FINDING A HOME IN THE WORLD OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT. Rainer Langhans is a writer and filmmaker who grew up in post-war Germany and co-founded Kommune 1, the first politically motivated commune in Germany, created in West Berlin on January 1st, 1967, and finally dissolved in November 1969. The extra-parliamentary opposition of the German student movement of the 1960s developed after Kommune 1, which was a community of ‘real’, loving men, and a counter-model against the small middle-class family that consisted of potential or hidden fascists.
Rainer, today how would you define yourself?
I define myself as author, somehow of everything.
Since Kommune 1 what has changed in your life?
It has not changed. I am what I always was, but I see it more and more clearly. That I owe partly to the commune.
And what are you?
In clinical terms I am autistic with weak Asperger’s. From the beginning on I was unable to fit into family and society. It was not my world. I was an alien. From childhood I said of my parents: “These are not my parents.” I was different from my siblings and the other children, so they separated from me by sending me away to boarding school at age 13.
What kind of family are you from?
We were a typical Bohemian academic family. My father was a doctor, my mother had studied, and I grew up in East Germany. My parents were bourgeois who thought Hitler was too proletarian, and they waited until he failed. My father had to be in the Nazi Party for professional reasons, but they didn’t like it.
“We knew as children that old Nazis were sitting everywhere in the government.”
An iconic picture of the naked commune, referring to the murder of naked inmates at Auschwitz and the still in power Nazis in post-war Germany.
You were raised as a child in a falling Germany?
What was the mood?
When we were living in Pomerania we heard the canons in the distance and had to flee from the Polish and Russian armies in the very strong and cold winter of 1945. We fled on big sleds with horses, and because the Allies were nearing we were fleeing without anything. It was very dramatic, and we were going into bunkers during the day and then travelling in freight train wagons at night. Of course there was no heating. It was very cold. My father was looking for heat.
Where did you go?
We tried to get to a boat to get away, but by chance we missed it and then it was torpedoed and sank. Instead we went by train to our grandparents in Thuringia. They were living in Jena, the most academic city of Germany.
How did your father manage the transition from Nazism to communism?
Not so well. As a bourgeois person my father was disliked and mistreated in the Eastern Republic regime. He tried to become a business man, but he failed. My father was the son of a very well-known doctor who had a big important clinic in Jena, and so he was somehow a playboy. He was a good looking athlete with blue eyes who drove racing cars and flew aeroplanes. He had to prove that he was an Aryan because his black hair was too dark!
You were young, but in what way were you aware of what was happening in Germany?
Thuringia was first conquered by US soldiers and when we arrived near this burning town of Jena the first soldiers we saw were Americans, including black soldiers, who gave us chocolate and all these kind of things. After a few weeks the Russians moved in, because they exchanged Thuringia for Western Berlin, and we had a Russian officer living in our house. My grandparents took away the picture of Hitler in their entrance hall and substituted it with one of Stalin. We had nothing to eat, but the Russians were friendly to children and gave us soup so we could survive.
Did anyone talk about concentration camps?
No, there was not a word said about concentration camps at this time, and not much more in school, but in this Eastern world there were much more modern educational concepts than in the Western. For example, I wrote left handed and that was impossible in Western Germany, but it was tolerated by this regime that did everything for the children because it was the children who would build up socialism. And so they were given more privileges than the adults.
You did well at school?
I was gifted in all the things you learn in elementary school, but then my parents moved to Western Germany. In 1953 they told us we were going for holidays. They said we were driving to Berlin, and we were able to go there by car as there was no border yet in 1953, but then from Berlin we went by flight with British Airways to Hanover, and from there we went to Cologne, where we spent one year in primitive houses for people who fled from Eastern Germany, and then we moved to Villingen in Baden-Württemberg.
You had to move around a lot.
What was difficult for me was that we moved from different kinds of schools, according to the different occupied zones. In other words, if the occupants were British we were under the British system. If they were French we were under the French system. Therefore I got very bad and had big problems in school. The only school near Villingen that I could find that was a little bit like the one I had before was in Königsfeld and was run by the Bohemian Brethren called Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine, who had built a free church. It was a very fundamentalist, Protestant singing community.
