German ballet director Marco Goecke suspended after smearing dog faeces in critic's face

Marco Goecke
Marco Goecke, ballet director of the Staatsoper Hannover, has been suspended from his post and is being investigated by police. Photo credit: Christophe Gateau / picture alliance / Getty Images

By Inke Kappeler and Toyin Owoseje of CNN

The director of a leading German ballet company is being investigated by police and has been suspended for smearing dog faeces on a critic's face after taking offence to a review she wrote.

According to an article published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) on Sunday, Marco Goecke, the head of Hanover State Opera's ballet company, allegedly verbally attacked journalist Wiebke Hüster during the intermission of a ballet premiere performance. The confrontation seems to have been spurred by a previous review that Hüster had written, according to the newspaper.

FAZ reports that Goecke threatened to ban their critic from the Hannover State Opera, and then smeared a paper bag with dog faeces in her face.

Goecke apologised to Hüster and all affected for his "absolutely unacceptable action," in a statement sent to CNN Tuesday.

"In retrospect, I clearly realise that this was a shameful act in the heat of the moment and an overreaction," following a "nervous strain of two premieres in quick succession" in The Hague on February 9 and in Hanover on Saturday, he added.

Goecke told public broadcaster NDR on Tuesday that Hüster had been "throwing sh*t" at him "for years." He said that his dachshund left faeces in his dog bag, which he then used to attack Hüster. "Of course I have to justify myself and of course it's not right that this happened in this opera house, in this public space, and of course, it's also a fact that spectators were frightened and I'm incredibly sorry about that," Goecke told NDR.

FAZ wrote in their article: "We evaluate the humiliating act beyond the offence of bodily harm also as an attempt to intimidate our free, critical view of art." FAZ also reports that the police are investigating the incident after Hüster filed a criminal complaint.

A Hannover police spokeswoman confirmed to CNN that they are investigating insult and bodily harm against Hüster. No charges have been filed.

Hannover State Opera immediately apologised "personally and also publicly" to Hüster, writing in a press release that the journalist had been "blatantly violated in her personal integrity."

Hannover State Opera suspended Goecke on Monday "with immediate effect" and also barred him from the opera house, a spokesperson confirmed on Monday.

"Ballet director Marco Goecke has violated all principles of conduct of the Hanover State Opera by his impulsive reaction towards journalist Wiebke Hüster last Saturday evening, has deeply offended Ms. Hüster personally and has thus unsettled the audience, the employees of the house, and the general public in the most extreme way," the Hannover State Opera said in a statement to CNN.

The head of the regional journalist association, Frank Rieger, condemned the "attack as an attack on the freedom of the press."

"An artist must endure criticism, even if it may seem excessive," Rieger said in a tweet. "Anyone who reacts to criticism with violence is not acceptable."

Goecke criticised what he called "destructive, hurtful reporting," saying it was damaging "the entire cultural enterprise."