Iconic Photos

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Naked Maoists Before a Naked Wall

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For two brief years in the late 1960s, there existed on Stuttgarter Platz in Berlin a notorious squat often referred to as the Horror Commune. Kommune I was a Maoist microsect which aggressively promoted sexual promiscuity-as-liberation. Its members rejected such bourgeois norms as personal privacy — the bathrooms had no doors — and devoted themselves to organizing political protests and stunts. It had been set up in March 1967 by Fritz Teufel; his notoreity began after he broke into the dean’s office at the Freie Universitat, took his cigars, toga and chain of office, then rode a bicycle through the corridors to the auditorium, where he allowed the cheering student body to appoint him the new dean. His first official act was to sack all of the unpopular professors.

When the American Vice-President Humphrey visited Berlin in April 1967, eleven Kommunards tried to ‘assassinate’ him by attacking him with puddings, flour and yogurt; the absurd joke was lost on Die Zeit, which called them the “eleven little Oswalds”. Teufel was one of the eleven, and was soon arrested. He soon became a celebrity, helped by his last name, which means “devil” in German.

During Teufel’s absence from Kommune 1, it circulated a self-portrait: seven nude young men and women splayed against a wall, displayed with the headline: Das Private ist politisch! (“The personal is political”). The photo was taken by Thomas Hesterberg, and was captioned “Naked Maoists Before a Naked Wall” when the photo ran (partially censored to remove private parts) in Der Spiegel in June 1967. Although it would be subjected to much parody and mockery in later years, the photo was extremely controversial and divisive when many German newsmagazines decided to reprint it.

The photo’s message was as explicit as its contents were: the commune tried to draw the parallel between the pictures of helpless, naked concentration camp bodies and the rebelliously unclothed bodies of Maoist revolutionaries. Thusly, deeper message was that adolescent promiscuity should force the older generation to be open about sex, and consequently about their past, i.e., Hitler and everything else. The Kommune’s proclamation that “If Germans can look at the truth about our bodies, they will be able to face other truths as well” provoked Rudi Dutschke (an influential conventional leftist of the older order) so much as to condemn the Kommunards as ‘neurotics’.

For the Kommune, it was all downhill from there. In April 1968, two members were arrested for attempting to burn down a department store in Munich. During their trial that October, rioting broke out, and about 400 sympathizers were arrested. Teufel’s original visions, Spass-Guerillero (“fun guerrilla”) and  Witz als Waffe or (“joke as weapon”), were soon forgotten; Teufel found out that fame too was considered a bourgeoise anathema when he himself was expelled from the Kommune. When the Kommune dissolved in 1969, its remnants slowly turned into a terrorist cell: in the early 1970s, a splinter Kommunard group banded together to form the Baader-Meinhof Gang, also known as the Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF). The allusions to the Royal Air Force (RAF) was not accidental: just as the British had bombed Germany from above, they intended to raze ‘new fascism’ (i.e., capitalism) from within. A chaotic game of cat and mouse with the authorities followed, culminated with the mysterious deaths of the gang’s leaders in their cells. In total, the RAF carried out almost 250 attacks, robbed 69 banks, kidnapped a few dozen politicians, businessmen and journalists, and murdered 28 people.


Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

March 24, 2011 at 8:07 am

4 Responses

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  4. […] Private ist politisch!» (lo personal es político), el grupo pronto olvida el psicoanálisis y se dedica a la «guerrilla humorística»… para delicia de la prensa derechista alemana. Dutschke, que les tacha de «neuróticos», […]

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