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The Captain from Köpenick: The Hundredth Anniversary of a Hoax

Friedrich Wilhelm Voigt had obtained an uniform at some odds-and-ends shop in Potsdam. Wearing this garment, he took command of two divisions of Prussian guards in Berlin on 16 October 1906. Claiming to be under ‘the uppermost orders from the German Cabinet’ he led them to Köpenick where he occupied the town hall, arrested the Mayor and confiscated the city’s treasury. He managed to escape with only a meagre sum of 4,000 Marks, but failed to get his hands on a much-wanted passport, as there simply was no passport office in Köpenick.

Back then, half the world was laughing about this picaresque tale. Even the Kaiser was said to have laughed and thus, following a two-year prison sentence, pardoned the con man who had been arrested soon after his crime. But what actually made them laugh? This farce was seen as proof of the blind obedience to a uniform in Prussia at the time, as well as its zeitgeist as an expression of Teutonic subservience.

Carl Zuckmayer called his play about the counterfeit captain a German tale. In 1931 it took the stages by storm, though he himself left Germany when the Nazis banned his plays from being performed and were organising book burnings in 1933. The character of unemployed shoemaker Wilhelm Voigt combines tragedy with the humour and wit of the everyday life of an outsider in German society during the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm. In dealing with arbitrary acts by the state the picaresque element has always been a popular form of resistance.

In 2006, the citizens of the district of Treptow-Köpenick in Berlin were celebrating the 100th anniversary of the captain’s hoax along with several arts, cultural, and special events. All Berliners as well as guests from inside and outside the country were warmly invited to come to a very historic district of Germany’s capital, which is also the greenest teeming with rivers and lakes. You will find an updated programme of events in each issue of the Rathaus Journal until the end of October.

Dr. Klaus Ulbricht, previous District Mayor of Treptow-Köpenick, Berlin


Bezirksamt Treptow-Köpenick
Rathaus Köpenick

Alt-Köpenick 21
12555 Berlin


Tel.: (030) 90297-0

PF: 910 240
12414 Berlin

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