Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hilarious Nazi Gags

This past week I was in Berlin working for the Fulbright Kommision. They had me interviewing German students who have applied for a stipend to travel to the U.S. and study at an American university. It was interesting to me to compare and contrast my experience this time with the first time I did this in 1994. We were in Bonn back then and Berlin wasn't yet the Hauptstadt. And I was struck by how many of the students we interviewed brought up the Nazi past and how they would deal with it as they traveled in America.

No students brought that topic to the discussion this time around and it seems to be right in sync with the renewed interest in German cooking and a willingness to fly the German flag. It's hard to be sure about cause and effect, but I feel this is related to a willingness to deal with the nazi issue in a humorous way. Take this short film for example. It started showing as a kind of mock public service announcement in theaters about 7-8 years ago. For those of you who speak no German, I think you'll find the sight gags still make it worth while. If you can follow the commentary, it's even funnier.

Dani Levy, director of Alles auf Zucker, did a Hitler comedy recently named, Mein Führer. I've never seen it, but I am familiar with the Kitler site. It features photographs of cats (Kätze) that look like Adolf Hitler. It's not strictly speaking a "German" website, but it's well known in Germany. I spent some time there and was amazed at how strong the resemblances are. I'm reading Art Spiegelmann's Maus at the moment and one of the conventions that he uses throughout the book is to portray the different nationalities as animals. The Poles are pigs, the Jews are mice and the Germans cats. On the front cover of most editions is a drawing of Hitler as a cat and it may have planted a seed in the people who got the Kitler website up and running.

Overall, it seems like a healthy thing that the nazi topic, and Hitler in particular, are finally loosing some of their taboo. I've heard it said that we'll know when the World War II era is really over, when a child born in Germany is given the name Adolf. I don't know if it's happened, but if not yet, it can't be too far off.

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