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The year in review

Our culture editors take a look back at the highlights (and lowlights) of 2017.

Image for The year in review Our culture editors take a look back at the highlights (and lowlights) of 2017. Top 5 Berlin albums by Michael Hoh Christiane Rösinger, Lieder ohne Leiden (Feb 24, Staatsakt) With her frail voice whispering over reserved arrangements, the Britta co-founder tackles writer’s block, high rents, boredom and ageing. The essential guidebook for all creative types who aim to grow old in the city. Mary Ocher, The West Against the People (Mar 10, Klangbad) With the help of Hans Joachim Irmler from Faust, the Russian-born, Tel-Aviv-raised and Berlin-based avant-pop songstress hit the zeitgeist with her latest album, reflecting on our political climate in song form. SXTN, Leben am Limit (Jun 2, Jinx) You might not share Juju and Nura’s idea of “life on the edge”, but you have to acknowledge that the two foul-mouthed Berlin rappers hit a nerve, skyrocketing to the multi-million-click phenomenon they are at this point. Boiband, The Year I Broke My Voice (Aug 25, Staatsakt) What started as a theatre piece has turned into a credible pop/hip hop album from Black Cracker, Tucké Royale and Hans Unstern. The catchiest contribution to identity politics from outside the gender binary you’ll hear all year. Romano, Copyshop (Sep 8, Vertigo Berlin) Catapulting the everyday wheelings and dealings of a copy shop employee into hip hop heaven? The conceptual rapper from Köpenick is the one to pull it off. Where will his meticulous braids take him next? Highlight of the year: A feminist step forward: This year, Berlin’s Music Board made the landmark decision that they’d only fund projects that are at least 50 percent female. The result? More women than ever before on festival lineups, even at the notoriously bro-y By The Lake and Berlin Atonal. Lowlight of the year: Party-pooper politics: This autumn, boycotts and threats related to the Israel-Palestine conflict led to high-profile cancellations at the Pop-Kultur festival and the Volksbühne. Can’t they just reach a viable two-state solution so we can go see Young Fathers and Kate Tempest?
Top 5 film releases by Paul O’Callaghan Jackie (Jan 26) Chilean maestro Pablo Larraín tears up the Hollywood biopic rule book with this ravishing, woozy depiction of Jacqueline Kennedy’s darkest hours, which boasts a career-best turn from Natalie Portman and a haunting soundtrack by Mica Levi (Under the Skin). Elle (Feb 16) Dutch provocateur Paul Verhoeven delivered a swaggering late-career masterpiece with this slyly satirical tale of rape and retribution, which delights in subverting expectation at every turn. I Am Not Your Negro (Mar 30) Few directors have blended righteous anger with intellectual rigour so brilliantly as Raoul Peck, whose cine-literate documentary about America’s race struggle makes the words of the late James Baldwin vibrate with eerie relevance. Get Out (May 4) Jordan Peele’s mischievous directorial debut proved to be the high watermark for horror this year, with an unnerving twist on The Stepford Wives that functions as a potent satirical take-down of liberal racism. God’s Own Country (Oct 26) Francis Lee’s remarkable debut was inevitably dubbed the “British Brokeback Mountain”, but this sweeping Yorkshire Dales-set romance is earthier, sexier and less sentimental than Ang Lee’s Oscar winner. Highlight of the year: A year of great horror: In a case of art imitating life, 2017 was a banquet for fans of all things horrifying. Get Out and Andy Muschietti’s surprisingly strong adaptation of It led the charge, but hits like Split, festival faves like Hounds of Love and straight-to-video gems like Raw kept the scares coming. Lowlight of the year: Bad for the Germans: This year proved a real downer for German cinema, with no Toni Erdmann successor to champion. And even the Berlinale was something of a bust – standouts like Call Me By Your Name were sloppy seconds from Sundance, and the competition line-up was lukewarm at best.
Top 5 productions by Daniel Mufson/Lily Kelting Borderline Procession (Theatertreffen) In a former factory in Schöneweide, Kay Voges of Theater Dortmund staged a perfectly soundtracked procession of surrealist tableaux. This hallucinogenic, imagistic, repetitive, filthy, angelic collage looked a lot like 2017: certainly never boring. Satyagraha (Komische Oper) Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s staging of Philip Glass’s opera about Gandhi’s nonviolent work in South Africa grew more powerful as the evening progressed while showing off the formidable vocal skills of perfectly cast tenor Stefan Cifolelli. Hamnet (FIND Festival, Schaubühne) This winsome production from the Dead Centre Brits gets props for the 11-year-old lead actor, for its high-tech and low-tech theatre magic, and for making the question “to be or not to be?” vital. Roma Armee (Gorki Theater) Yael Ronen put together a diverse ensemble of Roma, Arab, and Jewish performers, using their own stories to undermine anti-Roma prejudice in a way that was dynamic and entertaining. Blank Placard Dance (Tanz im August) During Anne Collod’s energising replay of Anna Halprin’s 1967 protest/dance work, 30 performers all in white moved slowly and silently through the streets of Berlin holding blank placards. Highlight of the year: Rau versus the Reichstag: For his General Assembly (Nov 3-4), theatre director Milo Rau filled the Schaubühne with people willing to observe 18 hours of “plenary sessions” – and then convinced a couple hundred people to “storm the Reichstag” (actually, just short of the front entrance). It was a little like a Christoph Schlingensief happening, substituting unapologetic idealism for wacky humor. Lowlight of the year: The Volksbühne’s shit transition: Chris Dercon may or may not end up being a horrible choice to helm the Volksbühne, but his opponents – from whoever deposited feces in front of his office to September’s occupiers/vandals – didn’t exactly enhance Berlin’s reputation for open-mindedness or tolerance.
Top 5 exhibitions Alchemy. The Great Art (Apr 6-Jul 23, Kulturforum)This thematic exhibition spanned 3000 years of art and cultural history from ancient Egypt to Jeff Koons to remind us that art, science and religion are intimately interrelated. Watched! Surveillance, Art & Photography (Feb 18-Apr 23, C/O Berlin) An impressive range of contemporary artists – including Hito Steyerl, Trevor Paglen, Jill Magid and Ai Weiwei – presented an eye-opening view on our position in this surveillanced society. Harun Farocki Retrospective (Sep 14-Jan 28, NBK/Arsenal) The first comprehensive retrospective of the late German auteur’s film and video art works, which began during Berlin Art Week this fall and can still be seen at NBK through January, has only canonised his role in dissecting the politics of imagery for years to come. Preis der Nationalgalerie 2017 (Sep 29-Jan 14, Hamburger Bahnhof) As finalists Sol Calero, Iman Issa, Jumana Manna and eventual winner Agnieszka Polska emphasised in a powerful public statement, this joint exhibition of four young Berlin artists was about much more than their gender and nationalities. Jeanne Mammen (Oct 6-Jan 15, Berlinische Galerie) Unlike Farocki, Jeanne Mammen’s retrospective has been long, long overdue – and this Charlottenburg-based observer’s view on Berlin’s vibrant cultural life (particularly from the Weimar era) stood up to the wait. Highlight of the year – studios and the city: Berlin finally received ownership of the Haus der Statistik building off Alexanderplatz, meaning the long-in-the-making plan to turn the empty building into much-needed affordable art studio space is one step closer to realisation. Lowlight of the year: Bonvicini bombs: After years of Modernist depictions of BDSM gear, Berlin-based Monica Bonvicini’s feeble attempt to (literally) flog the institution with a big ol’ belt fell limp in a juggernaut of contrasting scales and competing references in her muchanticipated solo exhibition at Berlinische Galerie.