ECD Tim Stuebane on launching a counter-book to the republishing of Adolf Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’
The copyright protection of Adolf Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ (My Struggle) expired this year, meaning the notorious book can be published in Germany again. It's happening at a time when right-wing populism and racism is growing within the country. The Berlin office of Ogilvy & Mather and its client Gesicht Zeigen!, an association encouraging people to stand up against racism in Germany, decided to do something to combat it. The result is ‘Mein Kampf - gegen Rechts’ (My Struggle Against Racism), a counter-book to Hitler’s with an almost identical cover but very different content. The book features the stories of 11 individuals who have had to deal with differing types of xenophobia and intolerance. Rightly so, the project has received widespread praise and media coverage, and the first book run is completely sold out.
LBB’s Addison Capper caught up with Ogilvy Berlin ECD Tim Stuebane to find out more.
LBB> Can you give us a bit of background to the situation in Germany?
TS> These days, Germany is facing a democratic imbalance: right-wing populism is growing and everyday racism is spreading. For the first time since the Nazi Government, right-wing parties won more than 20 per cent on the latest elections. There was always immigration, but the focus is now on that topic as the number of immigrants increased dramatically because of the war in Syria and the swelling stream of refugees from Africa. This situation is used by right-wing parties by playing with the fear of people in Germany. More and more people follow them as they believe these hate paroles.
LBB> How long have you been planning to do something to combat it? When did the idea to relate it to the publishing of Mein Kampf come about?
TS> We felt that we had to do something last year when we realised that right-wing parties had started to win in elections and we learned through the media that a lot of houses sheltering refugees were being burned down all over Germany. Together with our client ‘Gesicht Zeigen!’, an association to encourage people to stand up against racism in Germany, we knew we had to do something against it.
But how could we help?
Then in the middle of 2015 we learned that Hitler's Mein Kampf would be published again in 2016. Absolutely the wrong moment in time for it, we thought. The idea was born to stand against the re-publication of Mein Kampf with an open-minded book: ‘Mein Kampf – gegen Rechts’ (Mein Kampf - Against Racism)! We planned to use the tumult around the re-publication and turn it into a discussion about society in Germany currently drifting to the right and how to act against it.
LBB> How did you find each of the stories featured in Mein Kampf - gegen Rechts?
TS> To get a broad variety of stories in the book we defined some content fields beforehand. We had some of the stories quite precisely in our minds, whereas others were found by the authors we cooperated with. And for every story we wanted to have a different author to match the story - because you might be a passionate struggler against racism, but your writing skills might be very poor. So we didn’t just have to find 11 strugglers but also 11 authors. Luckily everyone we asked wanted to be part of the project.
LBB> The older lady who removes Nazi graffiti really stood out for me in the film. Is her work well documented within Germany? How was she to work with?
TS> We already knew her story, someone in our agency read an article about her. She is a amazing person: for 30 years now she has been removing Nazi graffiti and absurdly she has been sued for it several times.
LBB> Can you tell us a bit more about the book and its content?
TS> Released exactly at the same time of publication and with the same title and layout as the original, our counter-book features 11 people and their courageous struggle against racism. Touching stories of people like Mosche Dagan who survived a concentration camp, the granny Irmela Mensah-Schramm who removes Nazi graffiti or MTV host Wana Limar who had to face hate as a refugee child and now tries to encourage refugee children. We also integrated forewords from three national celebrities of different fields to drive more attention to the book. And with the Europa Verlag we found an enthusiastic publishing house as a partner. There were just a few minor things we had to discuss together, we both had a great consensus of "this has to be done". So we produced a first edition of 11,000 books with 11 different covers, available in every bookstore in Germany and via Amazon.
LBB> What kind of reaction have you received within Germany?
TS> Most of the reactions were positive. I mean, the first edition has nearly sold out. The press reactions were massively beyond our expectations. It took a while, there were articles here and there. But after a big lecture in the ‘Topography of Terror’ (the former Nazi headquarters and now museum) with some of our strugglers, some celebrities, the heads of the association ‘Gesicht Zeigen!’, and of course some of Ogilvy Berlin, the whole thing took off. The biggest newspapers had it on their title, TV and radio stations broadcast it. And then there were also a few voices who did not quite understand what we were aiming for. They were talking about ‘freedom of the press’ and thought that our book was just tackling the republication of Hitler's ‘Mein Kampf’. They did not realise that the book is a spectacular trigger for PR and social media to turn the discussion into the direction we want.
LBB> Do you plan to print more copies?
TS> Yes, of course!
LBB> Do you hope this project inspires more people to put up a fight against the rise of right wing politics?
TS> That's the plan and our hope. As we have a wide range of stories, everyone should be touched by at least one of them. Then you feel the anger creeping up in your throat. And you want to do something!
LBB> Do you have any plans to extend this project further in the future?
TS> Right now we are talking with our colleagues from the US to publish the book there as well. Let's see. But it's also possible to start other battles against racism without referring to "Mein Kampf". The struggle has to continue – unfortunately.
LBB> What were your most memorable moments during the creation of Mein Kampf gegen Rechts?
TS> There was one moment after a phone call, when I realised that everything was coming together perfectly; every element somehow made absolute sense. There is the association "Gesicht Zeigen!" (which means “show your face" literally), and we show faces on our covers. The publishing house's name is "Europa Verlag" (Europe Pushlisher). Could it be better? Everyone wanted to be a part of the project, and after weeks of tough work things seemed to get into a flow. The beauty of an idea!
And then we had a touching moment in the agency when José Paca, one of our strugglers, visited the agency to pick up his personal copies of the book with a picture of himself on the cover and the "Mein Kampf – against racism" stripe above it. That must have been such a remarkable moment for him, as he wasn't able to say anything. He stood there for nearly half an hour with tears in his eyes. Unbelievable!
LBB> Any parting thoughts?
TS> I wish that many more media professionals would stand up against racism. It's our duty to do so. Imagine doctors watching an accident and doing nothing. That's like media guys watching society drifting to right-wing populism. We have to stop it, because who else will? We are trained for it!