Christoph Schlingensief

© David Baltzer
Christoph Schlingensief was born in the German city of Oberhausen on 24 October 1960 and died on 21 August 2010.

In 1981 he began studying German literature, philosophy and art history in Munich, working at the same time as an assistant cameraman and making his first short films. He shot his first feature film in 1983: “Tunguska – Die Kisten sind da” (i.e. "Tunguska – The boxes have arrived"). In 1986/87 he worked as 1st assistant director on the TV series “Lindenstrasse”. He subsequently shot his own provocative feature films such as “100 Jahre Adolf Hitler” (i.e. "100 Years of Adolf Hitler") in 1988/89, “Das deutsche Kettensägenmassaker” (i.e. "The German Chainsaw Massacre") in 1990 and “Terror 2000” in 1992. 1993 saw his theatre director debut at the Berliner Volksbühne – where he was engaged as a director up to the present day – with “100 Jahre CDU – Spiel ohne Grenzen” (i.e. "100 Years of the CDU – A Game without Limits").

This was followed by a number of non-theatre projects, such as his mission for junkies and homeless people at Hamburg’s main railway station in 1997, entitled “Passion Impossible – 7 Tage Notruf für Deutschland” (i.e. "Passion Impossible – 7 Days of Wake-Up Call for Germany"), or his Big Brother game for asylum seekers in Vienna in 2000 entitled “Bitte liebt Österreich” (i.e. "Please Love Austria").

In 1997 he was arrested at an art event at the documenta X exhibition for using a banner emblazoned with the words “Kill Helmut Kohl”. In 1998 he founded his “Chance 2000” party and began campaigning for votes in the German federal elections. In 1998 he presented several episodes of a talk show on the cultural channel Kulturkanal.

By this time, Schlingensief was working at the major state and municipal theatres in Vienna, Berlin, Zurich and Frankfurt, and in 2004 staged Wagner’s “Parsifal” at the Bayreuth Festival. His second major opera followed in March 2007 when he staged Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” in Manaus/Brazil.

He was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2008. Ever since, Christoph Schlingensief has focused intensively on the subject of death in theatre works such as his “Church of Fear” (2008) and “Mea Culpa” (2009). In 2009, he also described his battle with his illness in the form of a book entitled “So schön wie hier kanns im Himmel gar nicht sein: Tagebuch einer Krebserkrankung” (i.e. "It can’t possibly be as beautiful in heaven as it is here: diary of a cancer sufferer"). His large-scale project “Ein Festspielhaus für Afrika” (i.e. "A Festspielhaus for Africa"), which was initiated in early 2010, was Schlingensief’s attempt to create an opera village in Burkina Faso that would unite his artistic ideas with local needs in a creative mini-town. Schlingensief was chosen to provide the programme for the German pavilion at the 2011 Venice Art Biennale. Christoph Schlingensief died on Saturday, 21 August 2010.

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Christoph Schlingensief: Portrait

Christoph Schlingensief’s most loyal friend was the suspicion of cynicism. Even his first wild phase as a film director was accompanied by heated reactions. Feature films like “100 Jahre Adolf Hitler” (i.e. "100 Years of Adolf Hitler") in 1988, “Das deutsche Kettensägenmassaker” (i.e. "The German Chainsaw Massacre") in 1990 and “Terror 2000” in 1992 took elements such as the Gladbeck hostage crisis, asylum seeker murders, neo-Nazi activities, or German reunification and combined them with splatter and trash aesthetics, obscenities and hysteria. This was criticized by overly serious intellectuals and sensationalist media, often in equal measure, as being over-the-top, disgraceful and cynical. In 1993, Berlin anarchists went as far as using butyric acid to destroy copies of his film “Terror 2000” in the Sputnik cinema in the city’s Kreuzberg district because they felt that this grotesque German political tale with its ridiculously exaggerated scenes of sex and violence was “mindless, racist and sexist propaganda”.

