Magazine: Fire and Water

About the work of firefighters

3 Feb 1992
Heiner Müller
Müller's circle: Alexander Kluge


Kluge defines the concept of "critique" as "consequent, active repair work", which explains his interest in firefighters: Their work is meant to prevent disasters, but comes always too late.

The feature opens with a montage of different videos revolving around the topic of fire, then switches to the representation of unsettling images of disastrous fires, like Troy, Lisbon, Chernobyl, and São Paolo. In the following short interview, Kluge speaks with Heiner Müller about the dramatic effect of fire and water. One sequence that cannot be clearly identified as either fictional or documentary, deals with firefighting during World War II. Impressed by their work ethics, in 1941 the German army let an entire fire brigade of 216 soviet fire trucks enter and exit the burning city of Leningrad unchallenged. But their lack of tasks (burning cities) in the steppe went along with a loss of purpose, and the brigade disbanded.

In a conversation with Commissioner Boer, he talks about the particular challenges and moments of success during the "firestorm" in Halberstadt on April 8, 1945 (which Kluge witnessed at age 13), for instance the creation of a "water front" that allowed people to get to safety, like the people of Israel crossing the Red Sea.

In a second conversation with Müller, they talk about the mythological figure of Prometheus. Kafka writes about him without ever mentioning fire, similar to Müller's own text about Prometheus. Müller: "When I think about fire, I think of lightning." The last segment follows a unit of firefighters in Halle for a day on their deployments, and shows the effects of the reunification on the work and spirit of the unit.