Speer Chucker

Last Friday, Michael Naumann, the unusually candid and big-spending German editor-in-chief of Henry Holt, cut short the mounting gossip that he was about to be fired by quitting. He left to become, of course, a politician–Culture Minister in the shadow Cabinet of Gerhard Schroeder, who’s a good bet to defeat German chancellor Helmut Kohl this fall. On Monday, Naumann told a Berlin radio station that he opposed the giant Holocaust memorial planned for the center of that city, designed by Americans Peter Eisenman and Richard Serra. Germany, said Naumann, should spend its money preserving its crumbling concentration camps, “a landscape of death [that] is considerably more moving and has considerably deeper effects than a memorial”–especially since, he added, that memorial is reminiscent of nothing so much as the works of Hitler’s favorite architect, Albert Speer.

Yikes! Culturebox knows from having once casually tossed the words “Final Solution” into some light German cocktail banter that, in Germany, you don’t invoke a name like Speer’s in vain. On the other hand, when she looks at the endlessly-debated project with its 4,000 ominous, towering, concrete slabs, Culturebox can’t help suspecting that Naumann’s right. (Click here to see for yourself.)

As it turns out, German papers lost interest in the Holocaust-memorial angle as soon as Naumann’s boss, Schroeder, announced that the question of its future would be resolved by public debate. But the buzz has not died down. In the same radio interview–the first the German public had ever heard from him–Naumann also outlined the startlingly ambitious program he’d undertake if Schroeder were elected: federalizing the arts budget in a country in which the arts are mainly supported by the states; revitalizing the German film industry by calling on his Hollywood pals to import more German films, and so on.

As you can imagine, these proposals have been amply dissected and nitpicked all week by every German newspaper Culturebox has managed to Nexis up. Their main spin: Who the heck is this guy anyway? Is he “a fresh wind from New York,” as one paper put it, or a would-be “Culture Pope,” which is to say, an American-style media hound whose appointment should make German voters think twice about electing his boss? Culturebox, a woman who appreciates the journalistic value of men of unusual candor, sincerely hopes that the German voters do not.

Judith Shulevitz