What would happen if Adolf Hitler woke up in modern-day Berlin to find that it was not occupied by Russian soldiers but instead by a vibrant, multicultural citizenry? This is the premise of the debut novel by German journalist Timur Vermes, Er Ist Wieder Da (He’s Back), which has topped Germany’s best-seller list.
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Narrated in the first-person by Hitler, the story follows the Führer as he awakens from a 66-year sleep in his bunker beneath Berlin to find an entirely changed Germany. In the celebrity-obsessed modern-day city, everyone assumes the fulminating leader of the Nazi party is a comedian in character — and soon he becomes a celebrity with a guest slot on a Turkish-born comedian’s TV show. His bigoted rants are interpreted as a satirical exposure of prejudice, leading him to decide to start his own political party.
The book, which has already sold hundreds of thousands of copies and is being translated into several other languages, including English, has unsurprisingly sparked debate in a country that has grappled for decades with Hitler’s unconscionable legacy.
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Critics are ambivalent about the book. The newsweekly Stern described it as the “latest outgrowth of a Hitler commercialization machine that breaks all taboos to make money,” while a critic at the Hamburger Abendblatt saw it as a “successful if unsettling satire of a mass murderer and the mass media.”
Vermes appears happy to be stoking the debate. “[Hitler] is always the monster, and we can be comforted by the fact that we’re different from him,” he told German media. “But in reality, he continues to spark real fascination in people, just as he did back then when people liked him enough to help him commit crimes.”