The television documentary “Kaiserspiel” on ZDF – The Times Hub


December 14, 2021

Whe sees “Kaiserspiel” has to regret that the story is not a novel. If she were, Friedrich Wilhelm, the blond-bearded heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Prussia, could start a consuming affair with the glow-eyed French Empress Eugénie, whose passion for her husband Napoleon III, who is suffering from bladder stones. has long since cooled down.

The siege of Paris would not last four and a half months – no one can stand this waiting period – but two weeks, and during this period sturdy Germanic warriors with fanatical combattants of the republic proclaimed after Napoleon’s defeat would fight several picturesque battles (without facial wounds, of course, we are in prime time).

The anarchist and commune fighter Louise Michel would be a woman who murdered men not only in the political but also in the erotic sense, to whom numerous reckless officers of the enemy fell victim. And the two old ladies, who met in the frame business in 1919 at Arenenberg Castle on the Swiss Untersee, would not have a conversation over tea and wild berries, but would scratch each other’s eyes and ruin their tower hairdos.

Men’s affair and women’s revue

But the events that “Kaiserspiel” revolves around were anything but romanesque, and this TV film, bravely padded with game scenes, has a hard time taking it. The proclamation of January 18, 1871, with which the German Empire took its place among the nations of Europe, was put into action by old white men, and it was also white men with beards who carried out the ceremony in the ice-cold Hall of Mirrors at Versailles Palace on battlefields and prepared them in back rooms. Lothar Machtan and Dirk Kämper, who wrote the script for “Kaiserspiel”, and the director Christian Twente, who directed it, also know this. But they also know what they owe the ZDF audience, and that is why their historical panorama tries to be both at the same time: a historical lecture and a colorful evening; a men’s affair and a women’s revue.

That doesn’t quite work. Especially when it comes to the so-called Realpolitik, i.e. the military and legal history events that preceded January 18, the authors and directors often brush aside all those precise details without which the events cannot really be understood. Not a single word is said that the “Reichstag”, of which there is occasional talk, was by no means the unelected representative body of the German Empire, but the parliament of the North German Confederation, whose constitution also became the basis of the new Reich constitution. The only information about the deputation, which is traveling from Berlin to Paris, is that Bismarck wishes to see it “submissive” – the parliamentarians led by Eduard von Simson, a veteran of the revolution of 1848, were anything but submissive. After all, the role that the diplomat Maximilian von Holnstein played in the negotiations with the stubborn King of Bavaria, Ludwig, is being duly recognized. The money that Bismarck used to sweeten the founding of the empire for the builder of Neuschwanstein came from the state treasury of the Kingdom of Hanover, annexed by Prussia in 1866. You could make your own documentary about the robbery as the leitmotif of German history.

Martial founding act: Wilhelm I (Peter Meinhardt, center) in the Hall of Mirrors of Versailles Palace
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Image: ZDF / Stanislav Honzik

The film handles the personal side of events as nonchalantly as the political one. The first thing you see of Wilhelm I is the bare old man’s feet, which would be quite interesting from a dramaturgical point of view if the stubborn old man (Peter Meinhardt), who by no means wants to be called the “German Emperor”, had more than just a staffage function. But apart from Bismarck, who Thomas Thieme wears as the forerunner of Helmut Kohl who was crowned with a pimple hood – only the dressing gown in which he puffs his cigar would not have suited the chancellor of the unit – there are no real people in “Kaiserspiel”. In one of the first settings, the film shows the powers of Europe as pawns on a board made of puzzle pieces. The crooked metaphor stands for a fundamental misalignment of the gaze. Bismarck, that was his genius, knew that the powers that be were people he could charm, bribe and intimidate. The “Kaiserspiel” doesn’t know.

What is interesting is what the film leaves out. About Louise Michel (Oona von Maydell) it is only recently said that she played a leading role in the “uprising of the so-called Paris Commune”. Not a word about the commune itself. The civil war finally surrendered the capital to the German victors. This is how stab-in-the-back legends arise. But France was reconciled after 1871, the German Reich not after 1918. The two aristocratic old women could have talked about this at Arenenberg Castle. But a television game is neither a novel nor a lecture. But something in between.

Kaiserspiel, today at 8:15 p.m. on ZDF.


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The television documentary “Kaiserspiel” on ZDF – The Times Hub

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