Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Everybody Talks About the Weather... We Don't

The RAF is in the air... and the fucking book i meant to have published this summer is not out yet. Never fear, Projectiles for the People is due out in early 2009 now, and this time that's a promise.

While waiting, you can check out Karin Bauer's book, reviewed today in a prominent page two article in the Montreal Gazette.

Everybody Talks About the Weather... We Don't is a collection of essays Ulrike Meinhof wrote before she went underground, with a very useful introductory essay about Meinhof abnd the German New Left by Bauer herself. There's a also a "for laughs only" postscript by Meinhof's daugher,Bettina Röhl, a hardcore anti-communist who unfortunately holds the rights to her mother's writings, and only grants permission for them to be reprinted if she gets to throw in her bitter two cents worth...

Still, definitely worth checking out!

RADICAL LEFTIST ULRIKE MEINHOF McGill prof publishes anthology of terrorist- to- be’s writings
– and German authorities aren’t very happy about it

Before she became Germany’s most infamous terrorist in the early 1970s, Ulrike Meinhof was a radical chic journalist whose gadfly attacks on the bourgeoisie in magazine columns and on radio and TV made her a household name of the left.
Prof. Karin Bauer of McGill University with her new book. To critics, she replies that Ulrike Meinhof “wasn’t a murderer at the time she wrote her columns.”

Now, much to the consternation of German authorities, a Montreal scholar has published Meinhof ’s radical writings for a wider audience – for the first time, in English.

Provocatively titled Everybody Talks About the Weather … We Don’t – a line from Meinhof herself – the anthology by McGill University German Studies chair and associate professor Karin Bauer adds to renewed and rising interest in the iconic firebrand.

The Baader-Meinhof Complex, a feature film based on Meinhof ’s life, is Germany’s official entry for the best-foreign-film Oscar in February. Now in theatres in Germany, the film’s screenplay is by Bernd Eichinger, who wrote the Oscar-nominated Downfall, a 2004 feature film about Hitler’s final days.

Buzz about the new movie has its producers drumming up advance publicity for a North American release in the new year. They’ve contacted Bauer – a German-born academic who moved to the United States in 1979 and to Montreal in 1994 – to write an expert’s report and help give the project some academic oomph.

But the German government is not enthused. When the book was launched in New York City in May, the Goethe Institute there – a kind of cultural embassy that’s mostly funded by the German Foreign Office – refused to be associated with it. The problem? Meinhof herself.

“Their reaction was, ‘She’s a murderer – why would we have anything to do with her?’ ” Bauer, 50, said in an interview at her McGill office.

“My reply was that she wasn’t a murderer at the time she wrote her columns.”

In Montreal, the Goethe Institute was more accommodating. One week ago, despite concerns from the German consulate here, it hosted a reading of the material by Bauer and her University of Ottawa colleague Luise von Flotow, who translated the columns into English.

Mechtild Manus, the institute’s director, recalled the fervent atmosphere of the Meinhof era. Back then, Vietnam War protesters chanted “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh,” rebellious students at Manus’s Catholic school “renamed” the institution the Lenin School of Socialists, and “posters in the train station of our village promised a reward for tips leading to the arrest of several terrorists, among them Ulrike Meinhof,” she said.

To chronicle the era both in Germany and other countries, the Goethe Institute has a special website – – that traces the history and motivation of the counterculture. Tonight at 6:30 p.m., the Sherbrooke St. E. organization will host a panel discussion about the era’s environmental movement and its legacy.

But it’s the Meinhof anthology that’s proven the most provocative. To compile it, Bauer selected 24 columns Meinhof wrote for konkret, the popular left-wing German magazine she helped edit. Published between 1960 and 1968, the columns range from commentaries on the Kennedy assassination and Vietnam to discussions of student activism.

She even had a column on columnists themselves, who she estimates act as society’s “pressure relief valve.”

The pithy essays give a fascinating glimpse into a mind that grew to detest the strict conservativism of postwar Germany, which she saw as a embracing a kind of neo-fascism backed by the state and the tabloid media.

Meinhof summed up her frustration in one of her final columns in 1968, before going underground. “Protest,” she famously wrote, “is when I say I don’t like this. Resistance is when I put an end to what I don’t like.”

