This autumn, Berlin’s theatre institutions tackle the rise of right-wing extremism.
After a summer of so-called besorgte Bürger chasing migrants through the streets of Chemnitz and Köthen, the AfD continues to reach dizzying heights in the polls. And this right-wing resurgence hasn’t escaped the Berlin stage’s attention. As the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht approaches, November sees a flurry of theatrical perspectives from past to present on right-wing extremism in Germany and beyond.
For starters, Ernst Krenek’s rarely performed tragic opera Der Diktator opens at the Neuköllner Oper. In the current political climate, this opera has enjoyed somewhat of a Renaissance, with performances at the Cuvilliés-Theater in Munich in April and the Oper Frankfurt last year. Written in 1926, shortly before the Nazi’s seizure of power, Krenek’s original warned of the rise of fascism in Europe. The plot centres around the failed assassination of a dictator on holiday, loosely modelled on Mussolini. Up-and-comer Ariane Kareev’s version focusses on the role of manipulation and seduction in private and political life, and features new interludes written in collaboration with the composer Jörg Gollasch.
Over at the Volksbühne, Henrik Ibsen’s classic An Enemy of the People is given a modern twist and yet another new life on the Berlin stage, after the Ostermeier production’s long stint at the Schaubühne (and subsequent tours), this time round with the Berlin premiere of Hermann Schmidt-Rahmer’s adaptation. Donning the angry populist slogan and Unwort of 2016 Volksverräter!! as a title, Schmidt-Rahmer’s topsy-turvy take leaves the audience asking “which way is left?”, a not completely unreasonable question to ask in times of right-wing anti-establishment cultural appropriation and Sahra Wagenknecht’s new nationalist-left side project “Aufstehen”.
After a cancelled premiere in March due to the illness of one of the leads, Schaubühne titan Ostermeier’s Italienische Nacht finally hits the stage this month. Ostermeier’s latest offering fits nicely alongside his other recent star-heavy successes dealing with right-wing extremism, Professor Bernhardi and Returning to Reims. Ödön von Horváth’s original play-parable contains many warnings still applicable today, not least of the danger of factional in-fighting and the failure to take people’s realities seriously. Also continuing at the Schaubühne this month is Ostermeier’s Im Herzen der Gewalt, a stage adaptation of Édouard Louis’s autobiographical account of structural racism and homophobia within French society, History of Violence.
To some, November’s stage offerings may sound like scaremongering alarmism. Are we one production away from having four Pegida horsemen trot onto the stage to proclaim the Fourth Reich? No, but be warned: these are dark times. And as Erich Kästner poetically put it: one must not wait till the snowball has become an avalanche – because no one will be able to stop it anymore. Last month, my colleague Daniel Mufson wrote in jest that the Berlin stage will always have Auschwitz. In light of this month’s theatre programme, perhaps it would be fairer to say that German culture will be forever scarred by the horrors of fascism.
Der Diktator Nov 7-Dec 5, 20:00 Neuköllner Oper, Neukölln Volksverräter!! Nov 17-18 Volksbühne, Mitte Italienische Nacht Nov 23-27, 20:00 (with English surtitles on Nov 24) Schaubühne, Wilmersdorf Im Herzen der Gewalt Nov 11-14, (with English surtitles on Nov 13, 14) Schaubühne, Wilmersdorf