I have a peculiar fascination with record keeping. Some of it is professional, some of it is the anarchist in me. If you know how it’s supposed to work, you know all the parts that simply don’t. Life is an adventure, not a shopping list.
A small record keeping error lies at the heart of Carl Zuckmayer’s The Captain of Köpenick. Wilhelm Voigt, opportunistic small time crook in Kaiser’s Germany, doesn’t have official papers to prove he exists. Under different circumstances, he may have been pleased: his success as petty thief relies on flying under the radar. But he is a little bit tired. His personal resilience, among much running and evading, is waning. He wants to leave his mark, and that mark involves being formally recognised as a person, not as an administrative oddity. (As an interesting aside, the Christmas episode of Call the Midwife relied on impeccable public record keeping in Britain of the same period to give closure to one of its most destitute characters. In early 20th century Britain, you formally exist even if you are a baby dying of abject poverty). Continue reading