The German avant-garde group Einstürzende Neubauten’s name means “collapsing new buildings” in English; it points to a couple of relevant things as far as the RAF is concerned:
1. They were young, they collapsed.
2. The name can refer to the state of Germany – and/or its youths – to youths growing up just after the Second World War.
The RAF – also referred to as the Baader-Meinhof group – seems to me a desperate yet affectionate bunch of terrorists. They had strong political beliefs, wanted to topple the imperialist establishment with their theological basis lifted from hard-core leftist/anarchist believers who thought theory was of little use; “the gun speaks” is one of their axioms.
In short, a very charismatic leader – Andreas Baader – met Gudrun Ensslin – a preacher’s daughter – and gelled together politically and as lovers. They adopted the feel of the changing times and extreme frustration over the fact that a lot of people talked but did nothing. They started fires in German department stores and conspired further.
I think the very moment they recruited Ulrike Meinhof, at the time a respected and well-known political reporter and documentary film-maker, as she helped to spring Baader from custody and in the process killing a security guard, is the breaking-point where all was let loose for the RAF. Everything must go. The gun spake.
From there, they went underground. And they went abroad, making sure that Baader-Ensslin could rule the band and that very little that was critique against them could escape unhurt – and that went both for people on the inside and the outside.
The RAF assassinated, kidnapped, robbed and created propaganda and terror all throughout their maintenance; against popular belief, the group existed even after the suicides/murders in the Stannheim prison in 1978, when the founding members and additional members were found dead – except for one survivor.
The author does a splendid job at remaining fairly objective while binding facts to the RAF’s belief-system, thus creating a bird’s-eye view of the entire matter. The book is mostly chronologically written, but starts off with the Stannheim deaths in a very strong way.
Did the German government wire-tap the prisoners’ cells during the night of their deaths? Did they in fact allow the guns that killed some of the prisoners to be imported? Did they know of a suicide pact and totally failed to prevent it? Were the prisoners in fact murdered or did they commit suicide? We’ll probably never know.
Aust has also been involved with the screenwriting for the film with the same name as this book, which I think is very good too. The book, however, delves a lot deeper and especially exposes Baader as a more two-faced and hypocritical person than I think the film did.
The RAF did do something, which was their forté; the fact that they killed people at all is despicable, but didn’t the government do the same in the process?
All in all, this is a thoroughly interesting book which could be considered great company with Olivier Assayas’ great three-piece documentary on Carlos Sanchez, titelled “Carlos”.