Cinema Europa / 10th May / 15.00

Der Hauptmann von Köpenick (Helmut Käutner, 1956)

In October 1906, a cobbler turned conman called Wilhelm Voigt entered Köpenick city hall with a small detachment of soldiers he picked up on the street and arrested the mayor; Voigt could do so as he was wearing the uniform of an army captain. This much is historically correct – the case, in fact, made news around the world. Carl Zuckmayer, then, turned the story into a satire on Prussian military culture in particular, and the German Reich’s obsession with order and obedience in general: His Voigt only wants to become a decent citizen after having done time in prison; hélas, the only thing everybody seems to be interested in is whether he’d served in the army – no military record means no residency permit means no job means no passport means no nothing. When Voigt takes on Köpenick city hall, he only wants to get a passport – to get a job to get a residency permit to get a decent civilian life; hélas, the office for these matters is somewhere else… Like so many films of this period, Der Hauptmann von Köpenick has an ideologically (potentially self-) contradictory core: it can be understood as a call to civil disobedience (badly needed in a nation run by its elected representatives along authoritarian lines), yet there’s also something consoling, soothing, from a (lower) middle class audience’s point of view almost self-congratulatory to Voigt’s folksy manners, the prank he played on Those-Up-There. Yet one thing is certain: Making fun of the army at a time when the FRG, after a lot of discussions (and maybe also some foul play from the nation’s uppermost echelons), finally had an army was looked at not too kindly in many conservative quarters.