Zdf documentary “my dresden”: elbows and trusteeship

In times of Pegida and AfD: ZDF journalist Bruni Reitzenstein traces the sensitivities in her hometown Dresden.

In conversation with a Pegida supporter shortly before the Monday demonstration: Bruni Reitzenstein Photo: ZDF

No question, Dresden is a beautiful city, Elbe meadows, Semper Opera, Dresden Baroque with the Frauenkirche and so on. Dresden was even once a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But the Saxon capital is also, for almost five years already, the first marching site of the racist and radical right Pegida. The racist and radical right AfD has just become the strongest party in Dresden and the surrounding area in the European elections. No question, Dresden’s reputation has suffered.

And those who suffer most are the Dresdeners who want nothing to do with Pegida and the AfD. Like Bruni Reitzenstein, who has been with ZDF for 35 years and was deputy editorial director for the tabloid magazine "Leute heute" and then for the women’s magazine "ML Mona Lisa".

She comes from Dresden, and the film about the city was a matter of concern to her (somewhat less so to ZDF: broadcast slot at 0.45 a.m.): "My home – torn between for and against. And I came back to listen: Acquaintances, friends, relatives. To understand what moves people in Dresden. The rift goes through families. Through mine, too."

She means her great cousin Frank: "Pegida supporter through and through and AfD voter." So Frank then says things into the camera like Pegida/AfD supporters have been allowed to say a hundred thousand times into cameras: "Since 2015, politics has actually been doing what it wants in Berlin. That is our view here in Dresden. […] They just do it to secure their positions." Or, "We always say this is currently, at least we feel this way, the GDR 2.0."

Journalists’ Dilemma

"An unbearable comparison," comments Bruni Reitzenstein from offstage. Despite this – or perhaps because of it – she meets Frank a total of three times during the course of her 45-minute film. Apparently, this is the consequence of her – from a journalistic point of view somewhat disconcerting – restriction of her interlocutors to her own circle of acquaintances.

Possibly Bruni Reitzenstein was soon also faced with the quite normal journalist’s dilemma with Pegida/AfD: One does not want to be accused of shutting them up with their arguments. One does not want to offer them a forum for "arguments" – which turn out to be mere resentment.

Bruni Reitzenstein then lets the Pegidist Hans Heydrich have his say, who says things into the camera like Pegida/AfD supporters have been allowed to say a hundred thousand times into cameras: that in the media "the opinion of an AfD politician is never presented"; that he demands "that the rule of law be reintroduced here".

It’s much easier to talk to people with whom you agree. So Bruni Reitzenstein meets three former classmates and two old schoolmates; they haven’t seen each other for a long time. Terms like "frustrated voter," "existential angst," "civil war" are used.

Unserious hopelessness

One of the schoolmates says: "This story with the elbows, that’s not our thing, we haven’t learned it." "We weren’t taught that in socialist school," says Bruni Reitzenstein, who applied to leave the country for West Germany in 1984.

She doesn’t say, "Tell me, how do you actually imagine a West German school day? With lessons in being unsolid on the curriculum? In this way, her film documents not only the rift that runs through Dresden, but also the one that – still – runs through Germany. For these are, of course, related. The success of Pegida and AfD and the discontent that is also fed by the assumption of having been taken to the cleaners. With her old friend Renate, a former district administrator, Bruni Reitzenstein is quick to agree on the misdeeds of the Treuhand.

"My Dresden – The Torn City" airs Wednesday evenings at 0:45 on ZDF and afterwards in the ZDF Mediathek.

She also meets celebrities such as cabaret artist Wolfgang Schaller and singer/moderator Gunther Emmerlich. Emmerlich has retained his "crown of folk music" joviality and also has an idea of how the dissatisfied could have been better kept in line: "I would have been in favor of the great joy we felt in 1989, that we should have put it in preserving jars and then opened a new jar every 14 days like that, so that it could be spread over the years."

Bruni Reitzenstein’s conclusion sounds a bit hopeless, but not serious: "And I sense it will still take a lot for the city of turmoil to become a city of understanding."

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