanine Meerapfel

Guilt (Issue II/2019)

My mother was French, my father was German. In 1937 they emigrated from Germany to Holland, where my father, a cigar dealer, owned a branch of his tobacco business. In 1941 they fled from the Nazis to Argentina. This was made possible because my father had acquired Argentine citizenship as early as the 1920s. This passport saved my Jewish family and some other people as well. I was born in Buenos Aires and grew up happily there. First I went to a French private school but I found my classmates there snobbish and was glad when I was allowed to go to a public school when I was twelve. I became a patriotic Argentinean. I wanted to be a journalist and writer. My first poems at the age of six were odes to my cats. I didn't speak German at home, but French and Spanish. Then I learned English and Italian and read everything that fell into my hands, especially Latin American literature. When my father said how important Tucholsky was, I cited Borges and Cortázar. After graduating from high school, my father took me on a trip through Europe and to Israel. Back in Argentina I started working as a journalist for a magazine. At the age of twenty I was already editor-in-chief, was allowed to do the most fantastic interviews.

One day I met a group of Germans who taught at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm and they mentioned their newly founded film department. I had already attended script-writing courses and was very interested in film dramaturgy. I applied for a DAAD scholarship, and from 1964 I studied film at the "Kuhberg" in Ulm, where the university was located. The students all had the same haircut and had similar clothes. At first I found this strange, but I soon realised that their attitude was a protest against the kitsch of the 1960s, against the homely cosiness that prevailed in Germany back then. We wanted both intellect and objectivity. I was interested in the complexity and ambiguity of the image; montage and suggestion in film fascinated me. My teacher Alexander Kluge always said: "Tell about the things you know".

When the university closed in 1968, I went to Frankfurt with other ex-film students from Ulm and we worked together in a film collective. It produced several films. One year later I was back in Ulm working as an editor for the Südwest Presse and I oversaw the travel section. I also gave lectures on film history at the Ulmer Volkshochschule founded by Inge Aicher-Scholl. I travelled with the Goethe-Institut to the USA and Latin America and showed what was called "women's films" at the time, such as films by Chantal Ackermann. In 1981 my first feature film "Malou" came into the cinemas. I enjoyed developing the material and later working in a team on the set. I was already living with my partner in West Berlin. It was an eventful time, we spent nights discussing life in bars like the "Ax Bax" or the "Exile", dreaming of a better world.

Preserving memory and remembering are the fundamental notions that shape my work. Many of my films are about friendship, like "La Amiga" or "Amigo mío". You can also count "The German Friend" among these. When I finished that film, Klaus Staeck, the then president of the Akademie der Künste, asked me if I could imagine becoming his successor. I was rather disappointed by the film landscape at the time and had got to know the Academy as deputy director of the Film and Media Art Section. At first I had doubts that I would be elected. I am neither a German nor a literary figure and I speak German with an accent. But since 2015 I have been President of the Academy. This work enables me to combine my views with those of others; to uphold the values of the Enlightenment; to practice a culture of remembrance through exhibitions, readings, theatre and film screenings; and to showcase the diversity of our society.

As told to Stephanie von Hayek

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