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City of exiles: September on the Berlin stage

As the new theatre season prepares to kick off, Stories from Exiles from the Berliner Ensemble and In Exile. QueerWeek22 at Gorki are just two festivals putting outsiders front and centre.

Giselle returns to the Staatsballett. Photo: Yan Revazov

Even with Berlin’s exceptionally large community of immigrants, the capital’s theatre community seems particularly populated by outsiders of one form or another. The city has long been a refuge for creatives from around the world — from well-heeled emigrés to those forced to flee their homes. Alongside the offerings in the new theatre season this September are several projects that examine this idea of exile critically — and at times uncomfortably.

Two festivals will look specifically at the topic of exile in Berlin. Firstly, the Berliner Ensemble’s Stories from Exile salon, led by the head dramatist of the Left Bank Theatre in Kyiv, Pavlo Arie, invites artists together from around the world to the theatre founded by one of the most famous exiled theatremakers, Bertholt Brecht. Every weekend during September, this free-entry festival will invite artists in exile to a place of “art and rendezvous”. Alongside workshops and collaborative performances is a main performance day on September 11, curated by creators from eastern Europe, Syria and Afghanistan.

Over at Gorki,  In Exile. QueerWeek22 looks to ask similar questions, while focusing on a queer perspective. The festival is partly drawn from an open call for written pieces from artists around the world. Both critical voices and proud celebrations of queer (post-)migrant lives will be presented in a number of shows. These scenic readings will come together on what curator Yunus Ersoy calls an “Endless Reading Night” – an evening of storytelling to share issues of identity.

Another, perhaps more obscure, Berlin exile is Dean Reed, the so-called “Elvis of the DDR”, a struggling US musician who found success in Chile, the Soviet Union and then East Germany in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. In Iron Curtain Man at the Neuköllner Oper, Fabian Gerhardt and his team finally have the chance to put on their musical about his life to a full audience after several Covid delays. Gerhardt is fascinated by Reed’s story — an honest, naive socialist with limited talent who once rocked a whole nation but is now almost unknown, with his legacy limited to a very specific group: “people over 40 from East Germany,” as Gerhardt puts it.

Gerhardt is also producing, for one night only, Weltclubhauptstadt — a multimedia piece about the emergence of techno and club culture in Berlin. This is site-specific theatre at its most literal, as the venue is that world-famous den of debauchery, the Kit Kat Club. Gerhardt interviewed those who were there after the wall fell, as techno and house arrived in Berlin from Detroit and Chicago. The interactive, immersive show focuses on the dichotomy between the depressing, hopeless surroundings of the underground clubs that were set up in the no-man’s-land where the wall once stood and the use of party drugs like MDMA that stood for pure hedonism. Ticket holders will also have access to the iconic club for the night.

At the Staatsballett, Patrice Bart’s acclaimed Giselle will return with a new principal dancer, their very own exile, David Motta Soares. The young Brazilian left the Bolshoi ballet company in Moscow in protest after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The tale of the spooky, dancing spirits of the Wilis — brides who died before their wedding because their love was betrayed — who accept the sensitive Giselle into their community may not be a barrel of laughs but is sure to be gorgeous.

Tired of sitting inside theatres? Music and performance group DieOrdnungDerDinge have created a theatre listening project around the city in the form of Urban Miniatures. The team have placed QR codes on 40 benches around Mitte which, when scanned, offer short soundscapes and videos. The idea being to offer a brief respite for reflection and to experience theatre in an entirely different context.

  • Stories from Exile from Sep 9 Berliner Ensemble
  • In Exile. QueerWeek22 from Sep 1 Maxim Gorki Theatre
  • Iron Curtain Man Aug 18-Sep 18 Neuköllner Oper
  • Weltclubhauptstadt Sep 3 Kit Kat Club
  • Giselle from Sep 4 Staatsoper
  • Urban Miniatures from Sep 5 various locations