Reader for Those Who Live in Cities East

18 Dec 2000
Ten to Eleven
Heiner Müller
Müller's circle: Thomas Heise


In this "10 to 11" feature, Alexander Kluge talks with GDR-born movie and theater director Thomas Heise about his 2000 documentary "Neustadt (Traffic Jam – State of Affairs)."

Neustadt was originally built as an appendage of Halle, a residential area for the workers of the chemical plants in Leuna and Schkopau ("GDR chemical industry program" since 1958).

In his movie, Heise shows the particular fate of a city that has lost its original purpose: the chemical industry in the region has declined, and most people have become unemployed. Neustadt is now a troubled place and among the so called "shrinking cities." In his conversation with Kluge, Heise explains that the sense of being useless is an existential problem for the people in Neustadt: During the shoot, Heise and his crew encountered people searching for a new challenge, for love, for a purpose, but barely capable of dealing with it. Kluge and Heise compare this situation to the world of metaphors in Brecht's "Reader for Those Who Live in Cities," which was written during the global economic crisis. Heise suggests that in the population of Neustadt, the "experience of the 1920s" can be observed once more in a similar way.

In regard to his role as documentary film maker, Heise says it is necessary for the director to hold himself back, to push himself to the background. He is rather an attentive observer, who patiently initiates contact with people and tries to give them a voice in his film. Several scenes from the movie give an impression of this approach.

Toward the end of the feature, Kluge and Heise speak about the problematic development of Halle. Heise describes the population's sense of uselessness and their lack of options: "Nobody needs these people in Halle. You could let the entire city disappear from one day to the next and it wouldn't make a difference for German industry or politics or whatever." This atmosphere creates a dangerous potential for extreme-right movements.