The European Film Academy Awards certainly don’t aspire to be anything like the Oscars. And they certainly aren’t. Once again, I had the pleasure of taking part in the event, this time in the Rhineland city of Bochum in the industrial settings of the Jahrhunderthalle. Although this post is not about my adventures swanking about with European film’s nobs and toffs, it does nicely set the scene for something which not only irked me but downright riled me.
I arrived in Germany on Friday afternoon and left Düsseldorf’s shiny new airport by a science-fiction-like shuttle service which looks something like a cross between an amusement park ride and a whizzing Star Trek space pod. Düsseldorf is a modern city slap bang in the centre of the sprawling Ruhr metropolis. The shuttle took me to the station and from there I caught the train to Bochum.
One of the many things that always strikes me about Germany is its ethnic mix, the cultural crucible that is so apparent in all of its urban centres. Waiting for the train I heard Turkish, Greek, a Slav language (perhaps Serbian?) and Arabic, to name but a few. As much as I strained my ears, however, not once did I hear Polish, although I could have sworn that many of the Rhineland denizens looked decidedly Pole-like.
I got to the the hotel. I smiled at the young blonde at the desk, the letters on her name tag shouted back at me: “Walczak”. “Are you Polish?” I enquired. “Half-Polish,” she said. She spoke a little Polish, had even been to Poland and Warsaw but conceded that Poland just wasn’t her cup of tea. It seemed a strange answer as it sounded more like an excuse.
A little later that day I heard the hotel cleaning ladies happily chirping away in Polish as I left my room for a wander. They were thrilled to hear me speak Polish and just as excited to talk to me about my adventures with the European Film Academy. We took the lift together down to the reception but no sooner did they spot reception than they reverted to a thickly-accented German. “Odd,” I thought.
This pattern kept repeating itself with Polish names and Polish people seemingly everywhere, yet every time they used Polish it seemed limited, stunted or somehow ‘not right’. The only real explanation seems to be the German attitude to the use of Polish. To my mind, Germany’s approach to the native tongues of ‘Gastarbeiter’, especially Polish ones, is nigh on fascist, with no real sense of European solidarity, something which the Germans, allegedly, pride themselves on.
This fact seemed all the more ironic when I stood, wine glass in hand (looking extremely suave in my dinner jacket), watching Europe’s top filmmakers, producers and actors, most of them German (due to the location of the event), clap, cheer and ‘bravo’ Andrzej Wajda, Krystyna Janda, Maciej Stuhr and Marcel Lozinski during the film awards ceremony. Is pluralism really only an elitist idea or is it an elistist cover-up?