Traitor or Heroine? Berliners Are Split over Tribute to Marlene Dietrich

Article excerpt

MARLENE Dietrich, never loath to provoke controversy in her lifetime, is now dividing her native Berlin after her death.

Plans to name a street after her have caused an unexpected outcry from residents, who are unable to agree whether the Hollywood sex symbol was a traitor or a heroine.

When Dietrich turned down Josef Goebbels' efforts to lure her back from Hollywood, the Nazi propaganda chief labeled her a traitor who had deserted her people. Older Berliners who lost family members in World War II were particularly infuriated by pictures of their compatriot carousing with American soldiers. "When she returned after the war, the unanimous view was `Marlene, go home,' " says landscape architect Hans Graupner, who is among those vigorously opposed to the tribute. "The war generation had little sympathy for an outsider who presented herself as a resistance fighter." One of that generation in favor of Dietrich is resistance fighter Hermann Kreutzer, whose father hung a picture of the film star on his wall in place of Hitler as an act of defiance. For him, Dietrich is a fellow member of the resistance, who helped Jews get out of Nazi Germany. "Like many others, I put my life at risk to oppose the Nazi dictatorship. I'm lucky that I got away with it," he says. "Marlene did the same because for 2 1/2 years she was at the front line, enduring all the hazards of war and weather." Another difficulty confronting the authorities is which street merits her name. One of the candidates was Tempelhofer Weg, a drab industrial road littered with discarded washing machines, bathtubs and syringes. The idea was to generate hope and renewal by renaming the street. The problem was that this asphalt Cinderella did not want Dietrich as a fairy godmother. Residents signed a petition voicing their disapproval of the proposal. Their objections were practical. The problem for the initiator of the petition, businessman Theo Assfalg, was the estimated $30,000 cost of printing new stationery. …


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