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Maggie Spooner: Democracy for dummies

Of all places in City West, Maggie Spooner discovers that the Schaubühne has the most opportunities for teachable moments – and not for the theatre pieces alone.

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Photo by Torsten Elger

So, I’m in the queue for tickets to the Schaubühne production of Ibsen’s Ein Volksfeind (An Enemy of the People). I’m a bit of a Schaubühne fan, and not just because we live around the corner, but I’d still rather not pay €35 for the privilege of being spat on and prefer to sit at the back. Getting last minute tickets is not the ideal approach but it has its merits, as I recently found out. Arrive at 6pm with a book, demarcate the territory by sprawling defensively around the big column on the right – and wait for the ticket desk to open to get a number written on an old stub entitling you to come back around 7:30pm, when you line up again with your stub to see if return tickets are available. Time-consuming, but worth it.

Really worth it. The evening got off to a great start when a young man burst through the doors flourishing two extra tickets. The people at the end of the queue perked up.

“I’ll take those,” said one fresh young fellow.

“No, no” said somebody with a Danish accent at the front of the queue. “You cannot come in here and just give away those tickets to these last queue people. We are first to buy. I’m from Denmark, this is how we understand the queue and the democracy.”

I bit my tongue. I thought the English were famous for queuing, and for democracy as well, but it’s been six months since I was home. Maybe things have changed.

The ticket bloke looked embarrassed and started negotiations with the Danish lady.

Then another young bloke steps up.

“I’m from Brazil,”” says he, “and I think you have the false democracy understanding. This ticket queue is for tickets behind the counter. There is no queue for this kind of ‘not-needed’ tickets. It’s first to come is first to be served.”

It sounded more like venture capitalism than democracy to me but what do I know? The Danish woman got her tickets, so did we, and we all filed in to enjoy the play.

But on that democracy (foot)note: Ibsen’s main character is a journalist who gets to address a town hall meeting on the issue of polluted water. Ostermeier tears down the fourth wall and allows his main character to embark on something of a rant, taken straight from “The Coming Insurrection” – a polemical manifesto developed by French activists that advocates grassroots undermining of capitalist structures. According to its authors, insurrection will initially be local and subsequently kindle the destruction of urban centres. Now doesn’t that sound very off-Ku’Damm?

I could be wrong, but I don’t think Ostermeier’s quote is necessarily an endorsement of “The Coming Insurrection”. It could just as easily be about inappropriate demagogy and the travesty of free speech.

But never mind. The audience (a comfortable looking lot in designer jeans) went mad, clapped wildly and stamped its feet. The guy sitting next to me thought that yellow paint smeared on the wall was an indictment of the FDP. Then the lighting changed and it turned green.

I mean, really, people. Think before you clap. And also, maybe read before you think? And if you still know everything about democracy, join the queue at the Schaubühne.