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Ghosts of Novembers past: Critic’s top theatre picks of the month

In German history, November 9 is a fateful date. This month Berlin’s theatres are coming at it from different perspectives. Our critic picks his favourite six stage offerings reflecting a nation’s ambivalent rela­tionship with its past.

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Photo by Julian Röder. Catch Germania at the Volksbühne on Nov 10, 16, with English surtitles.
On November 9, Germany celebrates the day the Wall fell. But it is also a compli­cated date, a Schicksalstag in German history. It’s the day Karl Liebknecht proclaimed the ‘Free Socialist Re­public’ during the 1918 revolution, the day Hitler failed his Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, but also the night the infamous 1938 pogroms broke out, a forewarning of the Nazi horrors to come. This month’s stage offerings reflect a nation’s ambivalent rela­tionship with its past. It’s unsurprising that the Volks­bühne has strong Wende-focus this month – its ensemble played an active role in the Alexanderplatz demonstrations. This season’s of­ficial leitmotif of ‘Geschichtsmaschine’, which focusses on the numerous historical anniversaries occurring this and next year, feels right at home. And Claudia Bauer’s Germania, based on Heiner Müller’s plays Germania. Tod in Berlin and Germania 3, perfectly captures the grotesquely tragic course of German history. The former play begins just after the East German uprising of 1953 and was banned in the GDR. Germania 3, a sequel of sorts, is a montage of ghosts from the 20th century and was written after reunification. The Deutsches Theater is marking the Wende with its 30 nach 89 special. Continuing his current renaissance, two of Heiner Müller’s plays – Philok­tet and Die Umsiedlerin – are on the bill, but the premiere of director Daniela Löffner’s adaptation of Bri­gitte Reimann’s tabu-breaking novel Franziska Linkerhand, whose protag­onist became a cult figure for a gen­eration of women in the GDR, stands out. The Berliner Ensemble has taken a noticeably more antifascist approach to the Schicksalstag, hosting a day of remembrance on November 9 entitled Dunkeldeutschland to commemorate the horrors of the 1938 November pogrom against Jews. American-German bestselling author Deborah Feldman looks at strategies for German-Jewish emancipation, followed by director Karen Breece’s Mütter und Söhne, a performance that examines the structures of radicalisation through interviews with former Nazis and their fami­lies – both events in German. The Schaubühne is turning to 1923 and 1938 rather than 1989 to mark the date – with a warning in the form of last season’s Italienische Nacht. Thomas Ostermeier’s production of Ödön von Horváth’s 1931 play frames factional infighting on the left as a cause of political paralysis enabling a fascist surge. Meanwhile, Gorki is wheeling out a repertoire staple with Lola Arias’s Atlas des Kommunismus – an in­tergenerational account of commu­nism that also retells the biography of Salomea Genin, a Jew who fled the Nazis, fell in love with commu­nism and moved back to the GDR, only to recognise it as a police state. The Sophiensæle is offering a par­ticularly valuable perspective on the cultural legacy of the GDR. As part of its Ost-West-Ding festival, Saša Asentić pays tribute to the former East’s dance scene with Tanz in der DDR: Was bleibt? After all, there was more to the GDR’s arts scene than Heiner Müller. Thirty years on, we would do ourselves a favour to critically reflect on our post-Wall cultural hegemony.
Franziska Linkerhand | Deutsches Theater, Mitte. Nov 2, 7, 17, 25, with English surtitles. Tanz in der DDR: Was bleibt? | Sophiensæle, Mitte. Nov 7-10, in English, German and Spanish. Dunkeldeutschland | Berliner Ensemble, Mitte. Nov 9. Italienische Nacht | Schaubühne, Wilmersdorf. Nov 8-10, with English surtitles on Nov 9. Atlas des Kommunismus | Maxim Gorki Theater, Mitte. Nov 9, 10, with English surtitles. Germania | Volksbühne, Mitte. Nov 10, 16, with English surtitles.