What happened after the Berlin Wall fell?

Christian Wolter Holländischer Pavillon Expo-Gelände Hannover 2004


Twenty years after the Wall, 19 playwrights from 15 European countries present works exploring the social changes that have taken place since 1989. A talk with the project curators Claudia Amthor-Croft and Martin Berg.

Claudia Amthor-Croft, you’re responsible for the cultural programmes in northwestern Europe at the Goethe-Institut London. How did the idea for After the Fall originate?

Claudia Amthor-Croft: We were looking for an approach to reflect on the significance of the fall of the wall and the developments in the past 20 years in Europe on a broad basis that was not discursive, but artistic. We then decided on theatre. The idea was born, to commission a play on the theme the “Fall of the Berlin Wall” in partnership with a local theatre.The idea spread – during a seminar for theatre people from northwestern Europe at the 2007 Mülheim Theatertagen we found more partner institutions in Copenhagen and Dublin. This nucleus grew to become “After the Fall.” In Germany we were able to recruit Dirk Laucke for the play commission and the Staatsschauspiel Dresden and Theaterbüro Mülheim an der Ruhr as venues.

The fall of the wall will be a major topic next year. Martin Berg, you are the head of the Theatre and Dance division at the head office of the Goethe-Institut in Munich. Why is the art form of theatre suitable for remembering the effects of this historic event on all of Europe?

Martin Berg: Theatre always tells something about the people and that’s what interests this project the most. How did people’s lives change after the upheaval in 1989? What are their problems, aspirations and yearnings? We have a lot of information from the media, but often in the form of abstract facts, statistics and academic analyses. By contrast, theatre creates real situations happening to individuals; it is a live medium that requires communication, it involves the viewers emotionally and demands their personal reactions. We hope that the playwrights will surprise us. That they change they way we see things, draw our attention to new aspects and irritate us. We intentionally worded the commission very loosely so as not to restrict the authors’ artistic imaginations.

One unique thing about After the Fall is its focus on all of Europe: the socio-political changes resulting from the fall of the wall are artistically reflected not only in Germany, but in particular in other countries.

Martin Berg: The fall of the wall is not a solely German phenomenon, even if, when we talk about it here at home, we mainly focus on its impacts on Germany. We want to expand our perspective to include Europe, the different experiences associated with it. What significance did 1989 have for people in Scandinavia, in central-eastern Europe or the states of former Yugoslavia, where civil war broke out shortly thereafter? The writers were asked to write about their own countries. It’s not just a matter of interpreting the historic events, but of where Europe stands today and how its future will look. We are curious to see what connections arise between the plays and whether this kaleidoscope of artistic work can result in one overall picture.

What criteria did you use to select the partner theatres in each of the countries?

Claudia Amthor-Croft: The Goethe-Instituts abroad are very well networked with the local arts scenes and therefore have excellent connections to the local theatres. So, our colleagues who are collaborating on After the Fall contacted the theatres in their countries that they saw suitable for this type of collaboration. This resulted in 18 collaborations.

And the writers?

Claudia Amthor-Croft: The writers were chosen during talks between the Goethe-Instituts and the theatres. It was important in these agreements that the theatres guarantee that the play would be produced. In this way, they were able to choose playwrights who have gained a certain degree of renown locally or internationally – such as the Danish playwright Christian Lollike and Andrzej Stasiuk in Poland. Of course, one of the main criteria was the writer’s willingness to deal with the subject matter in the broadest sense, whereby we made it clear that the focus of the plays should be on the present as a result of social developments after the fall of the wall.

After the Fall will culminate in a festival of guest performances in Mülheim an der Ruhr and Dresden in November 2009. What do you expect from this synopsis of European standpoints?

Martin Berg: The 18 productions will at first only be performed at the theatres where they originate. It will be exciting then when the different perceptions meet and the audiences can compare them. That is why we sought out cooperating organizers in Germany from the start. I am very pleased that we were able to win over a partner in eastern Germany with the Staatsschauspiel Dresden and one from western Germany with the Theaterbüro Mülheim an der Ruhr and will be able to organize a double festival with them. In addition to the play commissioned to Dirk Laucke in Dresden, we will invite six productions from other countries. In this way, the audiences can experience the different perceptions of the European authors as one overall picture. In addition to the guest performances, there will be an extensive fringe programme in collaboration with the Federal Agency for Civic Education with lectures, a symposium and meetings of artists.

Goethe-Instituts in 15 European countries are collaborating on After the Fall – how important is this kind of networking for international cultural work?

Martin Berg: At the beginning, we didn’t think the response would be so great. But, it turned out that many European theatres wanted to treat the topic of 1989 and so the doors were wide open for our proposal. Looking at the fall of the wall as a European theme was convincing to all of them.

European theatre networks already exist. But, the special thing about this one is that all of the partners were brought together by their common interest in the subject matter. Theatres of very different sizes are involved – from national theatres to an independent group – which is never the case for institutional networks otherwise. I am certain that the future belongs to this kind of temporary network and that the Goethe-Institut can play a significant role in this with good initiatives.

Interview: Christiane Jekeli

Translation from German into English: Faith Gibson-Tegethoff