A series of ironic and satiric videos from some of Germany’s most prominent film and television actors criticizing and mocking new government lockdown measures have sparked a furious online debate, and support from an unlikely source.
Many in the media here have sharply criticized the videos, but members of the far right are applauding
Around 50 well-known German and German-speaking actors, including Vicky Kriebs (The Phantom Thread), Ulrich Tukur (The Lives of Others), Volker Bruch (Babylon Berlin), Heike Makatsch (Love, Actually), and TV stars such as Jan Josef Liefers, Meret Becker and Ulrike Folkerts, all posted short videos in which they give their personal, heavily ironic support for tighter COVID-19 restrictions.
“I used to be afraid, now my fear is receding, and that scares me,” says Bruch straight to the camera, pleading to German politicians, “give us our fear back.”
Liefers, one of Germany’s best-known television actors and a star of the hit crime series Tatort, ironically thanked the German media for keeping the alarm level around the pandemic “exactly where it belongs, namely at the very top.”
Liefers went on to thank the media, and the German government of Angela Merkel, for ignoring the advice of “Noble Prize-winning” scientists in pushing through its COVID-19 protection measures.
The videos posted online Thursday as Berlin passed new nationwide measures that tightened regulations aimed at slowing the progress of the coronavirus pandemic in Germany. Most of the measures —including shutting cinemas and most shops and a nightly curfew to keep people from grouping together and possibly spreading the virus — are not new. But amid rising COVID-19 infection rates across the country, the federal government pushed through legislation to give Berlin more authority to enforce lockdown measures in the German regional states.
Against that backdrop, the videos, posted under the hashtag #allesdichtmachen, or “shut everything up,” struck the wrong tone for many.
“Cynicism doesn’t help anyone,” German film star Elyas M’Barek (Suck Me Shakespeer) posted on his Instagram in response to the campaign.
“Bad, narrow-minded, snarking sarcasm is ultimately just bland cynicism that doesn’t help anyone [but] Only divides,” wrote Russian-German pianist Igor Levit on Twitter.
Nora Tschirner, another Tatort star, called her colleagues’ actions both “cynical and boring.”
And Micky Beisenherz, a German comedian and popular podcaster put it wryly: “it’s absolute nonsense in terms of content, but at least they carried it off in a wonderfully pretentious way.”
But the far right is applauding.
Joana Cotar, a member of parliament for the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, called the videos “an intelligent protest.”
“Wonderful,” seconded Hans-Georg Maassen, the former president of Germany’s NSA equivalent, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, who has become a hero for the right after blaming “radical left-wing” forces for driving him out of office.
Response to the video campaign did not solely divide along political lines.
German health minister Jens Spahn said he found “questions and criticism” in response to the government’s COVID-19 measures,”not just normal, but in a liberal democracy, desirable.” He added that he empathized with actors and other artists hit hard by the pandemic and unable to work. “One becomes an actor because one loves it, it’s what you love to do,” he said. But Spahn said it was important to point out that there had been “controversial, deliberative discussions” in the German Parliament before the new legislation was passed.
German culture minister Monika Grütters, like Spahn a member of Merkel’s CDU party, said she respected the actors’ “artistic freedom” to speak their mind, but that she would have wished they had shown “significantly more empathy for the people who have been hit by Corona virus or who are working hard in our health system.”
The support from the far right apparently surprised the actors involved in the campaign, many of whom quickly took to social media to distance themselves from any connection to, as Liefers posted, “conspiracy theorists, corona ignoramuses and aluminum hat [wearers].”
Makatsch, whose video shows her at home in a comfy sweater while the doorbell rings in the background —”but I’m not opening up” she says, pointedly — posted that she wanted to “distance myself clearly and unambiguously from right-wing ideas and right-wing ideologies.” The actress added that she recognizes “the danger posed by the corona pandemic and I never want to lessen the suffering of the victims and their relatives and possibly injure them as a result. If that happened, I apologize.”
Wunder am Werk, the Munich-based company that produced the videos, has since taken them down and shut the #allesdichtmachen website, though the videos continue to circulate online. The #allesdichtmachen hashtag, as well as tags mocking the campaign, including #allenichtganzdicht (not all there) and #allesschlichtmachen (make everything simple), were top trending topics on German Twitter on Friday.
In an email statement to The Hollywood Reporter, Wunder am Werk boss Bernd K. Wunder said the following:
“We, as an association of cultural workers and myself, as part of this larger group of people, want to see the debate about the appropriateness of the Corona protection measures continue to be discussed on a broad basis. We neither deny Corona nor do we deny the danger posed by the disease. Nevertheless, we consider it appropriate and necessary to publicly discuss again and again how to deal with the disease and the measures that result from that.
“Our campaign has deliberately chosen the stylistic devices of exaggeration, satire, irony and escalation in order to give food for thought, to reopen the discussion space, and to hear other opinions. We see ourselves [pushed into] a corner with right-wing conspiracy theorists, Reich citizens, and Corona and pandemic deniers. Nothing is further from us.
“There is also no party in the current spectrum of the Bundestag that we are further from than the AfD. We are with all those who have got caught between the fronts. The scared, the insecure, and intimidated, and those who have fallen silent. We want to live in a pluralistic, open society that is open and open to discussion, in which opinions can be discussed on the basis of mutual respect, good arguments, and individual concerns, without those who express an opinion being denigrated, insulted or even threatened.
“It is to be discussed whether the measures ordered in the last 12 months are appropriate, expedient and sensible in all areas of private and public life. We do not claim to know better, nor do we claim that all measures are wrong. But the events of the last few months must be an indication to all of us that a lot did not go well. Our clear goal is accordingly to reopen the discussion, to broaden it,and to make voices heard that have not yet been heard or that have not found a stage.”