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Film

Hitler is 'back' - but did he ever leave?

In the film, "Look Who's Back," Hitler is "resurrected" and sent to the streets. He's met with cheers and selfies. Finally a film with black humor, says Sarah Hofmann, that shows how Germans have dealt with the past.

Ok, he's back. But hasn't he always been here? In the minds of Germans, Adolf Hitler certainly has been around in the 70 years since the end of World War II.

All German kids learn about Hitler's rise to power in 1933, the murder of 6 million Jews and World War II as soon as they go to school. "Never again" is the motto over the school lessons.

It took many years, but Germany is now proud of the ways it has dealt with and overcome its past - but it's much less proud of itself. Displaying the German flag or singing the national anthem aren't taken lightly, and usually cause people to cringe a little bit inside. That changed during the 2006 soccer World Cup, hosted by Germany, which was dubbed a "summer fairytale."

Suddenly even people who jumped up and down, screamed in celebration, and waved the black-red-and-gold flag were considered socially acceptable. The new national pride was no longer seen as aggressive, but as welcoming.

Meeting Hitler on the street

When the World Cup came around again in 2014, showing the German national colors was hardly an issue anymore. That is, until the film "Looks Who's Back" ("Er ist wieder da"') came along.

The filmmakers dressed relatively unknown actor Oliver Masucci up as Hitler and sent him into the cheering crowd of World Cup soccer fans. How did they respond? In full 2014 fashion: They took selfies with Hitler. They joked with him and rose their own arms in Hitler salutes.

Everything was caught on film. And no one seemed to care that the Hitler salute is actually illegal in Germany.

Selfies with Hitler: What would really happen?

Of course the soccer fans knew they weren't dealing with the "real" Hitler. They were aware of the cameras in the background and knew Masucci was an actor. But it's this one scene that drastically separates the film from the book it was based on.

In 2012, journalist Timur Vermes published his novel under the same title: "Look Who's Back." The book sold over 2 million copies in Germany and the rights were sold for adaptation into 41 different languages. It was released in English in 2014, translated by Jamie Bulloch.

The absurd basis for the story is: What would happen if Hitler came back to Germany? That is, the "real" Hitler, who reappears from the bunker where he lived out the final days of the war. Now the location is one of many gaps in Berlin's cityscape.

Hitler is confused in a city he does not know. Even though he constantly maintains that he's the "real" Hitler, no one believes him. A tabloid journalist happens to film a video of him and realizes that the story is going to be huge. Hitler's subsequent appearances on countless German talk shows are slapstick comedy. People laugh even when the jokes are under the belt.

The book is 400 pages narrated by Hitler. Who would turn that into a film?

Film still from Look Who's Back, Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa/Constantin Film Verleih GmbH

Actor Oliver Masucci mixed acted scenes with real encounters

Director David Wnendt has already filmed a controversial novel: Charlotte Roche's "Wetlands." And he's also done research on neo-Nazis, for his 2011 film "Combat Girls." The protagonist is a young woman in eastern Germany who hates foreigners, the police, and just about everything around her.

In "Look Who's Back," the focus is less on the far-right scene and more on the question of how average people react when they are confronted with extremist ideology. The people are given the feeling that someone - in this case, Adolf Hitler - is listening to them and is on their side.

Hitler brings out honest feelings

The filmmakers took Hitler all across Germany. Everywhere they went, they got similar reactions: passersby who cheer Hitler on as he drives past, stand upright and make a Hitler salute. Many took photos.

But it gets worse. Some share their own xenophobic thoughts with Hitler: One sausage stand owner complains that foreigners in Germany can just do whatever they please because the Germans still have a bad conscience due to World War II.

"There was a quite anger among the people that reminded me of 1933, except that back then we didn't have a word for being disenchanted with politics," says Hitler in one of the film's scenes.

Of course it's all exaggerated, but it is supposed to be a comedy. What's problematic, though, is that not all of the scenes that are meant to be documentary really are. Hitler visits the headquarters of the far-right political party, NPD, but meets actors rather than politicians. It would be easy enough for a viewer to mistake the scene for a real encounter, like elsewhere in the film.

Rare humor, depth for German film

But that's all forgivable because when was the last time we saw a German film with so much black humor and political depth? It's a film that cleverly and humorously examines Germany's relationship to Adolf Hitler in an entirely new way.

It's hard to say just how many people in Germany openly, or behind closed doors, support the NPD, and how many would tell you over a beer that things under Hitler really weren't that bad. At a PEGIDA demonstration in Dresden recently, 9,000 people gathered to protest the influx of foreigners coming to Germany.

In a population of more than 80 million people, that's not very many. The majority of Germans, in the meantime, are welcoming refugees to the country.

What the film makes clear - albeit in an over-the-top way - is that Nazi criminal Adolf Hitler is actually not quite as omniscient as we Germans tend to believe.

What if Hitler didn't actually die?

Concurrent to the cinema release of the film, a discussion is currently brewing in Germany as to whether Hitler could possible have survived the war. The discourse was sparked by a TV documentary from the United States, which followed Hitler's traces after 1945 in various countries. The FBI reportedly investigated evidence of Hitler in Argentina and Brazil years after the end of the war.

The documentary examined hundreds of secret FBI documents which were released in 2014. According to the papers, it's not out of the question that Hitler and his partner Eva Braun never committed suicide on April 30, 1945, but went into hiding instead.

The film apparently revealed a tunnel from 1945 that connected Hitler's bunker to Berlin's Tempelhof airport. Starting mid-December, the eight-part series will also be shown on German television.

"They can't get rid of me," Hitler says toward the end of "Look Who's Back." "I'm a part of them."

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