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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 January 2007, 17:05 GMT
Germans learn to laugh at Hitler
By Steve Rosenberg
BBC Berlin correspondent

Weekday evenings in Berlin are normally pretty calm affairs. But not this one.

Adolf Hitler in the bath in the film Mein Fuehrer
Not the view Germans are used to
In the city centre, rowdy photographers crowd round a man who is doing the kind of impressions you don't usually see here done in public.

He has put one finger under his nose like a fascist moustache, and has one leg raised in the air as if he is about to goose-step down the street.

This is not some kind of illegal neo-Nazi demonstration - it's the red carpet at a film premiere.

In the cinema behind, they are about to show Germany's first ever mainstream comedy about Adolf Hitler.

The film, Mein Fuehrer - the Truly Truest Truth about Adolf Hitler, shows a dramatically different image of the Nazi leader from the one Germans are used to seeing at their cinemas.

'Bumbling buffoon'

In one scene, Hitler, played by a top German comedian, is splashing about in the bath with his toy battleship.

I felt I needed a new approach... to have a better understanding of what made German people follow Hitler
Director Dani Levy

When he is told there is a plot to kill him, he sinks under the suds.

This Hitler is a manic depressive, who is sexually impotent and wets his bed. He is reduced to a bumbling buffoon.

The film is written and directed by Swiss-born Jewish director Dani Levy.

"Making comedies about hateful people is weird! Usually you're making comedies about people you really love," he told the BBC.

"As a Jewish person who's been living in Berlin more than 25 years, I felt I needed a new approach, and create a comedy to deconstruct the Nazi figures, to have a better understanding of what made German people follow Adolf Hitler."

Collective guilt

More than 60 years after his death, Adolf Hitler's murderous rule still feeds a sense of collective guilt, and collective responsibility in Germany.

Stars of film Mein Fuehrer at opening night in Berlin
The film launched in Berlin on Wednesday

But Germans are learning to laugh out loud about some aspects of the Nazi regime.

Last year Rudolph Herzog published a collection of Hitler jokes.

"In the 1960s, the younger generation - the sons and daughters of the perpetrators - were asking hard questions," Rudolph says, "and making jokes about the subject would have been totally inappropriate in their eyes.

"Now there's a new generation and I guess we have a more distant view. Without neglecting the horrors of what happened we can also see the ridiculousness of the top brass in this regime".

Hitler is surrounded by horrifying creatures, like Goebbels and Goering, everyone is using him like a puppet - this is something I find quite dangerous
Knut Elstermann
Film critic

Back in the film, the crazy Fuehrer is in a flap.

Too depressed to give his big speech to the people, he demands that a former acting coach, who is Jewish, be brought in to help boost his confidence.

In this picture, Adolf Hitler comes across as a sick, weak individual, used by those around him.

Film critic Knut Elstermann believes that is a big mistake.

"As a viewer of that movie, I see Hitler as a child," Knut told me.

"He had a horrible childhood, so he is traumatised and I feel some pity for him. He is surrounded by horrifying creatures, like Goebbels and Goering, everyone is using him like a puppet.

"This is something I find quite dangerous, because Hitler is responsible for everything that happened in Germany, and especially the Holocaust."

As Mein Fuehrer hits cinema screens across Germany, what is interesting is that the debate here is no longer about whether it is right or wrong to laugh about Hitler.

Even local Jewish groups have said they have nothing against making fun of the Nazis.

The question is what kind of jokes and what kind of humour are appropriate, and - ultimately - whether the film is good or bad. And that's a sign that Germany is slowly moving on, out of the shadows of its Nazi past.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Clips from Mein Fuehrer



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