Er ist wieder da (Look Who’s Back) by Timur Vermes; Jamie Bulloch (Translator) (2012)
Fiction | Contemporary | Satire
“Berlin, Summer 2011. Adolf Hitler wakes up on a patch of open ground, alive and well. Things have changed – no Eva Braun, no Nazi party, no war. Hitler barely recognises his beloved Fatherland, filled with immigrants and run by a woman.
People certainly recognise him, albeit as a flawless impersonator who refuses to break character. The unthinkable, the inevitable happens, and the ranting Hitler goes viral, becomes a YouTube star, gets his own T.V. show, and people begin to listen. But the Führer has another programme with even greater ambition – to set the country he finds a shambles back to rights.
Look Who’s Back stunned and then thrilled 1.5 million German readers with its fearless approach to the most taboo of subjects. Naive yet insightful, repellent yet strangely sympathetic, the revived Hitler unquestionably has a spring in his step.”
pooled ink Review:
This fantastically creative novel serves as both a black comedy and a social commentary. It is a satire that never breaks character or panders to the public. Originally written in German and adapted into a German film this book serves as a hilarious, incomprehensible, and spine-shuddering intro to possibility in a society that has long tried to leave the events of 1939-1945 far behind.
I enjoyed reading the novel, written from Adolf Hitler’s own POV and filled with the lengthy ramblings of his befuddled yet mechanical mind. It’s unexpected and it’s brilliant. If you are at all interested in WWII, satire, or politics of present day (no matter what country you reside in) then I certainly suggest you pick up this book. If you’re not sure those are your preferred reading genres then at least watch the movie (currently streaming on Netflix).
The film adaptation takes the book, steps beyond the confines of the artfully simplistic (and humorous) cover, and expands the timeline into something that shocks your expectations further. Starting with an air of confusion, progressing into a roaring comedy, and sliding into a creeping horror before suddenly driving in the knife with a series of plot twists that leave your eyes glazed as the credits scroll across the screen, your brain at war with its reactions to what you just witnessed and what it impossibly implies.
Directed by David Wnendt and starring Oliver Masucci as “Adolf Hitler” the film records real present day reactions of Germans interspersed with brilliantly scripted scenes. This combination of newsreels, genuine reactions to seeing Hitler walk the modern streets of Berlin, and intricately coiled scripted drama, honestly gives this film an entire other level of twists and it’s blowing my mind.
The basis of both the book and its movie is to pose the question of what if Hitler came back? The answer is surely obvious but this story shows that perhaps that is not quite so. In fact the naïve belief that we modern intelligent folk would never repeat history is absolutely laughable, for isn’t that all humans are consistently good at? There are issues in this world (issues that I cynically doubt will ever truly be solved to the satisfaction of all) and people will persistently seek out any who can lead them to victory and solution. I mean just pair a charismatic leader with what we learned from the Milgram Experiment (1963) and yeah it’s not a far reach to see enthusiasm for someone we’d never believe we’d ever support. I mean Hitler didn’t take over Germany in a day. It took a nation of people. (Something V from V for Vendetta also tried to point out).
The director of the film makes a very interesting point: “Germans should be able to laugh at Hitler, rather than viewing him as a monster because that relieves him of responsibility for his deeds and diverts attention from his guilt of the Holocaust…But it should be the type of laugh that catches in your throat and you’re almost ashamed when you realize what you’re doing.”
This really is an interesting point because laughing at something so taboo can be viewed as horribly offensive and wrong. There is this constant conflict whether to brush it aside and forget or to latch on so tight we can never move on. This book (and movie) suggest we laugh, but never forget. We can laugh, but we should also learn. To think such events could never repeat is a very grave mistake. Furthermore it is extremely important that we not pin all of an event’s tragedies on a single person and write them off as simply psychotic. Hitler was a human being and he was put into power by an entire nation of human beings. It is never just one person, no matter how much more comfortable we might feel believing that.
“The German public in this film accompanies Hitler as someone who dominates the stage…he embodies a history that is incomplete.”
Director Wnendt continues by saying, “We’re highlighting that the danger of a resurgence is very much alive.” And isn’t it indeed? Everywhere I look the world clamors for an uprising. People seem to become inflamed at the smallest of offences and with the growth of social media many insurgences are sprung from nothing or from but a mere misunderstanding (and such outcries dissipate just as quickly from loss of interest or distraction by yet another offense to rally against). How often do you fact check before hitting “Retweet” or re-posting it on your Facebook page? How often are credited corrections or retractions shared on social media to douse the inadvertent flames? Oh not often, my friends. The media fans the flames and profits off of it heartily. Everything is connected. Nothing is unbiased, no matter how hard people might try.
And why would people ever think that our modern world has no place for extreme nationalism, communism, or dictators? People want what they want, and they want someone who will get the job done to get them what they want, and if that someone is clever enough then one by one deeds will be overlooked because at least they are out there getting it done.
“I remained in the role the whole time…some people completely forgot that I was only an actor in make-up and costume. They talked to me in a deeply earnest way. I quickly realized how they ticked and that they hadn’t learnt much from history.”
Look Who’s Back lowers your defenses with its absurdity, its comedy, and its dance with the taboo. Undeniably clever, forbiddingly hilarious, and disturbingly insightful, this is a story that can be read and understood by peoples across the world.
Note: I found most of these quotes from an article by The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/oct/06/hitler-look-whos-back-director-david-wnendt-interview).
Purchase here: Look Who’s Back
Meet Timur Vermes!
Vermes was born in Nuremberg in 1967. His father fled from Hungary after the suppression of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. After graduation, he studied history and politics in the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. Since then he has been a journalist for tabloids such as the Munich Abendzeitung and the Cologne Express among other newspapers. In 2007 he started to ghostwrite books, including a book by a so-called crime scene cleaner entitled What’s Left Of Death.