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Timur Vermes: Er ist wieder da (Look Who’s Back)

While on holiday in Turkey, Vermes saw for sale a book called Hitler’s Second Book. He had never heard of it and thought it might be some kind of parody or another forgery. It was this that inspired him to write a parody on Hitler. Of course, books on Hitler are nothing new, as the novel itself points out. Last year saw the English translation of Laurent Binet‘s HHhH (HHhH) which, like this book, was controversial but also, like his book, commercially successful.

The story starts with Adolf Hitler, now living in the bunker in Berlin with Eva von Braun, as the Russians approach Berlin, having, atypically for him, had a few drinks with Eva. He wakes up lying on the edge of a field in Berlin. He has no idea what he is doing there. He sees some boys playing football and assumes they are Hitler Youth. They see him and come to speak to him. He finds their speech strange but is able to identify the name of one of the boys as he has the name Ronaldo on his shirt. This is the first of many such jokes throughout the book. He wanders off and is surprised at the street he sees, with no bombed-out buildings and advanced (for him) cars. He stops at a newsagent to get the latest copy of Völkischer Beobachter. He does not find a copy (of course) but is surprised to find newspapers with the date 30 August 2011. Indeed, he is so surprised that he faints. He is revived by the friendly newsagent, who recognises him straightaway but assumes he is an actor in one of the many films that are made in the area. Hitler gives the impression (initially unintentionally) that he has had a row with his girlfriend and is homeless so the newsagent takes him in, letting him sleep in the shop, and promising to introduce him to a film company, as he seems so convincing. There are a number of funny scenes where first the newsagent and then the film producers think he is just playing his part, while he is being deadly serious.

He soon realises that somehow he has been transported in time and, though he does not know why, he is convinced that he is needed to (again) save Germany from the poor food (a granola bar and instant coffee offered to him by the newsagent), the influx of Turks and a woman chancellor. Hitler soon adapts to the modern age. He initially thinks a TV is for hanging his clothes on overnight but once he is shown the function of the remote, he learns to flip channels. He is not impressed with the gardening, cooking and soap opera programmes. When he is hired as a Hitler impersonator for a TV show, he is given a secretary but, before she arrives, wonders why he has a TV with no remote and a typewriter without a roller. However, he soon learns how to use a computer and is particularly impressed with Wikipedia, from which he learns what has really happened, not least because the word clearly comes from the German word Wikinger (= Vikings). Of course, he also adapts to mobile phones.

His stint as a Hitler impersonator is very successful. He manages to insult the Turks on his first appearance and incurs the wrath of the manager of the TV company, who is of Turkish origin, but everyone else loves it and, of course, the broadcast goes viral, with 700,000 YouTube hits. The German people seem to love him. Vermes tells a very clever tale, full of wit and invention. It probably does not fully represent what would really happen if Hitler were to return but it is a good story and makes the point that his views are still supported by many people in the country even if he is not always taken seriously or, indeed, always remembered. Naturally, this has made the book controversial and helped it sell. It will be published in English in 2014 and I imagine, it will be successful in the UK and USA

Publishing history

First published 2012 by Eichborn
First published in English in 2014 by Maclehose
Translated by Jamie Bulloch