Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me. So goes the old English rhyme for children but it seems that lesson may never have been taught in Germany.
Police in Hannover are now investigating the director of the state's opera for assault after he reportedly responded to a newspaper review by rubbing dog excrement into the critic's face.
The Hannover state opera house apologised for the incident and said on Monday that it was suspending ballet director Marco Goecke with immediate effect.
The daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported that a furious Goecke approached its dance critic, Wiebke Huester, during the interval of a premiere at Hannover's opera house on Saturday and asked what she was doing there. It said that the two didn't know each other personally.
The newspaper said that Goecke, who apparently felt provoked by a recent review she wrote of a production he staged in the Dutch seat of government, The Hague, threatened to ban her from the ballet and accused her of being responsible for people cancelling season tickets in Hannover.
He then pulled out a paper bag with animal faeces and smeared her face with the contents before making off through a packed theatre foyer, the newspaper said.
According to the German news agency, DPA, Huester identified the substance as dog faeces and said she had filed a criminal complaint.
In a statement on its website, the opera house said Huester's “personal integrity” was violated “in an unspeakable way.”
The opera house said that Goecke's “impulsive reaction” violated the ground rules of the theatre and that “he caused massive damage to the Hannover State Opera and State Ballet.” As a result, it said, he is being suspended and banned from the opera house until further notice.
Crime and punishment
Goecke has been given the next few days to apologise “comprehensively” and explain himself to theatre management “before further steps are announced,” it added.
The ballet director appeared at least partly unrepentant, however. In an interview with public broadcaster NDR, Goecke acknowledged that his “choice of means wasn’t super, absolutely.”
“Of course socially that is also certainly not recognized or respected, if one resorts to such means,” he said of the attack, adding that he had never done anything like that before and was “a bit shocked at myself.”
Goecke said that while having his work “soiled for years” was a price he had been told he had to pay for being in the public eye, there was a limit.
“Once a certain point has been reached, I disagree," he said.
The German journalists’ association DJV denounced the attack.
“An artist must tolerate criticism, even if it seems exaggerated,” the union’s regional head in Lower Saxony state, Frank Rieger, said. “Whoever reacts violently to criticism is unacceptable. The attack on the journalist is also an attack on press freedom.”