Last week something huge happened in the world of music. Industrial Metal titans, Rammstein, announced that their long-awaited return is just around the corner. Their seventh studio album, their first in nearly a decade, is set to be released on 17th May. This was accompanied by a new single, “Deutschland”, an amazing song that shows off their evolved sound, and proves that they still indeed truly have it. It’s a very, very exciting time to be a fan! The video for the single is nothing short of epic, and is arguably their best yet, but not all are pleased.
The video, directed by Specter Berlin, depicts the darker side of Germany’s history, spanning the course of over 2000 years, and small glimpses into the ‘future’, as the band members act out each scene. The events include the Hindenburg Zeppelin disaster, Communist Germany, May Day and Nazi Germany. The latter is what is currently kicking up such a fuss. In the scene, it graphically depicts the Holocaust during World War II, as Jewish prisoners are hung to death. It’s as sickening as it sounds, and they don’t hold back.
In response, Emmanuel Nahshon, spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, tweeted the following; “This “ Rammstein “ clip , using the Holocaust for advertisement purposes, is shameful and uncalled for . We join the many voices calling for its immediate removal.” Meanwhile, Felix Klein, the German government’s commissioner for anti-Semitism, called it “a tasteless exploitation of artistic freedom”.
So why would this even be considered in a Rammstein video?! We must delve deeper to get more context…
First and foremost, Rammstein sing in German. I know that’s an incredibly dumb, and obvious statement, with them being a German band and all, but hear me out. The issue here is, that German isn’t a predominant global language, so most people will see the video, and have no idea what-on-earth they’re singing about. This is bound to cause knee-jerk reactions without viewers even understanding it properly. Luckily, for those of you that still don’t know the lyrics, here’s the chorus section, and a handy translation of it into english:
Deutschland, mein Herz in Flammen
Will dich lieben und verdammen
Deutschland, dein Atem kalt
So jung, und doch so alt
Germany, my heart in flames
Want to love and damn you
Germany, your breath’s cold
So young, and yet so old
So clearly, it’s not in any way a love letter to Germany, although the overall mood the track creates should really make that blatantly obvious. The song is about the band’s turbulent relationship with their home country. They want to love it, and show pride for it, but how can they after there’s been such atrocities in the past? Sure, they themselves are not responsible for what happened, but by just being German, they feel as if they’ve inherited this guilt. I’m not suggesting this of all Germans, but having spoken to some of them myself, I know there are those out there the feel the same way. It’s a dark shadow that has been casted over them, that they feel that they can’t escape. It’s these themes that the song tackles, and with such a video to back it up, makes the message it holds even more effective.
The thing is, if Rammstein are pointing out parts of thier homeland’s history that bring them, and others, such shame, then it all needs to be on display, warts and all. This includes the Holocaust. Yes it was a grim, horrible, disgusting act, but that’s exactly how the video portrays it. There’s no pro-Nazi messages here, they’re very clearly shown as the scum they were. The band have made clear statements in the past that they’re left-leaning, “Links” off 2001’s Mutter being a direct response to the backlash they’ve recieved, so there’s no way they’d even consier promoting the far-right in a positive light. Plus there’s the fact that, later on in the video, the prisoners appear to have broken free, and execute the Nazi’s for their crimes, which seems to have been overlooked by those so angered by it.
I feel that another elephant in the room, is people forget that Rammstein can still be a serious band when they want to be, which is evident here. Their last music video outputs were “Pussy”, with it’s raunchy, comical approach, along with the self-parody of “Haifisch”, as well as “Mein Land.” It’s certainly a striking contrast to “Deutschland”, but it proves they can still strike a more sincere tone. Let’s also not forget that they don’t just meet part-way with a theme, they go all-in on it. The Holocaust depiction is extremely graphic, yes, but it also helps to drive home the severity of it. It could be argued that, if they were to censor it in any form, it would be diluting history and thus killing freedom of speech. I’ve actually found myself in a few intellectual debates because of this, debates that would never have happened if the video were not so explicit. In all honesty, I think it would have been more offensive to have not included this scene, as it would have felt like they were trying to sweep it under the rug, as if it never happened, if it were absent.
Also prominent throughout the “Deutschland” video is the presence of Ruby Commey, who puts on a stellar performance as Germania. Germania being the personification of the German nation, which was most commonly associated with the Romantic Era, and the Revolutions of 1848. As we see her blend into each era, we see her more gripped by it, the corruption taking over. By the end, however, she seems regretful of her past, appearing more sombre. It’s in the World War II setting, where we see one of the biggest uses of symbolism. It’s subtle, but sharp-eyed Redditor u/Elveri spotted this moment:
Here, we see Germania, dressed in a Nazi uniform. Although do you notice how she’s facing away from the horrific scenes occurring behind her? You could say she’s turning a blind eye to it. It could be debated that her placement in this scene is open to interpretation, but considering the video is jam-packed with metaphors, it feels very deliberate.
This is what completes the entire message of the video, because that one metaphor opens up a big problem with a lot of people in society, that they chose to turn a blind eye to the Holocaust, and other past transgressions. No matter how bad a past event is, it has to be accepted that it’s happened. Acceptance is the first step of being able to move on, after all. It shouldn’t be a taboo issue, we need to take this knowledge forward, and learn from it, so that the same mistakes aren’t made again. There’s now a new generation that probably have no idea what the Holocaust is, so it’s more important than ever to pass this on. I recall seeing a news article a few years ago, that highlighted how a good portion of the younger generation are clueless about World War II. It’s a fact that is not only sad, but utterly terrifying.
There’s a good argument that the last place such a delicate subject should be handled is within a music video, and that is a valid point. However, Rammstein have sent a bold message, the meaning behind it loud and clear. Say what you will, but I think they handled it as carefully as they could have, and I feel that the result is more educational and eye-opening than offensive. Music is a powerful medium, so why not use it as a tool to make a statement, to educate? Put it this way, I’ve learned more about German history, symbolism and folklore in the past few days, than I have in the past few years, and that speaks volumes.
As philosopher George Santayana once famously said; “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”