May 13, 2011

Franz Göll’s cultural capital

Reading an account of Berliner Franz Göll’s life (1899-1984), I imagine him as a bit of a dandy.  He was quite a clothes horse; he bought fedora hats (nine of them in the space of seven years), gloves, bow ties and all the accoutrements of the middle class lifestyle that he aspired to.  But it is not Göll’s sartorial elegance that impresses me – he was after all a bachelor and could indulge himself as he pleased – but rather his trips to the cinema.  The numbers are impressive.  Beginning in 1919 he went to the cinema 19 times (once every 2.7 weeks).  Over the years this increased until 1926, when he made 74 visits to the cinema, once and sometimes twice a week!  Another diarist of the Weimar era (Klemperer) reports that every day 2 million Germans visited the cinema.

I tried to imagine myself doing what Göll did; visiting the cinema at least once, maybe twice a week.  Without a television at home and perhaps no radio, the cinema would be my only source of entertainment and information.  News reels, of course, would have lent an air of currency to a visit.  Did they change the programme so frequently that I could see a different film every time?  Even by visiting cinemas in other neighbourhoods?  And were the films so good that I would be prepared to fork out for an evening’s entertainment something from my modest wage?  

In comparison, today’s cinematic offerings are not that appetizing and the complexes throughout the city all show more or less the same films.  (If you’re lucky, you might find an alternative, non-Hollywood picture house tucked away in some back alley that shows European productions, but this would be an exception.)  

I can only think that Göll was trying to increase his share of cultural capital.  When he wasn't visiting the cinema, he attended concerts, operettas, and theatre - comedy and heavier stuff.  I don't think he spent many evenings at home after work. 

Would I want to go to the cinema every week, or even twice a week?  I don’t think so, even if the films shown were Oscar-winning material and my favourite genre.  I couldn’t keep it up for a whole year and would give up after a month.  What was it that kept Göll motivated?  It might have been a novelty in the beginning but surely not after seven years.  Göll kept a film diary but sadly this has disappeared; we’ll never know which films he saw and what his impressions were.  

A postscript - Göll died in 1984 but stopped writing his journals in 1982.  Why did he give up his writing, something that he had been doing for sixty-six years?  One possible reason could be the colour television be bought a couple of years earlier.  Could be coincidental, but I think not.

Fritzsche, Peter.  The Turbulent World of Franz Göll.  An Ordinary Berliner Writes the Twentieth Century.  Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 2011.

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