The “Passion Impossible” Hamburg railway mission which he staged at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in 1997 and for which he invited junkies, homeless people, prostitutes and other marginalized inhabitants of the city’s railway station district to spend a week in his mission in an abandoned police station, was also rejected by a number of the theatre’s actors who claimed that he was merely exploiting the underprivileged for the sake of his own vanity. Similar accusations were directed at Schlingensief’s work with disabled people at the Berliner Volksbühne, where he has staged plays, projects and actions since 1993, at his production of “Hamlet” with neo-Nazis who had allegedly opted out of their extremist groups in Zurich, and at his production of “Parsifal” at the Bayreuth Festival in 2004. Even his last project, Remdoogo, the “Festspielhaus for Africa”, an opera village that has been realized in Burkina Faso since January 2010 by the architect Francis Kéré according to Schlingensief’s vision, is regarded by many observers as being a whim of cultural imperialism and an egomaniacal misunderstanding, despite (or perhaps precisely because of) the broad support it enjoys from politicians and the media.

These opinions are no doubt the inevitable side effects of the style of irritation – full of conviction and often provocative – that Christoph Schlingensief consistently relied on like precious few other artists and directors. His angry actions were targeted first and foremost at displays of self-sufficiency, and combined experimental art with opera, video and performances, spoken theatre and subculture, lectures and talk shows in opulent and very frequent tours de force. The phony triumphal messages of everyday life, the numerous masks of contentment and the exhibitionism displayed by the mass media incited him to search for the pain and hurt they conceal. He objected with equal impertinence to political machinations and private instances of double standards: no matter whether it was Kohl, Schröder, Merkel or his own audience, any conscience easing and the all too simple logic of problem and solution were in Schlingensief’s eyes an indication of mummified thinking and thus, time and time again, prompted him to employ outrageous means to shock his audiences into greater self-awareness.

With an amazing lack of trepidation, Schlingensief consistently overstepped the boundaries of decency, good taste and the safe terrain of the comprehensible. Actions such as his Big Brother camp for asylum seekers in Vienna, his arrest at the Documenta 1997 for bearing a banner emblazoned with the words “Kill Helmut Kohl”, his abuse of the Wagner family after his work in Bayreuth in his following productions, and his founding of the “Chance 2000” party for the German federal elections, which celebrated democracy as a circus of failure, were fearless breaks with taboos whose impact was all the greater not least as a result of the negative reactions they provoked. Nonetheless, the question of whether he was driven by cynicism or morals – one which can be answered fairly easily upon somewhat more thorough study of his political and human causes – always generated sufficient media attention to ensure that Christoph Schlingensief ultimately became a national cultural icon.

Although he always placed himself and his subjective aggressiveness at the forefront of his works, his focus became a more specifically personal one when he was diagnosed with cancer in early 2008. Ever since, he has with great openness and belligerence made death, his fear and the relative power of dying the central theme of his productions. Extravagant theatre performances like his “Church of Fear” (2008), “Mea Culpa” (2009) and “Via Intolleranza II” (2010) were complex compositions that combined his despair at having to die, mockery of the inevitable, grief and absurd festivity, questions about the transitory nature of life and a search for possible spiritual answers with his will to carry on living nonetheless – in the case of “Via Intolleranza II” with the participation of numerous artists from Africa, the place he yearned to be, or more accurately from Burkina Faso, the country of his opera village vision.

Schlingensief’s seemingly blasé confidence that he would always be able to tackle new genres was ultimately remarkably free from dilettantism and an overestimation of his own abilities. After all, Christoph Schlingensief was the only German director to develop a universal language of art for himself that he was able to apply not only to theatre and opera, literature, film, installation and performance, but also to his own portrayal in the media. His website ( is without doubt the most comprehensive and professional platform of any individual artist in Germany, his television appearances, which he mastered with cheekiness, poetry and warmth, were extremely popular – yet Schlingensief, as a public figure, still managed to avoid being pigeon-holed by the media.

The great integrity with which he remained attentive, political, contradictory and yet so likeable, despite being one of the greatest popular stars of German culture, meant that he truly deserved his fame, and the many honours that were bestowed on him towards the end corrupted his beliefs in no way whatsoever. The only thing that was cynical about the entire business was the illness that cost him his life on 21 August 2010. Yet that too was part of his lifelong struggle for honesty and sincerity through art.

