Herr Bachmann und seine Klasse – Mr. Bachmann and His Class (2021)
Directed by: Maria Speth | 217 minutes | documentary | Starring: Dieter Bachmann, Aynur Bal, Under Cavdar
In Stadtalendorf, a German provincial town with a large immigrant community, the unconventional teacher Dieter Bachmann offers his students the key to the feeling of being at home. The students, aged between twelve and fourteen, often do not fully master the German language; Bachmann wants to inspire these ‘citizens in the making’.
‘Herr Bachmann und seine Klasse’ is a thoroughly serious film. We are used to that from Germans. Thorough and serious, it could be a little more light-hearted as far as we’re concerned. A Dutch documentary would undoubtedly have been approached differently, although Germany naturally has a special history.
Because whatever you can say about Dieter with his knitted hat, slumped posture and AC/DC shirt: it remains Herr Bachmann for the children, and Bachmann is the transmitter, however humane and priestly the message may be. In the Netherlands, the children are much more assertive and the leadership is looser.
Still, the approach of the Germans is worth considering. The informal Dutch system makes the transition for immigrant children, however welcome, quite big. For immigrant children, and there are many in the Hessische Stadtallendorf, a little directive guidance might be desirable.
Immigrant children have a hard time living in the snowy forests of central Germany, with parents who don’t speak the language. There is little to no choice in the country of destination. A stern teacher of good will – someone who can engage in real conversation might be what you need.
And that is Dieter Bachmann, in this lengthy documentary. The 216 minutes feel like real time, so as a viewer you invest a lot in the students. That is the strength of this documentary. Like Bachmann, we mainly see the real struggle, mainly in classical situations, which are depicted in real time or in real time.
What remains is a fairly serious image of the immigrant wave in Germany, and the veiled message (‘show don’t tell’) that people like Bachmann are desperately needed to connect these children. ‘Wirsprei das’ is a laudable starting point, an average education system will not suffice.