First you have to come up with it

taz, 3.Juli 2008,
by Daniel Wiese

The filmmaker Robert Bramkamp has turned the rejection of mainstream cinema’s narrative conventions into an art form. This semester, he begins teaching at the art academy in Hamburg – good news for anyone interested in a cinema of ideas. It’s just like his films: a state of concentrated diffusion that appears as soon as Robert Bramkamp opens the door. He’s ready, he says, but what do we want to talk about? Bramkamp looks young, boyish, although he’s already 47. This is his first professorship; he is now a colleague of Wim Wenders’ at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg (HFBK) in the department of Film and Digital Cinema. Yes, this is his current office, he says, not at all bad, he laughs and points out the bare room; on the desk are two Apple laptops, not much else. So which of my films have you seen, he asks.

In a television programme with Alexander Kluge, Robert Bramkamp said he wants to show that thinking can be fun. This was in relation to his rocket film Prüfstand 7. The programme with Kluge was called “Der gefrorene Blitz” (“Frozen Lightening”) – this was the name the Nazis gave the V-2 rocket because it strikes first and is heard only later. Bramkamp shot his film in three places: West Pomeranian Peenemünde, which was once the site of the test ground and is now a museum; the former concentration camp Mittelbau-Dora, where the rocket was produced, but where, due to the wishes of the surviving prisoners, no rocket can be seen today; and the Bremer Space-Center, where dreams of outer space were reactivated until the centre went bankrupt – but this was after Bramkamp’s film. Bramkamp is the first to have brought these places together. First you have to come up with it – and Bramkamp is somebody who comes up with things like this.
At some point in the television interview, Bramkamp smiles, leans back to one side, and Kluge only has to listen. The director talks about rocket technology, “veil cooling” that allow the rockets’ diverging states of aggregation to coexist, and about his theory of the severed hand, for which he explores a mythological source. “We interviewed these Germanic people from Essen”, Bramkamp says and tells Kluge how Germanic warriors would sever their hand if they survived a battle in which they should have died: “Those who should have been dead but live hack of their hand.” For Bramkamp, this formula can be used to interpret the rocket, the “queen of ambivalence” – a weapon that brings death but which, for those who build it, also embodies the dream of immortality.
The above-mentioned Germanic people from Essen are men who meet dressed up somewhere in the forest of Peenemünde. But Bramkamp wouldn’t be who he is if he didn’t bring this all together: rocket flight and “The Ride of the Valkyries”, “Third Reich” in Peenemünde and role-playing games next to what is now the rocket museum. Already in the first sequence of his film, the great somnambulant leading actor, Inga Busch, who at some point discovers that she is the ghost of the V-2 rocket, climbs into a BMW. The BMW advertisement is repeatedly inserted, altered and remixed with historical shots of, for instance, the failed launch of the V-2 in various stages of take off. Start – and boom. And again: start – boom. And again. While Inga Busch comments on her “favourite launch failure”, something of the insanity of the rocket politics is felt.
“The filmmaker Robert Bramkamp talks quickly”, we learn in another Kluge programme, and this is also true of his films. They have to be seen several times before the dense web of associations can be even approximately grasped. Bramkamp explores underlying connections; he looks at things and marvels at them. No speculation is so farfetched that it is not worth a try. What is it like to be inside the rocket, in the most internal part, behind the cooling veil of fuel where matter is dissolved?
We are sitting in front of the art school canteen. Bramkamp picks at his salad and talks quickly. Within the new Fine Arts Masters programme, he wants to set up a “research department for auteur films” with people who like himself are interested in “polyphonic forms of narrative”. Hamburg is not new for Bramkamp. His psychotherapy tragicomedy Die Eroberung der Mitte was made with the local production company Wüste-Film, which also made Fatih Akin great. That was in the 90s. He now also has a flat in the St. Georg district. Every four or five years, he is able to make a long film, Bramkamp says. Each time this is a small miracle: “The research department of German film”, he says, “is subject to Hartz-IV conditions” [i.e. those of the much-criticized German unemployment benefit scheme].

