Premiered Mar 28, 2019
Video Director: Specter Berlin
The video was directed by Specter Berlin and was released online on 28 March 2019 at 6:00 PM CET, following a 35-second preview for the video two days prior. The video preview sparked criticism a few hours after release. The video features various events from Germany’s history such as the Middle Ages, The Holocaust, World War II, and the Berlin Wall; as well as others such as scenes in space. German actress Ruby Commey also appears throughout the video and is credited as Germania.
Rammstein’s Deutschland video explained: introducing Germania
Rammstein’s Deutschland takes us on a thrilling, violent, and moving journey through German history. At over nine minutes, it gives us a panorama of events and historical and mythical figures, and there are so many references and Easter eggs that fans and commentators will be poring over it for some time to come.
The video opens in AD 16, on the ‘barbarian’ side of the limes, the border of the Roman Empire. Roman soldiers creep through the woods in the aftermath of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. The Romans were ambushed by an alliance of Germanic Tribes, led by a chieftain called Arminius (the original Hermann the German). Three legionary standards were captured, a loss symbolic and moral, as well as physical, and decades were spent trying to recover them. Rome never again attempted to take the lands east of the River Rhine, known as Germania.
‘Germania’ refers not just to a place, somewhere partly defined by where it isn’t (Rome) as well as where it is, but also to a national figurehead, traditionally representing the German people. Germania is a strong woman, usually armour-clad and battle-ready. Various symbols appear with her, among them a breastplate with an eagle, a black, red, and gold flag, and a crown. Look out for these in the video – they come up again and again – and the colours of the contemporary flag are there in every scene.
We get our first glimpse of Germania here (played by Ruby Commey), who stands holding Till Lindemann’s severed head. Next, astronauts appear carrying a metal and glass box shaped like a coffin. In the background we see a U-boat – a German submarine, used in World Wars I and II. Then we move to a scene set at a boxing match which takes us to Weimar Germany (1918-1933), a period known for its political instability but also greater cultural liberalism. Here, Germania appears in the cabaret costume of a flapper girl, and the boxers fight with knuckle-dusters as a crowd cheers them on.
Rammstein’s Deutschland video explained: Marx, Lenin and the GDR
We see the former East Germany, complete with busts of Marx and Lenin, the national emblem of East Germany, and a lookalike of the long-serving, insular, and repressive GDR leader Erich Honecker. There’s another astronaut, or rather a cosmonaut: Sigmund Jähn, the first German in space, who flew with the USSR’s space program (and who’s also a character in the 2003 film, Good Bye Lenin!). Medieval monks feast grotesquely on the supine Germania, tearing sauerkraut and sausage from Ruby Commey’s body, prison inmates are beaten by guards dressed in police and military uniforms from different historical periods.
The most obviously shocking scene references the Holocaust and the Nazi period. Four members of the band, in the striped uniforms of camp inmates, wait at the gallows, about to be hanged. They wear the cloth emblems used to identify their ‘crimes’: a pink triangle for homosexual prisoners, a yellow star for Jewish prisoners, a red and yellow star for Jewish political prisoners.
This sequence, teased in an earlier promo video, has already caused controversy. Have Rammstein the right to do this? Do they trivialise the suffering of Holocaust victims? How can they justify using Holocaust imagery to promote their new video? These are important questions that are part of a much bigger debate about the ethics of using the Holocaust in art and media.
Other scenes include the band walking away from a flaming airship, referring to the 1937 Hindenburg Disaster, in which 36 people died. Rats scuttle across the floor when the monks first appear, suggesting the Pied Piper of Hamelin, a legend with origins in the 13th century.
Germania walks towards the camera in a leather jacket, gold jewellery and a string of bullets across her chest, resembling the chariot drawn by four horses (the ‘Quadriga’) on top of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. The band members’ heads are shown as white marble busts, taking us to the 19th century Walhalla memorial in Bavaria, built as German Hall of Fame, its sculpted heads of German worthies on display to this day.
In the prison, hundreds of banknotes fall from above, suggesting the devastating hyperinflation Germany suffered in the 1920s. Nazis burn books, intercut with religious fanatics burning witches. We recognise members of the Red Army Faction (also known as the Baader-Meinhof group), a militant organisation active in the 1970s in West Germany. And in a blink-or-you-miss-it exchange, we are reminded of the much-criticised relationship between the churches and the state during the Third Reich.
Rammstein’s Deutschland video explained: the finale
Each scene captures in a moment the icons of an era, and the video cuts between them more and more frenetically as it goes on. Events bleed into each other, linked by the presence of the band members and the red laser beam that appears throughout the video, a ‘roter Faden’ (red thread or central theme), connecting each event.
Germany engages with its history in a very particular way. Try to imagine the video about Britain, with Britannia played by Ruby Commey. What would the equivalent events be? Quite a few of the tableaux might be similar – Romans, Crusaders, monks, 18th-century soldiers, collarless shirts and bareknuckle boxing – but would it have the same impact?
There’s no affection, and perhaps not much hope: its pessimistic tone seems to be quite an off-brand message for post-1989 Germany, which wants to acknowledge its past critically, while also looking to its future as a state at the heart of Europe. And actually, while we get a lot of medieval and twentieth-century history, the video’s tour through the past seems to stop in the late 1980s, before the fall of the Berlin Wall and Reunification of East and West Germany. Instead, we jump into the future, where the space-suited band take Germania into the unknown, travelling in that coffin-shaped glass box.
