Eighty years after Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, a novel that imagines his return to modern-day Berlin has become a bestseller in Germany, though a comedy about the Fuehrer is not to everyone’s taste.
Instead of committing suicide in his bunker on April 30, 1945, in “He’s Back” (Er Ist Wieder Da), Hitler wakes up in 2011 without the slightest idea what has happened in the intervening 66 years.
He stumbles through Berlin, dazed by the fact that Germany is now ruled by a woman and is home to millions of Turks.
In one scene, the Nazi leader asks a group of boys for directions, addressing them as “Ronaldo Hitler youth”. He has mistaken their football shirts bearing the name of the soccer star as some kind of military uniform.
“Who’s the old guy?” the boys ask each other.
Such is the tone in the nearly 400-page novel by Timur Vermes, a 45-year-old journalist.
In a celebrity obsessed society where success is often gauged by follower numbers on social networks or YouTube views, Hitler soon becomes the star of an entertainment show with a Turkish host.
“You’re golden my dear! This is just the beginning, believe me,” his producer says.
Bild, Europe’s widest circulation newspaper, complains: “He killed millions of people. Today, millions cheer him on YouTube.”
In the book, Hitler discovers jeans, tries to create an email address (“Hitler 89″ referring to the year of his birth is already taken) and discovers cooking shows.
A farce in poor taste to some, a political satire to others, “He’s Back” has done well in bookstores. With a print run of 360,000, the book recently made Germany’s bestseller list and is set to be published in English and more than a dozen other languages.
The author says he wanted to present Hitler in a new light.
“We too often harbour the negative attitude of those who see Hitler only as a monster to make themselves feel better,” Vermes says. “I thought it was important to show how he would operate and how he would act in today’s world.”
The story, written in the first person, is dotted with rambling inner monologues like those in “Mein Kampf”, the treatise Hitler wrote in 1924 that Germany plans to reprint in two years, the first re-issue since 1945.
The book’s black-and-white cover features a stylised rendering of Hitler’s side-parted hair and the title is printed in place of his moustache. Even the price — 19.33 euros — is Hitler-related, a reference to the year he became chancellor.
The book is the “latest outgrowth of a Hitler commercialisation machine that breaks all taboos to make money”, wrote the weekly news magazine Stern.
Unthinkable even 10 years ago, Hitler is today increasingly the subject of comedians and artists — including a comic film directed by a Jew and a burlesque musical comedy.
Daniel Erk, a journalist and Hitler expert, calls the phenomenon the “banalisation of evil”.