Zwulf Sachen mit Fack ju Goehte
12. Do you like "Teacher Movies"? I'm surprised that I still do! But now that I'm on the other end of my aborted teaching career, I find that I like different ones from before, for different reasons.
In the past, I was a sucker for movies like The Dead Poets Society (Der Club der toten Dichter!) and Mr. Holland's Opus, whose idealised teacher characters epitomised what I aspired to bring to the classroom. These days, I'm more into stuff like School of Rock, which suggests that any random Jack (or Jill!) might actually do a better job than the trained and dedicated professionals. Can you guess which group Fack ju Goehte belongs to?
11. What the second sort of "Teacher Movie" needs the most is a good reason for the random Jack to be posing as a teacher. I'd say that Kindergarten Cop wins this one (Remember when it was our Friday Night Movie?), but also that what the Fack ju Goehte comedy of errors lacks in plausibility, it makes up for in sheer charm. There's something about ex-con Zeki Mueller that makes us want him to turn the Goethe-Gesamtschule upside-down. Or maybe just something about our own high school experiences. =P
10. Actually, I took two seconds to think about it, and I conclude that it's mostly Zeki. We don't just want him to turn the school around; we also want him to turn his life around. Elyas M'Barek is so sympathetic in this role--even at the beginning when Zeki is still a really big jerk--that we just automatically root for him.
9. Or maybe we don't . . . I can think of people of a certain political stripe who might be very upset by the casting. And before you get defensive, I don't just mean Germans!
It does kind of send a message when it takes an outsider to whip the most hopeless students in school into shape and to win the heart of the overlooked local princess. There's a school of thought (yeah, let's call it that) which would argue that a "foreigner" is cast as the husband and father figure in order to imply that local men aren't good enough for the job any longer. And well, we do see the two "real" German men among the teachers, the ones who should have been whipping Class 10B into shape and going after the cute Frau Schnabelstedt, looking quite inadequate when Herr Mueller joins the faculty. So we do have a legitimate reading here.
8. You know what else we have? The very German idea that Schulpflicht, compulsory schooling for all children, is necessary to give the entire country a common sense of purpose . . . and that homeschooling should be illegal because it creates parallel cultures where there should be only one. And believe it or not, this "unschooler" is sympathetic to that! When many of us no longer live in real communities, where people seem to learn history, religion, basic skills, and even trades the way we learn language, perhaps a national school system is a necessary evil. (I would prefer one that is as local as possible, though.) And there is a sense of communion that we can share with total strangers who were assigned the same required reading in school.
I'm sure the original German audience understood the deeper meaning of 10B's having to pass an oral exam on Friederich Schiller's play Die Raueber. Having never read Schiller, all I can say is . . . Irgendwann. Someday. Irgendwann werde ich auch diese Text lesen. Someday I will also read this text. (Ich liebe dich, Projekt Gutenberg!)
7. And now we note the irony that German children don't actually go to the same schools: Gymnasium is for the really bright ones; Realschule, for the less brilliant who are still aiming for white-collar jobs; and Hauptschule for those who will grow up to be blue-collar workers. Yes, the great unifying force is itself not unified. So it's telling that the school in the movie is a Gesamtschule--an example of the uniform, comprehensive model once intended to replace the three-school system, but which never really took off across the country.
Speaking of trouble at take off . . . Can you tell me which people in German society didn't get that common sense of purpose from school? . . . Ah, now do you see why Zeki has to be Zeki?
6. One of my German friends is close to a woman who is a teacher in a Brennpunktschule, which is a school with many children from "problematischen Familien," and she reportedly LOVES Fack ju Goethe. There isn't a single prank that the students of 10B played on their teachers that wasn't played on her or a colleague in a less (or more?!) slapstick form. I just forgot to ask if any of their teaching strategies were also similar to those of Zeki and the supposedly unappealing Frau Schnabelstedt . . .
