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A controversial new German novel imagines Hitler in the 21st century

'Er Ist Wieder Da,' or 'He's Back,' a novel by Timur Vermes that features Hitler as a contemporary protagonist, has galvanized Germans on the 80th anniversary of der Führer's rise to power.

By Husna Haq / February 7, 2013

'He's Back' by Timur Vermes imagines Adolf Hitler coming to life in the 21st century and learning about jeans, email, and female leader Angela Merkel.

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Imagine this: After a 66-year slumber, Adolf Hitler finds himself in 21st century Berlin where he enters politics, discovers jeans and email, and becomes a modern-day celebrity complete with a role on a popular Turkish-German TV show.

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That’s the premise behind one of Germany’s most popular – and controversial – new books, “Er Ist Wieder Da,” or “He’s Back.” The 400-page debut novel by Timur Vermes capitalizes on Germany’s renewed fascination with the Nazi leader with stunning success as the country marks the 80th anniversary of his rise to power. The book has so far sold more than 400,000 copies and tens of thousands of audiobooks and has beat out novels by Paulo Coelho and Ken Follett to nab the top slot on Germany’s bestseller lists.

“We too often harbor the negative attitude of those who see Hitler only as a monster to make themselves feel better,” author Vermes told AFP. “I thought it was important to show how he would operate and how he would act in today's world.”

In the novel, Hitler rouses and is bewildered to find himself in a modern Germany ruled by a woman and populated by millions of Turks. He enters politics – no surprise – where he crusades against speeding and dog doo. He becomes a talk show star and, in one scene, stumbles across a group of boys in soccer jerseys and mistakes them for members of the military, addressing them as “Ronaldo Hitler youth.” 

“I want to show that Hitler would have a chance to succeed nowadays just as he did back then, just in another way,” Vermes told the UK’s Guardian.

The satirical wit extends to the book’s cover and even its price. The striking black-and-white cover depicts Hitler’s iconic black parted hair, with its title printed as his mustache. Even its price – €19.33 – refers to the year Hitler became German chancellor.

“He’s Back” joins a bevy of Hitler-inspired art and media in Europe bordering on Hitler-obsession, including comic acts, a burlesque musical comedy, magazine covers, and even a comic film directed by a Jew. 

Not surprisingly, the novel’s popularity has some in Germany uncomfortable.

It is the “latest outgrowth of a Hitler commercialization machine that breaks all taboos to make money,” wrote weekly news magazine Stern.

In an almost melancholy air, German newspaper Die Suddeutsche Zeitung wrote, “We laugh, but it’s a laugh that sticks in the throat.”

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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