German Joys Trivia Contest II
German Joys in Welt Kompakt

Bring me the Heads of Jesus, Poseidon, Mohammed, and Buddha

Defending the German city of Bielefeld from charges of stuffiness, Max Goldt once remarked: "You can buy T-shirts there with the slogan gloriously disrespectful on them everywhere, and somewhere in the back there's also an outrageous city theater, where masturbating and defecating actors throw warm intestines onto burning American flags; that's what I call an exciting intellectual atmosphere!"

Lest anyone think this is merely a satirical aside, I give you this news story (G) from the FAZ (my translation):

The suspension of performances of the Mozart Opera "Idomeneo" in Berlin out of concern over possible Islamic protests is meeting with criticism, especially from [conservative] CDU politicians. Interior Minister [Wolfgang] Schäuble described this step as "ludicrous and inacceptable."


[Stage Director] Hans Neuenfels, who is known for his tendency to provocation, calls for King Idomeneo to present the hacked-off heads of Poseidon, Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed to the audience. This scene also triggered strong protests from the audience during the the staging's premiere in December 2003.

One Muslim leader in Germany praised the suspension of performances, but Kenan Kolat, Federal President of the Turkish Community of Germany, defended the performance: "Art must be free."

I confess I've never understood the German tendency to stuff perfectly ordinary Mozart operas full of hacked-off Mohammed heads, bodily fluids, or elderly female dwarves making the Hitler salute. It's gone far beyond self-parody here -- I doubt there is any variation on shit, sex, and swastikas that hasn't yet been tried.

Don't get me wrong: I'm as open as anyone to innovative stagings and have no problem with nudity. But where does the specifically German obsession with bodily fluids on stage come from? If it's necessary to shock the bourgeois audience, well, you can ruin their evening, but do you seriously think you'll change their mind? Has a Siemens executive ever retired and joined Attac after seeing a Verdi staging in which a well-dressed German businessman urinates on naked, writhing slaves while negotiating a merger on an expensive cellphone?

Also, I've always wondered about the practical aspect. Do actors learn how to regulate their fluid intake before the play, in order to have enough urine to extinguish the burning American flag? Don't the cleaning staff ever protest at having to mop up after the performances? When the directors instruct the actors on the sequence in which they're supposed to masturbate or copulate, don't the actors ever raise their hand and say, "Geez, I don't mean to sound like a philistine here, but what does me screwing Ted in front of 2500 strangers have to do with the plot of Lohengrin?"

Any thoughts?