Monday, November 24, 2014

Nasty Peace

Within the elaborate, hyperbolic mythology of Berlin, there's the rabbit-warren of Kreuzberg - a microcosm of fabrication, a hall of mirrors. Take a wrong turn here and you're lost in perception, forever trapped between echoes, jumping at shadows, believing in things which can't be true, and building a future that feels unreal.

Zoom in, and within the city's surrounds, there's Kotbusser Tor - 'Kottie' - a place famous for anarchy, as a melting pot for the growing pains of 90's Berlin, where the blend of Turks, neo-Nazis and Police publicly negotiated their co-existence amongst Ossies and Wessies. Going through here, even casually, it's quite clearly filled with a very recent, very dramatic, history. Hell - even the circular topography looks amphi-theatrical.

Harnessing this complex political space holds both a challenge and obvious potential in the work Nasty Peace, a site-specific audio tour of Kotbusser Tor staged by the group Copy & Waste in collaboration with the English Theatre Berlin (which is located in a different part of Kreuzberg). The work is broadcast in three different languages (Turkish, English and German) where participants can access narratives of its history and mythology, and contemplate its - inevitably capital-dominated - future. The war over capital development in this traditionally anti-development location is the cause of much debate in Kotbusser Tor, in Kreuzberg, and in Berlin, and gives this Nasty Peace it's title, and it's key theme.

Which, perhaps not surprisingly, results in a fairly cynical treatment of the subject matter. Nominally a piece to celebrate the Mauerfall, the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Nasty Peace is more interested in the negatives of conciliation. It finds numerous examples in Kotbusser Tor. From the relics of past voices wiped out to the increasing evidence of capital intrusion, your audio guide's narrative of historical information (the 36 Boys, the gradual erosion of rights, the feeling of Berliners after the wall came down) is undercut with comments dripping with sarcasm and double entendres.

I quite appreciated all of this - not in the least because it is talking about a real situation that is actively, somewhat devastatingly unfolding, but also because it captures the quintessential tone of the Berliner, dripping with darkness and, well, cynicism, and to an extent historically explains that. There is undoubtable valuable information about its struggles buried in the walls of the location, and the text fully exploíts this, moving fluidly from simple observations to cynical projections to poetic expressions ("recently it only seems as though I was temporarily here"). There's a magic about this cocktail, and at times it seems to sing in harmony, the way something can only do when it is listening closely to its location - or deeply embedded within it.

Why Nasty Peace needs to be bookended with an odd theatrical formality in the beginning, where three auctioneers try to sell Kotbusser Tor, (or at least I'm pretty sure that's what was happening) and a surprise dinner in an abandoned office at the end, would need to be explained to me. The opening sets up some useful binaries which will be returned to later (truth and fictions, multiple languages, and the cynical inerjecting voice) but felt unnessessary, like a speech when the main course is sitting in front of you. Then, after just witnessing something so sour, it felt odd to collect together - the invitation was clearly to discuss the work, but talking about capital, gentrification, and oppression that was the last thing that I, or I sensed any of my compatriots, felt like doing in that decidedly middle-class ritual. Rather, from the peculiar isolation experienced by walking around staring at the faces of people, oddly aestheticising them in the same way as a developer might, I felt the need to be absolved, to restore some sense of humanity to the experience. So my dinner was a struggle between the aestheticisation of the people at the dinner table and my attempts to restore some sense of real humanity.

There are several production elements about this work worth noting and talking about - most notably that it's engagement is truly multi-lingual, and invites the Turkish, English and German-speaking communities together (as, in a way, does Kotbusser Tor). The political effect of this shared experience, as well as, to be honest, someone adressing the incredible lack of a consistent Turkish theatre here despite it having an expat population some 12 times the English-speaking population, (about 5% of Berlin's population are born in Turkey. That's a phenomenal figure - and surely one that warrents its own theatre, which is absolutely not to denegrate the Turkish groups which do operate here, nor the strangely low-profile Tiyatrom which continues despite funding cuts, nor the mainstream theatres which attempt to incorporate these voices in their programming and production). As far as I know, it's new territory for the English Theatre - and it pays off.

The sheer logistical nightmare of organising an event like this, the first of a trilogy exploring public space by Cut and Paste - provocatively entitled SHOWDOWN - did not go unnoticed by me. Given everything, it was extremely well-handled, and the safety of the situation allowed me to explore Kotti in a way I hadn't, despite going through it daily for about a year. The formula here - at least once you'd begun the audio tour, was clear, and a source of strength to the production. Credit where it's due.

There's another way that Kreuzberg is a microcosm of Berlin - that an engagement with the place is an engagement with its politics. you simply cannot exist in it, even temporarily, without formulating a series of (unanswered) questions. Why isn't it cleaner? Why are there always people here? What's with the occasional new building that doesn't seem to fit? Why does it always feel like it's about to explode? Nasty Peace stands as a monument to the destroyed past, and paints a bleak picture of a geography under the grip of capital.


Nasty Peace
Text: Jörg Albrecht 
Direction: Steffen Klewar 
with Murat Dikenci, Steffen Klewar and Fabian Stumm 

Design: Silke Bauer, Saga Fermin 
Music: Lenard Gimpel 
Technical Direction: Yunus Kleff 
English Translation: Daniel Brunet 
Turkish Translation: Tunçay Kulaoğlu 
Research: Jörg Albrecht, Yunus Kleff 
Production Management: ehrliche arbeit – freies Kulturbüro

With English Theatre Berlin
Until December 6th 

Image of Kotbusser Tor: Oliver Mann

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