Review: Love, Deutschmarks and Death
- BERLINALE 2022: In his third documentary, Cem Kaya chooses to talk about last century’s Turkish immigration to Germany from an unusual angle: the birth of a new music culture
The story of Cem Kaya’s third documentary feature, Love, Deutschmarks and Death [+see also:
interview: Cem Kaya
film profile], begins with the German-Turkish Recruitment Agreement signed in 1961. In detail, many workers from Anatolia and other parts of the country were recruited by West Germany to make up for the shortage of labour in certain economic sectors, and most of them were unskilled workers. Showcased in the Panorama section of this year’s Berlinale, in his doc, Kaya chooses to talk about last century’s Turkish immigration from an unusual angle, by focusing on one specific aspect of these people’s culture: music.
Doomed to homesickness, enduring various hardships and stuck in their jobs, the Turks brought a piece of home to a foreign land and gradually transformed it into something original and independent from their native music culture. The approach of Kaya’s documentary is quite traditional, as it alternates between extensive archive footage spanning over 40 years of history and a number of “talking heads” shots. These include artists from the older generation, such as Yüksel Özkasap, nicknamed “The Nightingale of Cologne”, and Metin Türköz, but also younger musicians such as the duo Derdiyoklar or Cem Karaca and his iconic band Die Kanaken, who were the ones who sang in German for the first time and used their songs as vehicles for social criticism.
Karaca’s biography is perhaps one of the most fascinating, as we find out that he left Turkey for West Germany in 1979 but wasn’t allowed to return home until 1987. Specifically, the post-1980 coup government issued an arrest warrant for him and other intellectuals, so the man missed his father’s funeral and did not see his son for several years. In one of the excerpts, he also candidly admits to an interviewer that he “didn’t feel uncomfortable in Germany, [but] you can’t have two homelands, [as] there’s only one homeland, and it’s like a mother”.
In the last part of the film, the focus shifts to the birth of German-Turkish hip-hop and rap during the early 1990s, which primarily railed against discrimination, and saw among its ranks artists such as Fresh Familee, King Size Terror, Cartel and Islamic Force.
Music is ultimately the common thread that allows Kaya to touch upon a wide range of social and economic transformations that took place before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Some pleasant, humorous touches are interspersed throughout, mostly delivered by the charismatic characters speaking in front of the camera. We also realise how the German-Turkish scene became a solid business, where large sums of money were circulating – even for wedding musicians, who were learning to perform songs from all 81 provinces of Turkey to please any type of audience, sometimes learning to sing in Arabic or Kurdish.
As it stands, Kaya’s documentary is a good, informative piece, heavily based on facts and direct testimonies. It might struggle, however, to catch the eye of a larger foreign audience, who may not be interested in a topic that is perhaps a bit too niche.
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