“People clearly feel a real need to be here,” said Oliver Reese, artistic director of the Ensemble.
“It’s the first thing I’ve looked forward to since November,” said Thomas Stahnsdorf, one of the lucky few to have tickets Friday night. “It’s a wonderful feeling.”
Berlin is one of the great cultural capitals of the world, with more theaters and opera houses per capita than any other major European city. But they have all been gloomy since November, ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Directors and producers feel more and more aggrieved. Why, they ask, can’t Berlin follow the lead of Madrid, which has kept its theaters, museums and galleries open despite the ravages of the coronavirus?
Last month, the city’s cultural elite decided to stop complaining and do something about it. Together with the Berlin Department of Culture, they proposed a pilot project allowing a limited number of coronavirus-compliant performances. The program started on Friday evening, with a screening of Heart of panic, an autobiographical piece by journalist and TV personality Benjamin von Stuckrad-Barre, and will run until April 4.
The initiative, which could pave the way for a wider reopening of cultural institutions in Berlin and elsewhere, is a new initiative. With every € 20 ticket purchased online, customers benefit from a free Covid-19 test, which must be performed on the day of the performance. Only those who test negative are allowed to enter the theater and medical masks must be worn throughout the performance.
Some of the best sites in Berlin are participating in the pilot project. Daniel Barenboim will lead Figaro’s wedding at the Staatsoper on April 2, while the Deutsche Oper will stage the Zandonai Francesca de Rimini two days later. The Volksbühne will present a premiere of the new play by Fritz Kater Come as you are, while Dutch electronic musician Fatima Yamaha will perform at Holzmarkt, a trendy concert hall in Berlin-Friedrichshain, next Saturday.
This decision is an attempt “to explain how we can allow a controlled and hygienic return to cultural life,” said Klaus Lederer, Berlin Minister of Culture.
It comes at a time when all German theaters and opera houses, which rolled down the curtains when the country’s lockdown began a year ago, crave relief. Berlin’s Gorky Theater epitomizes the fate of the industry: it has seen box office revenue drop from € 1.7m in 2019 to € 500,000 in 2020. Like other houses, it is wary of any kind of forecast. for 2021.
Thanks to generous public subsidies, German theaters have performed much better than their counterparts in other countries. Most were able to send regular staff to Short-term work – short-term work – absenteeism regimes which protected them from the impact of the stoppage.
But the many independent artists who are the cornerstone of Berlin’s theatrical landscape have seen their incomes plummet. “They get a fraction of their regular pay,” Reese said. “I really worry about them.”
The government distributed materials to creators, and authorities in Berlin hired unemployed artists as staff at Covid-19 vaccination centers. But officials recognize that much of the cultural sector faces an existential crisis.
This is why people like Lederer and the culture department in Berlin are so eager to find a solution. “For an open society, culture is more than recreation, even though the government’s pandemic policies lump theaters and opera houses with tattoo parlors and brothels,” he says.
For Reese, the pilot provided a silver lining. The Berliner Ensemble, created by Bertolt Brecht and his wife Hélène Weigel in 1949 and still one of Germany’s most illustrious theaters, ceased all rehearsals six weeks ago as prospects for reopening began to diminish. It didn’t seem useful to prepare new shows when no one knew when they might be played.
” A lot of [our actors] feeling pretty inconsolable, ”he said. “Everyone told us things would be better at Easter. . . but now Easter is almost here and there is this feeling that things are only getting worse.
The government reported earlier this month that cultural institutions could reopen if the number of new coronavirus cases remains stable over a 14-day period. But the latest statistics point in the opposite direction: infections are increasing at an exponential rate and Germany appears to be firmly in the grip of the third wave of the pandemic.
Reece thing Heart of panic deliberately. A hoarse piece, it tells of Stuckrad-Barre’s bulimia, cocaine addiction, depression and loneliness but nevertheless ends on an optimistic note.
“The audience will be able to lean back, relax and let their souls breathe deeply,” he said. “All behind an FFP2 protective mask, of course.”