Consul B. John Zavrel with Hermann Oberth, the "Father of Space Flight" in Feucht, Germany in 1987 (Photo by MARCO, Bonn).
Berlin. There was applause for a critical play about the past and present, which took place in Berlin in October: "Hitler's Dr. Faust" is the name of the newest play. It was written by the zeitkritischer author Rolf Hochhuth.
It concerns itself on the example of the German rocket scientist Hermann Oberth with the timely question: How far may scientists become involved with politics for the production of weapons, to be used in war. Hermann Oberth and his "star student" Wernher von Braun have served Adolf Hitler in the NS times. But later, they made their knowledge available to the United States. And so America became, with German help, the leader in the space travel.
"The play gains timeliness in the face of the fact that rockets are falling on Afghanistan today", says the author Rolf Hochhuth in conversation about the fight against international terrorism. At the premiere he was "terrible excited". After all, it is no entertaining play with sex, dance and songs. Only the song of death vibrates through the stage set.
The unanimous applause of the public attending the premiere in the Berlin Schlosspark Theater was meant above all for the courage of Hochhuth to write about this problem. A final bitter realixation is this: It required mostly the war research, in order to achieve results for the advancement of mankind.
Hochhuth put his criticism of the German ally, the United States into the dialog of the actors. So, the author complains that ultimately the German rocket scientist von Braun has not received in the United States the honors which are due him. After he had helped the United States to land on the Moon, he was no longer needed. At his funeral--so deplores the play-- von Braun was not adequately honored by the highest authority. The play "Hitler's Dr. Faust" will be played, after its initial run in Berlin, on other stages in Germany. After this test run it would be ripe for the United States, says the playwright. Hochhuth has arranged the drama in such a way that it can be presented on small theater stages, as well as with large stage sets on the Broadway.
Naked man in the bathtub
In order to show this political theme about Hitler's rocket expert and the German know-how for "Bombs on England" in a somewhat erotic light, Hochhuth got a wild idea. The first scene begins with a handsome youth in the bathtub.
He is supposed to be the young Hermann Oberth as a student in Austria. Back then, the poor young man was making experiments in an old bathtub, which were useful for the space flight research. In the play, the actor as a young man of Aryan beauty, finally steps out stark naked from the bathtub onto the theater stage. He dries himself to the pleasure of the public, above all shows his nice behind and brings a touch of boulevard atmosphere into this political drama.
In the further course of the play it gets more serious. It is depicted how Oberth had no possibilities left other than the Nazis, to be able to continue with his rocket and space flight research.
Hitler gave the money, and offered to the long misunderstood genius a unique opportunity. Then Oberth, being a poor researcher, was not able to say no. At that time, he was not as well known as Einstein. And it was the same with Wernher von Braun. The fate took its course, as we now know it.
Von Braun as Mephisto
With fearless opennes Hochhuth presents the "father of space travel" Oberth as Hitler's Dr. Faust. And by his side, Wernher von Braun acts as Mephisto, who after the World War II made a career as a brand-new American. But also the Russians wanted to bring him to Moscow.
Hochhuth criticizes in his play the diabolical misuse of science for power and war. At the same time he lets Oberth explain that wars have also advanced the technical progress. The way to the Moon led, so to say, over Hitler's rockets on London. The theater visitor thinks about this, and comes to his own conclusions.
At the premiere in the Berlin Schlosspark Theater, Hochhuth succeeded in bringing into the present, with three main scene settings on the stage, the problematics of the Hitler dictatorship, the persecution of Jews as well as the establishment of the successful US rocket program by the German scientists after 1945. A Space Flight Museum in the United States, Hitler's rocket smiths for weapons against England in the north German Peenemünde, and a student room in Vienna of 1917 are the main scene settings of the play. In the first act, Jens Ole Schmidt steps out of the bathtub as the young Hermann Oberth, in order to argue with Kristina Bangert as Oberth's girlfriend and later wife Mathilde, about research in service of the state. This conflict always remains present. How do things go in a marriage, with children, in which the "loving father and husband" is building rockets meant to kill people. Oberth himself loses a daughter during the war, in an explosion in a rocket experiment. But he continues the research.
Autor wants to popularize the "Space mirror"
In the scenario by Marcello de Nardo, Hermann Treusch and Christine Wodetzky play with feeling the main roles of the couple when older. The first entrance of the young Oberth in the play as a 24-year old served served the demonstration of research experiments under water in the bathtub. The scientist, later so famous, lead a poor life in his young years, because nobody believed in his ideas. So, in the NS times he thought only of his research and not about Hitler's politics.
Hochhuth wants in his play to point out the possibilities for the future, which could come about from the realization of of the "Space Mirror", proposed by Oberth. Oberth explains in the play with full conviction that such a giant mirror between Earth and Moon would be able to prevent natural catastrophes, as well as change the climate. Hurricanes in the United States would lose their strength, and people would be protected. And even more: deserts would become fruitful, and regions of ice would be made inhabitable for billions of people.
That was Oberth's conviction. In books like "Primer for Those Who Would Govern" (West-Art Publishers, $ 20), he has expounded it until the end of his life. Oberth gives advice and warnings. He himself considered this book--his last book--to be the most important of all the books he had written in his lifetime.
The dramatist Hochhuth demands funding for reaserch today for these possibilities for the future. He does not exclude the possibility that by the way of the controversially discussed installation of a US rocket defence system in space, this "Space Mirror" may eventually be realized--ultimately for the benefit of all people on the Earth. But for that, the President George W. Bush would have to read the last books by Hermann Oberth, or let his advisors read them.
(© PROMETHEUS 28/10/2001)