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Cultural stereotypes

September 22, 2009

The planned German premiere of a play by late filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder has drawn strong protests from German Jewish groups, who say the piece reinforces stereotypes.

Man straddling a woman lying on a table during the the play's premiere Tel Aviv in 1999
The play premiered in Tel Aviv 1999Image: picture alliance / dpa

The Central Council of Jews in Germany urged director Roberto Ciulli not to forge ahead with Rainer Werner Fassbinder's play "The Garbage, the City and Death," saying the piece was anti-Semitic.

Ciulli rejected the demand. "This is not an anti-Semitic piece, but one that addresses the subject of anti-Semitism," he said, stressing the "autonomy of theatric art." He stressed that the play would premiere, as planned, on October 1 at his theater in the western Germany city of Muelheim. It is slated to be one of three works by Fassbinder to be shown in a three-hour evening performance set.

A scene from the Muelheim performance of
The play presents cliches, some Jewish leaders sayImage: Andreas Köhring

Play staged in New York, Tel Aviv

The play has never been performed in Germany, but has been staged in New York, Tel Aviv and European cities.

Jewish groups said the play revived stereotypes of Jews, with one main character being a "rich Jew" who amasses great wealth through property speculation. In the piece, the man regularly visits a prostitute, whose father was a Nazi during the Third Reich and co-responsible for the decimation of Jews.

The prostitute becomes an object for the Jew's revenge; her murder is ultimately covered up by the police. Murder, brutal homosexuality and sexual and psychic perversions are all part of the play, which was written in 1975.

The "usual cliches"

The Central Council of Jews said the play presented characters "as stereotypes burdened with the usual cliches," and said the piece should not be staged "out of respect for the small number of Holocaust survivors and the millions who died."

Fassbinder behind a movie camera
Fassbinder was known for his shocking worksImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

The play was originally scheduled to be performed in Frankfurt in1985, but was cancelled when protestors and members of the Central Council of Jews - wearing concentration camp prisoner garb - stormed the stage, rejecting the presentation of a Jew as murderer. Another attempt to stage the play in Berlin 13 years later was likewise abandoned.

This is not the first time works by the late Fassbinder have unnerved audiences. The writer and director is known for his socially critical works, and is most famous for his film "The Marriage of Maria Braun." He died in 1982 at the age of 37 from heart failure related to drugs.


Editor: Jennifer Abramsohn

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