Captain or New Worlds in Plastic

Well, Der Hauptmann von Koepenick is well known in German, not so well in the wider world the Captain of Koepenick though even many Germans refer more to the Hero of Zuckmayer’s novel rather than to the real Friedrich Wilhelm Voigt who, in the first decade of the 20th century mislead the German authorities by using their own means: the unconditional acceptance of authorities and their symbols. Similarly the Swiss novelist Keller had been  earlier dealing with the very similar sujet: reputation, status, outwardness, symbols are decisive when it comes to assessment and recognition of people: Kleider Machen Leute (Clothes Make the Man or: Fine Feathers Make Fine Birds).

Now, times changed – and legal science and sociology for instance know too well that status doesn’t matter anymore. Today it is the contract: the law that may define status but it is the law that is decisive and it finds its expression in documents. Everything and everybody is judged according to documents and everything is documented – and even if we don’t possess the necessary document we are defined by it, for instance by being classified  as undocumented migrant (and this status is well documented somewhere).

Actually, it may be that I am currently one of them – or nearly one of them: Before traveling here I had been told I would need a visa and I would have to buy it at the airport, after arrival in Turkey. But then I had been told that I would not need one – so I am now sitting here without visa and with much hope that the latter information is true. As, of course I know: it is not man making history but historical documents making man.

And this is something we know here at my current university – Orta Doğu Teknik Üniversitesi – too. Finally it had been in some way a typical American style campus university. And although the US had been fired at a very early stage (and one may even say: literally fired) several of the features are carried on. For instance: one cannot simply enter the campus. One needs the right document: finally we know as well: it is not the consciousness nor the real existence that de4ermines the consciousness – rather it is the document that makes the human being somewhat reality.

So, as i returned Saturday from my trip to Ankara, taking one of the minibuses, we stop briefly after entering campus ground. A guy peeps into the bus and the folks show well-behaved a little plastic cards. Peepy is happy, nearly. He begins to stare at me – and even my documented ignorance towards authorities does not help. And Sibel’s letter, saying the entire truth and authorising efendi Herrmann to enter the holy grail of science and knowledge is somewhere in the apartment. And as I do not want to offend efendi peepy, I pick my little wallet out of the pocket. Star… – stars from different coffee houses: pay 9 overprized warm drinks and we earned enough to give you the impression of inviting you for the 10th. Which one …, OK, it should be plastic and it should not emphasise too much the coffee – finally science and academia is about serious work and not about drinking coffee – and finally real existence is about human serious documents and not just about dressing up and of course it is not about mimicking authority.

A Mister Guttenberg had to learn this, a Turkish army may still has to learn it – and if and to which the the world really changes may be left an unanswered question for a while. Sometimes at least one could get the impression that there is not such a fundamental difference between a wrong captain, a wrong count and a pretending document holder. Though one point is surely important in all these cases: the pretender is always depending on the believer. – This made the year Zero possible and it is a principle that still works over 2000 years later and it also works after Adorno’s book on the Authoritiarian Personality had been published little it more than 60 years ago.

Something we should not forget in a country like this – and something we should also see when we hope with huge credulity that overcoming greed will help to make a better world.


Der Paß ist der edelste Teil von einem Menschen. Er kommt auch nicht auf so einfache Weise zustand wie ein Mensch. Ein Mensch kann überall zustandkommen, auf die leichtsinnigste Art und ohne gescheiten Grund, aber ein Paß niemals. Dafür wird er auch anerkannt, wenn er gut ist, während ein Mensch noch so gut sein kann und doch nicht anerkannt wird.

[The passport is the noblest part of a human being. It doesn’t come about as easy as a human being. A human being can ocur everywhere, recklessly and without brainy reason, but this will never happen with a passport. But for that reason it will be accepted, if it is a good one, whereas a human being can be as good as we can think and still will not be recognised.]

(Bertolt Brecht, ‘Flüchtlingsgespräche’, 1940; transl. PH)


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