Nibelungen Festival 2024: The Diplomat

Under the title “The Diplomat”, the legendary figure Dietrich von Bern takes centre stage this year.

While the two authors dealt with the consequences of the slaughter at Etzel’s court in “Siegfried’s Heirs”, they now return to the eve of the war. The moment when Dietrich of Bern, knowing that Kriemhild wants revenge, rides towards the Wormsers in order to avert the catastrophe. Whereas Dietrich von Bern was previously more of a minor character, this time he is at the centre of the story. The authors were inspired by the real-life events surrounding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the so far unsuccessful attempts at mediation. Von Bern is a man of war who had to learn the painful lessons of war on the battlefield, including the suicide of his wife. Now the former king is without a country and hires himself out as a wooer for King Etzel, who incidentally does not appear in the play. The object of his desire is Kriemhild. But the warrior realises that the story will not end well. Arriving at the court in Worms, he soon realises that the ghost of Siegfried is omnipresent, while Kriemhild’s uncompromising desire for revenge awakens. Dietrich von Bern must also confront his own demons from the past. Suspecting nothing good, he hopes to prevent something worse from happening. Theories suggest that the legendary figure of Dietrich von Bern is modelled on the historical Ostrogoth king Theodoric the Great, who ruled the province of Ravenna. Incidentally, the Bern in the name of the exiled King Dietrich does not stand for the Swiss city, but for the medieval name of the Italian city of Verona, modelled on Ravenna.

With regard to the anti-war approach of the current play, Hagen actor Thomas Loibl explains: “On stage, creative artists can literally act out issues without anyone having to suffer or even die. And, more importantly, theatre can get a discussion going. One that, if you look at it idealistically, may ultimately make a small contribution to Dietrich’s quest for peace.” Director Roger Vontobel underlines the approach with the sentence: “Answers are not the right means in theatre. I like open ends, the perspective of possibility. Because a destruction is also the possibility of a new beginning for another person or another situation. So it’s not just an apocalypse, but a new beginning for a group of people.”

The ensemble

This year’s star is clearly Jasna-Fritzi Bauer. Born in 1989, the actress is best known for her role as detective Liv Moormann in Bremen’s “Tatort”. She is also a welcome guest on the cinema screen. For example, in “About a Girl”, for which she was honoured with the 2015 Bavarian Film Award for “Best Young Actress”. In 2018, she starred alongside Moritz Bleibtreu in the Sebastian Fitzek film adaptation “Abgeschnitten”. Since 30 May, she can also be seen in the Amazon series “Viktor Bringts”. She will spend the next six weeks in Worms.

Aufmerksamkeit erregte sie zudem durch ihr Outing. In einem exklusiven Interview mit Fotostrecke für die Juni-Ausgabe der Vogue. Dort schilderte sie, dass sie jahrelange ihre Beziehung mit der Künstlerin Katharina Zorn und deren gemeinsame Tochter geheim hielten. Mit Katharina Zorn spricht sie auch jeden Dienstag in dem Podcast „Messed up“ auf amüsante Weise über die Untiefen des Internets, die Herausforderungen des Alltags und natürlich den Beruf. In „Der Diplomat“ stellt sie sich der Herausforderung, die von Trauer und Hass zerrissene Kriemhild zu spielen. 

Franz Päzold, who already played King Gunther in the play “hildensaga.ein königinnendrama” directed by Roger Vontobel in 2022, is playing the main role this year, namely Dietrich von Bern. The actor, who was born in Dresden in 1989, has already appeared in numerous TV films and series, for example in “Tatort” and “SOKO” productions. Pätzold has also often appeared on the theatre stage, most notably at the Residenztheater in Munich and the Burgtheater in Vienna. But the Nibelungen Festival seems to have taken a particular liking to him. He favoured Worms over the Salzburg Festival, which would also have been an option for him this summer. The reasons he gave for this were the better pay and the significantly shorter playing time. He explained about his role: “We read Dietrich von Bern as a moral figure because he is convinced of something. But maybe he’s not moral at all, he also has selfish motives.”

The 55-year-old actor Thomas Loibl can be seen in the role of the sinister string-puller of the Burgundian family, Hagen. Loibl is a sought-after film actor and has appeared in front of the camera in recent years in productions as diverse as “Die Wannseekonferenz”, “Jackpot” and most recently in “Tatort”. After a correspondingly long break from the theatre, he is looking forward to returning to the stage. However, Loibl does not see his Hagen as a medieval badass, as he is usually portrayed. For the actor, the character is much more complex. He explained at the press conference: “Why shouldn’t someone like Hagen also be right to preserve the traditional rules and laws in all this current hysteria?”

