Tonight is the first show of Herman’s Battle in Berlin, an interpretive work by Rimini Protokoll based on Heinrich von Kleists play Die Hermannsschlacht. I’m supposed to take my place on stage in nearly 30 minutes but I wanted to put on paper some of the thoughts I had about this play, Kleist and the content. Things that I feel are significant and I am not sure come through on stage.
Rimini Protokoll chose to interpret his play in the context of modern war and digital activism. (See an early narrative I wrote about cypherpunks, kleist, kohlhaas during intial discussions with Rimini Protokoll.) In many of Kleists plays the protagonist is one that is wronged by the system and then takes the law into his own hands for the sake and idea of justice itself. His plays were set over 200 years ago but despite the end of the feudal system they are as entertaining today as they were then. It speaks to a cultural sense existing today that says even in Democracy we have the class based distribution of power. At least, this is the general feeling regardless of facts. .
Hermannsschlacht however is quiet different from his other plays. It is an epic war tale speaking of unity and nationalism. Two ideals that some might believe Kleist had no patience for. In this play, in the first act, the protagonist Herman convinces his fellow tribe leaders that freedom is more than possession or power. It’s a brilliant scene from Kleists pen. Between the lines and in the context of the rest of the play you see how this leads to idealism.
There was a song in an early rendition of our play that summarized this state of idealism. Describing how the people and tribes are ready to sacrifice all to get even with the invading Romans. When we were discussing this internally one person commented after the song that they understood why the Nazi’s loved this play so much (which they did). But this brings the question, is revolution or drastic change possible without idealism and for that matter polarization as well?
Polarization, the idea that the intensity of a situation can bring a person or society to the willingness to make sacrifices, was another interesting topic beneath Kleists text. When the Romans invaded Herman had expected them to burn and pillage in a way that would force the people to react. He was disappointed when this did not happen so he sends his own men out in Roman uniforms to pillage instead. He is trying to polarize the people. Something that I try to express in the Herman’s Battle rendition but I feel somehow does not come through.
The discussion of Assassination Markets in the play and specifically a market that would pit participants bets against each other on a moral level, comes from a question that was asked during research: “If Kleist were writing the character of Herman today in relation to digital rights and activism, how would Herman polarize the people?” “Who or what are the ‘sacred trees’ of an organization such as anonymous?” This is where the idea started to develop. Yet at the moment I do know know if the connection to Kleist comes through.
I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to spend so much time with Kleist and anyone that has not read his plays or essays should. Many can be found online for free in both German and English. I simply wish there was more time or ability to get some of these thoughts on stage.
Rest in peace
Heinrich von Kleist
21 November 1811