Sex and Pretzels

The Theatertreffen became the center of my life just a couple of days ago. And I have to say it’s been simply bizarre. This feeling of being in a time warp is probably due to the fact that I normally wouldn’t be anywhere near Wilmersdorf (there’s no kumpir for miles). And even though I spend a ridiculous amount of my time in the theater, it’s usually the off-scene dance or experimental low-fi productions that fill my Google Kalender.

Now I’m suddenly at the nerve center of the best state-funded German theatre, and it’s thrilling, inspiring and amusing. And that’s just what happens at the bar by the Boulette. It’s still such a refreshing surprise to me that there’s so much drinking and socializing at theaters in Germany – in the States everyone packs themselves into their cars/taxis/subways relatively quickly, or heads to a restaurant down the block before they start gossiping. Only one complaint: despite the frequent token DJs, I still have yet to witness a real dance party (here’s hoping for Lars Eidinger’s Autistic Disco on May 11. The party’s free after 23:00).

A few other impressions thus far:

Opening nights attract an assortment of politicians, characters, and Berlin theatre celebrities (you’ve probably never heard of them, but there are some, trust me). On this balmy, finally-spring evening, freelance camera men, photographers and hopefuls with Suche Karten (need tickets) signs swarmed at regular intervals and RBB was there with an anchor in all his fake-tan glory.

Of course, it’s still Berlin, so arriving on a bike in evening dress was fairly commonplace and there was a distinct lack of a VIP lounge or red carpet. Because we’re all equal… ly crazy for going inside to watch a production of Medea (!!!) on a beautiful sunny evening. I understand conceptually why TT director Yvonne Büdenhölzer wanted to start with a classic from a prominent director, but you’ve got to admit that kills-her-children Medea really isn’t much of a party starter.

Murmel Fashion (c) Mai Vendelbo
Premiere fashion at Volksbühne. Photo: Mai Vendelbo

Back to little quirky oddities: there’s the book exchange on the plywood party deck (English-language selections present at the opening: Welsh Crime and Mapping Cultural Diversity – Good Practices. Sex Verboten also looked interesting) and a Bauchladen vendor walking around with free candy and other random kitsch. Thank God that theater, unlike the Philharmonie or the Staatsoper, doesn’t feel the need to be classy and refined ALL the time. The strange rules of Berlin fashion also dictated Friday-night sightings of fluorescent accessories, blasts from the 1970s past, and one man wearing the Evian baby-body shirt (WTF?)

My personal favorite moment thus far came on Sunday afternoon: the Theater Award Berlin was presented to 80-year-old actor Jürgen Holtz, and in his nearly 40 minute long acceptance speech he ripped basically all of German theater a new one. In summary: internal politics and cultural budget cuts make for boring, low-quality conservative performances. (Jürgen Holtz tells a joke to the TT-blog in German.)

Stempelverleihung Fritsch Freude (c) Mai Vendelbo
Herbert Fritsch holding the stamp. Photo: Mai Vendelbo

Shift scene to the Volksbühne, imposing gray pulpit of concept theater on Rosa-Luxemburg Platz, for the second premiere of 10. Moving east makes for a younger crowd and a welcome anti-establishment tone – sure it’s your 50th anniversary, but it’s also just another performance, you self-important Wessis. Murmel Murmel director Herbert Fritsch admitted to being drunk as he received his award (a stamp? You’re selected as one of the 10 most remarkable productions that year and you get a STAMP? Sometimes one can take quirky a bit too far…) The vendor(ess) was dressed in retro Pan-Am gear this time (Pan-Am lounge is this year’s location for the Stückemarkt festival for new drama) and the percentage of hipster glasses and patterned leggings at the premiere party went up by a factor of eight.

Panam Stewardess (c) Mai Vendelbo
Pan-Am revival. Photo: Mai Vendelbo

Premiere parties deserve a bit of attention. They’re open to anyone but it’s mostly a gathering of the city theater tribes, with international forum members (read: young networky theater makers) scattered around trying to negotiate the treacherous theater connections landscape. The jury’s praise is recited, the award (again: STAMP?!) is handed over and finally the precious words “The buffet is open” are recited and the party can really begin. Another massive difference to the States: there was food left OVER at this buffet. Where are the starving actors who would normally descend on any calorie source after it’s made open to those who hadn’t paid? Oh right, there’s money for theater here so actors don’t have to starve. Crazy.

Earlier that afternoon: after listening to Holtz attack contemporary state-funded theater, the audience escaped to feast on wine and bread at the reception (allusion to Christian communion purely coincidental). Was there cheese? Nope. Remember those budget cuts?

Der Grantler mit den Witzen. Theaterpreis 2013 an Jürgen Holtz

50. Theatertreffen
Jürgen Holtz bei der Verleihung des Theaterpreises 2013. Foto: Piero Chiussi

Die Schauspielerin Corinna Harfouch fiel bei der Probe einer gemeinsamen Benn-Lesung in ihrer Wohnung vor ihm auf die Knie, der Regisseur Robert Wilson nannte ihn einen „Jungen, der unsere Herzen gestohlen hat“, Klaus Maria Brandauer neidete ihm seinen vielen Publikumsapplaus, den er als Kollege aus der Garderobe aus „jeden Abend“ hören konnte: Heute wurde der Schauspieler Jürgen Holtz im Haus der Berliner Festspiele mit dem Theaterpreis 2013 der Stiftung Preußische Seehandlung ausgezeichnet. Prominente Kolleginnen und Kollegen (siehe oben) ehrten ihn mit Reden und Ständchen (etwa Angela Winkler), Berlins Regierender Bügermeister Klaus Wowereit übergab den Preis an den 80-jährigen „Grantler, einen feinen Gedankenverfertiger im Sprechen, einen König des Monologs“ (aus der Begründung der Jury).

Dieser ließ es sich nicht nehmen, in seiner Schlussrede Kritik zu üben an den heutigen Verhältnissen. Er beschimpfte die Medien, die nur noch „Duplikate“ schafften und für Wirklichkeit ausgäben, bedauerte das Schwinden der Sprache auf der Bühne, das „Schwinden des Gestus“, meckerte über heutige Dramaturgen, „die das Googlen gelernt haben“ und in die Arbeit auf der Bühne hineinpfuschten. Holtz rief die Theatergeschichte der zwei deutschen Staaten herauf (die gesamte Rede erscheint übrigens demnächst in der Zeitschrift Theater heute) und erzählte zum Abschluss einen Witz. Der war wirklich gut, es ging um einen Zirkusdirektor, der das Publikum mit Scheiße bespritzen lassen will, um danach umso weißer und strahlender aufzutreten. Davon gibt es jetzt leider keinen Mitschnitt, weil die Blog-Kamera voll war. Und als ich ihn nach der Preisverleihung im Foyer fragte, ob er ihn noch einmal erzählen könnte, sagte er: „Nein.“ Aber er könne einen anderen erzählen. Hier ist er.

Herzlichen Glückwunsch, Jürgen Holtz.