There were a lot of aftershocks from the First World War, one of them was a widespread desire to escape the horrors and decadence of Europe. A book Forgotten Fatherland tells of the colony in Paraguay set up by Friedrich Nietzche’s sister Elizbeth, in fact a lot of Germans seem to have headed to South America.
But Dr Friedrich Ritter and Dora Stauch abandoned their partners to go as far as possible to escape humans altogether, not just to the Galapagos Islands, but to an uninviting uninhabited island there, Floreana. Just to make things even more difficult, she had multiple sclerosis, so couldn’t be expected to pull her weight, though of course Herr Doctor claimed her illness was just a state of mind. Indeed.
But they were son joined by another couple of Germans the Wittners planning to live like the Swiss Family Robinson, who had chosen the island because they wanted to be near a doctor for the arrival of their first child. They were made unwelcome, but set up home near the only other spring on the island, and lived in former pirates caves.
Ritter seems really to have kicked some god in the nuts, because yet more people arrived, a woman claiming to be a baroness, and her two lovers, intent on setting up a hotel. This begins to sound like a prototype for Gilligan’s Island. They even manage to make a film about a pirates swashing her buckle.
Then disaster struck. A terrible drought put them all at risk, then the baroness and one of her lovers disappeared – allegedly they had set sail on a ship but nobody had noticed its arrival. Then her other lover fled, and I won’t spoil it for you. But there were several bodies, and the truth will never be known as all those alive on the island are now dead.
This is an incredible documentary, voiced in part by Cate Blanchet and with lots of home movie footage. Locals are interviewed, each one has a story to tell, of how their ancestors fled Europe for a new life, and of course they all have their theories of what happened. I love Dr Ritter’s nephew who philosophises on the sort of people who choose to live alone, and how if the problem is really with them, they take the problems with them. anyone who has read the story of Alexander Selkirk – allegedly the model for Robinson Crusoe – knows that getting away from it all is incredibly hard, dangerous life. He lived by chasing goats, but one slip, one twisted ankle and he would have starved to death.
This is not just an amazing documentary, given how much stuff there is on the subject, it’s incredible it’s taken so long to be made.