Last night I went to a performance of ‘Cabaret’ at Stockholm’s ‘Stadsteatern’. Starring popular singer, Sarah Dawn Finer, the story never felt more relevant. Set in and around the decadent Kit Kat Club, the familiar story depicts the slow and insidious growth of Nazism in pre-war Germany. As Hitler’s politics start to become more accepted, life initially goes on as usual inside the nightclub. But slowly, even the performers cannot ignore the hardening attitudes, the anti-semitism and what is necessary to survive. As the Nazis rise to power, and ‘Germanness’ falls into focus, the characters have to make a choice: stay or go.
One of the main characters is an American author based in Berlin. As he is confronted by the rise of Nazism he stands up against it saying ‘if you don’t stand against it, you stand with it’. Somewhat remniscent of a US President in a speech against terrorism, this hit a raw nerve. Just because we are not actively and vocally against something, does it really mean that we are for it? Is it that black and white?
As right-wing politics yet again take hold in Europe, what can we learn from the past? If we stand by and say nothing, do nothing, are we in effect accepting it? Are we saying it’s ok? And if we don’t stand up for others, who will stand up for us when we need it?
In the musical Cabaret, we see the nightclub as a metaphor of Berlin, slowly falling more and more under the influence of dark powers. We see the characters numb themselves in alcohol and we see one main character bend to the norms of society by demonstratively removing his makeup – stripped of his uniqueness and his humanity.
Never has it felt more relevant than today. ‘You are not German’ is today expressed as ‘You are not European‘ or ‘You are not Swedish’. And as I was consumed in the musical, I thought to myself, can we do it differently this time? Can we beat the negative forces in society and come out of it victorious? Or are condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past?