Armin Mueller-Stahl, the German actor who has settled in Pacific Palisades, recently returned to his birthplace in East Prussia to receive honorary citizenship. Oh, but it's so much more complicated than that. When he was born there 81 years ago, the town was called Tilsit. Since World War II it has been been part of Russia and called Sovetsk, and nearly all traces of old Prussia have been destroyed. As part of getting in touch with its past, the town invited Mueller-Stahl to come home. The German magazine Der Spiegel went along (in English.) Excerpt:
The mayor spent weeks searching for Mueller-Stahl to give him the news, desperately hoping to personally present Sovetsk's medal of honor to the famous German actor, musician and author who now spends most of his time in Pacific Palisades, California....
So why did he decide to return? "I raced through life for years, forever heading westward," he explains. "Tilsit, Prenzlau, Berlin, Hamburg, Los Angeles -- that is, East Prussia, East Germany, West Germany, the US … That's really as far as the West goes. If all you ever want is to go west, the world's not all right. Only when people start heading in the other direction, toward Moscow, will the world be all right again."
Mueller-Stahl likes phrases like that. Harmony is important to him. Artists must build bridges, he will tell Mayor Nikolai Voyshchev the next morning. Bridges over trenches dug by politicians.
That same afternoon he realizes how difficult this task will be.
Mueller-Stahl was nominated for supporting actor Oscar in 1997 for "Shine," played a cardinal in "Angels and Demons" a couple of years ago and the Israeli prime minister in four episodes of "The West Wing," and is a much-awarded actor in Germany. He starred with Naomi Watts and Viggo Mortensen in "Eastern Promises" in 2007.
Photo credit: Yevgeny Kondakov / DER SPIEGEL