Thursday, August 17, 2006

“Away Mission III: Klingonisch”—part 1

So, I was checking out the announcements on Planet Xpo’s Star Trek 40th Anniversary Gala Celebration & Conference page and was saddened to see that Jason Alexander had to cancel due to jury duty. It really is too bad, but they also added some great guests to an already incredible lineup. As I scrolled through the rest of the page, I was reminded that we are going to see the Klingon band, Stovokor, on Friday at the Space Needle. Now, I’m into heavy metal bands like Iron Maiden, but I’ve never been a fan of death metal; yet, I have a feeling these guys put on an entertaining live show! You can check out some of their songs on MySpace and purevolume. To get us in a Klingon state of mind, I’m going to share some more excerpts from Jeff Greenwald’s Future Perfect: How Star Trek Conquered Planet Earth over the next few days.

By early next week I’m going to need more fan blogs, so send your story and photo to Amy Ulen as soon as possible.

Blog #19 by Jeff Greenwald
Author of Future Perfect:
How Star Trek Conquered Planet Earth

Taken from the chapter
" Away Mission III: Klingonisch "
…I flew into Düsseldorf and was met at the airport by Torsten Frantz, a tanky, 26-year-old computer scientist from nearby Dortmund. Frantz organizes the town’s monthly Star Trek dinners. Described by Frantz as a “non-organized culture,” the dinners are endemic in Germany. More than a hundred of them happen each month, in cities and villages across the German Democratic Republic.

My original plan had been to join Frantz and about sixty of his buddies for their Friday night gathering. Since then, I’d been invited to attend a bi-annual Klingon feast—a weekend-long Qet’lop—in the forests near Trier. My visit to Dortmund, I confess to my host, will be a short one.

With sun-starved skin, floppy blond hair and wire-rimmed glasses as wide as TV screens, Frantz is a certified member of Neogeeks Anonymous. Smart and serious, he bends over backwards to make my stopover productive. Our program begins with a lunch visit to Gaststaette Wuestefeld, the restaurant where the Dortmund dinners are held. Frantz proudly shows me the custom menus printed for the monthly events. A disclaimer appears on the bottom of the last page:

Dishes are served in the Klingon manner if the waiter is asked to do so—but you’ll have to look for a location far away from the other guests.

Among the incomprehensible menu selections, Frantz recommends the Uhura-schnitzel. It tastes a bit like chicken.
* * *
Star Trek was post-war Germany’s first real introduction to sci-fi. Frantz doesn’t count Shuttle Orion, a home-grown program from the early 1960’s: “It had such a small budget that electric razors, radio microphones and irons were used as props.”

Before the mid-80s, he explains, science fiction was considered entertainment for children. “Star Trek first appeared here in 1974, but you would not have recognized it. The censors of the German Public Network cut out the violence and changed the dialogue, smoothing whole episodes to make them suitable for kids.”

German morality, along with humiliating memories of the Holocaust, gave the censors plenty to do. They nipped away at the racey American import, shortening some episodes by as much as ten minutes. They wrote fresh, wholesome dialogue and dubbed it in wherever sexual innuendo might intrude. There is a famous episode called “Amok Time,” Torsten reminds me, in which Spock goes into “heat” and must fight Captain Kirk to the death. The dialogue was rewritten to make it sound as if the Vulcan merely falls ill, and has a series of amusing dreams. Another episode—”Patterns of Force,” in which Spock and Kirk visit a planet knuckled under a Nazi-like dictatorship—was banned for many years, and aired for the first time in 1996.

To illustrate this butchery, Frantz hands me a typewritten translation of the Star Trek teaser, as recited on German TV:

Space. An infinite area.
We write the year 2200.
These are the adventures of the spaceship Enterprise,
which, with its 400-man crew
is five years long underway, in order to explore new worlds,
new life, and new civilizations.
Many light-years distant from the Earth,
Enterprise forges ahead into galaxies which no man has seen before.

“Pure nonsense,” Frantz grunts. “Four hundred men? And it takes the Enterprise years just to cross this galaxy!”

In 1985 the first Star Trek movies—and unexpurgated video tapes of the original TV shows—made it across the Rhine. Episodes of The Next Generation began airing on private channels in 1989, though hardcore fans were already trading bootleg videos from the U.S. and England. The fan club dinners started in southern Germany 1981, many years before Frantz got involved. “So there were already lots of fans in Germany,” he said, “even before TNG.”

That evening we visit Frantz’s friend Andreas, a gangly, gregarious Trekker with a huge beer cooler bolted into a corner of his living room. He shows me his bedroom. The walls are papered with photographs of Rosalind Chao—the obscure actress who plays Keiko O’Brien, wife of the chief engineer, on Deep Space Nine. A satisfied feeling envelops me as I behold this shrine: I am in the presence of true obsession.

Surrounded by a dozen bags of potato chips and enough beer to fill Picard’s aquarium, I flop onto an overstuffed couch to watch the Friday night, prime-time broadcast of Voyager.

“I don’t know if I have the courage to show you the German treatment of Voyager.” Andreas hesitates apologetically, fiddling with the remote. “The voices have nothing in common with the American version....”

We watch it anyway, as well as a taped episode of Raumschiff Enterprise (i.e., The Next Generation) and the censored version of “Amok Time.” It’s the first time I’ve seen Star Trek in a foreign language. German works; the orders barked by Picard on the Bridge—especially during Red Alert—seem far snappier in deutch than in English, and the banter between Spock and McCoy has a sharper, more diabolical edge. Voyager is especially weird. Kate Mulgrew’s reedy elocution, problematic as it may be, is infinitely preferable to the voice of her dubbed replacement, who sounds like Olga of the SS.

My hosts bristle when I call the series an icon of American pop kultur. Star Trek is the cutting edge of a universal vision, Torsten explains; a mythos that owes no allegiance to borders or politics. It’s a template, a role model for an enlightenened contemporary lifestyle.

“It’s more than a hobby for me,” Andreas says. “It’s not exactly a religion, either but something in between. It shows me how to understand other cultures; how to solve my own problems in a way of peace, and not always with aggressive methods.”

My hosts agree that Star Trek has been an inspiration for Germany’s post-recovery generation. But they don’t see it as a blueprint for the human future in space. A myth spawned by the Apollo era—which ended when Torsten was an infant—need not compel its viewers toward cosmic journeys, any more than reading the Odyssey makes us want to cross the Aegean Sea on a raft. To Americans, Star Trek reflects a manifest destiny, a new space age to be finessed with American technology and know-how. For my German hosts, the focus is different: it’s the recipe for courage and resourcefulness quilted into each episode.

Late that night, while Torsten snores, I contemplate how Starfleet, with its Prime Directive and multi-racial crews, is the polar opposite of the Third Reich. Star Trek’s huge popularity in Germany reflects a generation’s complete rejection of the Aryan übermensch philosophy that led to World War Two. It is the irony of ironies that the first real flowering of rocket science occured during the same insane epoch—with the deadly technology of von Braun’s V2 rockets.

Be sure to check back tomorrow night for part two and meet some German Klingons!


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