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Culture 2015: People who left their mark

Sabine Peschel / ad, ss, cmk
December 30, 2015

2015 was a rollercoaster of emotions, a turbulent year with many highlights, controversial debates and farewells. These are the artists who moved us with their books, movies, art or music.

Bildergalerie Jahresrückblick Kultur 2015

Michel Houellebecq: 'Submission'

The year began with a disturbing coincidence: French author Michel Houellebecq's novel "Submission," about a Muslim president elected in France in 2022, was published on January 7. That same day, two Islamist terrorists killed 12 people in the offices of satirical magazine "Charlie Hebdo" in Paris. That week, the magazine's cover featured a cartoon of Houellebecq.

After the brutal attack, millions throughout the world expressed their solidarity with the victims with the slogan "Je suis Charlie." Houellebecq's controversial novel went on to become a bestseller, also in Germany.

Jafar Panahi: 'Taxi'

Berlinale 2015 Abschluss Gala Preisverleihung Nichte von Jafar Panahi
Panahi's niece accepted the award on his behalfImage: picture-alliance/dpa/: Kappeler

"A love letter to cinema"- that's how jury president Darren Aronofsky characterized the Iranian film "Taxi," for which political dissident Jafar Panahi was awarded the Golden Bear at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival in February. Although he had been barred from filmmaking by the government, he shot the comedy in secret in his home country, equipping a Tehran taxi cab with three cameras and listening to the stories of his passengers over the next 90 minutes.

The director, under house arrest in Iran, was not able to attend the ceremony in Berlin. But the award was received by his young niece, who had also been one of the passengers in the semi-documentary.

Helene Fischer: Hit of the year

Germany's queen of pop seems to have been almost more of a media figure in 2015 than Chancellor Angela Merkel. On March 26, Helene Fischer received the ECHO music award in Berlin for the year's most successful album, even though her album "Farbenspiel" ("Play of Colors") was released in 2013.

The single "Atemlos durch die Nacht" ("Breathless Through the Night") was the song of 2015, and it seemed Fischer could only top herself. And in December, she did, releasing her Christmas album "Weihnachten." It immediately shot to the top of the charts in Germany and Austria, becoming the year's best-sold album within a few weeks.

Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison in 'Homeland'

The first episodes of the fifth season of the American political thriller "Homeland," set in Berlin, were shot at on location in the German capital and at Babelsberg studios in June and July. All of Berlin was plunged into "Homeland" fever, as hundreds of extras were needed for the production.

Homeland Casting Berlin
"Homeland" fans lined up to appear as extrasImage: DW/D. Späth

The successful TV series, winner of several Golden Globes and Emmy awards, helped fuel a general enthusiasm for TV watching in Germany. Only one term could describe the phenomenon: binge watching.

Amos Oz, Mirjam Pressler receive International Literature Prize for 'Judas'

Exhibitions, symposiums, joint publications and bilateral visits marked the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel in 2015. The anniversary year, which kicked off with the Leipzig Book Fair in March, saw another highlight when Israeli author Amos Oz, as well as his German translator Mirjam Pressler, won the International Literature Prize by the House of World Cultures in Berlin for the novel "Judas"

Ai Weiwei makes Germany his new home

When the year's largest German exhibition opened in May in eight cities and nine museums of the Ruhr region, many critics wondered why the works of Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei were not shown - especially since "China 8" focused on contemporary Chinese art.

That question was answered when Ai personally made an appearance, after having not been permitted to leave China for four long years. He arrived in Munich at the end of July.

München Ankunft Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei now lives and lectures in BerlinImage: Reuters/M. Rehle

Ai has been well known in Germany ever since he first participated in the prestigious Documenta art show in 2007, and he continues to polarize. Claiming to have been misquoted, he was deeply embroiled in a controversy with the culture editors of the renowned German weekly "Die Zeit," accusing the paper of altering the context of an interview with him. Since October, Ai has been working from his Berlin-based studio and giving lectures at the Berlin University of Arts.

Jenny Erpenbeck: 'Gehen, ging, gegangen' ('Go, Went, Gone')

Erpenbeck did not receive the German Book Prize, for which she was nominated earlier this year. But she made up for that by attracting far more attention than the actual winner, Frank Witzel, at the prestigious Frankfurt Book Fair in October.

With her novel entitled "Gehen, ging, gegangen" ("Go, Went, Gone"), Erpenbeck wrote the book of the year, all about encounters with refugees and their destinies - by far the overriding topic of 2015 in Germany.

Rimini Protokoll stages 'Mein Kampf'

At the end of the year the copyright law for Hitler's "Mein Kampf" expired, 70 years after his death. Until now, distribution of the book has been forbidden in Germany. For a long time, however, discussions have been underway about how to deal with the book in the future.

Rimini Protokoll Adolf Hitler: Mein Kampf, Band 1 & 2
Adolf Hitler: "Mein Kampf, Volumes 1 & 2"Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Kahnert

Theater group Rimini Protokoll furthered that discussion onstage at the Weimar Art Festival at the beginning of September. In their play, "Adolf Hitler: Mein Kampf, Volumes 1 & 2," average people talk about their views on Hitler's notorious work. "The objective of our play is to demystify this sinister book," said Daniel Wetzel, one of the two directors.

Navid Kermani wins German Book Trade Peace Prize

Navid Kermani, the German-Iranian author and professor of Islamic studies, stirred up many political debates this year when he took a stand on the confrontation between Islam and other world religions.

In October, he was awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade for his work as an academic, a writer and a journalist. In his acceptance speech, Kermani lamented the fact that the Islamic religion was being abused in order to justify the crucifixion of dissidents in Saudi Arabia and the banning of the "most important works of contemporary literature" in Iran, sparking a debate among German intellectuals. Kermani ended his speech with prayers for peace and for the victims in Middle East.