Being a glasses wearer myself, I don't really mind the cliche of the plain girl who suddenly becomes a beauty when she takes her Brille off. (It gives me hope, you know? LOL!) It may boggle the imagination that someone as pretty as Lisi Schnabelstedt couldn't get asked out on a date until Zeki came along (and that even Zeki needs a while to find her cute), but it is totally plausible that a teacher as sweet as she would struggle to be respected by the students she wants to help the most. It's basically the same issue, though there are different resolutions to both conflicts.
5. As for the students of 10B, they are not just the delinquents of the school, but also a kind of microcosm of modern Germany: "stock" Germans plus every immigrant culture in the population. And given the wide berth both other students and the faculty give them, Angela Merkel's famous observation from 2010 that Germany's attempt at a "multikulti" society was "absolut gescheitert" (an absolute failure!) seems to be represented as well. (By the way, don't think I didn't notice that the only [non-Muslim] Asian student in 10B has about zero lines. An unintentional echo of just how much of a peep [non-Muslim] Asian immigrants have made in Germany, perhaps? If so, then it's hilarious . . . but I'm stretching here. And in that case, shouldn't she be in the integrated part of the school?)
4. So what does it take to integrate anyway? Well, first you have to come to terms with your roots . . . or if you're "second-generation," your parents' roots.
This is why, in another example of "Immigrant Lit," Amy Tan's Joy Luck Club, an American-born Chinese woman cannot come to terms with her mixed heritage until she travels to China for the first time (See Locus Focus #99!), to meet the two older sisters she has never known. For in them, she finally sees what she could have been--but wasn't--because her parents chose differently for her. Here in Fack ju Goehte, Zeki also does some digging (quite literally!), to get to his roots as a low-class criminal . . . only to learn that it no longer has to be who he is. Because now he can choose differently for himself.
This is why seeing Fack ju Goehte as merely pro-immigrant propaganda is very limiting. Saying that Zeki is a "fake" German is like saying he is a "fake" teacher: there is a point at which he becomes "real" on both counts, because he chooses to be.
3. It's both hilarious and heartwarming to watch him becoming stereotypically German in ways he would have rejected just months before. But there's at least one loose end that doesn't get tied up--possibly because the logical conclusion would be too controversial. Something anti-German that Zeki does at the beginning of his teaching career is drop a slur about some students' "Nazi grandparents." That is terribly unfair--and even more awful coming from someone who is making himself at home in the grandparents' Vaterland. Yet imagine pointing out that one catch of becoming a "real" German is that, no matter what your ethnic background, you end up with Nazi grandparents, too. =P That is, it's no longer just "their" history; it's yours as well.
2. Communion is a consistent theme in Fack ju Goehte, whether the issue is national unity or simply fitting in (i.e., being liked) at school. All the significant characters start as outsiders in some way--and their happy endings hinge on their ability to overcome that. The moral of this movie is that if you want to have a good life in Germany, then you should follow German laws, use proper German grammar, appreciate German cultural treasures, share the burden of German history, marry German spouses, and of course, care about the future of German youth.
If you want to have a good life in another country, well, just make the appropriate substitutions to the above paragraph. =)
1. Finally, the real reason this kind of Teacher Movie appeals to me so much . . . I know exactly what it is like to feel like a "fake" teacher. Throughout my entire teaching career, I secretly feared that everyone would see through me at any moment. Although teaching had been the only thing I had wanted to do for years, and I was pouring my all into it, I also had to admit I didn't know what the heck I was doing. And no one was telling me anything! Every week I'd swing from the wild extremes of worrying that I was ruining my students for life and rejoicing that I had clearly made a difference with one or two. Then there was the humiliation of not fitting in with the rest of the faculty. It would have helped a lot if they had helped me feel like one of them--like a real teacher. I desperately needed that moment of transition that the protagonists of (Fake) Teacher Movies get . . . but I guess that just wasn't the genre of my life.
Image Sources: a) Fack ju Goehte DVD, b) Herr Mueller, c) Die Raueber von Friederich Schiller, d) Lisi Schnabelstedt, e) The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan