By Otto Paul Burkhardt
16.11.2015 / Südwest Presse
On the internet, leather-bound, in Turkish: Despite the ban on it, “Mein Kampf”(“My Struggle”) is easy to access. Starting in 2016, the book can be printed once again. The group Rimini Protokoll takes a close look at it in a documentary and very cool way.
The Nazi paraphernalia business is booming. It’s hard not to be cynical about it; Hitler drones on, he’s always sure to fill the coffers. Down to the recent führer garment “he’s back”. Laughter liberates, they say, and disarms even the wickedest of demons.
Laughter is definitely allowed when it comes to the group Rimini Protokoll, who has been searching for new forms of documentary theatre for more than 20 years now. But their latest production, matter-of-factly entitled “Adolf Hitler: Mein Kampf, vol. 1& 2” is more about collecting facts. Lifting the myth-fog. The occasion is obvious: since its copyright protection will expire at the end of this year, the book can be printed again as of 2016. After premiering in Weimar, the piece was performed in Graz, Munich and Zurich, and is currently at the National Theatre in Mannheim.
The evening brings together an abundance of facts about the book (which had been printed in 12.5 million copies by the end of WW2), and it does so despite all of the qualms and fears involved in being in close contact with it. Pretty cool. Feasible? No, because it costs enormous effort to study a pamphlet that lays an ideological foundation for the “extinction” of the Jewish people. But then, yes – because it is the only way to clear out the rubbish of legends that surround the book and clear the way for a straight look.
What do we experience? All in all, a compelling investigative account sheet, full to the brim with numbers and data, flanked with entertaining titbits and question-and-answer games to lighten things up a bit. As is always the case with Rimini Protokoll, there are no actors onstage, but “everyday experts” – a judge, a lawyer, a book restorer, an Israeli jurist, a Turkish rapper and a blind radio editor who reads passages from the book in an oppressively calm fairy-tale voice, hands moving deftly over the braille. We learn that the National Socialistic propaganda didn’t mind if the “simple housewife” stored the “Book of the Germans” – which was also distributed at weddings – “with the bible and the cookbook”. We see the book restorer, who well-nigh collapses under the towering pile of available editions – including the Gauleiter leather editions and translations from Morocco, India and Indonesia. And we are horrified by the fatal parallels that can be drawn to the recent attacks in France. Even Othmar Plöckinger, one of the academics working on the planned, annotated edition, makes a video appearance.
And to avoid committing the offence of public incitement of hatred, the performers can only pass the book to a single member of the audience, a woman sitting in row 5, seat 7. The evening had its long moments though, but that’s no wonder; the resurfacing emptiness is a feature of the book itself. And we are reminded of Hitler’s fundamental attitude – the justification-writings of a failure –often enough by all of the conspiracy theoreticians spreading their gospels of hate on Facebook or wherever nowadays. In short, the long stay in the taboo zone of “Mein Kampf” is worth every minute. Long-lasting applause.
New forms of documentary theatre
The Berlin collective has been tested new forms of documentary theatre for the past 20 years, for example pronouncing a Daimler shareholders’ meeting a theatrical performance or letting the members of the audience become the delegates of a global climate conference. The performers onstage in Rimini Protokoll’s investigative projects are not actors, but people who bring their knowledge as “everyday experts”. In 2007, Rimini Protokoll participated in the “Endstation Stammheim” (‘Last Stop Stammheim’) series in Stuttgart. The piece “Quality Control”, about a quadriplegic woman paralysed from the neck down, has been touring since 2013. Experts call Rimini Protokoll’s pieces a “new definition of documentary theatre”.
Translation by Justina Bartoli