MOVIES: The star of two of the most acclaimed German films in decades, DANIEL BRUHL has become the reluctant poster boy for his country's cinematic revival
First, he charmed the world and broke German box office records in Good Bye, Lenin! as the devoted son trying to hide Germany's reunification from his ailing mother by plying her with Spreewald pickles and other beloved products from the erstwhile G.D.R. Then he starred in The Edukators, a political thriller about three young idealists who kidnap a rich man to protest rampant capitalism and it received a 10-minute standing ovation at the Cannes film festival in May. If Good Bye, Lenin! and The Edukators are signs of a German new wave, then actor Daniel Brühl is riding the crest.
With top billing in both films, Brühl, 26, has the kind of open, innocent face and understated, slightly geeky cool that audiences warm to Tobey Maguire with an umlaut. He's become the It Boy of Germany's cinematic comeback, a role he seems uncomfortable playing. When asked about it, he quickly brushes the issue aside: "I try to keep that idea away from me, not take it too seriously." All the credit, he says, should go to the people behind the cameras. "German film is more successful now because young filmmakers have more guts and more self-confidence to tell stories about other aspects of German history, not just the Nazis," Brühl says. "And we've stopped making stupid comedies. It's not a German quality, being funny." Funnily enough, he's joking.
Despite his youth, Brühl has had almost two decades of acting experience. The Barcelona-born Berliner started in children's theater, moved on to radio plays when he was 8, and spent some time dubbing feature films (he also speaks Spanish and English) before appearing in his first movie at 16. Since then he's appeared in 21 TV and feature films and earned armloads of best actor awards.
And he's just getting started. At the end of the year, Brühl appears in the 1930s drama Ladies in Lavender alongside great dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. Soon he'll be in Romania to shoot "a French film about World War I" and will make a movie with German actor-director Sebastian Schipper. He's also considering a project with his TV-director father. His main goal: to land a role that will erase the image from Good Bye, Lenin! that made him a star in the first place. "I'd like to be an asshole next," Brühl says. "To shock people. And stop them asking to take pictures of me holding jars of pickles."
They Don't Need Another Hero
MUSIC: With their anticonsumerist anthems, WIR SIND HELDEN are leading Germany's indie music scene in its battle against the rise of cookie-cutter pop bands
Two years ago, Judith Holofernes, lead singer of Wir Sind Helden (We Are Heroes), was, in her own words, a "mousey, shy singer-songwriter." Today, she's a rock star, stepping onto a sun-drenched stage at the University of W ürzburg in a trendy blue denim dress draped over a pair of jeans, flailing away on a metallic red electric guitar with her stringy blond hair waving like a pennant in the wind. At the end of 2002, Holofernes was already popular as a folk-rock singer on the Berlin club scene. But that really wasn't her gig. She "always wanted a band," she says. "I wanted to play big, loud music." So when she eventually met up with three bandmates, they shrugged off serial rejections from the major record labels and decided to produce and market their own CD, which features a blend of new-wave pop, indie rock and social criticism. Now, wherever they go, they play to sold-out crowds like the one in Würzburg.
Wir Sind Helden chose their name in part as a reaction to what they saw as glorification of heroism in the wake of Sept. 11. "We're more like antiheroes and wanted to redefine the term," says Holofernes. The band's first song, an anticonsumerist anthem called Guten Tag (Good Day), took off after popular Berlin youth stations like Radio 1 played it so often that it hit No. 6 on the German pop charts. In the song, Holofernes describes how modern society forces people to trade their authenticity for media-dictated lifestyles. "So many of my friends are unhappy because they can't achieve all these things ... suggested by the media and advertising," she says. Holofernes' rebellion against mass consumerism and designer lifestyles struck a chord with her generation. "It's a critique that attracts young people who are tired of being told what they have to wear and how they have to look to be hip," says Albert Koch, a critic with Musikexpress, one of Germany's leading music magazines.