The director

Swiss director Roger Vontobel, who already directed “Siegfried’s Heirs” in 2018 and whose spectacular Worms production of Ferdinand Schmalz’s “hildensaga” in 2022 also delighted audiences and critics, is once again directing. When you talk to him, you can almost feel the energy and the desire to create art. I asked the director why he keeps devoting himself to the Nibelung myth. Even before he made his first appearance in Worms in 2018, he staged Friedrich Hebbel’s “The Nibelungs”. He explained to me in a friendly, chatty tone: “It’s simply fascinating in itself. I always compare it to “Star Wars”. The universe is, so to speak, unfathomable and huge. The Nibelungs are a conglomeration of stories, of interconnections and always a mirror into our time. The more I study it, the more fascinating I find this universe.” Of course, the name Vontobel also comes with expectations. But do these expectations also create pressure? “There is always pressure! Do people like what I do or not? But the joy prevails. I like to tell stories in a big way and I can do that here in Worms,” says Vontobel, describing how he deals with the pressure. Director Nico Hofmann also has expectations. He justifies the decision to bring the Swiss director to Worms for a third time by saying that Vontobel has a gift for staging impressive images while still keeping the story firmly in focus.

The authors

This is the second visit to Worms by the author duo Feridun Zaimoglu and Günter Senkel after “Siegfried’s Heirs” (2018). The idea of telling the story from Dietrich von Bern’s perspective came from Thomas Laue (Artistic Director of the Nibelungen Festival), as co-author Günter Senkel revealed at the press conference for the play. When asked why they were delving into the Nibelung cosmos again after “Siegfried’s Heirs”, Senkel explained that they found the idea exciting. They also had a guiding principle: “We try to tell the story where there are gaps and that’s how we came across Dietrich von Bern”. In this respect, it was conceivable for them to create another play. In fact, “The Diplomat” is already the author duo’s fourth exploration of the Nibelungs. They previously wrote a play for the Munich Volkstheater in 2015. Most recently, they told Richard Wagner’s “Rheingold” as “Another Story” at the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus. Incidentally, this was also staged by director Roger Vontobel. At the press conference, Zaimoglu gave an eloquent performance and read a monologue by Kriemhild. The scene: Siegfried is dead. His body is laid out in a hall, but is still bleeding): “When your murderer steps up to your bier, the blood gushes from your body. You are dead, you should not bleed”. But the mourning widow’s astonishment soon gives way to anger: “Cursed be my clan. Let their souls rot.” Finally, she announces: “I am the dazzling white ghost that roams the chambers”. Not necessarily the best prerequisite for Dietrich von Bern, who is to woo the widow on Etzel’s behalf. We will find out how this courtship ultimately turns out on 12 July, as the play premieres on this day and will then be performed until 28 July.

The cultural programme is of course also worth a visit. There is also a return of a well-known festival name, namely the author Albert Ostermaier. The well-known Munich writer wrote for the festival from 2015 to 2017. He has now written the play “False Gods” for the festival’s cultural programme. Three Norns are at the centre of the play. In Norse mythology, norns are female beings who determine fate, some of whom are said to be descended from gods, others from dwarves or elves. With their eerie demeanour, they comment on the characters’ actions in a cautionary manner before they themselves suspect how they are entangled in the web of fate. In the play, they spin and tighten the threads of life as three goddesses of Norse mythology who divine fate. They weave and knot the plots and relationships of the “Nibelungen” saga in ever new and unexpected ways to create a narrative in which different temporal and stylistic levels permeate each other. Two of the three Norns are played by actresses who are also no strangers to the festival. Dennenesch Zoudé and Wiebke Puls are returning to Worms this year. Wiebke Puls was one of the first to appear at the festival in the play “Brünhild” (2003) in the eponymous role. Dennenesch Zoudé was a member of the ensemble in the play “Gold” in 2016. The third member of the cast is Sophie von Kessel, who is taking part in the festival’s cultural programme for the first time. In parallel to her stage career at renowned German-speaking theatres, the actress has appeared in numerous successful television and cinema productions (“Der Taunuskrimi”, “Ein starkes Team”, “Tatort”). The play is directed by the renowned opera and theatre director Ludger Engels.

Tickets and further information about “The Diplomat” and the Nibelungen Festival can be found here: