The ever-political theatre trio Die Rixdorfer Perlen bring Zum Feuchten Eck an der Sonnenallee to English-speaking audiences, focusing on the gentrification of Neukölln and throwing in some schnapps for good measure.
To Neuköllners, the story is all too familiar: bar owner Marianne (Britta Steffenhagen) and saucy “amusement lady” (Inka Löwendorf) struggle to defend their pub, the titular “Wet Corner”, against encroaching investors. Completing the trio is the play’s co-director Julia von Schacky, also member of the artistic managment at the Heimathafen Neukölln.
You say the play is a “gentrification farce”. What is it about?
BRITTA STEFFENHAGEN: Working-class women fighting for the rights of people to be together without having a monetary-orientated purpose, just being together and being people. I find it a deeply philosophical play! For example, when my character says the sentence, “I’m afraid maybe that it’s not enough anymore – my concept of just sitting together and drinking.”
JULIA VON SCHACKY: Exactly, your character is afraid that the concept of just having a bar and meeting is outdated, because nowadays everybody needs to have some kind of a business concept that’s much more “you have to save the world”…
So this is about tradition over money?
BS: It’s a belief! For me, it’s a strong belief that people throughout time have been sitting together just talking, telling stories, learning from each other and eating. It’s about a space where you don’t have to produce. Maybe it’s about drinking without economic growth. And it’s open to everyone… Okay, it’s not open in one aspect – if you don’t drink. [All laugh.] If you ask for a latte, you’ll get kicked out. These are the rules.
JVS: In the end, it’s about financial pressure. People are becoming more and more stressed, having to do things which they think don’t make sense. This is something which doesn’t only apply to bars; this is something very obvious in Neukölln.
What about this Berlin you are defending?
JVS: It’s about a culture. Corner pubs have a strong social relevance to a lot of people. A lot of places are unable to withstand this pressure and it’s just a symbol, this bar, for a whole group of people that can’t withstand this pressure, and how you can save a social mix whilst a city is changing.
INKA LÖWENDORF: Museums are financially supported, theatres are financially supported, so maybe we should get a financial programme for the “Feuchte Eck” that supports us. [All laugh.]
BS: My character – the bartender – never saw that the Feuchte Eck was economically unstable. But as soon as the investor guy wants the bar he starts his tricks… That’s the thing. It’s not about saving something that doesn’t work anymore. It’s about this pressure which comes with economic growth. We are fighting for something to stay as good as it is.
Why did you decide to start showing the play with English surtitles?
IL: Because we have a big heart.
JVS: And because we have a lot of people who come to our shows who don’t speak German well enough! First of all, the subject screams to be translated because this is a subject that, you know, a lot of expats who are coming here are also involved with. It’s not that they’re causing it – we’re not accusing them of that – but we know that they are aware of it, and sometimes they even become victims of it themselves. That’s why it’s so interesting to invite this group of people – it’s a great way to communicate. Gentrification tends to become a monocultural development – there’s normally one group of people who have a very strong presence in the neighbourhood. We need to try to keep the city a heterogenic place, socially speaking, because everybody profits from it, in our opinion, so in a practical sense that would mean we need a heterogenic audience.
Have you drawn from any personal experiences with gentrification?
IL: I wanted to stay in Neukölln but I couldn’t afford the rent anymore, so I moved back to Kreuzberg. When I moved out of my apartment in Neukölln, they had just increased the rent by €130, and they didn’t renovate anything, just demanded more rent. It’s a rip-off!
What’s next for the Feuchte Eck?
JVS: We are thinking about continuing the story. Whether they are going to succeed and occupy the “Wet Corner”, I don’t know if we can tell you now, but we have some ideas.
ZUM FEUCHTEN ECK AN DER SONNENALLEE Feb 13, 14, 28, Mar 1, 20:00 | Heimathafen Neukölln, Karl-Marx- Str. 141, Neukölln, U-Bhf Karl-Marx-Str.
Originally published in issue #135, February 2015