an undeclared war
Baader-Meinhof: Pictures on the
run 67-77 by Astrid Proll
From the mid 1970s until the early
'80s I visited Germany regularly. Those were different times, it has to
be said, and the Europe of 'no borders' was still some way off. On the
train from Brussels to Cologne burly German Border Police stalked the corridors,
pistols prominent on their robust hips, their intimidating manner impressive
and accomplished. They carried with them what looked for all the world
like outsized photograph albums. These they would flick through occasionally
as they travelled through the trains examining passports. I never quite
saw what was in those albums but imagined them to be full of photographs
of suspected guerrillas. I hoped fervently that none of those images bore
much resemblance to myself.
At the railway stations themselves
one got a hint of what might have been in those bulky snap albums carried
by the Border Guards. Everywhere there were posters, row on row of black
and white passport-sized photographs of young men and women, with a question
hanging over the ranks of faces: 'Have you seen these people?' There was
something chilling about wanted posters displayed so prominently in a modern
European state although a cursory glance would not have revealed quite
how chilling these posters were. A closer look revealed something odd,
indeed disturbing, about some of the photographs. Their subjects were dead.
I'm not sure how these images had been made, whether the corpses had been
photographed on mortuary slabs or had somehow been propped up for the camera.
Having looked once one tended not to look again.
And so here, in this the 'Model
Germany', the wunderkind of Post War capitalism, with its vorsprung durch
technik glitz reeking of all that was modern and efficient and liberal,
this proof incarnate that the barbarism of the first half of the century
had been swept away forever, here I was confronted with something that
seemed to be first cousin to the mediaeval custom of placing the heads
of traitors and vanquished enemies on stakes in public places; a kind of
salutary lesson to the potentially disaffected, perhaps, or a triumphalist
gesture akin to the display of sporting trophies before one's loyal support?
The cover of Astrid Proll's Baader
Meinhof, Pictures on the Run 67-77 appears to have been taken from one
such poster. There are the rows of young faces, serious, but in this case
healthy, the pictures now somehow reminiscent of one of those American
High School Yearbooks. You know the sort of thing; Holger Meins--Most Tenacious,
Ulrike Meinhof--Class President, and so on.
But death is never far away in these
photographs. There, at the very beginning of the book, is the dying Benno
Ohnesorg, shot by the police on June 2nd 1967 during a demonstration against
a visit by the Shah of Iran. This was the death that started all the other
deaths, the first move in the insane game of tit for tat that characterised
the years of the German guerrilla. Ohnesorg looking more like an accountant
who's put on his best casual clothing for a weekend barbecue than the martyr
who will inspire a movement, is a strangely peaceful corpse. He could be
sleeping. Another student, Fredericke Dollinger, is in the picture. She
is cradling Ohnesorg's head, her own head looking away from the corpse
and off into the distance; her eyes, fearful and angry, are a prophecy
of what is to come.
And there, in the final photograph
in the book, over ten years later, is the corpse of Andreas Baader. His
eyes are wide open. He too is staring at something above and beyond the
edges of the picture, his shattered head framed by an enormous halo of
In her introduction to her collection
of photographs Astrid Proll emphasises how young the guerrillas were. The
spirit of the early photographs is one of youthful exuberance. There is
one of Baader in the Kurfurstendamm, dancing with Dorothea Ridder, and
Rainer Langhans in drag. Baader's round face, and plump lips, give him
the appearance of an overgrown baby. In other photographs it is his eyes
which stand out: They are the clear and guileless eyes of a young child.
The thought arises when looking at these pictures that Baader's appearance
did him no favours. When placed against the Authorities' perception of
him as a cruel and dangerous terrorist, this incongruous infant quality
may have seemed quite terrifying.
Baader retained many of the same
physical qualities until his death, but transformation in terms of physical
appearance is another major theme to be traced in the book. Transformation
unto death. The most dramatic change in the book, and the most disturbing
corpse, is that of Holger Meins.
Early in 1967 we see the twenty-five
year old Meins as film student. He is handsome, clean cut and neatly dressed.
His hair is slightly long perhaps, but it is unlikely that any self respecting
bürger would have objected to Meins accompanying his daughter home
to discuss their future.
