‘Contact with an angel is life-threatening.’
Marieluise Fleißer (1901–1974) is a unique figure in German-language drama of the last hundred years. She was encouraged by Lion Feuchtwanger, revered (and almost destroyed) by Bertolt Brecht and studied by Ödön von Horváth. An entire generation of post-war German dramatists was influenced by her: she called Franz Xaver Kroetz, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Martin Sperr her ‘sons’. She was an exceptional female writer among celebrated male colleagues, and her works are rarely performed in theatres today. It is therefore all the more remarkable that Ivo van Hove, one of the most sought-after directors in European theatre, is now taking on her dramatic oeuvre in a large-scale project.
In her two best-known plays, Fegefeuer in Ingolstadt (Purgatory in Ingolstadt) and Pioniere in Ingolstadt (Pioneers in Ingolstadt) – as well as in several short stories and the novel Eine Zierde für den Verein (A Credit to the Club) – Marieluise Fleißer channelled her creative energies from the mid-1920s into what was less a realistic portrait of her home town than a macrocosm of Catholic provincial life from the perspective of a young and ‘lost’ post-war generation.
The hottest days of a long summer meet the oppressive parochialism of a small town: dog days that veer between stagnation and restlessness, spawning a surfeit of sluggishly brooding energy that looks for an outlet in the weakest places with cruel regularity. The only ‘diversion’ is offered by the presence of a pioneer battalion that is temporarily stationed in Ingolstadt to build a bridge over the Danube. Recently expelled from school, Roelle is an outsider who tries to find his place in the world by standing in opposition to it – a self-anointed saint, to whom
‘the angels come’. With his knowledge of the convent schoolgirl Olga’s unwanted pregnancy and her futile efforts to have an abortion, he hopes to blackmail her affection. He is idolized by Olga’s sister and rival Clementine, who took over the household after the death of their mother, but has no feelings for her. Peps, the father of the unwanted child, chases Roelle through the town and from one disastrous situation to the next.
Another victim of his harsh masculinity is Fabian, who has fallen in love with the maid Berta. How-ever, she is infatuated with the pioneer Korl, whose callous assertions of indifference she refuses to believe in. Her friend Alma tries to gain her independence by striking out alone as a prostitute. The pioneers are commanded by a sergeant, who falls victim to an assault by his subordinates and drowns in the Danube.
Violence in Marieluise Fleißer’s Ingolstadt wears the masks of religion, family, military discipline and sexuality. It is expressed via ritual forms such as stoning, ablution, communal drowning, etc. Its medium, however, is language. Fleißer’s language, with its concision, rugged expressivity and ruthless precision, is what gives rise to the inimitability of her dramatic works. Language envelops the order of the world called Ingolstadt; all possible ways out are both contained within and blocked by it.
Translation: Sebastian Smallshaw