Is Germany finally ready to laugh at Hitler?
Last summer a Finnish-German-Australian film called “Iron Sky” premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. It’s a spoof about Nazis from space. Originally beginning pre-production in 2006, the idea of the film captured the imagination of the internet and sparked chatter before there was even a teaser to watch. When the teaser finally hit YouTube in May of 2010 three million people watched it and when the official theatrical trailer followed after last year’s Berlin Film Festival, six million people watched it.
Last week The Guardian reported that Timur Vermes’ new novel “He’s Back” (Er Ist Wieder Da), a satire about Hitler appearing in modern-dy Germany, has reached the best-seller list in that country and is currently being translated into other languages, including English. The Guardian notes Vermes intentionally presses buttons with his novel “at a time when Germans appear to be obsessed by him.”
Vermes told German press recently, “The fact is we have too much of a stereotype of Hitler. He’s always the monster and we can be comforted by the fact that we’re different from him. But in reality he continues to spark real fascination in people, just as he did back then when people liked him enough to help him commit crimes.”
“He’s Back” presupposes that Hitler didn’t actually die and wakes up after a long sleep in his bunker to emerge in modern-day Berlin. He accidentally becomes a kind of Stephen Colbert character, with modern culture assuming that his hate-speech is a sarcastic indictment of xenophobia. He becomes famous as a comedian and rises to power again, starting his own political party.
Hitler has played the banana in plenty of U.S. comedies, probably most notably in Mel Brooks‘ “The Producers.” But Germany has always been more reserved about its black stain and hasn’t quite allowed itself the same catharsis of laughing at the world’s all-time most hated villain.
Sounds like they are ready to start—just about. A German critic wrote in Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, “We laugh but it’s a laugh that sticks in the throat.”