After forming the Red Army Faction in 1970 with a group of like-minded militants, for the next two years Meinhof turned to bank robberies, shootings and bombings to advance her revolutionary cause.

In the end, she was caught, tried for attempted murder and other violence-related charges and sentenced to life in prison. In 1976, she was found hanged in her cell. She was 41 years old.

The 268-page illustrated anthology includes a scathing afterword by Bettina Röhl, one of Meinhof ’s twin daughters, who considers her late mother a pawn of the former East German Communists.

“She made her name as a terrorist,” Röhl reminds those who would be sympathetic to her mother, adding that, in her view, “she is morally overestimated as an icon of the 1968 movement.”

Bauer sees her subject differently. Attractive, young, smartly dressed and a member of the upper middle-class establishment until her break from it, Meinhof was “a towering figure of postwar German culture, someone who wound up going in a different direction,” Bauer said.

“You go to Germany and ask anybody of that generation what they think of Ulrike Meinhof, they’ll have a story and an opinion about her – love or hate.

“Even if they don’t agree with the methods she used, for many she was a martyr to the cause, even if it was a lost cause. She went all the way, she gave up her own life to it.

“To me, her columns are a testimony to her struggle, the struggle to be heard. Publishing them again now isn’t about glorifying a terrorist – it’s about asking questions.” Everybody Talks About the Weather … We Don’t: The Writings of Ulrike Meinhof, edited by Karin Bauer with translations by Luise von Flotow, is published by Seven Stories Press. It’s available from online retailers and in select bookstores for $18.50. On the Web, check out and and watch Meinhof’s last TV interview in 1969 before she went underground:


  1. I am reading "Everybody..." right now. She writes with an admirable intensity and logic...the book also incorporates some history of Meinhof's background and some context of the German situation at the time of the articles that give legs to her viewpoint that the mainstream media broad brush of "terrorist" would deny. Good stuff! and looking forward to the new book too. Tks.

  2. I don't think you need to take such a cheap shot at Meinhof's daughter. Certainly she lost more to "the movement" than most --- her childhood and her mother. You don't have to agree with her, but I see no reason to insult her by saying her comments are "for laughs only."

    I certainly wouldn't buy this book if I thought that Bauer's perspective was so biased.

  3. Meinhof lost her life to the State, is a battle against what she saw - correctly IMO - as a murderous bloodthirsty imperialist system.

    Her daughters - she had two, and a step-daughter - lost her, but not "to the movement". They lost her to a world that demanded a very high price for those who would maintain their integrity, and could see clearly.

    Of these three children, only Bettina seems to see things the way she does. Her piece in Bauer's book is not about her own personal feelings of loss or whatever, but are a shrill and laughable attempt to argue that the Soviet Union was behind the entire cultural ferment of the sixties, and that her mother was just a deluded (or perhaps insane) nut. The kind of nonsense that a John Birch Society member might spout, only written in a really boring way. The only reason it was included was that - obscenely - as her child Bettina owns rights to Meinhof's writings and would have denied Seven Stories press the right to publish them without this offensive disclaimer.

  4. Thanks for replying to my comment.

    Clearly you don't agree with Rohl. I don't think you have to. I just think that's no reason to be so disrespectful. And instead of a simple, "oh, yeah, I disagree with her," you pile on more insults of her.

    Your use of the words "shrill" and "bitter" is revealing -- sexist insults meant to keep women in their place. Lionizing some women as ideal women and labeling the women who disagree with you as crazy is sexism, plain and simple.

    For an alternate view: I think those girls (and thank you, I didn't realize there were three) lost their mom before Meinhof died. I have consistently read histories that describe Meinhof as "abandoning" her kids. That's what I was referring to.

    In that context, I think it's pretty intense that her daughter did give permission for publishing the writings when she has such strong disagreement with her mother.

    I don't know what I would do in a situation like that. I bet you don't know either. Given how much you like to write, you might write essays about how mad you are at the whole damn situation... and I think that would be okay.

    And as for, of the sisters, "only Bettina sees it this way," that's unfair and irrelevant. As a progressive, I am often "outvoted" in my conservative family, but to me that does not diminish the validity of my point of view.

    Bottom line -- if your intent is to support the writer, why bother with picking on Meinhof's daughter? Just say you respectfully disagree and move on.