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Best of 2010: On stage and on the scene

We had some bombs and less-than-thrilling trends occur in 2010, but in the vast cultural landscape that is Berlin, there was plenty to buzz about, too. Comedy, retrospectives and historical retros were all big on the map this year, as well as film.

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Topographie des Terrors photo by Stefan Josef Måller

Facing the Führer Hitler und die Deutschen opened at the DHM (German Historical Museum) on October 15 with the stated aim of showing the German Volk’s active support in the Führer’s rise to the top. Highlights include creepy handwritten birthday wishes and other fan mail from underage groupies, as well as Adolf-and-his-buddies retro collector’s cards. Too bad the overall result comes across as little more than a bountiful ‘Best of Hitler’. Yet interest has been overwhelming: more than 85,000 people paid Adolf a visit in the first month. (Through Feb 6)

Terror ground zero After decades of false starts, architect Ursula Wilms’ new Topographie des Terrors opened its doors in May on the 65th anniversary of German capitulation in WWII. The new documentation centre on the site of the former SS and Gestapo headquarters is a minimalist triumph over time, adversity and a tight budget.

ETB soldiers on Formerly known as Friends of Italian Opera, the 60-seat English Theatre Berlin tucked away in a back courtyard at Fidicinstraße 40 has managed to stick around for an impressive 20 seasons, chugging along through the tumultuous two decades since the Wende. To celebrate, ETB launched a successful 10-minute play competition, premiering five works by Berlin authors in June (plays again Dec 3-5). The deadline for the second edition of the play contest, on the theme of Utopia/Dystopia, is December 22: ETB at its best, as an incubator for local expat authors and theater artists (Gayle Tufts started there).

Pop-up opera house The good news: the Staatsoper is undergoing much needed renovations over the next three years, meaning that hopefully everything will finally work. (But will they add more leg room?) The bad news: in the meantime, they’re squatting the Schiller Theater. The acoustics leave much to be desired, but the temporary relocation will force the Staatsoper to explore new ideas in terms of staging and repertoire, which should make for an exciting couple of seasons.

Moviemento works overtime After Hour Screenings at the classic Kreuzberg Kino is an entirely different kind of night out. Doors open at 1:20am and are locked 10 minutes after that, so there are no latecomers. And brilliant movies to boot, like a wicked premiere of Duncan Jones’ sci-fi thriller Moon and Isabel Coixet’s Map of the Sounds of Tokyo, both on our 2010-picks list.

Sundance in Berlin Unknown Pleasures, which took place for the second time in January, is the festival Berlin needed to reconcile American indie films with Berlin’s art-house cinemas, which have been more focused on European output since Bush Jr. and Sr. scared German intellectuals away from US culture. Sit back and imagine you’re in Utah: at next month’s 2011 edition, expect the premieres of Francis Ford Coppola’s Tetro, Steven Soderbergh’s And Everything Is Going Fine and Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers. It ain’t Sundance, but it’s a start.

Art-Haus Another “space for the arts”? Snooze. And yet, it was still a happy addition when Direktorenhaus opened in the spring. This Gesamtkunstwerkinspired location in the old state mint on the Spree focuses on merging traditional arts and craft with new digital technology. Each season has its theme, the current being ‘Opium Den’, which opened in November and delves into the dark and decadent.

Venues, new and improved 2010 brought us Ida Nowhere, a tiny performance space in the back of a cafe/ bar in up-and-coming Rix-kölln that is encouraging creativity with its postage-stamp stage. Meanwhile Uferstudios emerged in the former BVG train repair hangars in Wedding after extensive renovations in the first part of 2010. The new venue opened in September with 14 studios available for the development and performance of contemporary dance-focused works.

English-language comedy goes viral English live comedy reached new highs in 2010 – growing from a few monthly late-night shows to weekly primetime showcases at Kookaburra in Prenzlauer Berg, an English weekend at Die Wühlmäuse in Charlottenburg, and sporadic gigs at Kaffee Burger, Joe’s Bar, and SIN.

See you there, Schlingensief After a lifetime battling political and religious conformism and, since 2008, the enemy inside – lung cancer – Germany’s multidisciplinary firebrand Christoph Schlingensief died in August at 49. The Volksbühne, the theatre that launched his stage career, held a memorial celebration in November that included a display of his opera village project in Burkina Faso, Hitler-Stalin masturbation porn, a caged hare, swastika cookies and a woman in a bright orange dress singing Purcell’s “Death” on top of a banquet table… Well, his memoir was titled, Heaven Cannot be as Beautiful as Here.


Sleaze-fest Die Niebelungen, the Deutsches Theater’s strangely drawn out performance of the classic, was only redeemed by the pure ridiculousness of the copious amounts of fake blood cascading from the ceiling at the end… tackiness only matched by Roland Schwab’s appalling take on Don Giovanni at the DOB. It’s camp as a Kylie concert without Kyle: ah, slender male torsos and the défilé of pro-ana girls dressed in nothing but metal leg braces. If you wanna be provocative, you’d better be sharp. If not, you end up with that brand of kinky sleaze usually found at dinner shows relished by jovial older middle-class Germans… not at our fave world-class opera!

Singing audience members Suddenly hearing your fellow audience members break into song can be titillating (see Switch On’s number “I want to talk about your dick”), but when it’s everywhere it loses its charm and starts to feel like just a gimmick.