When people were still tipping their hats to each other, the summer interview was invented, you see, it’s old hat. Konrad Adenauer, the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic, invited journalists, writers and even painters to Lake Como, where he spent weeks on vacation. The old man let himself be staged like a prince, it was the spirit of the 19th century, a kind of media refeudalization.
Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt also published interviews during the holidays, but it was Helmut Kohl, Adenauer’s media-sick grandson, who institutionalized the summer interview from 1988 with the gracious help of ZDF, thereby creating a kind of slipper and cardigan feudalism. Even back then, these idyllic TV postcard greetings from Lake Wolfgang shocked those who thought that the arsenal of images used by the public broadcasters and the self-portrayal of politics were regressive, nostalgic and out of date.
“No respite, history is being made, things are moving forward!”, the Fehlfarben sang in 1982 in the “Rockpalast”, digging the grave into which the summer interviews absolutely refuse to crawl. Come hell or high water it has to be proven that it all goes together, the summer and the interview, the person and persona of the politician, the time and its images, language and deeds, Aperol Spritz and Butscha. It just doesn’t work.
Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier gave an idea of this in the ZDF summer interview when he spoke of a “summer of ambivalence”. The fact is that not only is “time out of joint”, but the joints are falling out of time, i.e. the images, narratives and icons that have carried us up to now and held the world together are no longer doing their job, which is why the “summer interviews” on ARD and ZDF acted like yesterday’s fugues for a world of tomorrow. They are stillborn conversations even before they have taken place.
The watches and the question cards sit on the neck and face of Tina Hassel (ARD) and Shakuntala Banerjee (ZDF). They practice rudeness on everyone’s eyes because they are more concerned with their question cards than with the answers and, moreover, can hardly hide the fact that the hail of commonplace blank cartridges has shaken them violently. Both the interviewees and the questioners seem to be murmuring under their breath: Actually, we are somewhere completely different, but now I’m sitting here. Everything on asynchronous! Here and there, the formatted interviews make the Chancellor and the Federal President, and with them the viewers, hostages of the time, because everything has to be worked through breathlessly, but nothing is allowed to be considered.
The half hour that the interview with Chancellor Olaf Scholz lasts is also interrupted by an almost four-minute clip in which three citizens are allowed to address their disappointments in politics. These remnants of another format (townhall meeting? reportage?) reveal a lack of self-confidence, because the moderator seems not to be able to reach the chancellor, nor does one trust the format of the interview to be suitable. This is media populism light, because you absolutely want to represent and reach the citizen, but the selection inevitably leads to total one-sidedness and distortion. What remains above all is the impression that one has attended a shamanic rite of warding off fear, although one does not want to conduct a “German navel gazing”, said the Federal President, but that’s what was at stake here, the fears of the Germans, relief packages, formulas to calm fears.
Scholz and Steinmeier have mastered the rhetoric of appeasement perfectly, and this creates a predictable and therefore deadly boring conversation dynamic: the more urgently and breathlessly the moderators ask, the more lead-coated the tongues of the gentlemen become and even where they swear the viewers to harder times, it sounds like that , as if the uncle doctor blows on the little finger and promises, it doesn’t hurt anymore.
What still connects these interviews with Adenauer and his 19th century is the majestic focus of the staging and questions; when Banerjee asks the Federal President when he is finally going to give a big speech, then there is a hint of a hope of salvation that politics has never been able to satisfy.
Similarly, Tina Hassel wanted to know from Scholz whether he could also be a design chancellor or whether he was forced to remain a crisis chancellor. What these interviews lacked was the courage not to have to please everyone, the courage to be out of date. Wherever hell everything has to be done, everything stays where it is.
As early as 1911, Jakob van Hoddis wrote his poem “End of the World” with the famous lines “The citizen’s hat flies off his pointed head, / In all the air it echoes like screaming. / Roofers fall and go in two / And on the coasts – one reads – rises the tide.”
Perhaps the ARD should have projected these lines onto the concrete wall (on which Tina Hassel initially received the Chancellor standing) and not photos of Scholz as a lured Juso boss, as the Chancellor visiting Irpin or statistics (13.8 million people affected by poverty) . After a poem like Hoddis’s, how can one still pretend in 2022 that citizens are still wearing hats? How can one still think of the citizen as an average figure glued to the sofa? And how can one be so narcissistic as to shamelessly impose one’s own logo first on the chancellor and then on the citizens on the carpeting of the interview podium? End of the world, turning point, but the main thing is that the logo fits.
Different interviews and different conversation formats are needed on ARD and ZDF, different summers are also needed, conversation times or interview times are needed where the viewers feel like participants in a discourse or as eyewitnesses and ears of an exciting encounter, but this from the outset of all life and We don’t need summer interviews stripped of all emotions, thoughts and moments. Where people cannot meet because the role models steal everything that is humanly possible from them, neither the role nor the person get their due.
Where poetry already knows so much about today in 1911, today’s television shouldn’t want to know less about tomorrow than about yesterday.