W.uring hot shooting in Kabul, in Berlin they are waving their fake rifles around wildly and shouting “bumsdi”. The “extra sheets” they distribute speak of “53 captured artillery pieces” and “administration handover”. In Kabul they continue to shoot sharply. Because many people are really experiencing their “last days” there.
The time at which the extravagant Austrian actor and theater maker Paulus Manker puts on his monumental production of Karl Kraus’ “The Last Days of Mankind” in Berlin is risky. Staging a historical drama that cynically caricatures the horror of war while the news programs are full of images of military machines could easily seem out of place.
Feeling of world fire
But it could also, in an alienated way, hit exactly that feeling of world fire that moves us these days: When the seven-hour theater marathon in the spectacular Belgium Hall on the island of Gartenfeld begins in the early evening with the urgent news of the assassination of the heir to the throne and loudly declamatory Newspaper vendors running through the audience with historical “extra sheets” are similar to reports of the Taliban’s invasion of Kabul, at least on a psychological level. It is the shock of news that shakes things up. One event suddenly becomes a topic of conversation around the world. This marks the beginning of Manker’s marathon through the most extensive work ever written for the stage. The drama of the notorious cynic Karl Kraus, which was created during the First World War from a wild myriad of original quotes, aphorisms and glosses, counts 220 scenes and more than 1000 characters.
An exuberant, fearful dream piece, “only intended for a Marstheater”, as the author himself prophesies, which has already put the few performance attempts since its completion in 1926 in the wrong. Kraus’ greatest fear was that his gigantic reading drama could be turned into an “entertainment spectacle”. With Manker it comes true: for a whole evening and a half night he sends his eighteen playful actors through the rooms of the multi-aisled hall basilica, which was originally transported as spoils of war from Valenciennes in northern France to Berlin and until shortly after the turn of the millennium as Production facility for cables and insulation material was used. The abandoned industrial building gives the bustling theater scene the gripping aura of historical testimony and contemporary validity right from the start. At the beginning, the audience sits on chairs in the Viennese coffee house arrangement, but afterwards is constantly on the move, follows individual scenes in different groups, strolls from one tableau vivant to the next and lets the master of ceremonies Manker personally drive them outside to visit the front in an open train carriage.
“Feuilletongespenst” at the front
“The false appearance”, which Adorno recognized with awe in the angrily collaged piece, is staged here particularly brightly: the soldiers let the audience shoot with their false rifles, jump into the sand with a gasp, dance cranked – but only a few steps further Others stand with petrified faces on a mountain of sand from which the body of a comrade has just been exposed. A young war reporter asks her about her feelings, raves about the “humanity that has become free”. It has its role model in the Austrian-Jewish war correspondent Alice Schalk, who enthusiastically reported on the Southwest Front for the Neue Freie Presse. Kraus lets this “feuilleton ghost” appear at different points in his drama and represent what he hated most: the addiction to catastrophe of a generation hungry for experience who devoted themselves body and soul to something whose monstrosity they could not overlook.