While parents disapproved of the killer game, young people loved
it. A world containing murderers was a lot more interesting to a
child than the rather boring world of adults, modelled on social
democracy according to Helmut Schmidt.
Perhaps the game was useful for working through diffuse childhood anxieties. Perhaps these anxieties were not so diffuse after all, instead the game was an attempt to gain access to the diffuse world of adults about which the latter kept an eloquent silence. Parents' experiences in the war, for example, were not discussed. Whatever.
In 1992 the organization Botschaft e.V. planned an interdisciplinary event which was supposed to combine fiction and reality. Botschaft e.V. was a loose association of interested people and artists with different backgrounds who were all somehow connected to the former West Berlin off-culture scene, which in turn came out of the squatters' movement in the early 80's. Botschaft e.V. had saved a listed building in the Leipziger Strasse from demolition by squatting it. In 1991 the documentary group dogfilm was established (Tina Ellerkamp, Jörg Heitmann, Merle Kröger, Ed van Megen and Philipp Scheffner).
They played the killer game for the first time in Berlin, an adult version of the children's game. The killer game was imported from Holland but like all urban tales its true origins are difficult to determine. Players are asked to "kill" other players and to walk the borderline between reality and fiction, while using this space productively. The game was a disaster, says dogfilmmaker Jörg Heitmann. Players didn't take it seriously enough. A Carrera car racing competition, which took place at the club Friseur (which was loosely associated with Botschaft and later to specialize in drum'n bass) at the same time, drew more attention.
The game fell into oblivion. dogfilm dealt with other topics such as the soap project (1996/97), a three-hour arte programme entitled Soap or Life is a soap opera, which also homed in on the complex area between reality and fiction. At the same time the filmmakers presented their themes, which were not directly related to their everyday life, without commenting on them. "Subsequently we wanted to make a film about our own environment" (Jörg Heitmann), a documentary about the international, so-called free-floating (artists') intelligentsia (Bourdieu) in Berlin which seemed to be loosing its hold after the euphoria of post-1989 (Techno, Berlin club culture in East Berlin ruins, etc.)
The dogfilmmakers thought a standard film featuring interviews with members of the subculture would be too boring. Instead, they decided to invite 10 keen players with a highly developed code of honour to participate in the killer game. "The killer game was a vehicle through which to talk about one's own life" (Tina Ellerkamp). The dogfilmmakers and players documented the course of events with dictaphones, diaries and different cameras (S-8, DV and Betacam).
In the adult version of the killer game players were not allowed to know one another. The action no longer took place in a darkened playroom but in the entire city of Berlin. The game didn't last 15 minutes but two weeks. There was not one murderer and one victim but 10 of each. It was self-evident that the private sphere remained off-limits and that violence was taboo.
The following people agreed to participate: video artist Akiko Hada, cartoonist Max Andersson, musician Alexander Christou, cinema programmer Cornelia Klauss, Super-8-puppet-filmmaker Dagie Brundert, architecture photographer Elizabeth Felicella, the actors Barbara Philipp, Roswitha Kreil and Dieter Kölsch, the musician and DJ Jim Lusted and the concept artist Klaus Weber.
They received their commission by mail, an envelope containing
name, address, photo and life-style of their victims. The choice
of murder weapon was up to them. Assassination attempts had to be
registered beforehand with the dogfilmmakers who would be
waiting at the future scene of the crime with their camera.
Players later decided to use toy weapons used in well-known crime stories: poison (powdered aspirin in a drink), car bombs (coke bottles painted black tied to the car bumper, and if I remember correctly first used in Astrid Lindgren's Kalle Blomquist books), radioactive material which can be slipped unnoticed into someone's pocket (a little package), a plastic poisonous spider slipped into a victim's shoe on the beach, a fax with a hidden message announcing the countdown of a bomb explosion, a deadly sticker on a motorcycle. Video artist Akiko Hada experiences a particularly inventive murder: her murderer kidnaps one of her beloved cuddly toy bunnies. In order to save it from being slaughtered Akiko has to commit harakiri.
killer.berlin.doc is a documentary with many fissures and fictive elements, a subjective artists' portrait, an unusually beautiful architectural film, a diary with many voices focusing on two weeks in May 1998. The filmmaker collective combines different techniques successfully and in an aesthetically convincing style (the subjective diary-like S-8, and video sequences of the players, and their "own" sequences).
The innovative structuring of images is extraordinary and unique, the flowing transitions between documentary and ficticious elements on a formal level reflect emotional insecurity, which is not only experienced by the players during the game. Berlin is simultaneously a dreamscape tinted in blue, a projection of a multitude of desires, an agglomeration of very diverse architectural styles. An aseptic computer-designed Potsdamer Platz is placed next to the waste land close to the location of the former wall. The game reorganizes the city. "Everyday life changes almost imperceptibly. There are real appointments, and others specially invented for the game. There are real pathways and killer pathways (...) The whole things is like making yourself fall in love artificially", says Roswitha Kreil. Suddenly, people between the age of 30 and 40 meet on the stairs in a strange house, ashamed by their actions. Emotional involvement in the game, an absolute pre-requisite, sometimes resulted in a blurred sense of reality which was threatening because it reflected the real and very difficult conditions of artists' lives.
"I am still not doing anything useful", says the comic artist Max Andersson at one point. "I am being lazy. I drink too much beer. I sleep until twelve and then I just sit around in a zombielike state. No clues, very few ideas. I think I fucked up my career as a detective."
Some of the players didn't want to stop their murderous activities and continued as ghosts, others withdrew from the game. Elizabeth Felicella was unhappy with the game of hide-and-seek and challenged her victim Dagie Brundert to a duel at the Soviet monument in Treptow. Jim Lusted visited Elizabeth to return the commission out of respect for his victim. "We stood on the balcony and discussed London, New York, the game and a shared inability to plan our daily routines. Jim spoke in a very clear and personal manner", says Elizabeth Felicella.
It seems strange, offensive, perhaps naive to play a killer game in a place where the Jewish holocaust was planned. On the other hand, living in Berlin means living and playing on contaminated soil. Is it offensive to play considering the necessities of daily life, in other words, can it be forgiven if we work on this soil? In one scene a target person is observed during a reading in the Jewish cemetery in Berlin-Mitte. This reading is a reaction of different players to the attack on a monument in the cemetery. This too is part of the daily life shown in the film, like the images of Clinton's visit on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the airlift, a visit to the Hoppegarten race course, the live broadcast of the German contribution to the Eurovision Song Contest. The overdone pathos of a Guildo Horn who sang "Piep, piep, piep, I love you", and the fake emotions which the singer generated in Germany, correspond to the artificial feelings of the players. The emotions seem remarkably real, like the enthusiasm for drugs in the Berlin Techno scene, the Art Party "Chance 2000", founded by filmmaker and theatre director Christoph Schlingensief in Spring 1998 with the motto "Confess that you exist", along with the huge numbers of unemployed (in Kreuzberg: 30%) who have lost self-determination in their lives. Different and simulated kinds of ordering systems which are constructed by killer.berlin.doc can be found in real life in Berlin at the end of the 90's.
"It strikes me that we live in a gigantic, almost unreal soap
bubble, and that's our life here, it is normal. Many people live
like this", says Barbara Philipp.
Freud claims that "the child who makes the transition from passive experience to active game-playing inflicts the kind of pain on his playmate which he has previously experienced himself. He takes revenge on a stand-in." Perhaps this film takes revenge on the urban universe by staging it once again.
To dogfilm's Killer pages