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ANGELA MERKEL

Merkel picks ‘highlight’ by punkrocker for farewell parade

A communist-era hit by the "godmother of punk" handpicked by Angela Merkel will provide the surprising soundtrack to the outgoing German chancellor's ceremonial farewell on Thursday after 16 years in office.

Nina Hagen
Nina Hagen performs at a festival in Berlin in 2018. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Gerald Matzka

Soldiers in full regalia and carrying flaming torches will take part in the carefully choreographed event, accompanied by a marching band performing traditional military music and Merkel’s own playlist.

The East German pop song “Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen” (You forgot the colour film) by Nina Hagen is one of three pieces of music picked by Merkel performed in the military tattoo.

READ ALSO: Merkel: 10 photos that tell the story of Germany’s ‘eternal’ chancellor

The ceremonial send-off came just days before Germany’s parliament is due to officially elect Social Democrat Olaf Scholz as Merkel’s replacement, putting the centre-left politician in charge after 16 years of conservative-led rule.

Known for her regular attendance at Bayreuth opera festival, dedicated to the composer Richard Wagner, Merkel surprised military band leaders and political commentators alike with her unusual playlist.

Asked at a press conference Thursday about the pick, Merkel said it harked back to her younger days in communist East Germany.

“The song was a highlight of my youth… The song also came from East Germany and, coincidentally, it is still played in a region that used to be my constituency. So everything fits today,” she said.

Merkel was born in the port city of Hamburg, but her father, a Lutheran clergyman and a schoolteacher, moved the family to a small-town parish in the communist East at a time when tens of thousands were headed the other way.

READ ALSO: ‘One of us’: Merkel’s German hometown a refuge from wild world

Nina Hagen
Nina Hagen sings on stage in Berlin on July 2nd, 2017. Photo: picture alliance / Jens Kalaene/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa | Jens Kalaene

Hagen, who began her career in the East, emigrated to West Germany and became a leading figure in the punk scene of the 1980s.

An orchestral arrangement of the song, first released in 1974, was specially written by a music corps clarinetist for the ceremony.

Touching sixties ballad “Fuer mich soll’s rote Rosen regen” (It should rain red roses for me) by Hildegard Knef and the hymn “Grosser Gott, wir loben dich” (Holy God, we praise thy name) completed Merkel’s selection.

Her choices reflected Merkel’s ability to “send messages better with gestures than with words”, the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote.

The military ceremony, known as a “grosser Zapfenstreich”, has its origins in the sixteenth century and is the highest tribute paid by the German army.

The rapid increase in coronavirus cases in Germany in recent weeks means attendance at the ceremony in front of the German defence ministry in Berlin will be limited.

Guests will be required to show they have protection from the virus, present a negative test and wear a mask.

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CULTURE

German town resurrects 400-year-old biblical play tradition

Walk around the German Alpine village of Oberammergau, and the chances are you'll run into Jesus or one of his 12 disciples.

German town resurrects 400-year-old biblical play tradition

Of the 5,500 people living there, 1,400 — aged from three months to 85 — are participating this year in the once-a-decade staging of an elaborate “Passion Play” depicting the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Dating back to 1634, the tradition has persisted through four centuries of wars, religious turmoil and pandemics — including the most recent Covid-19 crisis which caused the show to be postponed by two years.

“I think we’re a bit stubborn,” says Frederic Mayet, 42, when asked how the village has managed to hold on to the tradition.

Mayet, who is playing Jesus for the second time this year, says the Passion Play has become a big part of the town’s identity.

Oberammergau Passion Plays

Posters for the 42nd Oberammergau Passion Play – which was originally scheduled to take place in 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmth

The only prerequisite for taking part in the five-hour show, whether as an actor, chorister or backstage assistant, is that you were born in Oberammergau or have lived here for at least 20 years.

“I remember that we talked about it in kindergarten. I didn’t really know what it was about, but of course I wanted to take part,” says Cengiz Gorur, 22, who is playing Judas.

READ ALSO: REVEALED: The best events and festivals in Germany this July

‘Hidden talent’ 

The tradition, which dates back to the Thirty Years’ War, was born from a belief that staging the play would help keep the town safe from disease.

Legend has it that, after the first performance, the plague disappeared from the town.

In the picturesque Alpine village, Jesus and his disciples are everywhere — from paintings on the the facades of old houses to carved wooden figures in shop windows.

You also can’t help feeling that there is a higher-than-average quota of men with long hair and beards wandering the streets.

Religious figurines Oberammergau

Religious figurines adorn a shop window in Oberammergau. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

An intricate image of Jesus graces the stage of the open-air Passion Play theatre, where the latest edition of the show is being held from mid-May to October 2nd.

“What has always fascinated me is the quality of the relationship between all the participants, young and old. It’s a beautiful community, a sort of ‘Passion’ family,” says Walter Lang, 83.

He’s just sad that his wife, who died in February, will not be among the participants this year.

“My parents met at a Passion Play, and I also met my future wife at one,” says Andreas Rödl, village mayor and choir member.

Gorur, who has Turkish roots, was spotted in 2016 by Christian Stückl, the head of the Munich People’s Theatre who will direct the play for the fourth time this year.

“I didn’t really know what to do with my life. I probably would have ended up selling cars, the typical story,” he laughs.

Now, he’s due to start studying drama in Munich this autumn.

“I’ve discovered my hidden talent,” he says.

READ ALSO: Nine of the best day trips from Munich with the €9 ticket

Violence, poverty and sickness

Stückl “has done a lot for the reputation of the show, which he has revolutionised” over the past 40 years, according to Barbara Schuster, 35, a human resources manager who is playing Mary Magdalene.

“Going to the Passion Play used to be like going to mass. Now it’s a real theatrical show,” she says.

In the 1980s, Stückl cut all the parts of the text that accused the Jews of being responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, freeing the play from anti-Semitic connotations.

“Hitler had used the Passion Play for his propaganda,” Schuster points out.

Stückl

Christian Stückl, the director of the Oberammergau Passion Play, holds a press conference announcing the cancellation of the play in 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

The play’s themes of violence, poverty and sickness are reflected in today’s world through the war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic, say Mayet, the actor playing Jesus.

“Apparently we have the same problems as 2,000 years ago,” he says.

For 83-year-old Lang, who is playing a peasant this year, the “Hallelujah” after Christ has risen for the final time in October will be a particularly moving moment.

“Because we don’t know if we’ll be there again next time,” he says, his eyes filling with tears.

By Isabelle Le Page

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