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GoetheInstitute

15/08/2005

Merkel's a total cutie!

In the run up to the German elections Christoph Schlingensief finds himself in a schizophrenic situation.

Die Zeit: Mr. Schlingensief, time seems to be running out for Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. From a theatrical viewpoint, was he miscast?

Christoph Schlingensief: No, he was right for the role. You have to remember that he relieved us of Helmut Kohl. 16 years of Kohl, what a terrible time some of that was! Schröder was the right person but at the wrong time. When he arrived in 1998, it was the time of the new economy. You thought, now is the time of the manager, and he can do that. But in reality the new economy was already at an end, it's just none of us knew it.

Schröder's call for an early election was an attempt to play the hero again. Why didn't it work?

I don't see anything heroic about him. For me he's a 68er who just wants to get his fat balls out again. I can't stand it any more. If everyone thinks the CDU (Christian Democrats) are so great then they should singe their arses on the hot seat for the next four years, as far as I'm concerned.

Where did Schröder go wrong?

The process of understanding takes time. And we aren't giving ourselves the time, and neither is Schröder. He's just breaking off. Schröder has failed to tell us a story or produce images. Just think about that appalling photo from the last election, the Chancellor in those strange oil painting tones sitting at his desk at night. It looked like a suicide painting, the last hours in the bunker, gunfire is going off above ground. Didn't Eichinger make a film of this? Well anyway, I rang the SPD and asked why they'd come up with such terrible election posters. And I still thought it was possible to do something about it.

What would be a fitting image today?

Well, you'd have to show an image of 30 people on Hartz IV (new reduced unemployment money), all rather pale, no smiling into the camera, desperate-looking. Or a father of a family, cleaning windscreens for an euro. You see these are the images we have produced.

It's not going to be very convincing in the election campaign.

Of course not, abyss, catastrophe, it doesn't work. Although it could be good for the SPD (Social Democrats) in one way. You could show the same people again after 4 years of the CDU. Then they'll probably look even worse.

What image do you have of Schröder today?


Of Gerhard Schröder leaving the plenary after the vote on the motion of confidence, tiptoeing off round the back of his own people. There's nothing left of the media Chancellor. Liquidation is the only thing waiting – so off he runs! I know that feeling from the theatre, after a performance, when you just think, God what a night! Nothing is going to work, so just put your hood up and go and get some food, and make sure you don't go where the others are headed.

Does Angela Merkel at least work as a heroine?

At the moment people seem to be looking for a doctor more than a heroine.

Is she capable of playing that role?


Yes, I can imagine myself in hospital. Angela Merkel comes in and says, "I've seen your X rays, it looks catastrophic, we'll have to remove quite a lot, your leg will have to go, and you probably won't be able to talk any more afterwards. I can imagine her as a doctor. But I'd rather not have her as a nurse. I wouldn't want to cry on her shoulder."

You know Angela Merkel?


I met her for the first time on the TV programme "Der heiße Stuhl". We were talking about violence in the media, that sort of thing. And after all, I'd made a chainsaw film. Angela Merkel stood up for me and said my film didn't belong to all that, it was art. I though that was great. You see lots of picture of her, when she was young. I have to say I think she's a total cutie. How old is she by the way?

Fifty-one. Who would you cast as Merkel in a film?

Hannelore Hoger. She's got the same sort of boyishness.

Last year Ms. Merkel was at your "Parsifal" premiere in Bayreuth.


Yes, she came up to me and said, "I find your production interesting but do you really need all those videos?" We wanted to discuss it later in fact.

The federal president plays the deux ex machina in the new election drama. What did you think of Horst Köhler's performance?

Pretty unbelievable. There he was, a plasticine lump of a president. And all that stuff he was spouting! We have too few children and not enough work. Was that some sort of appeal for child labour? Of course he can't say what all the other politicians can't say, that the labour market in Germany can only be kept alive by workers disappearing. But it was too run-of-the-mill. No distance, no dignity whatsoever. Not even a bookshelf in the background. The speech was fitting for this country which exists of nothing but polls.

