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The novel’s humor derives partly from the former Führer’s naive reactions to present-day German life. Having missed out on 60 years of the country’s postwar history, Hitler perceives everything from an obsolete Nazi perspective. He believes, for example, that the presence of Turks on Berlin’s streets is a legacy of his successor Karl Doenitz’s effort to bring Turkey into the war on Germany’s side. And he erroneously thinks that Wikipedia’s linguistic resemblance to Wikinger, the German word for Vikings, means that the website has Aryan roots.
In these and other ways, “Er Ist Wieder Da” allows readers to laugh directly at Hitler. They can laugh at his ignorance, his destitution (he has no money, no job, no home), and the incongruous image of him wearing blue jeans and sneakers, which are lent to him by a kindly Berlin kiosk operator who takes pity on the ex-dictator.
Every one of these examples highlights how Hitler, stripped of his dictatorial power, can be funny. Particularly comical is the fact that Hitler preserves his delusions of grandeur despite his lowly circumstances. Throughout the novel, he insists that “destiny” has enabled him to survive in order to rescue Germany from its present-day plight. Yet he repeatedly runs up against an intractable problem: No one is able to recognize him for who he really is. Instead, ordinary Germans routinely misidentify him either as one of the country’s many Hitler impersonators or a comedian deeply committed to a life of method acting.
This running gag in “Er Ist Wieder Da” is meant to entertain, but it also serves as a critical commentary on the increasingly satirical representation of Hitler in contemporary popular culture. When the novel portrays young German teens as unable to recognize Hitler as a real historical figure, the text critiques the corrosive impact of humor on historical consciousness.
Indeed, as it unfolds, ”Er Ist Wieder Da” takes a moralistic turn by showing the dangers to which laughing at Hitler can lead. Early on, the kiosk owner’s admiration of Hitler’s “impersonation” of the führer prompts him to introduce the ex-dictator to a friend who works for a television station. Before long, the novel (in homage to the film “Network”) portrays how the station, seeking to boost its ratings, invites Hitler to appear as a guest on the talk show of a Turkish comedian. In his short appearance, Hitler predictably launches into an epic rant (mostly about foreigners) and becomes an immediate hit in no time at all, a YouTube sensation.