Dung discharge on the Austrian National Theater: Thomas Bernhard's work that confronted the nation with its Nazi previous | Culture | EUROtoday

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“Everything is much worse now than fifty years ago,” says a personality in Heldenplatz (Heroes' Square). Everything was worse, Thomas Bernhard himself thought, as a result of in 1938 it was nonetheless not attainable to know the place he was driving the automotive. Connection (the annexation of Austria to the Third Reich), whereas in 1988, when he wrote the work, they already knew about it and the nation denied its involvement. And this was not stated in public.

At that point, historic duty had not but been formally addressed and the thesis prevailed that Austria had been Hitler's first sufferer. In 1988, the centenary of the Burgtheater, the Austrian National Theatre, was commemorated, which coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the Connection, and its director, Claus Peymann, commissioned Bernhard to create a piece. The author rejected him with tremendous irony (he proposed that he arrange a efficiency different: place posters in Aryanized institutions within the Nazi interval with the legend This enterprise is Jewish-free.), however quickly thought higher of it and agreed.

Before the premiere, passages from the drama have been leaked (“Austria, six and a half million feeble-minded people and rabid lunatics.” “There are more Nazis now than in 1938.” “Being Jewish in Austria means always being condemned to death.”) and an area tabloid launched a marketing campaign towards the work that unleashed the largest cultural scandal since World War II. The passages have been maliciously introduced as Bernhard's private opinions, not components of a dialogue, as a result of nobody had seen Heroes' Square. But it didn't matter, it was Bernhard. Between believing—as a result of it was an act of religion—the tabloid press or some of the necessary German-language writers of the twentieth century with a biting anti-Nazi crucial conscience, not one of the politicians who entered the scene doubted it: the tabloid.

The actress Birgit Minichmayr in a moment at 'Heldenplatz'.
The actress Birgit Minichmayr in a second at 'Heldenplatz'.Matthias Horn (Matthias Horn)

The nation's president, Kurt Waldheim, known as for the play to be canceled as a result of it was “a gross insult to the Austrian people” uttered by a playwright who had “abused the freedom of art.” Vice-Chancellor Alois Mock thought of it “unacceptable to pay for such a work with public money.” Former chancellor Bruno Kreisky got here out of his retirement in Mallorca to precise that the defamation of Bernhard couldn’t be tolerated, and Jörg Haider, chief of the far-right get together, paraphrased the satirist Karl Kraus to accuse the director of the Burgtheater: “Get this guy out Villain of Vienna!

Vienna's Heldenplatz was the place where a crowd of thousands cheered Hitler after the Connection. There resides, in a wing of the former imperial palace, the head of state, at that time Kurt Waldheim, who had been elected two years earlier in a controversial campaign: it was revealed that he had lied on his resume and that he had been a member of the SA and Wehrmacht intelligence officer in a unit commanded by a war criminal. A file that Waldheim had hidden when he was appointed Secretary General of the UN and that when it was made public in Austria did not prevent him from being elected president.

Paradoxically, the angry reaction was proving Bernhard right in his denunciation of moral corruption. The result was that the work premiered on November 4, 1988 with all the paper sold and under the protection of riot police. Protesters and counter-protesters gathered on the Ringstrasse, and a far-right militant in favor of Waldheim deposited a load of horse manure at the gates of the Burgtheater. At the end of the performance, muffled boos were heard with 32 minutes of applause.

Today the scandal, not just the work, has its own subject at the University of Vienna. It is also study material for a historical-critical edition of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW). Its head, Konstanze Fliedl, asked about the origin of the controversy and the possibility that there is a blind spot in the story, says: “There has always been the suspicion that the publisher Suhrkamp and the director of the Burgtheater promoted the 'scandal' . I disagree. The contemporary context (the Waldheim affair of 1986, the animosity against Claus Peymann and against Bernhard himself, who throughout his career had been a malicious critic of Austrian society) must be taken into account to understand that 'patriotic' resentments ', anti-liberals, anti-socialists and even anti-Semites found a very welcome solution by demonizing Bernhard's work.

Branko Samarovski in 'Heroes' Square'.
Branko Samarovski in 'Heroes' Square'.Matthias Horn (Matthias Horn)

36 years later, a new montage of Heroes' Square at the Burgtheater. On the superb rotating stage, a gigantic neon glows in Gothic letters with one of the invectives that Bernhard heard on the street: “They should kill you!” The adaptation was introduced with out political noise however with the uncertainty of discovering how a lot director Frank Castorf had risked in studying it. The Berliner didn’t disappoint, and that’s the reason the boos that have been heard within the first They appeared like a tribute together with the braves and the applause (eight minutes). It is the anticipated quota of spectators who don’t settle for that the Heroes' Square of Bernhard turns into the Heroes' Square by Castorf. In the preview he already commented that he felt like Mick Jagger within the face of criticism.

Castorf, a pillar of the scenic avant-garde and transgression from his productions in the GDR, an intellectual who naturally quotes Marx and Trotsky, fought against the cultural uniformity of Berlin after the fall of the Wall at the head of the Volksbühne. His version is a free interpretation that lasts five and a quarter hours, a middle ground—in case we are looking for a sense of balance—between his usual seven-hour adaptations of Dostoevsky and the three long hours of Peymann's original version. He takes the plot to New York, plays the Ramones, Nina Simone and the rapper Bibiza, and fuses Bernhard's dramaturgy with texts by Thomas Wolfe and John F. Kennedy, who visited Germany when the snake's egg was incubating. From Kennedy he rescues his secret diary, the record of his travels through Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany and of his doubts about the charm of tyrants. Castorf subtly avoids political cabaret, but his work warns of the threat from the heirs of Nazism. “Fascism,” says the German director, “does not always have to look like the fascism we know.”

As usual in his performances, the video is key. He already used it in the theaters of the GDR to avoid censorship with last-minute screenings and he is developing it now, with a camera operator who records live, to show different narrative planes of the staging. A giant screen goes up and down on stage during the play, turning the Burgtheater into an ephemeral cinema.

Franz Patzold and Birgit Minichmayr in Frank Castorf's version of 'Heldenplatz'.
Franz Patzold and Birgit Minichmayr in Frank Castorf's version of 'Heldenplatz'.Matthias Horn (Matthias Horn)

Everything takes place with a black and white photograph as a backdrop where a crowd raises its arms during a Nazi Party demonstration, and which underlines the original argument of Heroes' Squarea three-act drama about the mourning of the Jewish family of Professor Schuster, who fled Nazism in '38 and committed suicide fifty years later in Vienna convinced that nothing had changed.

Thomas Bernhard was very ill when he wrote the play, he died three months after the premiere. Then the final big controversy was revealed. As the character who breaks the fourth wall, the writer launched his latest offense: in his literary will he decreed that none of his works could be performed, printed or published in Austria during the 70 years of his copyright. . After a decade, his famous Suhrkamp editor, Siegfried Unseld, lifted the ban in a decision accepted by the writer's brother and heir.

He was always considered an heir to Kafka. And like him, he also has the will of him betrayed.

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