'Crazy' Migrants: Immigrant Identity in Europe

Turkish-German playwright Nurkan Erpulat discusses immigrant identity

Seven German youths, each assuming a different pose, stood before a silent audience, spitting and swearing before sitting down in a row of yellow chairs.

The opening scene of Turkish-German playwright Nurkan Erpulat's acclaimed work, Verrucktes Blut (Crazy Blood), is a surreal and ironic examination of teenage immigrant identity in modern Germany. Erpulat fielded audience questions about Verrücktes Blut after a film screening of the play in Perkins Library Monday night.

Germanic Studies professor Ann Marie Rasmussen, who helped organize Erpulat's visit, said she wanted to host the talk because his work addresses modern Europe's most pressing cultural issue.

"There is a huge question of how to integrate Europe's Muslim and immigrant communities," Rasmussen said. "And he's living that conflict."

The play, which has been performed more than 150 times around Europe, follows the psychological and emotional unraveling of a group of Turkish-German students after their soft-spoken drama teacher comes into possession of a student's handgun. The teacher, while trying to direct the students in a Friedrich Schiller play, prods her students about honor killings, veiling and assimilation into German culture. Eventually, all the characters are forced to examine their identities -- as Turks, Germans, teenagers and actors.

According to Erpulat, the play was meant to highlight the absurdities of the ongoing political dialogue in Germany surrounding Turkish and other immigrant communities.

"The discourse around migration in Germany is ridiculous," Erpulat said. "We have to start having an eye-level conversation about immigration, without acting like a teacher and her students."

Verrucktes Blut was translated into English from the German by UNC-Chapel Hill Germanic Studies professor Priscilla Layne, who coordinated Monday’s talk with Rasmussen. Steffan Kaupp, a third-year student in the Carolina-Duke Graduate Program in German Studies, used Layne’s translation to create subtitles. Kaupp said he wanted to create subtitles because it engages issues of multiculturalism and German identity "on so many levels."

After the screening, audience members asked Erpulat questions about the play and his career in both English and German. For Kaupp, one of Erpulat's interpreters while he took questions, the opportunity to pick the playwright's brain was a special treat.

"It's great to discuss a play like this with its playwright," Kaupp said. "This is really meta-theater, a play within a play. It's interesting to see how he wrote in things we may not have seen or interpreted."  

For more information about Duke Germanic Studies and a list of upcoming events, visit http://german.duke.edu/news-events.