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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 February, 2005, 19:21 GMT
'Terror' art challenges Germans

By Ray Furlong
BBC News, Berlin

Felix Ensslin
Mr Ensslin was abandoned by his mother when he was six months old
Felix Ensslin first saw his mother on a wanted poster.

Now, he is co-curator of an exhibition in Berlin of artwork inspired by her urban guerrilla group, the Red Army Faction (RAF).

The show is called "Regarding Terror: the RAF exhibition" and features paintings, installations, photography and montage from three generations of artists.

It is the first time an exhibition like this has been mounted in Germany.

But Felix Ensslin denies his involvement has anything to do with the fact that his mother, Gudrun Ensslin, was an RAF founder-member.

"When I was offered a role as a co-curator of the show, I thought about it very hard because of the public perception that my name is connected to the story of the RAF," he says.

Exhibit at RAF show, Berlin
Renowned German artists reflect on the RAF as a political phenomenon
"But I didn't grow up with my mother, I didn't live with my mother, I grew up in a very different kind of environment."

Felix Ensslin was abandoned by his mother when he was six months old. It was 1967, and the RAF was founded after a student was shot dead by a policeman at a demonstration in Berlin.

RAF campaign

For the next 10 years Gudrun Ensslin was a key part of the group's campaign of kidnappings, bombings and assassinations - until she committed suicide in her prison cell along with fellow RAF leader Andreas Baader.

The radical group targeted German politicians and businessmen, as well as US military installations in West Germany.

It had links with East German intelligence and militant anti-Israeli groups in the Middle East.

The RAF's last attack took place in 1993, and in 1998 it made the last statement declaring itself "history".

Felix's father, an author, handed him over to middle-class foster parents - his new dad a doctor, his mother leading the church choir. And he knew nothing of his RAF connection.

Schlachtfeld Deutschland XI/78 (Battlefield Germany XI/78) by Katharina Sieverding
"Schlachtfeld Deutschland XI/78" by Katharina Sieverding
"After two years discussing these things with artists, my observation is that my perspective is quite similar to that of other Germans of my age group," he says.

"In the 1970s, when we were growing up and going through adolescence, there were only two TV channels and a few major newspapers. So those images of the RAF, the headlines, became part of our reference."

This, says Felix, has made the images iconographic and attractive to artists.

"I find that true for example of a work by Johannes Wohnseifer, who is exactly my age and grew up about 200 metres from the first safe house where the RAF had hidden one of their hostages."

"He puts together his life as a 10-year-old skateboarder with that history and those images and produces an installation dealing with that."

Protest to Schroeder

The idea of an exhibition of artwork inspired by the RAF created outrage when it was first mooted two years ago, in particular because it was supposed to be partly funded with public money.

Scene of RAF bus bombing in Hungary, 1991
In 1991 the RAF attacked Soviet Jewish emigrants in Hungary
Family members of RAF victims wrote to Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder demanding that the money be withdrawn.

"The concept for the exhibition says it will show the 'aesthetic reflection' of the RAF in art and culture, and examine what ideals of the RAF are still valid," they wrote.

"For us it is incomprehensible that such an exhibition can take place not only with the approval, but also with the support of, the state."

The public support was shelved, and the exhibition was only able to go ahead after an auction on eBay in December, in which contemporary artists sold their work and donated the earnings to the project.

Felix Ensslin describes the acts of the RAF as "awful crimes" and is not surprised by the reaction the show has produced. But he also believes it is necessary.

"The RAF is tied to a time of great uncertainty and upheaval, so to many Germans it's still connected to a living memory of traumatic experience."


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