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Give Peace a Chance?

The city of Münster has embraced its role as site of the Peace of Westphalia. For a century or so, the peace was looked down on by Germans (characterized as “Germany’s Shame” at one point), but these days it is increasingly looked to as a model. It makes sense, therefore, that Münster hosted a new play by Stefan Otteni called “Give Peace a Chance – Wallenstein” (review in English) on the occasion of the 375th anniversary of the Peace of Westphalia.

I haven’t seen the play (which has only been performed in Münster as far as I can tell, although a “trailer” is available on YouTube), but the story from various reviews (the English one, as well as here and here) does not paint a pretty picture. It doesn’t seem so much like a new play as a mash-up of scenes lifted directly from Friederich Schiller’s “Wallenstein” trilogy, musical pieces, text from the Peace of Westphalia, and ongoing references to the Ukraine war. All critics conclude that the result is a hodgepodge that doesn’t hold together and doesn’t have a coherent message. The audience seems to agree as well, as critics remarked that many attendees didn’t bother to return after the intermission halfway through the three-hour performance.

I can’t produce evidence for it, but it seems to me that the idea of mixing several different things together and passing it off as a piece of art is a particularly modern phenomenon. Art is about impressing an audience, and combining elements of different things in a seamless way is difficult. Throwing different things together and letting the audience make of it what it will is lazy and unconvincing. That’s not what audiences want. We get disparate impressions of the world all the time, and we hope for art to make sense of it for us. This is not to say that art has to provide a tidy message, but it does need to present things in a way that at least invites us down a certain line of thinking. Critics agree that this play creates some interesting juxtapositions, but ultimate leaves them as a meaningless pastiche rather than attempting to create something out of them.

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