“I was interested in finding a home in the world of the human spirit.”
Until what age did you stay in that boarding school?
I was in that boarding school from the age of 13 to the age of 21 and then I went into the German army. I chose to go, I was not forced. I had a dispensation from going into the army, but I wanted to go because it was the opposite of boarding school, where I didn’t fit in because I didn’t feel like a child, I was very rational. I went into the army because I wanted to try other parts of society after this high-flying education, so I tried something basic, trying to connect with and understand people. The people in the army were very different from the people in the school, and I stayed on for a year and a half extra because then I would get more money to go on studying later, after my military service. I tried to become a Lieutenant, but failed because of my strange behaviour. I had refused an order, and this degraded me to a lower rank.
After the army did you then go to Berlin?
Yes, I was interested to see the students in Berlin, the people there were all draft refusers and exempt from going into the army. During the time that I was in the army I discovered that I was interested in finding a home in the world of the human spirit, a life that was the opposite of the army life. I went from religion at boarding school to the no-spirit of the military, and was unsatisfied and trying to find a world and a greater society that I could live in.
Are we now approaching the ‘68 Movement?
I tried to get nearer to students, poets, writers and cultural people, but I saw that was also not my world. In the end I found one small group of academics, professors of the Free University of Berlin, working outside the University on the discovery of what our parents did, on their fascism. They did this by the Frankfurt School: through Freud and psychoanalysis and Marxism, through Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, Herbert Marcuse. They built up a school into an institute, and later I got to know Marcuse when he visited Germany. We read the books of all these people, but they didn’t know enough to understand what had happened. They helped a lot, but when we became active they were against us, calling us ‘Left Fascists’. Our group, the ‘Argument Club’, edited a small periodical called ‘Das Argument’ in which we showed what we had discovered, the ‘Critical Theory’ and a theory of Totalitarianism. We identified and named the authoritarian personality, and this became the centre of the anti-fascistic ideology that the student movement then used.
This was when your conscience opened to the anti-fascistic fight which you continue to this day. Were you horrified by Nazism?
Yes, but more than that. We knew as children that old Nazis were sitting everywhere in the government, and we feared that they could influence us and that they would establish a new fascism.
What did you decide to do?
To say to people: “Be cautious.” Mostly they hid their Nazism and masked themselves as democrats. The Adenauer paternalistic regime of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) was not a democracy. We tried to show what was behind the mask by making studies, and to enlighten people as to what was really going on. I wanted to be practical with my convictions and knowledge, so I went directly into the most active student organisation of Germany, the SDS (Socialistic German Students Association or ‘Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund’), and in 1966 I became chairman of the Berlin SDS. In the SDS parts of the activists developed the idea of the commune: that we must live in communes, otherwise we won’t survive. The Kommune 1 group developed from 1st January, 1967. We had a big retreat, living in a small room, 8 people together day and night, and nobody was allowed to go out. We were analysing what we were seeing inside of us, and talking to each other about the fascistic heritage of our murdering parents. We finally discovered loving, real humans inside ourselves.
How long did this last?
Three months in this strong retreat, and then we planned an action. This was the so-called “pudding assassination” of the visiting American Vice-President Hubert Horatio Humphrey in April 1967 and was when I got arrested. Kommune 1 lasted from the beginning of ‘67 to the autumn of ‘69. I was the last one of the founder generation. At that time the people of Kommune 1 were like pop stars. We were seen as sex freaks, horrifying normal people.
Why did you put your private life on display?
In the commune there was no sex, no relationships between men and women. Our feelings were beyond sex and gender. We were only humans, loving each other and knowing all about us. We had no privacy and no one had any property, sharing all and communicating all we were revolutionising our daily life, and there was no possessive man and woman relationship. With this common tenderness, and no sex, we became very successful, and therefore hoped all people would live in communes. But they didn’t, and we receded into a subculture and rented a big warehouse loft space of 200 square metres to live in. We looked inside again, because we knew our enlightenment had disappeared, and we tried to get back to that. When you have lived for a long time in paradise you can’t live in hell again. There were two possible main techniques we knew of. One was political revolution; the other was sex, drugs and rock and roll. These are old Bohemian techniques for ecstatic experiences.
