A photograph by Dieter Schwerdtle from 1982 shows the artistic director of documenta 7, Rudi Fuchs (born 1942), with one of his artists, Ulrich Rückriem (born 1938), in a closely entwined pose.


As a ritualized gesture of greeting, the so-called socialist fraternal kiss was a means of expressing solidarity and of identifying oneself as part of a political group. This intimate action escapes a homoerotic interpretation of the scene because of its name. Two statesmen, brothers in spirit, show themselves in photogenic, publicly displayed solidarity. This type of kiss became known through the photographer Régis Bossu (born 1944), who captured Erich Honecker (1912-1994) and Leonid Brezhnev (1906-1982) on his photographic film in October 1979. Both photographed men offered themselves the honor of a brotherly kiss after a speech on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the GDR. The prominent kiss painting at the East Side Gallery in Berlin-Friedrichshain was created on the basis of this photograph.


Whether a diplomatic welcoming ritual or a community-building symbol, the touching moment between men's lips becomes an icon. Sincere statement or attention-grabbing PR measure? It seemed difficult to withdraw from the established gesture. The Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu (1918-1989) is said to have carried small cloths of disinfectant tissues with him all the time to clean his hands intensively after contact with foreign bodies. He was horrified by the political kisses of conviction. The Polish ex-dictator Wojciech Jaruzelski (1923-2014), too, stated a long time after the defrosting of the Eastern Bloc: Even in the retrospective, Honecker's heavily wet lips made him shudder, saying: “He had this disgusting way of kissing.”


To what extent the two gentlemen Fuchs and Rückriem wanted to refer to the tradition of the fraternal kiss and how pleasurable the smacker might have been for both is ultimately up to the imagination of the viewer. The rumours and puzzles that this snapshot may pose to us remain unsolved, as do the puzzles of many other treasures in the media collections of the documenta archiv, still waiting to be discovered and read in various ways.


Michael Gärtner