Premiere Critic: Rimini Protokoll’s "Mein Kampf"

Von Simone Dattenberger

03.10.2015 / Münchner Merkur

Münchner Merkur


Munich – The project “Adolf Hitler: Mein Kampf, vol. 1 & 2” by Rimini Protokoll had its premiere at the Münchner Kammerspiele. With it, the new intendant Matthias Lilienthal has brought an excellent theatrical work to Munich.
At fourteen years old, she read “Mein Kampf” (“My Struggle”), wrote a summary extract and gave the carefully typed pages with their makeshift binding to her mother for Christmas in 1965. Today Sibylla Flügge, professor of law in Frankfurt, is standing on the stage of the Munich theatre with that very booklet. She gives the piece “Adolf Hitler: Mein Kampf, vol. 1 & 2”, its first momentum right at the beginning. And with that first great swing, she and her comrades-in-arms Anna Gilsbach (a jurist specializing in human rights); Matthias Hageböck (a book restorer at the Herzogin-Anna-Amalia Library in Weimar); Alon Kraus (a civil and commercial in Israel); Christian Spremberg (a braille editor) and Volkan Terror, the musician and co-founder of the record label ‘Endzeit-Industrie’, the enjoyment, enthusiasm and the excitement of premiere night reach dizzying heights.
Once again, the Rimini Protokoll team – Helgard Haug and Daniel Wetzel – and the dramatic advisor and researcher Sebastian Brünger have demonstrated that they not only have a sixth sense for the right subject matter, but even more so for the right people. Without the intelligent and intuitive selection of the six performers, the concept would not have held, let alone worked onstage. Although the project “Adolf Hitler: Mein Kampf, vol. 1 & 2” came out on 3 September at the festival Kunstfest Weimar and is already a co-production at many theatres, Matthias Lilienthal, the new intendant at the Kammerspiele, can be proud to have brought Munich – once the capital of the Nazi movement – an outstanding piece of theatre.
The stage and video duo Jungreithmeier und Grit Schuster opened up the stage completely, using furniture to build tremendous shelf units with, naturally, books. The combination boxes also serve as a projection screen, for example when the historian Moshe Zimmermann makes a film appearance, and at the end, the walls become the book’s front, back and spine to the sound of the waltz “Mein Kampf”. It is in this setting that the ping-pong game of experiences with the book, the impressions, the background and content. The audience is showered so rapidly with knowledge and emotions, points of views and judgments that it is impossible to take it all in.
Along with the six performers’ personal passion for the subject matter, this strategy fends off boredom; nonetheless, two and a half hours are a bit taxing. “Mein Kampf” is an oppressive inflammatory publication, and the most common verdict pronounced for it is that it is “boring”. But many of the performers contest this, arguing that one of its most important lessons is the inner functioning of propaganda techniques. And at the end of the evening, the six players firmly situate the tricks in today’s world, proving how obviously contemporary anti-politics, anti-press and anti-foreigner clichés originated in Hitler’s phrase threshing machine. The team casts its net wide in general – after all, “Mein Kampf” exists all over the world. Terrorism that provides appropriate soundscapes and rap prompts laughter – otherwise, there is more giggling – with a Turkish manga version that spreads the AH biography and evaporates the murder of Jews. The ardour with which Kraus defends “Mein Kampf” is perhaps the most exciting thing. As a student, he read the book as if in a trance, and it helped dissolve his own writer’s block. He enjoys using it to provoke others and wants everyone (Germans, at least) to read Hitler’s volumes.
The six players use the alphabet game to lend some structure to the whirlwind of topics, going from J as in Jerusalem to O as in Opinion-forming, from S as in Subversion to P as in Pride. Spremberg quotes Hitler in a gentle, neutralising tone, reading from the book in braille and only once emitting a typical Hitler bark. Disassociations are related to satirists (a Qualtinger recording), the book itself (Hageböck quips about deluxe and wedding editions) or academics. The historian Othmar Plöckinger explains via video that Hitler’s text was neither special nor anything new, but actually very much in keeping with the national literature of the 1920s.
All the while, Gilsbach clarifies a number of legal questions: what will become of the waltz? The copyright will expire in January of 2016. But Rimini Protokoll doesn’t offer an answer to this, either. And that’s the best thing about the work that they do. The very best thing, though, is their respect for people. Haug and Wetzel demonstrate it first and foremost in their contact with the players on the stage; it is something that distinguishes the duo from many “normal” directors. And the members of the audience sense that as part of the production.
Wholehearted, surprisingly short applause.

Translation by Justina Bartoli


Adolf Hitler: Mein Kampf, Band 1 & 2