Köhler referred to the fact that the majority of Germans wants new elections.

Yes apparently 70 percent. And the average man takes three and a half minutes to have an orgasm. That's the sort of scale we're operating on.

Mr Schlingensief, when you look at Germany in the run up to the elections, what sort of a country do you see?


You know, I am in a schizophrenic situation myself. On one hand I couldn't give a shit about Germany and on the other I'm full of rage.

Rage?

Yes, rage. The general atmosphere of depression makes me furious, the utter idleness, this uptight existence. It seems to me that the whole of Germany is sitting on the toilet, groaning. You know exactly what has to happen for things to get going again but the German sits there cursing that there's no toilet paper left and that's why he can't do it. That's Germany.

You used to be more of a fighter. In 1998 you had your own party, Chance 2000, which you founded to give the unemployed a voice.

I'm afraid that politically I'm in retreat. I can only motivate myself by being anti something. For example, I can imagine Mr Westerwelle (head of the FDP party) waking up on the morning after the election, looking in the mirror and thinking, damn, I'm not foreign minister again. This image gives me vast pleasure. That Westerwelle thinks "I have to do this neo-liberal crap the whole time, I have put up with Wolfgang Gerhard (FPD party chairman) the whole time, and again nothing." I'll only vote to really piss him off on September 19. But that's not good.

It sounds a little destructive.

Yes I should vote because I'm for something. But I can't think of anything.

Nothing at all? At least there's less nuclear power now and more windmills...

I find these windmills completely bizarre. They have something apocalyptic about them. I can imagine them communicating with each other. No I prefer geothermal heat. My uncle heats his whole house like this and has never spent a pfennig on oil. The place is always boiling hot. And this is in Germany, it's quite something.

With your Chance 2000 party, you wanted, for example to flood Helmut Kohl's holiday house at the Wolfgangsee by getting a million unemployed people to swim in the lake at the same time. What has happened to all your energy?

During that election campaign I had at a horrible life-changing experience. We were driving around in our Chance 2000 bus when my girlfriend at the time got a phone call. Her father had had a bad fall and was in a coma in the clinic. Her mother had had a nervous breakdown. We got over there as quickly as possible. My election slogan was still ringing in my ears: Vote for yourself! Which means choose your own destiny. And then suddenly, clinic, intensive care, and people rigged up to machines. We stayed there the whole night, the next day they switched off the machines. And we just carried on with the campaign. That evening I was standing in Munich saying: Vote for yourself. You can do it if you want. I could cry now when I think of it. It was disgusting.

Then you'd had enough after that?

I could talk in every microphone. I could explain everything, I could clarify everything. But without I microphone I was just an empty carcass. I had no fear, no feelings, I couldn't cry any more. After that I went to Africa for eight weeks. It took eight weeks to get my fear back. I'm curious to know where Schröder will go when it's all over.

Fear is the focus of your project "Church of Fear" which you started at the beginning of the Irak war.

It's not about saying give me peace, but give me fear. Have fear, be scared because that's the truth. Seek the fear inside you. The worst thing is the permanent denial of fear. I might even start to like Schröder if he would face up to his situation, if he would talk about loneliness. About mourning, about failure.

Oskar Lafontaine and Gregor Gysi (the two politicians spearheading the new Linkspartei) are looking for the fear of others so they can turn it into politics. Are they anti-heroes?

No, at the end of the day, they're more like collaborators whose aim is to squash the SPD. Lafontaine is a little Alberich, a poison dwarf. Just that he doesn't have a magic cap but a hate cap. They're basically addicts who can't stop.

In 1999 you showed your theatre piece "Berliner Republik" at the Volksbühne, Berlin politics as art object.

A complete disaster. The first 50 minutes were good. Then right in the middle someone handed me a tax assessment for my Party. I had no idea about all the financial stuff and suddenly I was being told to pay two hundred or more thousand marks. It had something to do with donations. When I saw the demands my vision started distorting chronically and I had rush to hospital. Then a doctor said to me, "Bad news. You have a hypophyse tumor. We'll have to operate immediately. But it could happen that you have problems with your feelings afterwards, because they are regulated by the hypophyse." Those were the two messages of the day. Later, thank God, it turned out that the doctor had got it wrong. I've just got a lump in my optic nerve."

