By Christine Wahl
16.11.2011 / Der Tagesspiegel
“The Hermannsschlacht”, explains Karl-Christoph von Stünzner-Karbe, was an “old war“. The Bundeswehr (Germany army) colonel, born in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, decided on a military career because in his family “everyone was either a farmer or a soldier”. Having fled the place where he was born and bred as a result of the “Junkerland in Bauernhand” (Junker lands in farmers’ hands) land nationalisation campaign, he returned after the fall of the Berlin Wall to help integrate the GDR’s “Nationale Volksarmee” (National People’s Army) into the Bundeswehr.
Now Stünzner-Karbe stands on stage in “Herrmann’s Battle”, the new production by documentary theatre collective Rimini Protokoll, fervently reciting Kleist; “The plan is simple and easily understood”.
This can by no means be said of all the perspectives explored by Helgard Haug and Daniel Wetzel in “The Hermannsschlacht”, staged in this Kleist Year of 2011. As in their investigations of Schiller’s “Wallenstein” six years ago or Karl Marx’s “Kapital” five years ago, Rimini Protokoll’s Kleist ‘retouch’, with its so-called “experts on everyday life” is again pleasingly complex. After premiering in the Kleist Forum in Frankfurt an der Oder four weeks ago, “Hermann’s Battle” is now being co-produced with Berlin’s HAU.
Based on Kleist’s drama about the battle of the Romans against Germanic tribes in the Teutoburger Wald, which has been used in the past to highlight German nationalism, Rimini Protokoll investigates the extent to which the weapons and strategies of warfare have changed and which structural paradigms of patriotism and inflammatory rhetoric still remain. “Hermann acts on the basis of realpolitik”, is how Kleist biographer Rudolf Loch characterises the Cheruscian ruler in the programme notes, “All expedient means are acceptable to him.”
As well as Stünzner-Karbe, Remzija Suljic, who the programme notes describe as “a courageous woman from Srebrenica”, responds to the Kleist text with her own, very real experience of war, while “hardware reverse engineer” Nathan Fain brings the contemporary version of warfare via Internet into play. As well as ideal encryption techniques, this English-speaking t-shirt-wearer explains the Internet currency “Bit coin”, which can be used on the Net to commission contract killers and bet on the times of death of people in public life.
Peter Glaser, veteran of the Chaos Computer Club, can give us a great deal of information on hacking into computer systems and covering your tracks, but this also brings him back to the Kleist text, which he wittily comments on, noting that he is tuning in from his home in Spandau, not far from the former prison for war criminals. The youngest expert, “Facebook (counter) revolutionary” Barbara Bishay, shifts the spotlight to events in Cairo, which she initially followed via Facebook from Berlin, before travelling to the centre of the riots, to her family, where euphoria was increasingly mixed with doubt.
These differences between internal and external perspectives are good examples of how Rimini Protokoll again succeeds in revealing universal structures, but also historic differences by juxtaposing different points of view. Although the thematic setting – war and propaganda – is from the outset narrower than those in “Wallenstein” or “Kapital”, the purely scenic components of the evening remain –appropriately for the subject – comparatively static.
The theatrical action depends almost entirely on the “iron pumping electronic musician” Rummelsnuff, who brings us Kleist with adequate songs and a tank top worn with a short lederhose. This time the “experts on everyday life” seem more awkward than usual, shyer. Interestingly, that’s not at all a disadvantage for this dense, concentrated evening. On the contrary, it demands attentive listening. And that pays off.