When we see him next he is standing
alone outside a block of flats in Frankfurt. His hands are raised to shoulder
level and he is staring at the police armoured car which is drawn up a
few feet in front of him. In the picture on the facing page the armoured
car has retreated about twenty feet and Meins is removing his trousers
having already divested himself of the clothes from the upper part of his
body. On the following page the near naked Meins is being taken away by
police, his arms held rigidly behind him, his mouth open in a scream: Whether
of pain or defiance it is impossible to tell. One of the policemen has
a small pistol clutched tightly in his right hand; a peculiar detail this,
in that his right arm appears to be participating in the arm locks being
operated on Meins and is therefore, presumably, not free to actually operate
the pistol should the need arise. Indeed he appears to be pointing the
pistol more or less at himself, a lapse one imagines to be indicative of
the fear of the guerrillas felt by their enemies.
Next we see mugshots of Meins and
Jan-Carl Raspe, taken on the same day in 1972. They are both wearing black
prison clothing resembling nothing less than the black pyjamas of the Viet
Cong; a curious symmetry this considering the inspirational role of the
Vietnamese guerrilla groups. The pair appear to be drugged: Their faces
are contorted unnaturally. Raspe looks to be having difficulty standing
up. In the close-up shots their faces are those of gargoyles; the once
dapper Meins looks to have aged fifteen years in the five years since the
film student photographs. His hair is straggly and he sports an unruly
moustache. Checking back and forth between these photographs and those
in the earlier part of the book it is impossible to be certain that they
are indeed the same man.
The final photograph of Meins was
taken in 1974. He is laid out in his coffin. His hair is long and he has
the beard of an Orthodox priest. Indeed if I had been presented with this
photograph out of context I might have taken it for an image of the corpse
of the murdered Rasputin. Having starved to death he is little more than
a skeleton with skin stretched over it. His eyes are sunk deep into their
sockets, the outline of the skeletal basin in which they sit being as prominent
as they are in a skull. Still in all it isn't a horrifying photograph.
Meins looks to be at peace, he is clothed in white and his winding-sheet
is lace trimmed. An ecclesiastical candle stands by the coffin. His hands
are folded over one another in front of him. There is a sense of order
about this image of Meins in death; it is as if despite the chaos of his
guerrilla years and the horror of his death, tranquillity of a sort has
I have seen another photograph of
Meins, not in this book, which is much harder to look at. His naked corpse
is laid out on a floor. From neck to groin there is a huge scar, roughly
sewn up after autopsy, a brutalisation, which although inflicted on a body
already dead, is peculiarly shocking. His head is huge in proportion to
his body which is no more than an assemblage of bones, the arms loosely
joined twigs ending in claw like hands, the pelvic girdle seems to somehow
loom above his torso, the iliac crests pointing upwards like thumbs raised
in a gesture of victory.
It is of this picture that Hans
Joachim Klein of the Revolutionary Cells, partner with Carlos in the kidnapping
of the OPEC oil ministers in 1975, said; "I have kept this picture with
me to keep my hatred sharp." It is seven years since the student photographs.
The history of the German guerrilla
has many shocking features to it, but the most shocking was the way in
which one catastrophic bloodletting led to another in a chain of action
and reaction that seems in retrospect to have been nothing less than a
blood feud. The day after the death of Holger Meins, the President of the
West Berlin Chamber Court, Gunten von Drenkmann, was shot dead.
Njal's Saga, perhaps the greatest
of the Icelandic sagas, tells the tale of a decades long succession of
murders committed in response to other murders which ends only when the
warring parties simply have no more energy to continue the struggle. The
German guerrilla was something like that. By the time Baader and the others
died in Stammheim another generation of guerrillas was already taking their
place. The link between the RAF of the early 1980s and that of the early
1970s was tenuous. Almost from the beginning the motivation of the guerrillas
was to release comrades or simply to strike back in retaliation. The German
State's reaction to what, in the early days, was comparatively mild opposition,
simply fed a monster. In turn the German establishment terrified itself
into perceiving a much greater threat than there ever was. The grandiose
ambitions of the guerrillas matched perfectly the State's perception of
the threat. Action and reaction grew in viciousness and desperation.