Holofernes says it's Wir Sind Helden's authenticity that appeals to fans. Facing new online-distribution models and threats from piracy, the record industry is struggling to stay profitable, feverishly cranking out one canned act after another in search of the next big thing. That leaves little room to experiment with homegrown bands like the Heroes, but fuels an underground music culture that lets such bands find their own way. "There's a whole new independent culture that's growing because the record labels are going under at such a rapid pace," she says. Holofernes is a new kind of protest singer, a small authentic voice shouting in the pop music wilderness and a lot of German listeners like what they hear.
And the Moral of The Story Isn't �
BOOKS: With her gritty, imaginative children's novels, CORNELIA FUNKE is an international hit
Plenty of wonderful, widely read German authors have trouble finding success in translation. But Cornelia Funke is fast becoming a global brand, with hit children's books in Australia, the U.S. and the rest of Europe. Yet the world depicted in Funke's stories isn't pretty. Willi, the protagonist in the Wild Chicks series, is regularly beaten by his father; in The Thief Lord, runaways Prosper and Bo live on the streets of Venice, surviving by petty crime. "I want to write stories that touch on real life with all its ups and downs," says Funke, 45, who is based north of Hamburg. Kids (and adults) like Funke's gritty realism: over the past 17 years, she's written more than 40 books, which have sold 5 million copies in 28 countries. Funke, who started out as an illustrator, depicts real-life experiences in an entertaining, not merely educational, mode. "Pure moral tales simply don't work," she says. Louise Holzhauser, 13, agrees: "I love the way her stories take unexpected turns." Life in Germany has had plenty of twists why shouldn't its children's novels?
All of Germany Is His Stage
THEATER: Playwright Lutz Hubner takes Germany 's social and economic crises
and makes them into funny, poignant dramas and audiences are loving it
Given the persistence of Germany 's economic slump, it's perhaps not surprising that the show playing to full houses at Berlin 's Maxim Gorki Theater these days is about a financial meltdown. In Bank Play: The Money, the City and the Fury, author Lutz Hübner has artfully turned the 2001 crash of Bankgesellschaft Berlin, which was bailed out with €2 billion from the Berlin city government, into theatrical drama. That rescue forced many city departments to cut back on services, but the play leaps forward to 2006, when Berlin is gripped by revolution because people can't get their money from the bank. A revolutionary committee sets up a truth commission that stages a trial for those responsible for the crisis. Computer-nerd warlords incite mayhem in the streets, and
NATO troops put down the insurrection. The play has been a critical and commercial hit, with Die Welt calling it "often stunningly funny."
"It's difficult for the arts to deal with the economy," Hübner says. But he thinks theater is the ideal medium in which to try because plays can respond quickly to current events; witness the spate of recent British theater pieces about everything from the war in Iraq to Guantánamo Bay . Hübner says he decided to write the play because of a "feeling of injustice" among Berliners that the culprits for the bank's crisis were never punished.
Hübner, 40, is one of Germany's most prolific playwrights: he's written 20 works in the past eight years. His best-known play, A Boxer's Heart, explores Germany's generation gap through the relationship between a down-and-out teenager and a septuagenarian former boxer. Another popular play, Orifice of the Heart, is a psychological study of Mark Chapman, the man who murdered John Lennon. Hübner says his tales of crisis and conflict appeal because audiences "are looking for things that deal with their problems." But Bank Play's remarkable run may be threatened by the same economic crisis it dissects. Government cutbacks mean it's "more difficult just to make art," Hübner says. Maybe that will be the subject of his next great play.