Till Briegleb

Christoph Schlingensief: Productions

  • Christoph Schlingensief "Via Intolleranza II"
    2010, Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Brussels
    Coproduction of the Festspielhaus Afrika gGmbH, Kampnagel Hamburg, Kunstenfestivaldesarts Brussels, Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, Burgtheater in Vienna and Vienna Festival.
    Invitation to the Berliner Theatertreffen
  • Christoph Schlingensief "Sterben lernen! Herr Andersen stirbt in 60 Minuten" (i.e. "Learning to Die. mr. Andersen dies in 60 Minutes")
    2009, Koproduktion des Schauspielhaus Zürich mit dem Theater am Neumarkt, Zürich
  • Christoph Schlingensief "Mea Culpa"
    Eine Ready-Made Opera

    2009, Burgtheater, Wien
  • Christoph Schlingensief "Der Zwischenstand der Dinge"
    2008, Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin
  • Christoph Schlingensief "Eine Kirche der Angst vor dem Fremden in mir"
    Ein Fluxus-Oratorium

    2008, Ruhrtriennale, Gebläsehalle, Landschaftstpark Duisburg-Nord
  • "Jeanne d'Arc - Szenen aus dem Leben der heiligen Johanna"
    Dichtung nach den Prozessakten, Text und Musik von Walter Braunfels

    2008, Deutsche Oper, Berlin
  • Richard Wagner "Der fliegende Holländer"
    2007,Teatro de Amazonas, Manaus
  • Christoph Schlingensief “Area 7 – Matthäusexpedition” (i.e., "Area 7 - Matthew's Expedition")
    2006, Burgtheater, Vienna
  • Christoph Schlingensief „African Twintowers – der Ring 9/11” (i.e., "African Twintowers - The Ring (of the Nibelungs, the editor) 9/11")
    2005, Namibia
  • Christoph Schlingensief „Schlingensiefs Animatograph“ (i.e., "The Animatograph of Schlingensief")
    2005, Arts Festival, Reykjavik
  • Christoph Schlingensief „Der Animatograph – Odins Parsipark“ (i.e., "The Animatograph - The Parsipark of Odin")
    2005, NVA-Flugplatz, Heuhardenberg
  • Christoph Schlingensief „Keine Chance Regensburg“ (i.e, "No Chance Regensburg")
    2005, Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin
  • Christoph Schlingensief "Kunst und Gemüse. A. Hipler" (i.e. "Art and Vegetable. A. Hipler")
    2004, Volksbühne Berlin
  • Richard Wagner "Parsifal"
    2004, Bayreuth Festival
  • Christoph Schlingensief after Elfriede Jelinek “Attabambi-Pornoland-Trilogy”
    2003/2004 Volksbühne Berlin/Burgtheater Vienna/Zurich Schauspielhaus
  • Christoph Schlingensief “Church of Fear”
    2003, Venice Biennale
  • Christoph Shlingensief after William Shakespeare “Hamlet”
    2001, Schauspielhaus Zurich
  • Christoph Schlingensief “Please Love Austria”
    2000, Volksbühne Berlin
  • Christoph Schlingensief “Berlin Republic”
    1999, Volksbühne Berlin
  • Christoph Schlingensief “Artists in the Circus Dome – Helpless”
    1998, Volksbühne Berlin im Prater
  • Christoph Schlingensief “Passion Impossible – 7 Days Emergency Call for Germany”
    1997, Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg
  • Christoph Schlingensief “My Fat, My Felt, My Rabbit – 48 Hours Survival for Germany”
    1997, documenta Kassel
  • Christoph Schlingensief “The Battle for Europe I-XLII – UFO Crisis 97”
    1997, Volksbühne Berlin
  • Christoph Schlingensief “Rocky Dutschke ‘68”
    1996, Volksbühne Berlin
  • Christoph Schlingensief “Hooray, Jesus! A High Struggle!“
    1995, steirischer herbst Graz
  • Christoph Schlingensief “Kühnen ‘94 – Bring Me Adolf Hitler’s Head”
    1994, Volksbühne Berlin
  • Christoph Schlingensief “100 Years of the CDU – Game Without Frontiers”
    1993, Volksbühne Berlin