“The Germans and the Poles, the history of a neighbourhood”. A film project and many stories.

“The Germans and the Poles, the history of a neighbourhood”
“The Germans and the Poles, the history of a neighbourhood”. A film project and many stories.

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When, in 2014, we began to consider a new TV documentary project on German-Polish history, we had no idea how difficult this would be to turn into reality. After 15 years working in television Andrzej Klamt, a film producer from Wiesbaden, had launched the idea of throwing a new light on the complex history of German Polish relationships. In 2002 the Ostdeutsche Rundfunk Brandenburg had presented its own history with a lot of material and many interviews with experts. Now the idea was to make a German-Polish coproduction, enriched with “canned” movie scenes, as well as freshly shot scenes. 

 

After lengthy discussions we decided to divide the four parts in the following manner: two 45-minute broadcasts were dedicated to a more or less chronological presentation of the relationship: a further episode should be about the mutual relationship between German and Polish Jews; and part four – this was clear from the start – would deal with the history of Breslau, the European capital of culture in 2016. We were able to persuade the German Polish Institute to partner the project. The director Gordian Maugg was to be responsible for the movie sequences.

The broadcasting stations involved were, on the German side, ZDF/3Sat, and on the Polish side, initially the public broadcasting station TVP. Difficulties already began to arise during this first phase of preparations. True, there was no lack of goodwill and also no lack of benevolent funding sources (Hessen Film und Medien GmbH, Stiftung für deutsch-polnische Zusammenarbeit), but it was far from easy to correlate the demands of German television makers with the customary approach to productions adopted by their Polish partners. We not only had to take account of a tendency towards “histotainment” on the one side, and more traditional customs on the other, but also of the preferences and aversions to statements that might be interpreted politically. Thus the person of Rosa Luxemburg who had been originally intended to be spotlighted met with reservations on the Polish side, and the intention of presenting history by means of self-deprecating cabaret insertions by a well-known pair of satirists, also found little favour on the Vistula. At the same time the participating historians – alongside the present author, Igor Kąkolewski (Berlin), in a later period Krzysztof Ruchniewicz (Breslau) and time and time again, Hans-Jürgen Bömelburg (Gießen) – were forced to see that the selected form of presentation with a huge number of “entertaining” insertions clearly restricted the space available for transmitting the historical connections. The authors – alongside Andrzej Klamt, also Zofia Kunert – and the television editors paid great attention to getting what they considered to be the right balance between the various elements.

Just as work on the film was due to begin a power change in Poland at the end of 2015 caused considerable turbulence. Following the election victory of the right-wing National party, “Law and Justice” the government adopted a hard line towards the public television station that had been hitherto relatively liberal in its views. This not only resulted in a complete change in the leadership of the television station, but also to an immediate feeling of discomfort about a German-Polish coproduction whose aim was to show the whole range of utterly different identities and options in German-Polish relationships. Andrzej Klamt felt forced to terminate the collaboration, but was however soon able to obtain a new partner in the form of the leading private television channel, TVN.

The documentary recordings followed in autumn 2015 and spring 2016 in Poland, Austria and Germany: the movie scenes were also shot before the summer break in 2016. Because the film had received financial support from the state of Hessia it was also necessary to shoot some of the scenes that ostensibly took place in Poland, on Hessian sites. Hence St Hedwig was not shot in Breslau, but also landed on the Ronneburg, north of Hanau, whereas Józef Piłsudski was not released from imprisonment in Magdeburg but in Wiesbaden: and Friedrich Wilhelm IV also greeted the liberated Ludwik Mierosławski from the castle in the Hessian capital rather than in Berlin.

 

After previews in Berlin und Wiesbaden, the first three parts were broadcast by 3Sat at 20.15 on 9th November 2016. Almost 700,000 viewers tuned in at prime-time, a market share of 2.1%. These very good figures also came as a surprise to the makers of the programme who had expected much less public interest in such a niche theme. The Breslau film was broadcast by ZDF on 18th December (980,000 viewers and a market share of 10%), and shortly before Christmas the Polish parallel version had its premiere on TVN, albeit at around 22.55, a considerably less attractive time (Part 1: 400,000 viewers and a market share of 6%).

Reactions in Germany and Poland were very positive. The elaborate recordings, the richness of historical documents, and even – quite contrary to the fears of the participating historians – the newly shot dramatised scenes were praised, especially the fact that the fresh, dynamic and varied presentation also attracted the interest of new groups of viewers in such a complex theme as German-Polish relationships.

Parallel to the television series the Theiss Verlag in Darmstadt published a richly illustrated book with deeper information on German-Polish relationship structures. This was organised by the German Polish Institute and financed by the Sanddorf Foundation.

 

Peter Oliver Loew

 

The Film:  Mediathek von 3sat 

For a link to the film project page, see:  deutsche-polen.eu

For information on the accompanying publication: http://www.wbg-wissenverbindet.de/shop/de/wbg/deutsche-und-polen

 

 

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Berlin, January 2017: Discussing the TV documentary "Die Deutschen und die Polen"
Berlin, January 2017: Discussing the TV documentary "Die Deutschen und die Polen"
Berlin, January 2017: Discussing the TV documentary "Die Deutschen und die Polen" in the Brandenburg Representation.