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The right to nostalgia: Leander Haußmann

INTERVIEW! Leander Haußmann on his upcoming “loud and farcical” Stasi-centric piece at the Volksbühne. Catch it Dec 14, 15 and 21 at 19:30.

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Photo by Harald Hauswald

Leander Haußmann on his upcoming “loud and farcical” Stasi-centric piece at the Volksbühne.

Haußmann is a household name in Germany. The director’s been behind such memorable cult films as Sonnenallee and Herr Lehmann, as well as – at times lauded, at others controversial – takes on theatre classics from Hamlet to Woyzeck, notably during a recent stint at the Berliner Ensemble. Haußmanns Staatssicherheitstheater marks his comeback at the Volksbühne and his first production there since his 2011 staging of Ibsen’s Rosmersholm. We had a chat over a lunchtime Bier and Boulette. With a large dollop of Senf, of course.

Not long ago, you said you would withdraw from the theatre business for quite a while. Now you’re back. What happened?

I’ve said that before and actually stuck to it for eight years. And honestly said, I still plan on doing it again soon. Then I’ll make films – what most theatre directors want to do anyway. That’s why they’re always filming on stage.

Is a Haußmann piece on the Stasi simply a safe bet for a struggling Volksbühne?

Haha, that’s a good question. I don’t know but it certainly fits well there, in that Stalinist building, an expression of workers’ monumentalism. On the left is the headquarters of Die Linke, the Stasi Records Agency is just three minutes away and the square is called Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz. So where better than there? The Volksbühne was there long before Castorf’s era. It’s been through rough and wild times.

Does the institution have a special place in your heart?

I’ve always felt like a lone wolf in the theatre scene – in film too, funnily enough. I don’t believe in cliques. This institution belongs to us all and not just a particular group of people. In that respect, I’m very happy to be able to work there. My father [actor Ezard Haußmann] worked there for years, I practically spent my childhood there. And it’s always been the case that at the Volksbühne, you had to do something offbeat – something special.

Was this an idea you had been working on for a while, or a stopgap to fill the programme vacuum left after Dercon’s departure?

I’ve been writing a screenplay for a long while, which is now mostly finished and will be shot in summer. But as so often with my film ideas – I had a subject but then had to think about how I can pack that into a film script. The idea of a Stasi task force that infiltrates the art scene by becoming artists themselves fell by the wayside. But you can do a lot with theatre. Theatre visitors are more patient than moviegoers. I also hope for my publisher’s sake that a novel will appear – they already paid me the advance.

Will there be differences between play, film and novel?

It’s still completely different. One complements the other. On stage, this Stasi group are clowns and the narrative style is more associative and dislocates from the structure from time to time. It comes extremely close to Volkstheater at certain points: loud and farcical.

The term Ostalgie is frequently pinned to your works. What’s your take on it?

I find the term derogatory. Everyone has a right to be nostalgic. The term is supposed to denigrate us, to deny us the right to also have nice memories. And it has a lot to do with historiography, with this strange battle for interpreting the past. Sure, this nostalgia is exaggerated. But it’s also fun. If I were to make a film set in West Germany in the 1960s, no one would ask whether it was Westalgic.

Some say you’re trivialising a repressive regime.

I would be happy if someone actually said that we’d be locked away a few decades ago for what we’re doing here now. Making these Stasi officers so ridiculous, turning them into clowns and making fun of them!

So you think there are double standards when it comes to the East German past…

I think it’s just a ridiculous arrogance that comes from the West. For some reason, they can’t handle that we come to terms with the topic in our own way, that we have the right to laugh about it. When we say, well, we could have fun in the GDR, people respond: “What?! But it was an unjust, dictatorial state!” Because they want to show the present as great, they say “the past was shit, but look here, everything’s fine! Democracy is blossoming. Everything is wonderful.”

Why Haußmanns Staatssicherheitstheater?

I want to make very clear that a subjective observation is at play here, namely mine. I’m the one who’s narrating, no one else. And because my name’s on it, everyone knows who they have to approach if they have a problem. And it’s not the Volksbühne, it’s me.

Haußmanns Staatssicherheitstheater Dec 14, 15, 21, 19:30, Jan 5, 19:00 Volksbühne, Mitte