Many of us have our own story of migration to the German capital. We were lured by Berlin’s heightened hedonism, low rents and carefree attitude. But often there’s a push-pull dynamic at play. Just as we are drawn to the city for what it offers, we also reject parts of our origin and identity in the process – wilfully or inadvertently. The so-called Aliyah to Berlin makes for a fascinating yet complex case in point. Daniel Brunet’s latest production at the English Theatre, which premiered at Radialsystem during the Israeli-German ID Festival earlier this month, blends verbatim interviews with Israeli expats and the personal stories of the three leads.
From German guilt about the Shoah to Berlin’s best hummus (not Azzam), Mica Dvir, Renen Itzhaki and Shlomi Wagner chart the breadth of the Israeli experience in the capital through personal anecdotes. “I miss telling Auschwitz jokes,” Dvir laments before beginning to tell one. The awkward, restrained laughter of the audience that ensues perfectly serves her point. In another, we hear of a German’s need to personally apologise for the Holocaust at a sex party. In many ways, The Land of Milk(y) and Honey is about the balance of assimilation. Does Israeli life in Berlin mean not speaking Hebrew on the Sonnenallee or does it mean wearing a kippa in Berghain to filter out assholes? There is a performative element to this cultural negotiation. “Berlin is theatre,” one character says, “it’s performing who you are.”
These candid accounts are recalled in an oversized dinner table setting: the audience sits around a square constellation of beer tables draped in a decorative cloth. Looking inwards across the room, we see the actors recounting their narratives as they sit and move among us, directly addressing and posing questions to their neighbours – an interactive and up-close approach that lends itself perfectly to the intimate nature of the stories.
However, while the source interviews indeed represent a diverse spectrum of Israeli perspectives, the production falls short of truly escaping its alternative bubble. The cultural reputation of Berlin remains very much at the forefront, from drag queens fighting with drunks to the prevalence of party drugs. Berlin may not be the land of milk and honey, but it certainly is the city of cheap pudding and ketamine.
The Land of Milk(y) and Honey? Nov 1, 2, 3, 20:00, English Theatre Berlin, Kreuzberg