Zeugen! Ein Strafkammerspiel

By Haug / Kaegi / Wetzel

“The artificial trial reality shifts unerringly under the hands of Rimini Protokoll into an unveiling art project. The abstract turns back into its concrete motif and shows the obvious through side remarks. “

Berliner Zeitung; January, 12th 2004

“Rimini Protokoll conquers the gaps of the legal system bit by bit in a manner that’s just as sober as absurd.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung, January, 13th 2004

“Rimini Protokoll pulled off a great coup with “Zeugen! Ein Strafkammerspiel” (Witnesses! A play of Criminal Court Matters). “

Tagesspiegel, January 9th 2004

The judges of the Bundesverfassungsgericht (Supreme Court) needed new robes in 1951 , and the theatre helped out with fabrics: The curtains of the Karlsruher Theater were made into the official robes of the highest authority of German legal justice.

Is every trial a theatre play? There is no court-room without an auditorium behind a fourth wall of bars or security glass; judges, lawyers and public prosecutors seem like actors in a ritual of justice with robes. The order of the scenes is announced as if to pay justice to Brecht and followed according to minutes of the file; the life of every accused is presented to the court in a Kleist-like manner and placed upon the scales of morals and social circumstances. – A pretence of false facts? Using the Aristotelian unity of place and time, the trial-drama deals with official efforts to piece together a picture of the crime out of complex connections and opposing perspectives. Clues, perceptions and likelihood – who, in the name of the people is to believe?

Every day, the text of the law is interpreted and presented anew a hundred times in Moabit. And still, at the end there is no applause – but punishment or acquittal. The as-if theatre stands opposed to the real punishment, and the view of the theatre stumbles: not every one likes to be on this stage of catharsis. The theatrical nature of legal justice is inseparably connected to wavering of the audience between voyeurism, prejudice and facts. According to a Berlin prosecutor, only every third witness tells the truth Eight justice-professionals of different kinds take up their cases again for Witnesses!. At court, which is perhaps the last room free of camera, they were witnesses of the witnesses, on stage they become specialist performers of a trial in which theatre goes to court against the court itself as supplier of raw materials.

There is no courtroom without an audience. Every trial is a piece of theatre. The public seats are in front of a fourth wall made of bars or bullet-proof glass; in the criminal court of Moabit in Berlin, legal texts are re-interpreted and presented anew hundreds of times daily. But there is still no applause at the end - only sentence or acquittal. In “Zeugen! Ein Strafkammerspiel” a lawyer, a lay judge, someone who loves watching trials, a courtroom attendant, a female defendant, and a carpenter re-open their cases. In the courtroom (perhaps the last camera-free space) they were witnesses to witnesses. On the stage - kind of a model of the court made of numerous representative wood construction elements - they are the performers in a meta-process in which theatre judges over the court. But not all of them are speaking the truth.