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207 16 The German Soul Rudolf G. Binding (1867–1938) had a biography resembling Walter Harlan’s. The son of a lawyer who in his home received such distinguished visitors as historians Heinrich von Treitschke and Theodor Mommsen as well as philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, he was to follow in his father’s footsteps in the legal profession but then studied medicine and still did not know how to earn a living. Dissatisfied with contemporary literature, except Carl von Clausewitz’s work Vom Kriege (On War, 1832), he developed a passion for horses. At forty, he read a poem by Gabriele D’Annunzio and translated it into German, and at last he had found his calling. As a nationalist and militarist, he initially sympathized with National Socialism, and it may be no coincidence that several Erich Maria Remarque novels feature a villain called Binding. However, as early as 1933 he refused to sign an oath of allegiance to Hitler; openly disapproved of untalented party hacks infiltrating the Preussische Dichterakademie (Prussian Writers Academy); proposed an award for Thomas Mann on the occasion of Mann’s birthday, even though he did not like his work; and in 1936 was part of a jury bestowing an award on Dr. Paul Neubauer, a Jewish writer who had immigrated to Hungary and would later perish in a concentration camp. When Binding died in 1938, no Nazi official attended his funeral. “He did not protest,” Jean Améry remarked about Binding’s behavior under National Socialism, “when he was celebrated as one of the greats of German literature. But he did not put himself into the foreground, did not even let himself be pushed there. His political testimonial therefore does not seem bad.”1 His most enduring success, the novel Der Opfergang (Path of sacrifice, 1911), dealt with the conflict of a man between two women, a conflict Binding himself had experienced in his own life. Having been away from home for ten years, Albrecht Froben resumes his romance with veit harlan 208 Octavia, a senator’s daughter who is still unmarried at twenty-seven. Despite reservations, he proposes to her. One night as he is rowing across a lake, he meets Joie, a dark-haired, dark-skinned woman who had been to school with Octavia. She now lives in her deceased stepfather’s house and likes to swim at night. The two women are different but equal, like two queens of different kingdoms. They represent Gehalt and gestalt (content and form). Albrecht feels comfortable in the presence of Octavia, but he also feels infected by her inactivity. Joie in turn is merry and sensual, stimulating his own dormant energy. He calls Joie the object of his “virile passion ” and Octavia the object of his “never-ending devotion.” Octavia is not jealous of Joie; she is merely glad for Albrecht. And Albrecht, who with Joie shares a passion for horses, thinks about involving Octavia in their riding sessions. Octavia declines, arguing that her temperament was unsuitable for such outings. Despite her initial tolerance, she feels increasingly lonely and rejected. Cholera breaks out. Joie falls ill, and Albrecht greets her through the window to keep her spirits up. When she is worried about a sick little girl she had been taking care of, Albrecht looks after the girl, but he gets infected and dies. At this point, Octavia performs her great act of sacrifice. Wearing Albrecht’s clothes, she poses herself in front of Joie’s window, greeting her. Joie recovers. Jean Améry, though a defender of Binding, found the book unbearable, particularly its magnanimity. Söderbaum almost did not get the part that was to become her alltime favorite. Joseph Goebbels felt uneasy about the Harlan–Söderbaum collaboration,ashedidaboutmusicalstarMarikaRökk’swithherdirectorhusband Georg Jacoby. So he allowed Harlan to cast Söderbaum in Immensee but told him to give the part of Joie in Opfergang to someone else. Margot Hielscher seemed a perfect choice. In her early twenties, she already had some film credits as both costume designer and supporting actress; she would later become an accomplished chanteuse and aviatrix. She looked suitably exotic. To get her into the right mood, Harlan had her perform scenes from Frank Wedekind’s play Erdgeist, the source of G. W. Pabst’s film Pandora’s Box. He was impressed by her Lulu, but she could not ride a horse without using her hands, and then something terrible happened : “In order to get the part,” Hielscher recalled, “I got my...


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