INTERVIEW WITH ARMIN MUELLER-STAHL
Handelsblatt: Mr. Mueller-Stahl, 2019 is the thirtieth anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall and the end of Germany’s division into East and West. To what extent has unification actually thrived?
Armin Mueller-Stahl: Unification is a process that has a long way to go before it’s complete. Maybe it will never be finished. Because it’s also about emotions that have to be discussed again and again.
Handelsblatt: Could you have imagined that, thirty years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, East and West Germans would still have so little in common? Or is that not at all true?
Armin Mueller-Stahl: Unfortunately, I agree with your observation. East and West are still strangers. In order to perceive the current differences, it’s a very good idea to change your perspective from time to time, as I do.
Handelsblatt: You live here, on the Baltic, but you also have a home in Los Angeles, and you’ve turned your search for a certain sense of distance into the theme of your most recent book, Der wien Vogel fliegen kann.
Armin Mueller-Stahl: Birds see many things a lot better than we do. And sometimes I can see Germany and Europe more precisely from a distance. All of the egomaniacs and autocrats we’re seeing everywhere these days shrink to their real size when you observe them from above. Even the hotheads here in Germany, which is now a very complicated country.
Handelsblatt: Do you sense the East-West division in yourself?
Armin Mueller-Stahl: I was never a real Ossi (Easterner), because I once studied music in West Berlin and then switched to the east side of the city, simply because the theater there was better. I have to say, very frankly, that I never felt really good in either of the Germanys; in today’s united Germany, probably the best.
Handelsblatt: What is the alienation between East and West rooted in?
Armin Mueller-Stahl: The West Germans were in a privileged situation for a long time and tended to view the people in the East as inferior, to put it quite brutally. That might be different today. And some things are growing closer together. But this mistake of birth continues to this day.
Handelsblatt: What does “home” mean to you?
Armin Mueller-Stahl. I’m German by birth and a citizen of the world by choice. Home isn’t a place—it’s a feeling. Home is family, and language. And even though I can barely speak English, I still made it in Hollywood after my time in East and West Germany.
Handelsblatt: When the wall fell in 1989, you were shooting Avalon with Barry Levinson in the United States …
Armin Mueller-Stahl:… strangely enough, probably as the first German to play the role of a Jew, yes. I came home from the set late in the evening. Because I didn’t want to wake anyone up, I turned down the sound on the television and saw famous American journalists at the Berlin Wall. I was still thinking, how crazy, Hollywood really must be running out of material if they’re now falling back on the German-German split as fiction. The next day on set, everyone was congratulating me. That’s when I finally understood. And I wasn’t the only one with tears in my eyes—my Jewish colleagues did, too. Everyone who had really gone through the worst, because of Germany. And suddenly, the thing I’d always dreamed about behind the Iron Curtain had occurred.
Handelsblatt: You’re retired from acting, but you’re still painting. That’s the only job in which you can fly, you once said. How should we picture that?
Armin Mueller-Stahl: These moments of flight mean moments full of freedom—even if there isn’t much room to fly in the garage, which is my studio. Nobody tells me what to do there. I’m completely self-reliant.
An interview by Christian Rickens and Thomas Tuma. You can read the complete interview in the Handelsblatt. In this context we'd like to thank Allison Moseley for the translation.