The play "XXX" by Catalan theater group La Fura dels Baus is based on a 1795 story, "Philosophy of the Bedroom" by French playwright the Marquis de Sade. Notorious for its uninhibited display of naked lust and violence, the multimedia performance is billed as a modern theatrical response to the porn industry.
But its scenes depicting graphic incest, rape and pornography proved too much to bear to theater-goers in Hamburg last week.
Violence and bestiality
Following reports in Germany' mass-selling tabloid Bild on Friday that the play included a video sequence showing a woman having sex with a donkey, Hamburg police opened a probe against the Spanish group for the "spread of violence and bestiality."
A police officer called in to investigate said, "Bestiality is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison."
A separate report said an outraged woman in the audience alerted police after witnessing scenes of urination and simulated rape and oral sex during the play's opening night. The play is also said to have encouraged two audience members to come on stage and masturbate to make it more interactive.
Many theater-goers who went to see the 105-minute performance at Hamburg's Kampnagel Theater are said to have walked out in disgust halfway through. Others asked for a ticket refund.
Freedom of expression?
"First we'll probe whether the video is covered by the right to freedom of expression," a spokeswoman for Hamburg's state prosecutor said. She added that no charges had been filed relating to the play. "We're investigating in general against all responsible for the performance," she added.
It's not the first time that the Spanish group has run into trouble for the controversial play. Two years ago it created a furor when it opened in Frankfurt. Last year the Spanish production met with protests and police investigations in London.
Meanwhile the Kampnagel Theater in Hamburg, famous for its experimental performances, has announced it has dropped the offensive video from the performance.
"Apart from that, the play will continue unchanged," a spokesman for the theater told news agency DPA. "We reckon that the investigation will be dropped because 'XXX' is an entire artwork," he added.
Hamburg's Cultural Ministry has thrown its weight behind the theater. "It's an important and correct play, it plays with the boundaries between pornography and art," spokesman Björn Marzahn told DPA.
The ministry, he said, welcomed the fact that the Kampnagel Theater had reacted so promptly to the criticism and excised out the controversial video from the play.