The escalation of violence turned
on the perception of the enemy as somehow inhuman. This perception is apparent
in the photographs. The corpse of Holger Meins seems gutted of humanity,
or even any trace of the identity of Meins the film student. The prison
clothing the captured guerrillas were forced to wear is a time honoured
means of depriving captives of their identity. Meinhof, forever anxious
in these photographs, could have been snapped in any number of penal innovations
from the earlier part of the century, from the Gulag to Buchenwald.
Enslinnn, dressed in the same type
of canvas wrap, attempts to resist dehumanisation. She smiles at the camera
or looks at it with her head tilted up in an almost flirtatious way. The
four photographs of her in prison clothing are placed side by side. She
is holding a piece of card on a string. The card has the number '1' printed
on it. Together the images form a bizarre catwalk model show: Gudrun is
wearing the latest in penitentiary fashion...
In an early photograph, a young
woman, Margrit Schiller, is being physically carried by a group of five
police persons. One, a woman has her head in an arm lock. Either side of
this woman are two uniformed men. One is looking towards Schiller's face,
the only one to do so, although her face is turned away. He wears an expression
of contempt or disgust. On the other side his colleague is looking away.
His expression is one of suppressed amusement. At her feet another man
in plainclothes is pulling her forward. His expression is more openly amused.
He is also looking away from Schiller as if the spectacle of her struggle
is too embarrassing to contemplate.
In the middle of the group a second
policewoman stands. She is looking at Schiller, but not at her face. She
appears instead to be looking at her stomach. Her expression too is one
of amusement and she has her left hand raised at Schiller's side, her fingers
poised in such a way as to suggest she is about to pinch or, possibly,
poke the prisoner. The demeanour of all of the police officers suggests
not that they are handling a human being but are dealing with something,
a rolled up carpet perhaps, an awkward load.
The caption tells us that Margrit
Schiller was being taken to face the Hamburg press. She was a suspect in
the murder of a policeman. She was never tried for the crime.
Then there are the photographs of
the guerrillas as victims. Peter Lorenz sits stone faced, the cardboard
notice pinned to his chest strangely reminiscent of the warning attached
to the young David Copperfield, in that, like the proclamation 'He bites',
this demonstration of young Lorenz's trophy status is essentially a humiliation.
The pictures of the doomed Hans
Martin Schleyer are a similar display. There are three of them, days and
weeks apart, and they c although they have their eyes fixed firmly on Klein
he is pointedly ignoring them.
Klein Was never a member of the
RAF but belonged to one of the other two armed groups, the 'Revolutionary
Cells' (the third group was 'The 2nd of June Movement'). Within weeks of
this picture being taken Klein participated in one of the most spectacular
actions of the European guerrilla, the kidnapping of the OPEC oil ministers
in Vienna, during which he was wounded in the stomach. Three years later
Klein emerged from the underground and gave a detailed interview with Liberation,
in which he rejected the armed struggle and criticised many of the actions
of the guerrillas. He clearly outlined his motivation and the motivation
of the guerrillas emphasising the extent to which retaliation played a
part. Each time the authorities acted against the guerrillas it produced
a desire for retaliation which drew more and more people into the armed
struggle: "First there's a vicious manhunt by the police and then there's
a vicious manhunt by the guerrillas." Proll makes much the same point in
her book. The chronology speaks for itself.
The other picture I have of Klein
is cut from The Independent of 13th September 1998. It sits beneath a headline
which reads: 'Village rues arrest of affable terrorist.' Twenty years after
he abandoned the armed struggle the State has caught up with Hans Joachim
Klein, who had apparently carved out an anonymous niche for himself in
a Normandy village the inhabitants of which are quoted as regretting his
arrest: 'He was a nice guy... He was a friend... He adored opera. We dreamed
of going to La Scala.' Daniel Cohn-Bendit is quoted as saying Klein was
about to give himself up anyway and that the Frankfurt prosecutor had been
cutting a deal with him before the arrest. About the whole affair there
is a strong whiff of official duplicity.
One is tempted to ask whose photograph
Klein's prosecutor kept by him to keep his, hatred sharp.