Mr Schlingensief, we are here in Bayreuth where your "Parsifal" is showing for the second time. Do you feel at home on the green hill by now?

The working situation last year was completely idiotic. Katharina Wagner made it out as if she would mediate between us and the Wagner family. But really all she did was some sort of family body-building between her father Wolfgang and her mother Gudrun. This time the Wagners have left me to get on with it, and that has gone down well outside too. I have been getting on brilliantly with everyone. We've often eaten out together and talked a lot. It's nothing like last year when I went once for some Asian food with them. This year by the way there was an Asian musician in the orchestra pit. The local papers got all excited about that. "First Asian in Orchestra Pit". It was like "Pekinese sings Tristran".

How was the premiere?


Amazing. The Wagnerians are all about 150 years old by now, among them a number of pseudo left politicians like Udo Bermbach…

... an opera expert who among other things advised Jürgen Flimm with his "Ring der Nibelungen"...

.... and who drivels on about primitive peoples and re-sacralisation. People whose world consists of self-pity. I love it when I step out in front of the curtain and see these zombies raging. One lady dripping in diamonds cursed me for destroying her redemption. And someone from the Swiss Wagner society complained that the grail was nowhere to be seen, and how it was always so lovely when it started to glow, so red. It was a disgrace that it was missing. I put my arm around him and explained that the rotting rabbit was the grail. Then I saw his pen knife fall out of his pocket. But the best moment was when Pierre Boulez the conductor took me in his arm. That was pure joy. "It's like the old days. That got the fire started," he said. Of course it's a joke that there are only five performances of "Parsifal". Bayreuth should open up, three months at least. The scarcity of tickets is just a marketing trick. Demand creates wealth, that's their motto.

What does your "Parsifal" have to say to Germany?


Germany can learn something from "Parsifal". It should learn sympathy through a process of understanding. We're supposed to feel sympathy for the people on Hartz IV, for our bank account, for Schröder, for East Germany. But that's not really sympathy, it's just self-pity. Symbols like Bob Geldof's Live 8 are not going to get us anywhere. Sympathy only exists when you don't have anything to eat yourself. There's also a need for real feelings, for religion, for redemption. It didn't really work with the SPD, they just showed us their wounds without offering us any redemption. Now we're trying it with the Christian Democrat religious society, or the Linkspartei sect.

Politicians make a mass pilgrimage to Bayreuth. Can they learn something there?

Of course. Politics always has to come up with results. It's like an eternal test in school, or like a great battle of singers. Each person has to constantly tune their voice because there's some important announcement to be made in the morning. And when they do, they know that the others will say the exact opposite within five minutes. You always know what's coming. For example at the moment you know that Friedrich Merz could become the Lafontaine of the CDU. And you learn that the pitch of the voice has to vary. That's why Westerwelle has no future. He can only sing one note, always the same sound. Merkel, Lafontaine, Schröder, Fischer, they are all better at it.

You live much of your life abroad: Africa, Iceland, maybe Brazil soon. Are you turning your back on Germany?

I enjoy these countries a lot because I feel much freer there than in Germany's narrow border system. But I still live in Berlin too.

Do you know what you'll be voting on September 18?

Is that really the date? If you only knew all the things I've voted for. Mostly strange splinter groups in the left spectrum. I once sold eggs in Oberhausen for the KPD/ML (German Communist Party/ Marxist-Leninists), one pfennig each. It was supposed to show how cheaply eggs can be produced. After that I found out that the hens did not benefit at all. They lived in abject misery. So I'm a swing voter.

*

The interview originally appeared in German in Die Zeit on August 4, 2005.

Christoph Schlingensief's numerous artisitic and theatrical activities are well documented in English here.

Tina Hildebrandt and Stephan Lebert are editors for Die Zeit.

Translation: lp.

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