Lars Amenda, Strich durch die Rechnung (Thwarting the Bill)

Hamburg, network bike / history, 2020

Hardcover, 110 pages, four-color printing, thread stitching, ribbon bookmark, high quality paper, 9 978 3949 139000, no price yet, German language

Occasionally you discover books that you think would be included in the selection if you had to pick one that you would take with you to a desert island. Every few years you find one about which you think why you know so little of the riveting topic and that you would have liked to have written it yourself. Amenda’s monograph on the feature film “Strich durch die Rechnung” with Heinz Rühmann, which was set in the racing cyclist milieu of the early thirties, definitely falls into both categories.

Rühmann? To the lonely island? This time, yes. It seems that in almost 90 years more will be forgotten than is commonly assumed. It is thanks to Amenda that part of this loss, which was promoted by a de facto ban on the film after 1933, has been reversed. You can see that Heinz Rühmann played in a film in his early work that did not serve to give those people who were suffering from the horrors of the Second World War more stamina (Feuerzangenbowle!) so that a criminal government could continue its war. On the contrary, Amenda states that the film dating from 1932 which he researched in his book shows internationalist tendencies, and that Jewish participation at all levels of the film’s making process was decisive.

So what happens in the plot that is roughly based on Fred Angermeier’s play of the same name? Rühmann embodies the stayer Willi Streblow, who at the beginning of his professional career has to make his way between the poles represented by Hanni Spengler (honest, serious friend), Gina Stern (fashionable lady and bike manufacturer’s daughter) and Gottfried Paradies (fraudulent manager of the aging cycling champion Banz). Paradise offers Streblow money to secure Banz´ victory in a race. The course of the race and other coincidences let Streblow win the well-paid event as well as the heart of his honest friend.

It goes without saying that here one should mainly look at the cycling side of the book, and this is where Amenda proves to be just as much a master of his craft as he is on the film-historical side. I don’t presume to discuss his portrayal of film history, but the chapters on it are definitely exciting and offer a lot of information and insider knowledge. The creation of a feature film 90 years ago is presented very readably in all its tension between the technical, financial, human and political dimensions.

The cycling part of the book is almost perfect. An introductory chapter on the part of cycling history leading to the popularity of the stayer sport in Germany can only be recommended as a basic, concise and well-illustrated presentation. The numerous illustrations, all contemporary and from rare sources, have been selected in an exemplary fashion and made me look several times to appreciate their wealth of detail. On the subject of rare sources: The film cannot be bought over the counter, there is only one, incomplete positive copy and, despite considerable success at the time it was made, this was later shown only very occasionally semi-privately or on television on a few dates around the turn of the millennium.

Amenda knows how to work out the mutual influence between stayer sport and the film industry in an understandable and entertaining way; His text is consistently accompanied by references to endnotes and thus shows the necessary scientific nature without the reader needing to have any fears of illegitimate copying. The bibliography is impressive and invites you to deal with individual aspects of the topic independently.

Another mainstay of the presentation is a spotlight on a short section of the local history of Forst / Lausitz, which was given a glitz of glamor while the film was being made, as the racing scenes were filmed on the Forst track. Amenda knows how to write local history in a relievingly sober, yet friendly way.

Is there anything that thwarts my bill? Actually almost nothing, but I find the strong sepia tint of the pictures disturbing. A homely shade of brown in the illustrations, which does not match the otherwise clear atmosphere of the book, overlays most of the pages. The serif font, which is actually easy to read, should also have been chosen a dot larger. The book is very well produced however; the quality of the print and binding is impeccable, the design is clear and the images are relatively large and make the book worth it even for those not able to read German.

All in all, Amenda’s book is a small gem that is quite suitable for desert islands.

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