Political Theater: A Hole for Justice

A theater collective followed the trial of Walter Lübcke’s murderer. But her piece about finding the truth remains superficial.

Three performers sit on the floor of a stage

Big Image Collective: “revision. Observations from Hall 165 C” in the Mousonturm in Frankfurt Photo: Merthe Wulf

In the end there is disillusionment, because neither the courts nor the theater seem to be reliable. Here, as there, there is a gap between imagination and reality. Rarely has this been as clear as in the performance (big word) “revision. Observations from Hall 165 C” in the Frankfurt Mousonturm.

Arthur Romanowski, Laura Schilling, Josephine Stamer and calendal from the Big Image Collective, a young troop from the field of Applied Theater Studies in Gießen, attended the trial against Stephan Ernst at the Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt from June 2020 to January 2021.

Ernst is accused of the murder of Kassel’s district president Walter Lübcke and the attempted murder of Ahmed I. Ernst was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder and acquitted of attempted murder due to lack of evidence.

The criminal defense lawyer and well-known author Ferdinand von Schirach repeatedly points out that there is such a thing as a criminal procedural truth that is not the real truth. The defense lawyer Johannes Murmann blows the same trumpet, speaking before the performance in the Mousonturm of the criminal trial as an unsuitable place for finding the truth.

There is something like a procedural truth that is not the real truth

The Big Image Collective sat at each of the 45 days of trial in court, watched, thought. Three of them are now on stage in pink, pillow-like capes that look like beanbags. When they stick their arms out of the thing, they resemble chubby M&Ms. This is tolerably funny, rather silly and only seems inappropriate given the seriousness of the subject.

spectators here and there

With a lot of fanfare they later unrolled a huge curtain showing a photo of the courtroom in the Higher Regional Court. Also an auditorium. A process there, a theater here, breaks here and there.

In the Mousonturm, the break comes surprisingly early, and while most of them are still outside, the three performers continue inside with humorous stories about speaking in front of an audience and about very little else. That’s also reasonably funny, but you didn’t come here to laugh, rather to gain new insights into the jurisdiction in general and the criminal case against Stephan Ernst in particular. Luckily, the podium discussion before the performance offered that, programmed by whoever with wise foresight.

In addition to Murmann, the author Martín Steinhagen (“Right-Wing Terror. The Murder of Walter Lübcke and the Strategy of Violence”) and the sociologist Manja Dimitra Kotsas also provided information. From them you learned what a classic documentary theater piece, for example from Rimini Protokoll, would have gotten out of the case. Interesting facts about the advantages and disadvantages of the private prosecution, the historical continuity of right-wing violence, the validity of conflicting confessions, the rights of the accused.

Happy amateurism

For laypeople, the customs in court are often inscrutable. The Big Image Collective meets them with cheerful dilettantism. They are obviously concerned with something else, with a different view of things, a playful circling around, in the middle of which the question of the role of the audience throbs.

Questions raised by the trial of Stephan Ernst will hardly be answered that evening, but will be raised. What is the role of a trial observer, how does it differ from that of a theater visitor? What about the credibility so often invoked in court and on stage? What is credible, who decides on the basis of which experiences?

What is meant by psychological assistance, as it was said to be the acquitted friend of Stephan Ernst, Markus H.? How does structural racism in institutions affect such a process? Was the Iraqi Ahmed I, whose statements were translated, able to make himself as understandable as the native speakers? What impact does this have on the judgment? The performers describe a surly judge who took the translated statements with little devotion. Worth considering.

After the three fiddle around with the curtain for a long time and finally remove it again, they wrap themselves in it like statues: Justitia times three, without scales and sword. Nice picture. At some point, unfortunately, the pink beanbags come into play again and one of them throws himself against the wall to punch a hole for justice. Nice try.

The fact that the single perpetrator thesis is also not tenable in the case of Stephan Ernst turns out to be not a fresh realization in the course of the evening, but a fact worth mentioning. This evening comes as little close to the underlying causes of the murder of Walter Lübcke as the trial against his murderers. In addition, the performers do not find a convincing theatrical form. In the end they ask themselves and us: “What are we actually doing here?”

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