A Twisted Palette
PAINTING: Think Germany's mood is dark? Check out MARTIN EDER'S sick dogs and malevolent kittens. No wonder he's so hot
In Knocking on Wood, an oil painting by Martin Eder, a woman with a haunting smile reclines on a sofa that appears to be drifting off into an ocean landscape. A frightened poodle sits at her feet fitted with one of those protective collars that make the animal look like it's wearing a lampshade around its neck. The dog's name is Elvis, and Eder is a big fan of the original Elvis, having once made a pilgrimage to Graceland. Knocking on Wood is typical of the style that's made Eder one of the most up-and-coming artists in Germany : a command of traditional figurative painting combined with kitschy and faintly apocalyptic subjects. "Eder is able to reinvest vigor in very traditional images," says Michael Lynne, co-chairman of New Line Cinema and an avid Eder collector. Eder is part of a new wave of German painters driven by a desire to return to the roots of the country's art. A lanky 35-year-old with big hands and a fondness for cowboy hats, Eder works in a sprawling five-room apartment on the edge of Berlin 's hip Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood. For him, Elvis the dog and kittens, another favorite subject represent an abuse of nature, an attempt to shape it to human needs. "That's what interests me," Eder says. "Insanity, cruelty, horror often occur within the confines of the home. To get at that, I have to work with figures and objects." Elvis may have crooned "Don't be cruel," but for Eder the strategy definitely works.
FASHION: Hot Christian Dior designer HEDI SLIMANE and top label HUGO BOSS are just two of the big names coming to Berlin for inspiration
Forget Paris and London. For the folks farthest out on fashion's cutting edge, Berlin is the new capital of creative inspiration. In the last few years, designers like Hedi Slimane of Christian Dior and labels like Hugo Boss have
looked to the former East Berlin for inspiration, attracted by its edgy art and music scenes and fashion-forward street life. Slimane rented a studio there for three years while producing a glossy photography installation and book about the city. Last fall Hugo Boss, which is based in Metzingen in southern Germany, held its annual fashion show and party in an abandoned Berlin post office. The look of Berlin a low-key mix of vintage leather coats, rolled-up scarves and knee-high boots has been a favorite for several seasons. And the city is widely cited as a wellspring of electronic dance music, since spread around the world. "Everybody in fashion and music in Europe is going to Berlin now to get ideas," says Phillip Wolff, communications director at Hugo Boss. "It's not as sophisticated as London and Paris , but it's had a very big impact on what's going on in the rest of Europe."
Creative types have long been drawn to Berlin because of low rents, ample studio space and the relatively low cost of living. The German capital's last cultural heyday was in the 1970s when the likes of David Bowie and Iggy Pop lived and worked in the then divided city. Now musicians, artists and designers from as far afield as Denmark and Japan are giving Berlin a young vibe again nearly half the 3.4 million residents are under 35.
Kunst-Werke a gallery, studio space and artists' residence run by Klaus Biesenbach, chief curator at the cutting-edge P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in New York City's Long Island City has become the focus of the artistic renaissance. Located in a former margarine factory in the trendy Berlin-Mitte district, Kunst-Werke now hosts the popular Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art. Thanks to Kunst-Werke and other galleries, Berlin has replaced Cologne as Germany's unofficial art capital.
Where art goes, fashion generally follows and many designers, both German and foreign, have set up shop in the city. "Berlin is not a rich city, so the scene is not at all about money or society or status," says Slimane. "People just don't have those values. Everyone here is creating, so there is a very different rhythm. It's a very free territory." Spurning conventional retail wisdom, designers like Bernard Willhelm and Kostas Murkudis sell their clothes in anonymous shops in the Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg districts; shoppers track down the addresses through friends, clubs or posters plastered around the city. Many retailers take out short leases so their establishments come and go in a matter of months, while the locations of shops like Apartment and clubs like Fun are passed on by word of mouth alone. Japanese designer and avant-garde fashion guru Rei Kawakubo was so inspired by Berlin's transient scene that she opened her own "guerrilla" Comme des Garcons store in East Berlin in February, and plans to close it after a year.
"These are not touristy places," says Martin Wuttke, the creative visionary behind nextguruNow, a Berlin consulting firm for local designers and trade fairs. "If you want to attract the fashion crowd, you can't show off in everybody's face here." Berlin 's understated cool looks set to keep the crowd coming back for more.