Proll had been a student of photography
when she became involved with the Baader-Enslinn circle. There is no sense
however in which this is a collection of art photographs. The sources of
the collection are diverse and include press photographs. Many of the photographs
are simply snapshots. A sequence taken in Paris in November 1969, when
the group had made the move into illegality and were on the run, is particularly
striking. Their high spirits jump out of the photos. This is a group of
young people, a group of friends, having fun. They have changed their appearance,
though not enough, I think, to fool anybody. The changes seemed designed
to make them look more Parisien. These could be stills from the set of
some Nouvelle Vague movie.
Narcissism is a major feature of
these early photographs. These are young people showing off. In the Paris
photographs Baader is wearing urban guerrilla chic. He stares moodily at
the camera, cigarette held loosely in his left hand, the collar of his
leather blouson turned up.
In another photograph Enslinn and
Baader stare into one another's eyes across a café table. Enslinn's
hand holds a cigarette poised above a Ricard ash tray. The photograph would
fit quite easily into any number of current advertisement campaigns; it's
black and white Calvin Klein chic avant la lettre. Such photographs raise
the question of the extent to which Bonnie and Clyde fantasies fuelled
the actions of the group--Young! Beautiful! In Love! And Armed to the Teeth!
Bommi Baumann, once of the group,
'2nd of June', described the RAF as having the reputation among the other
groups of being somewhat in love with the trappings of underground life--expensive
clothes, expensive flats and, above all, expensive cars. In his book, How
It All Began, he claims the other groups joked that the initials BMW stood
for Baader-Meinhof Wagon. And here, sure enough we have Baader and Enslinn
and others, standing beside a large white Mercedes in June 1969, with a
BMW parked alongside. They look like a rock group about to step into their
limo. Proll describes Enslinn and Baader as, 'little media stars for the
radical left' and the pictures appear to show them ready to carry out this
How readily style becomes substance.
The photographs of the group's 1968 trial for arson show them clowning
self consciously for the cameras. Thorwald Proll has a cigar stuck in his
mouth and looks rather like Groucho Marx. There is a sense in which, in
the early stages, the group is always dressing up, playing at different
roles like small children. This is evident even in Enslinn's prison photographs,
the catwalk pictures, of which Proll writes: 'Gudruun looks like a performing
child in a Nazi home'.
It was unfortunate really that this
was the role which stuck, that this was the costume she could not shed.
At Enslinn's funeral the photographers
crowd to the edge of the grave. Their lust for the telling image puts them
in danger of tumbling into the grave with her. The lenses of their Nikons,
Pentaxes and Leicas are black mouths gaping like the ever open maws of
hungry chicks. As we stare at this sordid avidity the open mouths stare
back at us becoming in the process huge black Cyclops eyes. They are defiant
and threatening and throw back at us the paranoiac's challenge, 'What are
you looking at?'
In the middle of this gaggle of
cameras stand a small group of mourners. The sight the photographers are
shamelessly devouring is too much for this group. No one will look into
the grave. Each has found their own neutral spot to stare at instead--the
ground, the horizon, the sky, a fellow mourner's shoulder. Central to this
group and the focus of this photograph is Pastor Enslinn. His head is held
high and he wears a mask of Stoic endurance. His chin juts forward and
his thin mouth is turned down by the strain of holding it there. He holds
his face in this immobile, sculpted position for fear, one suspects, that
if he let go for a minute it will simply dissolve or crumble into ruins.
He seems to be a figure from another time. His eyes are hooded and black
and stare at a spot beyond the grave and beyond the edges of the photograph.
We see this far gazing at other death scenes in this book, in Dollinger
and Baader, as if at the end, when confronted with the finality of death,
it is only possible to look away, beyond the confines of photographs and
mere images to search for whatever can transcend the sordidness of the
Perhaps this is a case for the airbrusher's
art. There must be still, somewhere in the ruins of the Soviet Empire,
persons skilled in eliminating the unwanted from history. Individuals whose
task it was to remove all traces of politically inconvenient images from
photographs which offered proof of their existence. Perhaps some merciful
millionaire could fund a project whereby all copies of this picture could
be recalled and the degraded hustle round the grave slowly brushed away,
until all the photographers and the sound men and the grim and stolid policemen
have vanished, leaving only the group of mourners finally alone with their
grief, and Gudruun Enslinn in her coffin, allowed, at last, the dignity
in death customarily afforded mere princesses, tyrants and torturers.