April 30, 2009 / 3:36 PM / 10 years ago

Hitler back in Berlin-on stage in Mel Brooks farce

More than six decades after the Nazi dictator killed himself in his Berlin bunker, a character parodying Hitler will feature in the first production in Germany of the award-winning Broadway musical comedy by Mel Brooks, “The Producers.”

Herbert Steinboeck (L-R), Cornelius Obonya and Andreas Bieber act as Franz Liebkind, Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom during a dress rehearsal to promote the musical 'The Producers - Fruehling fuer Hitler' (The Producers - Autumn for Hitler) in Berlin, December 11, 2008. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

Berlin’s Admiralspalast theater — just blocks to the north of the dictator’s infamous bunker — will stage “The Producers - Fruehling fuer Hitler” (Springtime for Hitler) from May 17.

It is the eagerly awaited German rendition of Brooks’s record-setting musical about two men trying to create a Broadway flop that ran for six years with more than 2,500 performances. It grossed $300 million in New York and $1 billion worldwide.

Hitler was himself a patron of the same 1,700-seat Admiralspalast theater and had his own luxury “Fuehrerloge” box.

But because Hitler and the crimes of the Third Reich remain a sensitive issue in Germany, local media have questioned whether it is appropriate for Germans to laugh about Hitler.

“I think Germans are definitely ready to laugh about Hitler,” said Rita Baus, the artistic director of the Admiralspalast, in an interview with Reuters in the Fuehrer Box.

“Mel Brooks has shown how totally ridiculous Hitler was and given us the chance to laugh about him. It’s not just a musical comedy about the Nazis. It’s a comedy about a couple of crooks. But I’m convinced it’s liberating for Germans to be able laugh about Hitler.”


Berlin police have nevertheless already been called in by concerned local citizens evidently unable to see the humor. They complained about the ominous looking Nazi-like red banners hanging from the theater on the central Friedrichstrasse avenue.

While Nazi symbols are in general outlawed, they are allowed for “artistic” purposes. The theatre’s banners look similar to the real Nazi ones, with only a black pretzel shape rather than a swastika in the center. Police have not issued a citation.

“There are moments you might wonder why you’re laughing,” said Baus. “It’s the funniest and most disrespectful musical I’ve ever seen. I agree with what Mel Brooks said: there is no better place to stage ‘The Producers’ than Berlin.”

There have been similar public debates in Germany in recent years. In 2007, Jewish director Dani Levy’s “My Fuehrer — The Truly Truest Truth about Adolf Hitler,” was widely criticized by the public and critics, but had a strong box office run.

As a vast majority of Germany’s population was born after 1945, a self-imposed ban on mixing humor and Nazis has faded.

The musical comedy, created from Brooks’s 1968 movie, won a record-breaking 12 Tony awards after it opened on Broadway in 2001 with Nathan Lane as scheming theatrical producer Max Bialystock and Matthew Broderick as his accountant Leo Bloom.

After Bloom tells Bialystock he could make more money with a flop than a hit, the down-on-his-luck producer runs with the idea. But with “Springtime for Hitler,” a feel-good musical about the rise of the Nazis, the two are then undone when the hideous spectacle is embraced as a hilarious comedy.

In Berlin, ticket sales are running briskly.

While it is impossible to find anywhere in Germany that would express any pride in the fact that Hitler might have once “slept here” or “lived here” or “ate lunch here,” the Berlin theater has no qualms about using Hitler’s name.

“It’s definitely not something to be proud of but there is no point hiding the fact that Hitler had this theater redecorated and installed the Fuehrer Box,” said Lone Bech, head of the theatre’s press office.

“Laughing about Hitler is a great way to take revenge.”

Editing by Mike Collett-White and Paul Casciato

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