Let’s Talk About Rammstein’s Controversial “Deutschland” Video
The Specter Berlin-directed music video for Rammstein’s new song, “Deutschland,” was stirring up controversy before it even premiered. A pre-release teaser for the clip showed members of the band re-enacting a concentration camp execution; in response, Charlotte Knobloch, former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and Holocaust survivor, said that the band’s “instrumentalisation and trivialisation of the Holocaust, as shown in the images, is irresponsible,” while Felix Klein, the German government’s commissioner for anti-Semitism, condemned the video as “a tasteless exploitation of artistic freedom” that “crosses a line.”
Now that the entire video has been released, though, we have some context for the clip. And while I’m not sure its inclusion in the video was in good taste, I do think Rammstein are trying to make a complicated point which is worth exploring.
The name of the song, “Deutschland,” is, of course, also the name of Rammstein’s homeland. And while the band’s music almost always sounds triumphant, the song’s lyrics (as translated into English) aren’t purely patriotic:
My heart in flames
Want to love you, want to damn you
Your breath is cold
And yet so old
Your love is a curse and a blessing
My love I cannot give to you
The video demonstrates similarly ambivalent feelings towards Germany. The Holocaust scene is just one of several throughout the video that draws from less-than-proud moments in German history: the German Crusade, the Great Plague, the Hindenburg disaster, the sometimes violent student protest movement of the 1960s, Baader-Meinhof, the Berlin wall, and so on and so forth. It also turns several of these moments on their ear, such as this bit where the concentration camp victims appear to have gained the upper hand over their oppressors:
As you may have noticed, the video also includes a black woman who is a Nazi officer. This is just one of several science fiction elements in the video (like an abundance of lasers, because Rammstein frickin’ love lasers), but the woman appears repeatedly, and seems to be intended as the personification of Germany itself. She leads the Crusade; during the Plague, the German clergy literally eat from the fat of her land while prisoners struggle beneath her; she’s royalty; she’s laughing; she’s weeping. On several occasions, the clip cuts to her face just as the band shouts “DEUTSCHLAND!”, punctuating this concept.
Now, when most people think “Germany,” they probably do not think “black woman.” So why did the band and Berlin decide to cast a black woman in the role? Was it meant as a hedge to offset the very complaints the video has elicited? Was it just a visual decision (she certainly stands out in the crowd of white dudes)? Was it meant as a representation of Mankind’s origins in what we now know as the continent of Africa despite whatever other racial identity we might hold? Or was it simply meant to be provocative?
I don’t know. But I do think this much is clear: the intent of Rammstein and Berlin was to express a love/hate relationship with Germany. You could argue that they didn’t need to use such provocative imagery, but you can’t argue that they failed to make their point.
Rammstein’s new album is out May 17.