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Shermin Langhoff: Former queen of Kreuzberg

Before taking over as the Maxim Gorki Theater's artistic director, the first-generation Turkish Berliner made a name for herself as the poster child of Berlin's multi-ethnic theatre scene.

The ultimate poster child of Berlin’s fledgling multi-ethnic theatre scene, Langhoff is not only one of the very few ladies to reach the top in a testosterone-dominated world; she’s also one of even fewer first-generation immigrants who made it to the top.

Born in Bursa, Turkey, Langhoff immigrated to Nuremberg at age nine. At a young age she worked her way into the film industry, eventually moving to Berlin while working as a producer on Fatih Akın’s 2004 cult movie Gegen die Wand. For the next four years Langhoff acted as curator at HAU, where she put together multicultural programmes that highlighted new voices and dealt with what were to become her signature themes: immigration and belonging.

When given the chance to apply these concepts to an entire theatre, Langhoff jumped at the opportunity, taking over artistic directorship of Ballhaus Naunynstraße (under the patronage of Fatih Akın) in 2008. Her sharp eye for emerging talent and her pioneering work in audience development soon brought this small, backyard gem and its programme of what Langhoff calls  “post migrant” theatre to international renown – particularly in the case of 2010 smash hit Verrücktes Blut, directed by Nurkan Erpulat. Despite this success, keeping a small, off-theatre financially sustainable is no small feat. “To paraphrase Karl Valentin, theatre is beautiful, but it’s a lot of work,” says the 44-year-old. Thankfully, there are the occasional figurative cherries on top, like in 2011, when Langhoff scooped up the Kairos Prize, one of Europe’s most valuable cultural awards worth €75,000.

In mid-2012, it was announced that Langhoff along with dramaturg Jens Hillje would take over from Armin Petras as artistic director of the Maxim Gorki Theater. This month, she assumes the helm with a splash, announcing more performances with English surtitles and masterminding the Berliner Herbstsalon opening event. While the accolades are sure to keep rolling in, for Langhoff, that’s not what it’s all about: “It’s the people in my work I’d like to be remembered for most.”

Originally published in issue #105, May 2012. Updated November 2013.