05. Focus on German Studies, Volume 22 (2015), Emplotting the Air War: Jörg Friedrich’s Brandstätten (2003)

Zelechowski, Jamie
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Jörg Friedrich’s Brandstätten (2003) may be considered the visual counterpart of Der Brand. Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940–1945(2002), a book which sparked a debate about how to properly treat the subject of German air raid victims in historiography. Brandstätten, on the other hand, is a photo book consisting of archival photographs, literary and eyewitness quotes, statistics, as well as excerpts from Nazi propaganda. Though I consider many of the troubling continuities between Der Brand and Brandstätten (e.g., equation of victims of the Shoah and victims of the air war), the main point of analysis in this paper is Friedrich’s emplotment of the air war. Friedrich presents the reader with two protagonists: German culture and the German people. German cultural heritage, in Friedrich’s formulation, is itself reified in the face of the very cities that the air raids destroyed. He emplots the cities (embodiments of historical architecture and cultural artifacts) differently than the German people (conceived according to the idea of the mythical Volksgemeinschaft): the former takes the shape of a Tragedy, the latter that of a Romance. Drawing from Hayden White’s work on historical narrative and figuralism, I conduct a close reading of Friedrich’s Brandstätten (2003) and the narrative strategies he uses in order to emplot the air war according to his own particular, even if semi-recycled, story arc. I illustrate how Friedrich employs montage, chronological-thematic ordering, as well as what Michael André Bernstein calls “backshadowing,” in order to doubly emplot the air war according to Tragic and Romantic story types.