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“Are all Ausländer equal?”

INTERVIEW. While the "Echter Berliner !!!! Ihr Nicht Fuck You" posters around town might not exactly offend the average Berliner, they certainly give one momentary pause. Daniel Brunet's play begins tonight at the English Theatre Berlin.

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Photo by Rod Di Sciascio

Part of the team behind the re-oriented English Theatre Berlin, producing artistic director Daniel Brunet is also directing and performing their first new production for the fall season.

The blunt and overly exclamated title, Echter Berliner !!!! Ihr Nicht Fuck You, stems from one specific piece of Berlin’s ubiquitous graffiti, and sets the tone for a piece about who has the right to call themselves a Berliner.

This six-person devised work also focuses on the difference between different groups of foreigners. Two of the performers – Brunet and Lara Babalola – come from North America, Ariel-Nil Levy was born in Israel but has since become a German citizen. The other actors – Lara-Sophie Milagro, Lynn Femme, Murat Dikenci – are Germans with non-Western European ancestry (so-called Migrationshintergrund). Each of the performers conducted interviews with 10 people who have similar backgrounds. The resulting full documentary theatre piece about the trials and tribulations of specific groups of people in Berlin debuts at the English Theatre Berlin on September 24.

How are you using these some 60 interviews the performers did?

It’s very important to me that we visit direct transcriptions, and if there are vocal stutters and if there’s stammers, or if someone interrupts themselves mid-sentence we keep those in, they are part of the DNA of the language. The interviewers’ questions themselves will sometimes come up. So in this manner, we’ll hold on to this notion of documentary theatre without being bound or constrained to present all of it, like in theatre of testimony. I also rather like the notion of contrasting the content of the interviews, which are often very surprising, with the bodies of the performers. So that the audience keeps guessing, and keeps thinking: “Oh, whose story is this?”

With so many points of view, what is this story really about?

Overall the piece is examining the tension between the terms expatriate and immigrant – it’s interested in the question: are all Ausländer equal, or are some Ausländer more equal than others? I’ve had the label expat applied to me more or less since I got here because I’m a lighter-skinned person originally from the United States. So I’m from a comfortably rich country and look – although I’m certainly shorter – like the average German. I seem to be at least considered a European. I don’t stand out as much as other people do. Then I’m called an expat and I’m mostly left alone. Then there are the so-called “immigrants”, who come from less rich countries.

So this is generally about which labels apply to who.

We have a number of people who say they identify themselves with Berlin, who say they identify with the country of origin and others who say they don’t at all, and this opens up a lot of these questions. I was reading a piece of text this morning where I believe the young woman says, “Listen, I’m German but my parents weren’t born in Germany, but I am German, I don’t speak Laotian, I’m not Laotian, why should I have a connection to Laos simply because I look like my parents coming from there?” 

But there’s also a difference between identifying as a Berliner and as a German.

That comes up quite a bit, I feel like a Berliner but I don’t feel like a German. And this comes up again increasingly with this notion of global cities. I’ve often made the argument that I don’t think that New York is the US: it’s New York City and that’s okay. Demographically this notion of global cities is only 200 years old and we’re still getting used to it and what it means.

But what about the tension between the richer, expat newcomers and older residents?

I think it’s as much related to class as opposed to race, and I do think the Berliner Senat has been absolutely negligent in the regulation of the housing market. You know, one cannot forget that this has traditionally been a very, very poor city. It’s been ruled by outsiders for almost its entire history: it still has a very high unemployment rate and it’s €84 billion in debt. And then you have relatively richer Ausländer coming in and forcing people out of entire neighbourhoods.

Does the play actually answer the question, “What makes a real Berliner?”

I don’t think it does, in a direct reductive manner. I think it resolves itself through this collection of experiences, and talks about how one sees oneself, how one is seen, and a few questions of integration. We found that notions of identity and notions of integration go hand in hand with language acquisition. So we’re actually looking more for what gives this feeling of “echter Berliner”, not what qualifies you to be an “echter Berliner.” It’s about what it means to come and live somewhere, what it means to be a part of the city.

ECHTER BERLINER !!!! IHR NICHT FUCK YOU, Sep 24-28, Oct 1-5, 20:00 | English Theatre Berlin, Fidicinstr. 40, Kreuzberg, U-Bhf Platz der Luftbrücke