Rammstein’s ‘Deutschland’ is so much better than ‘Pussy’ it’s unreal (chortle). Back in 2009 we thought four years was a long time to wait for a new album from these guys. Having been fed a healthy diet of ‘Mutter’ (2001) through my teens, then ‘Reise Reise’ in 2004. But hot off its heals came ‘Rosenrot’ just one year later. Despite boasting two or three bangers, it turned out to be their weakest album. A collection of b-sides that withered in monotony after time.
Then they all but disappeared, and my ears wondered off the Norway. Over time I all but disowned Rammstein. They were just another artist making up the listening rotations of the early 2000s. Then they released ‘Pussy’ in 2009…eurgh. They finally fell into self-parody. A crass carnival that lacks the subversion and creativity of a ‘Spiel mit mir’ for instance. But a few years later I gave 2009’s ‘Liebe ist fur alle da’ another chance, and the rest of the album is admittedly cracking.
Then they all but disappeared, and my ears wondered off to Greece for a while. But then came the year of our lord 2019. And suddenly they were grabbing headlines for all the wrong reasons. A sneak peek at the video for their new single ‘Deutschland’ saw the members of the band dressed as prisoners in a concentration camp awaiting execution at the gallows. Some in the Jewish community have been up in arms. Many claim that using holocaust imagery for self-promotion is ‘shameful and uncalled for’, and ‘a tasteless exploitation of artistic freedom‘.
Now that the full video has been released we can see that it and the lyrics attempt to convey the ambiguous relationship German’s have with their country. Here’s a German explaining the lyrics in greater depth, and Dr Alexandra Lloyd’s analysis of the many historical references littered throughout this dense video makes for interesting reading.
In the absence of any official response from Rammstein, many fans have rushed to the internet in their defence because…well, they love Rammstein, nowt wrong with that. But this love can cloud critical faculties at times (trust me, I’m a Burzum fan, it happens). The video, the song, the lyrics, all are heartfelt and timely ruminations on the nature of patriotism, national identity, internal and collective struggle. Till Lindemann seems to want to love his country. But it’s so damn hard at times.
See the members of Rammstein dressed as medieval monks feasting off Germania, while the masses starve beneath the table. Or the violent but hedonistic 1920s. Germania is dressed as a flapper here, smiling and ambivalent to the rumblings of violence. And then of course, there’s the holocaust, a subject that simply cannot be ignored when discussing German history. Here Germania is dressed in Nazi regalia and an eye patch, literally turning a blind eye to events. As Till Lindemann stands on the gallows, he is singing ‘Germany, my love I cannot give you’. All of this, to me, speaks of a heartfelt meditation on why it’s so hard to love Germany as a German. The dangers of national pride, of power. The memories of where this can lead are all too recent.
From my own limited personal experience of Germany, I always had the impression that their relationship with the more shameful aspects of their past is far healthier than Britain’s. It is not hidden away nor forced down your throat. They do not shy away from acknowledging what has happened, but they also use it as guidance for the future. Exceptions abound I’m sure.
Rammstein’s Deutschland comes at a particularly trying time for British identity, and indeed European identity. Despite the hot mess that is the UK in 2019, I still love my country. I hold a deeply irrational but nevertheless sincere love for this stupid fucking country, warts and all. Maybe it’s habit, maybe it’s because it’s my home; I cannot fully articulate the strength or source of my feelings for my nation.
Since 2016 I have heard many people talk of emigrating. They no longer recognise their country anymore. Or worse, they actively despise it. I find this disconcerting. To me it looks like giving up on a loved one when they need you most. Like abandoning a relative who is struggling with mental health, maybe on who has become painful to be around. You still owe them something. Others don’t see it this way. Fair enough. Till Linderman’s characteristically minimalist take on being German articulates a lot of my own feelings about Britishness, at a time when we are experiencing a deeply painful and very public re-evaluation of who we are.
Which brings us screaming back round to ‘Deutschland’. It’s important to note that Rammstein don’t see themselves as entertainers (even if they are incredibly entertaining). It’s a negative word for them, akin to ‘consumption’ or ‘prostitution’, as explained in this interview with keyboardist Flake, conducted by Sam Dunn (a trivial individual and self styled metal historian, whose main contribution to metal is to make up arbitrary genre diagrams and get confused when artists have no idea what he’s asking them about).
So in that regard ‘Deutschland’, is a triumph. Rammstein are artists, provocateurs, aiming to shock, make you think, disturb.
But some have argued that the holocaust stands apart in history as unique, and for that reason it should not be portrayed alongside the GDR, or the Hindenburg disaster, as if they are of equal significance. In one sense I agree, but I don’t believe that Rammstein’s intention was to comment on the importance of different events.
Rammstein fans may have been too quick to dismiss people’s concerns. I would be more worried if the video was met with silence. Telling people they shouldn’t criticise the video, or even be offended by it, is ill-advised and dangerous. Let’s not forget that the holocaust section was selected for the promotional clip, probably because it would get people talking. Equally I am sure it was Rammstein’s intention to provoke difficult and painful discussion. They’re doing what good artists do; reminding us of who we are, of why we are. Rather than telling each other how to feel about it, we need to understand why people feel about it.
So no, there is no right way to react to this video. The point is that you feel something, and take a long hard look at why.