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We’ll always have Auschwitz

On the Berlin stage’s fixation with commemorating 20th-century violence... it all begins this month with Maxim Gorki's festival "War or Peace – Crossroads of History" (Oct 3-27)

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Photo by Pascal Victor

On the Berlin stage’s fixation with commemorating 20th-century violence

Whether in marriage or theatre, there’s nothing like a good anniversary to get the creative juices going. Last year, the 100th jubilee of the 1917 Russian Revolution inspired performances – like Milo Rau’s biographical portrait of Lenin and his “storm the Reichstag”, a huge and memorable exhibition at the Deutsches Historisches Museum and countless commemorative events all over. This year, it’s all about 1918. The 100th anniversary of the end of World War I and Germany’s November Revolution are being subjected to a flurry of works and festivals throughout Berlin’s theatre institutions, from Invisible Republic by andcompany&Co at the HAU to War or Peace – Crossroads of History, an entire festival co-sponsored by the Maxim Gorki Theater and Germany’s Federal Agency for Civic Education, set to feature films and performances at the theatre as well as workshops at the Palais am Festungsgraben and the Quadriga Forum, with over 300 young people from 16 countries invited to consider the legacy of “war” in the broadest possible terms – a pretext for considering any war and its aftermath. The plays set to feature at the Gorki will do just that, with a focus not so much on 1918 Germany, but rather on the Balkan wars of the 1990s. The Balkans, of course, were decisive in precipitating the war, but the festival’s plays look at what the war did to the region long after 1918. A good example of that is Memories of Sarajevo (photo), a play created for last year’s Avignon Festival by Le Birgit Ensemble, a French company that specialises in shows that question and recount the story of Europe since 1945, in this case the 1992 siege of Sarajevo. Writer, director and provocateur Oliver Frljić is also coming to town, bringing a cast of Balkan actors to the Gorki to perform Damned Be the Traitor of his Homeland!, which promises to explore national stereotypes and the way individuals’ decisions contributed to a national tragedy. Born in Bosnia, Frljić fled to Croatia at age 16. He went on to become head of the Croatian National Theatre in 2014, only to step down two years later after a series of break-ins and death threats. He still likes to ruffle feathers, though. Earlier this year, a production of his with scenes featuring simulated sex with a statue of Pope John Paul II and Jesus raping a Muslim woman provoked a lawsuit from a Catholic archbishop…

If the prospect of a 2019 without terrible anniversaries to commemorate is troubling you – the centennial of the Spartacus Uprising or the Latvian War of Independence might not excite much activity – you can console yourself with the thought that we usually don’t need much of an excuse to remember barbarism. Following Robert Chevara’s Blonde Poison at the Brotfabrik (read our interview), the Neukollner Oper needs no anniversary to present its award-winning music theatre piece Stella based on the same vile story of Stella Goldschlag, a Jewish woman who helped the Gestapo capture hundreds (some claim thousands) of Jews hiding in Berlin. Confronted with the biography of a murderous self-hating Jew who killed herself after the war by jumping out a window, your first thought might not be, “This would make a great musical,” but who knows? In Casablanca, Rick tells Ilsa, “We’ll always have Paris,” but in Berlin, I guess, we’ll always have Auschwitz.

Memories of Sarajevo Oct 16, 20:00 (French with German and English surtitles) Maxim-Gorki-Theater, Mitte | Damned Be the Traitor of his Homeland! Oct 25-26 (Slovenian with German and English surtitles) Maxim-Gorki-Theater, Mitte | Stella Oct 4, 6-10, 16, 17, 20, 21, 27, 28, 30, 20:00 (with English surtitles) Neuköllner Oper, Neukölln