Playmobil  Kafka on Youtube

Scene from “Letter to my Father” posed with Playmobil figures
Scene from “Letter to my Father” posed with Playmobil figures © Michael Sommer and Reclam Verlag

Classics don’t have to be boring, thought Michael Sommer to himself, and in 2015 he started the Youtube channel “Sommers Weltliteratur to go” (Sommer’s World Literature to go), in collaboration with Reclam Verlag. He presents a weekly work of world literature on his channel, posed with his Playmobil cast – in compact and entertaining format – including the works of Franz Kafka.

In this article, we will show you three of the eight texts that the literature graduate, film director, author and dramaturge has published in his German playlist Käferalarm! – Werke von Franz Kafka (Bug Alarm! – Works by Franz Kafka). Anyone with a particular interest in what Kafka was like as a person and his family should be sure to watch Brief an den Vater (Letter to my Father). Die Verwandlung (The Metamorphosis) is not only Kafka’s bestseller, but also Michael Sommer’s. And things get really eerie and Kafkaesque In der Strafkolonie (In the Penal Colony). Careful! Not for the faint-hearted! You can turn on English captions in the downright corner of the Youtube player. At the end Michael Sommer himself tells us a little about the story of his project.

“Letter to my Father”

Sommer’s World Literature to go (presented by Michael Sommer and Reclam Verlag) +++ Turn on English captions in the downright corner of the Youtube player

“The Metamorphosis”

"Sommer’s World Literature to go" (presented by Michael Sommer and Reclam Verlag) +++ Turn on English captions in the lower right corner of the Youtube player

“In the Penal Colony”

"Sommer’s World Literature to go" (presented by Michael Sommer and Reclam Verlag) +++ Turn on English captions in the downright corner of the Youtube player
Michael Sommer, how did you get the idea for this format?

I worked as a dramaturge at Ulm Theatre until 2014. Explaining and communicating theatre and literature is one of the most important tasks in this job. I experimented with a variety of fun formats in the process, I frequently used Playmobil and even Barbies. At a launch event for Dantons Tod (Danton’s Death) by Georg Büchner I just left the camera running while I improvised with the figures to explain the story. Afterwards I put the blurry video on Youtube, and I was initially amazed at how many people had viewed it. Then I realised that the play was currently the set work for German Abitur students in Baden-Württemberg, and that young people obviously have a need for simple summaries on the internet. So in January 2015 I started to create a weekly synopsis of a work of world literature – in collaboration with my plastic colleagues. And I’ve been doing it ever since.

Who are your followers?

Most of my users are under 25 and watch my videos to give themselves a quick reminder of what the story’s actually about before the next German test or Abitur exam. Of course there are teachers who use my videos in lessons too, and there are allegedly fans who have subscribed to the channel for pure entertainment value as well. Obviously it’s also possible to use the videos as you would once have used a theatre guide.

What kind of feedback do you get?

Yes, sure, I’ve had the comment “Thank God, now I won’t have to read the **** book!” on more than one occasion on my channel. On the other hand there’s also fantastic feedback from people who become interested in a story as a result of my videos or are motivated to re-read a book. In fact what makes me happiest is when I can inspire young people to take a creative and playful approach to literature themselves – for instance by creating their own videos. I like to share those as “guest videos” on my channel as well.

Was Reclam Verlag on board from the start?

Six months after I started the channel, I knocked on the door of the publisher famous for those “little yellow books” and said: “Look what I’m doing, maybe we should get together and do something?” I was really lucky that we “clicked” straightaway and found each other. Since then there have been numerous classics “presented by Reclam”, and they always proof my videos – which is great for me, after all I’m just a one-man-band (albeit with lots of co-workers 7.5 cm tall), and business is a bit lonely for me sometimes.

What do you do when you aren’t doing mock-ups of world literature with Playmobil figures?

At the moment my wife and I spend most of our time looking after our dog Watson, who is quite unwell; otherwise we very much enjoy the lakes and mountains around Munich, where we live.

What links you personally with Kafka and his works?

The feeling of alienation, of somehow being an outsider, not really belonging, in the family, at work, in society – this theme that keeps cropping up in Kafka’s work, I can really relate to that. Indeed according to his biography Kafka himself was quite the outsider on the literature scene, or with regard to his complicated relationships. This unease in society, which is an absolutely central element of Kafka’s modernity, is something I’ve experienced myself – particularly as a young man. Nowadays I’m quite contented with the fact that I’m a bit of an odd bug.

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