Christoph Waltz vs. Bond in 'Spectre'

Christoph Waltz has risen to the ranks of Hollywood royalty since his award-winning performances in a number of Quentin Tarantino movies. In the latest James Bond movie, released in October, the Austrian-German actor got to play the role of villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the 24th film of the James Bond franchise, heading an obscure organization called "Spectre."

The blockbuster became one of the most successful British films of all time, grossing almost 100 million pounds (136 million euros) at the British box office alone. Waltz's skyrocketing career continues to rise: earlier in December, the actor held an emotional acceptance speech at the European Film Awards, where he was honored for his contributions to world cinema.

Til Schweiger: Man of the year

Til Schweiger Schauspieler
GQ Germany's Man of the YearImage: picture-alliance/dpa/H. Kaiser

Nearly 7 million people saw "Honig im Kopf" ("Head Full of Honey"), Til Schweiger's tragicomedy that deals with Alzheimer's disease. The German actor and director received even more media attention later in the year for his commitment to the refugee cause and his fight against xenophobia.

Schweiger started a charitable fund for refugee children, which the 51-year-old actor described as his greatest-ever achievement. The German edition of GQ magazine chose him as its "man of the year."

Nobel laureate: Svetlana Alexievich

On December 10, Belarusian author and investigative journalist Svetlana Alexievich was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in Stockholm. Her books tell the stories of simple people and, at the same time, reflect the history of an entire era reaching from the height of the Soviet Union to present times.

Alexievich says that she is simply a collector of stories, referring to her quest of gathering tales from people in the Russian-speaking world, which are often based on intimate interviews.


January 11: Anita Ekberg (83), actress and former Miss Sweden ("La Dolce Vita")

La Dolce Vita Film Anita Eckberg Marcello Mastroianni Flash-Galerie
Anita EckbergImage: picture alliance / dpa

January 29: Colleen McCullough (77), Australian author ("The Thorn Birds," "An Indecent Obsession")

February 14: Philip Levine (87), Pulitzer-Prize winning US poet ("A Walk With Tom Jefferson," "Red Dust")

February 16: Lesley Gore (68), chart-topping singer ("It's My Party," "You Don't Own Me")

February 27: Leonard Nimoy (83), TV actor known for playing the role of "Mister Spock" ("Star Trek")

March 12: Terry Pratchett (66), British fantasy author ("The Color of Magic," "Mort", Discworld series)

Star Trek Leonard Nimoy als Mr. Spok
Leonard NimoyImage: imago/EntertainmentPictures

March 12: Michael Graves (80), US architect and designer ("Portland Building," "Alessi Tea Kettle")

March 15: Mike Porcaro (59), bass player for Toto (the second of the three legendary Porcaro brothers to pass away)

April 6: James Best (88), American actor ("The Dukes of Hazzard")

April 13: Günter Grass (87), Nobel Laureate in Literature ("The Tin Drum, "Cat and Mouse")

April 30: Ben E. King (76), soul singer (band member of "The Drifters" and soloist of "Stand By Me")

May 9: Elizabeth Wilson (94), Tony Award-winning stage and film actress ("The Graduate," "9 to 5," "Regarding Henry")

May 14: B.B. King (89), blues guitar soloist and singer

B.B. King
B.B. KingImage: Evening Standard/Getty Images

May 23: Anne Meara (85), actress and comedienne ("The Stiller & Meara Show," "Alf")

June 7: Christopher Lee (93), actor ("The Curse of Frankenstein," "Horror of Dracula," "The Lord of the Rings" film trilogy)

June 9: James Last (86), finger-snapping band leader and inventor of the "Happy Music"

June 22: James Horner (61), award-winning composer ("Titanic," "Avatar," "A Beautiful Mind," "Braveheart")

July 10: Omar Sharif (83), Egyptian actor ("Dr. Zhivago," "Funny Girl")

Omar Sharif
Omar Sharif (center)Image: picture alliance/Zuma Press/Metro-Goldwyn

July 10: Christian Audigier (57), fashion designer "("Ed Hardy," "Von Dutch")

July 20: Theodore Bikel (91), stage and film actor ("The African Queen," "The Defiant Ones")

August 3: Arnold Scaasi (85), celebrity fashion designer (for Hillary Clinton, Joan Crawford, Lauren Bacall, Elizabeth Taylor and others)

August 30: Oliver Sacks (82), neurologist and author ("Awakenings," " The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat," "Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain")

August 30: Wes Craven (76), film director ("A Nightmare on Elm Street," "Scream 1 - 4")

September 19: Jackie Collins (77), romance novelist ("The World Is Full of Married Men," "The Bitch")

Irische Schauspielerin Maureen O'Hara
Maureen O'HaraImage: picture-alliance/dpa

October 8: Paul Prudhomme (75), celebrity chef from New Orleans

October 24: Maureen O'Hara (95), actress ("The Quiet Man," " Miracle on 34th Street," "Our Man in Havana")

November 9: Andy White (85), drummer, known as the "fifth Beatle"

November 9: Allen Toussaint (77), R&B musician, producer, and songwriter (composer of "I Like It Like That," "Pain in My Heart")

November 11: Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor (61), original drummer of British heavy metal band "Motörhead"

December 4: Scott Weiland (48), singer and frontman for "Stone Temple Pilots" and "Velvet Revolver"

Kurt Masur
Kurt MasurImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/S. Tischler

December 4: Robert Loggia (85), Academy Award-nominated actor ("Scarface," "Big," "Independence Day")

December 19: Kurt Masur (88), award-winning German conductor (New York Philharmonic, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestre National de France)

December 28: Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister (70), frontman of British heavy metal band "Motörhead"