There’s an echo of the video for Sonne, where Snow White is trapped in a glass coffin. In fact, a piano version of Sonne plays over the end credits of Deutschland. This is a useful link for understanding something of what Rammstein is doing here. In Sonne, where the band’s characters free themselves of Snow White (naturally, they’ve been her sex-slaves), only to realise that they have made a mistake and long for her return, the overwhelming feeling of Deutschland seems to be that when it comes to Germania (or Germany): you can’t love her, and you can’t live without her.
AN INSIGHT INTO THE DARK HISTORY BEHIND RAMMSTEIN’S DEUTSCHLAND
ANCIENT ROME & THE MIDDLE AGES
The video starts with a bleak look at both Ancient Rome and Middle Ages, featuring actress Ruby Commey severing the head of Rammstein frontman-cum-legionary Till Lindemann as the band – dressed as legionaries – watch on. It pays some homage to Arminius, who died in AD 21 (Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, anyone?). Aforementioned Commey goes on to play numerous roles in the video, serving as a key focal point of Germany’s historical representation – she is, after all, the personification of Germania.
The inclusion of the Middle Ages – despite red, futuristic light beams – indicates a longstanding tradition of violence, politically implied or not. If you look carefully during one scene three minutes in, you’ll even spot the statue of what seems to be Martin Luther. The Middle Ages appear throughout the video in slightly more grim detail, including a gnarly scene where the band – dressed as monks – eat intestines from Commey’s body on a wooden table whilst four rich generals sip from goblets in a cutscene prior. A perfect representation of the class divide and Ablasshandel. Under the table? A see-through compartment featuring BDSM-clad victims representative of the hell feared by clerics above the table. Every Rammstein video needs a little bit of sex, so why not cloak it in metaphor?
THE HINDENBURG ZEPPELIN
During an early moment in the video, we see the six band members walk away from a burning Hindenburg Zeppelin. LZ129 Hindenburg was a German airship which crashed in 1937 in New Jersey, resulting in 36 deaths and 62 survivors. It took off in Frankfurt for its – unfortunately – final flight, eventually marking the end of the Zeppelin era due to a loss of public confidence in the airship industry. It marked a key moment in German air travel, which is likely why the band have chosen its tragic demise as a key introduction to Deutschland, massive explosions and all.
NAZI GERMANY & THE HOLOCAUST
Now, this is the element which really stirred some controversy ahead of Deutschland’s release. Throughout the video, we see depictions of the Holocaust through a hanging ceremony involving four band members dressed in blue and white striped clothing. One wears the Star of David, with a homosexuality badge worn by another band member.
During the Second World War, these respecitvely indicated that you were Jewish and that you were homosexual, if not both. One of the four men is hung, something the video depicts quite graphically as the bricks supporting his feet are kicked away. There’s also a book burning scene, as well as other hints of Nazi history spread throughout (such as the V-2 Rocket).
Although not explicitly obvious, the video’s prison scene seems to be a metaphorical look at the violent side of communist Germany. The band are prisoners here, their cell escorts often interrupted by beatings and inmate fighting. The beatings include what’s very clearly a red baton, another potential dig at communism. Either that, or the baton is a symbol for how badly German citizens had it during the Great Depression. What’s interesting here is that an ‘old’ prison fight scene features modern day riot police. A reference to the modern day re-emergence of far-out political ideologies distancing themselves from the past, perhaps? We’re probably clutching at straws here, but it’s possible.
Back in May 1987 (on International Worker’s Day), the Berlin district of Kreuzberg experienced its infamous May Day protests and riots, which were in lieu of growing tensions between the left and right following a census boycott. It culminated in more than a full day of rioting, with police even having to withdraw in East Kreuzberg for 36 hours before staging a counterattack. These attacks are marked annually now with – largely – peaceful protests which stand as a point of reference for one of Berlin’s most important historical events. It could also refer to the Rostock-Lichtenhagen riots, though. The band will appear in Rostock this summer, after all…
THE COLD WAR
We don’t actually see modern day Germany in the video for Deutschland. The closest it gets to this is when we see a glimpse of the Rote Armee Fraktion, a faction who became prominent during the Cold War. With Lindemann supposedly dressed as Ulrike Meinhof, the band attempt to battle off riot police with Commey in their grasp, making a successful escape. It’s a pretty captivating fight scene, despite the image of Lindemann in a leather skirt and wig adding comedic elements to what is an overwhelmingly dark and startling video. The Cold War took place while Germany was still divided into East and West, and this division is something we see in Rammstein’s representation of the DDR throughout the video.
…AND THE FUTURE?
Throughout the video we see the band dressed as astronauts – a possible reference to Sigmund Jähn, the first German in space – exploring an extraterrestrial landscape. We not only see hints of the future, though: we also see a bunch of batshit crazy stuff going on which is impossible to place in any given era. Commey gives birth to a wolf at one point, surrounded by the band dressed in obscure white gowns. Earlier on, we see the astronauts caress her pregnant belly. There are also red beams visible throughout the entire video, which may hint at communism as an overarching concept. It doesn’t matter which era you look at, there’s a red beam somewhere, and it’s got to mean something.
|Various||28 March 2019||Universal||N/A|
|Europe||12 April 2019||7-inch||7761888|
|North America||30 April 2019||7-inch||TBA|