So what did you choose?
Not the active political thing. We were doing the so-called hedonistic thing, and I developed a kind of sexual revolution and propagated psychedelic drugs.
Rainer Langhans with his father in Jena in 1950.
Rainer Langhans as a young soldier in the Bundeswehr
Rainer with Uschi Obermaier 1969 in Berlin
Rainer at the age of 14 on his father’s motorbicycle.
Rainer dancing in the street at a happening of the commune for total love, no gender (Berlin 1967)
Rainer with Jutta Winkelmann, establishing a female commune called “Harem” 1974
“A new real human world is possible.”
You had understood by then that you would not change society?
Yes, they couldn’t change their life by following us. I got into this world by this so-called ‘68 feeling. Now this crazy new world was my world. With this ’68 feeling I found my home. But this home went away from us after a year, so we were all looking for a return to this wonderful world, where sexuality was not so interesting. I was always looking for how to live in an alien world, and now I had found it.
What happened next?
I met Uschi Obermaier and the whole subculture scene at The International Song Days in Essen, the so-called German Woodstock, happened one year before the American Woodstock. Uschi was part of a band and a commune called Amon Düül. We propagated open sexuality together for some years before we broke up because I didn’t come back to my home.
Some other people said they must actively defend themselves from their parents. People like Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof?
I was 29 when I almost lost my life. I was not shot by policemen, but I got seriously ill. I didn’t want to go into the war with the parents and therefore was considered a traitor and kicked out of the movement. I didn’t like violence because I had learned in the army that this way was impossible.
You always followed your principles?
I was stumbling through this world, but I didn’t want to follow violence so I was kicked out of Western Berlin and went to Munich, where Uschi came from, into a commune of only women. We founded many communes, but I was sentenced to jail for drug dealing because we were busted when they found some marijuana and LSD in my bag and therefore said I was a dealer. I stopped taking any drugs in 1971 because they didn’t replicate the ‘68 feeling.
Did you go to India?
No, I understood that India is inside of me. When I was in the dying process of this illness I found a book named ‘The Path of the Masters’, written by an American called Julian Johnson about his experiences with a living Indian master. By that book I finally understood what we had experienced in ‘68: spirituality. And I met my master on his world tour, and was initiated here. He showed me a practical way to get into that ‘68 feeling, and more.
What did you then do with your life?
After I was initiated I lived in a very simple way. My master said: “Simple life and high thinking.” I tried to get inside of myself and to get outside of my body, through meditation to experience the real dying by going outside materialism into the real world inside. I was living by doing small jobs for little money and renting small rooms that people didn’t use. I was only surviving; and especially meditating.
Do you still live like that?
So you haven’t changed?
People say I have changed.
Do you have a job?
I am not a film maker or a writer or an actor or a therapist. I never thought of a career. I am here because of my inner side. In 1972 I created a women’s commune with Jutta and Anna and Brigitte and Gisela that the people called ‘Harem’.
Is it possible to describe this inside world?
You can’t describe it. The private is political and that’s the future. We decided to develop these private, inside, innermost recesses, and therefore knowing ourselves, and then coming from there to knowing God.
But what about society?
Now there is the Internet, which was created and invented by ‘68 experienced people, and lets people live in communes beyond materialism and beyond their bodies. We saw in ‘68 that capitalism is not good. We saw a world which is so much more real. Our thing was to become really human, and this is possible. The new consciousness says that this was the preview of the world to come, and now after 50 years we are seeing it again, and we see it mostly in the Internet. A new real human world is possible. That’s inside of us. In my analysis it means no more capitalism; peace and love; another world. Capitalism’s last and acutest form is fascism.
Are you a better man now?
Of course. Now I can love people, and find them nice.
How is Germany today compared to when you were young?
I think that Germany has learned much from its Nazi past, from its fascism. Not enough, but more than others. They have learned the principles of the ’68 people, that there should be no more fascism, no more war. There is peace which is not found in the materialistic, capitalistic world we now live in. By the Internet we will be more and more conscious of this most real world which is inside of us, but we fear this consciousness so much that we see the Internet now as upcoming fascism. We will go through this fear. I have done it and so will we all.
Munich, August 2018
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