For his most recent film, Der Bootgott vom Seesportclub. Die 100 ME, Bramkamp settled in the Brandenburg wilderness not far from a real lakeside sports club to carry out an experiment: what would happen if Enki, the god of Sumerian sailors, appeared in East German post-unification reality and repeated his act of creation, providing the people with 100 powers, the so-called me? As part of a short-term job creation scheme, the god that Bramkamp allows to appear finds employment in the lakeside sports club, the me are “awarded” (as this is mythologically correctly put in the film) and marked with small yellow signs, which stand in the lake landscape. By overlapping maps of Mesopotamia and the Brandenburg Province (and look: they fit!) it is possible to predict where the next me will be awarded, whether it is “the me to know how it really was” or “the me to find the right colour” that the me partner Susanne Weirich tries out. The artist Weirich runs a production office with Bramkamp in Berlin, Prenzlauer Berg. Together they have developed the Internet narrative project, for which the film serves as a sort of exposition. The film’s dramatic tension consists of the fact that we never know whether Enki is a job seeker passing himself off as a Sumerian god at the lakeside sports club or a god in the shape of a job seeker repeating his creation in the post-unification East. In any case, the god Enki knows how to make use of the real, existing reality between the rivers Spree and Oder, so that, at the end, the possible extension of his contract is discussed with the lady from the unemployment centre. With Susanne Weirich and his film team he has “completely implemented” the Enki myth, Bramkamp says. He folds his arms; he is pleased with the idea. The introduction of the myth into East German reality has brought about a transformation of the latter: there is now an authentic Enki beer and the visitor to can read about how the 100 me are gradually finding all their me partners – with the support of characters such as TAZ journalist Helmut Höge, who had already appeared in Bramkamp’s rocket film Prüfstand 7.
Bramkamp doesn’t make his films alone; this is important for him: “It’s necessary to create a collective authorship”, he says. For his rocket film, he spoke with the Berlin cultural theorist Friedrich Kittler; and the film would not have been conceivable without Thomas Pynchon’s rocket novel Gravity’s Rainbow. Because Bramkamp wanted to film sequences of the novel, he had to ask permission from the reclusive US American author – the fact that he received this and therefore had proof of contact with Pynchon was in turn good for the film. Bramkamp has finished his salad. While leaving, he continues talking about rockets and the fact that no one gets worked up when the Americans station them in Poland – in fact not far from the field in Prüfstand 7 in which the German rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun awaits his own rocket like Frankenstein awaiting his monster. “Wernher von Braun has been misrepresented by history”, says a voiceover in the film, “in reality he looked like this” – we then see a picture of the film actor Peter Lohmeyer who plays Wernher von Braun in the film. He survives the encounter with his creature: the rocket misses him, if only just. “Bramkamp is one of the few innovators of the cinema, more important than all the melancholy calligraphy, the ‘zeitgeistery’ and mythomania that we have grown accustomed to”, wrote the film critic Georg Seeßlen.

That was in 1995. Now, thirteen years later, the institutions seem to have finally caught up. Back in his room at the art school in the Department for Film and Digital Cinema, Robert Bramkamp has to sign a few forms while glancing at the clock. He has to be in Berlin the same evening. “Do you think I’ll still catch the train?” He charges down the stairs. The film department is found in a small side street that will eventually be part of a buzzing media campus. Right now, however, it’s empty, and the appearance of a taxi seems unlikely. Nevertheless, Bramkamp leaves the building and heads down the street. In his Enki project about the 100 me, me 17 is the “me of the taxi”. The power is awarded and works. In one minute, a taxi appears and stops. Robert Bramkamp invites us to his film colloquium Gesetze gibt es keine (There are no rules) Tuesday July 8, from 3pm to 8pm. This time, under the title Olafs Welt (Olaf’s World), the film critic Olaf Möller will undertake a tour of “unorthodox and nonconformist forms of film”. HFBK Hamburg, Averhoffstraße 38.

This article can be found in German at: Copyright © Contrapress media GmbH Reproduction only with permission of taz-Verlag Publication date: 3.7.2008, p. 27.