Sigi Zimmerschied on the town Passau
Tender Loving Care From Outside

Sigi Zimmerschied, satirical revue artist
Sigi Zimmerschied, satirical revue artist | Photo (detail): © Axel Schubert

Far away in the wilds of south-eastern Germany the town of Passau is not only the place where three rivers – the Danube, the Inn and the Ilz – meet, but also where the cultures of three countries come together. German “Kabarett” artist Sigi Zimmerschied describes what life is like in the town and hopes its self-esteem is going to be given a boost.

Mr Zimmerschied, you have lived in Passau for so long. What for you makes it so endearing?

I love the diversity of influences. It is amazing just how many influences have merged together in this small town – the cultures of Bohemia, Austria and Bavaria. Passau really is a multifaceted town. There are Italian and rural influences – even to be found in the administration.

Urban development by means of “Kabarett”

Back in 1975, along with Bruno Jonas, you started a “Kabarett” (satirical revue) in Passau called “Die Verhohnepeopler” (The Mickey-Takers) – at that time the atmosphere there was very conservative. Your shows led a to a fair number of law suits being filed against you for blasphemy and defamation of the state. Since then, however, the atmosphere in Passau has changed quite a lot, hasn’t it?

When we started our “Kabarett” 40 years ago, we were faced with a particularly hierarchical situation. The Bavarian CSU was very strong, the church was all-powerful and there was only one newspaper that monopolised everything. In order to make a life for oneself in a place like that we had to first create a kind of free zone for development. We used words to blast our way through to this zone. Then, step by step, the mood started to change. The place we performed – the Scharfrichterhaus – and the Passauer Kleine Zeitung newspaper brought about a counterculture. Our “Kabarett” was a hit. The fact that we won all the law cases files against us gave a lot of people courage.

Did the university, that was opened in 1978, contribute to these changes?

In the beginning it was only the price of the cocktails that changed as we were dealing with a more simple student body – mostly people studying law and economics. Nevertheless a few more interesting structures slowly started to evolve. This has all led to the last mayoral elections being won by an 80 per cent majority for the SPD and our patchwork faction of greens and students. So you see, atmospherically speaking, things really have changed quite a bit.

A spectacle of nature with three rivers

What is an “absolute must“ for visitors to Passau?

They should go up to one of the viewing points – Veste Oberhaus or Mariahilf – and take in this unique landscape. The way the three rivers flow into each other really is quite impressive. Then there is the Innstadt – a district that has a definite Czech feel to it that provides an elegant contrast to the centre of town that is so Baroque and so Italian.

Which building are you most impressed by?

Mine, of course! No, seriously, of course you should take a look at all the architectural monstrosities like the cathedral. There are, however, quite a lot of creatively original, delicate things to discover if you go for a stroll along the river Inn.

What is the best way to start a conversation with the locals in Passau?

It is not difficult. You simply have to somehow step close to somebody or other and then act as if you know the score. Then, mentally, you have already become a “Passauer”. Two years ago I would have answered the question differently. I would have said you have to stand up in the middle of the pedestrian shopping area and start ranting and raving about students. Back then the situation was very tense, but since the last flood disaster in the summer of 2013 when the students showed such an amazing readiness to help, things have in fact changed a lot.

Where do you particularly enjoy Passau?

At home, in my house on the river Inn. Or I go for a walk along the Innkai – the quays along the river Inn in Passau’s picturesque Old Town.

A festival for image cultivation

What are the people of Passau particularly proud of?

Of the town, its location, its architecture. Maybe, too, of some of the cultural events that take place there like the Europäische Wochen festival or the “Kabarett” festival. The “Passauer” always needs a lot of public attention, widespread recognition throughout the land and beyond. He is proud of anything that might get him some tender loving care from outside.

What is the best time of year to visit the town?

That all depends on a person’s mentality. For me, I would say November. That is when everything is all grey – all the better for the town’s top attractions to really stand out . If it is a local flavour you are into, then spring is the best time. If hullabaloo is your thing, you should come sometime in the phase of madness between June and July when there is always some festival happening somewhere or other and always some kind of image cultivation event going on. As I said, for me personally I recommend November.

You once said that the form your art has taken has something to do with Passau. In what way?

I first experienced the effects of language and movement in the Catholic church when I was an altar boy and lector. The atmosphere was very Baroque. Rampant self-projection in word, deed and image tended to be the order of the day. Everything was decorated in some way, there was a huge theatrical build-up to everything. This of course influences the way one expresses criticism of all these things. And that is why our criticism of the opulence turned out in fact to be very opulent itself: theatrical, Baroque, playful – in contrast to Protestant “Kabarett” for which a mere two dialectic thoughts and a punch line are enough.