Premiere of “get german or die tryin”: eulogy to the father

People with dreams don’t like this cold Almanya: The play "Get Deutsch Or Die Tryin’" premieres at Berlin’s Gorki Theater.

The entire play is a big monologue supplemented by sidekicks Photo: Ute Langkafel/MAIFOTO

A man turns 18 and celebrates his birthday with clerk Kozminski at the Foreigners’ Registration Office. On his 18th birthday, he gets naturalized. His father, a left-wing activist after the Turkish military coup in 1980, sought asylum in Germany and produced "terrorist children" without passports.

Now the young man gets the German passport because he has all, really all the necessary documents with him, should and can write a few sentences in German – "I break the star off your Benz at night and wear it to the crescent moon chain. I don’t want to be a doctor or a lawyer, I’ll be a superstar or unemployed." "Very funny, Mr. Yılmaz." – And because the father is considered missing. He went back to Turkey when the mother was pregnant with the young man, now 18, because he himself found prison more attractive than exile.

Arda is the young man’s name, and today he sits on a bench with his buddies and peddles dope. His older sister has long since left, and his mother has fallen asleep at home in front of the TV after the second bottle of vodka. Arda clarifies, "You’re eighteen and you understand: you’ve lost."

What begins with a driven drum solo and a disco ball set swinging by strenuously high jumps like a fast-paced youth play about life in the zone of underprivilege soon becomes something else in Necati oziri’s play "Get Deutsch Or Die Tryin’ ". What starts out like a cynical migration background slam becomes just that at the last premiere of this season at Berlin’s Gorki Theater.

Of course it won’t. The Gorki under Shermin Langhoff and Jens Hillje is far out of the danger zone of exploiting its own brand essence – the "postmigrant," that is, cultural productivity beyond the white, male, canonical privileged stadium – as a purely amusing revue theater of the great other. The powerful, considerably substantial text by 28-year-old author and Gorky playwright Necati oziri becomes an experiment with a burning glass in house director Sebastian Nubling’s realization.

The entire play is a great monologue supplemented by sidekicks. Arda – Dimitrij Schaad plays and speaks him with verve – delivers a eulogy to his father, who is probably not dead, but has always been dead to him. He tells of his life and probes into the circumstances of how he came to be. Describes, analyzes, accuses. Penetrates back into the past.

Powerlessness quickly leads to unhappiness

And so, in the larger, second half of the play, we are with Murat and umran, a fugitive Turkish left-wing activist and an earthquake victim from Izmir who came to Germany as a child. Increasingly feverish, Arda imagines, becomes the director of the parents’ story. He stages their meeting as a burlesque, forces romance with defiance and circus horse feathers. He puts his father into a silvery sequined suit for the wedding, a proof of a future, and his mother into a monster of a tulle dress, a proof of lush possible happiness.

The "chorus" stoically repeats "Happiness!" but soon replaces this ritornello with another: Murat, the former student, finds a job in the slaughterhouse, and then it’s 14 hours a day: "Cut the neck, hang it up, drill out the rectum, skin it, cut it open, gut it, the next one."

You can understand why someone who once wanted to change Turkey can’t be happy like this. Arda can, too. Still doesn’t forgive. Holds it against the father: Just because your left-wing chauvinist youth dreams didn’t come true, you don’t have to abandon your wife and children. On the other hand, this new country, this cold Almanya, people full of dreams, homesickness and insecurity doesn’t exactly suit you either.

"Get Deutsch Or Die Tryin’ " sharply focuses on a small family history, not even exemplary in the Turkish migration history to Germany. The piece shows how quickly powerlessness leads to disaster. How normal and human the reactions to powerlessness are. And how inexcusable both these reactions and the states that produce such powerlessness are.

This piece is a rebellion against the formula that fragile lives reproduce fragile lives. Arda, too, has not arrived, despite his passport; he will set off from his bank, whether "against the Turks, the West, the Kurds, the Islamists, the Germans . . . it doesn’t matter at all." In the happier case, he moves onto the stage.

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