“Integrating a stain into one's own self-image”

The Theater Bonn presents the world premiere of the play "Bilder von uns" (Pictures of us) on Thursday. In it, the Berlin playwright Thomas Melle deals with the cases of abuse at the Aloisius College in Bonn.

"The background in the play is very similar to real events," the 40-year-old Melle, who was himself a student at the Aloisiuskolleg, told Evangelischer Pressedienst (epd). However, he said, it is neither a continuation of the work of the associations affected nor a defense or indictment of the perpetrators, but an "aesthetic confrontation".

"The piece deals with fictional conflicts that may nevertheless be typical of the struggles in reality," Melle said.

Melle does not want to judge, but to illuminate

According to investigative reports, 60 victims accuse 18 Jesuits and five secular employees of the college of sexual assault and abuse that allegedly took place from the 1950s through the 2000s. "I was on the spot, I understand the conflicts exactly, the dislike, the defense, the hatred, the pride, everything. And precisely also the ambivalence," said Melle. But it is not his task to judge, but "to illuminate the whole thing with the often enough opaque means of art, to throw one's own, complex perspective on what is happening.".

The main character in the play, a 40-year-old manager, like many college students, was once photographed naked by a priest. "The whole system you grew up in is called into question, and the struggle for your own identity and biography sets in," said Melle, whose novels "Sickster" and "3.000 Euros" was nominated twice for the German Book Prize.

Everyone deals differently with what they have experienced

When 40-year-olds realize that they were photographed naked by their educator as children, that triggers a lot in one person, and nothing at all in another, Melle said. Third parties would hold their heads up for a few weeks and then suppress it. "A fourth, on the other hand, is already broken," said the playwright. This is also due to the fact that other people's view of the victims changes. "That's why it's so brave of those affected to start speaking out."

The perpetrators hardly play a role in the play, said the writer. They would only become more and more guilty because they did not speak out. "Like silent, dead gods, they hang over the scenery and have actually already made off," explained Melle. The victims have to sort everything out among themselves and with themselves.

Commenting on the current state of processing real cases of abuse in schools, the former Aloisius College student said the institutions affected could only function again "if they deal with it offensively, don't just work it off to get rid of it, but really process it". Institutions must "integrate the stain into their own self-image," Melle said. "That's the only way."

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