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Performing the Archive: History and Memory in Recent German Theatre

Matthew Cornish

Theatre Journal, Volume 67, Number 1, March 2015, pp. 63-82 (Article)

Published by Johns Hopkins University Press


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Performing the Archive: History and
Memory in Recent German Theatre
Matthew Cornish

Berlin/Alexanderplatz, November 4, 1989

Wearing a long coat and clutching a piece of paper, Heiner Mller stands on a podium
in front of 500,000 demonstrators in Alexanderplatz, the heart of East Berlin, underneath
the looming Fernsehturm television tower erected in 1969 as a symbol of socialist power
and innovation. In his early years as a playwright, Mller wrote Lehrstcke, including
Der Lohndrcker (The Scab) in 1957 and Der Bau (The Construction Site) in 1964, which
address the beginnings of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Now, he calls for
independent unions1 to represent the interests of workers without interference from
the real existing socialist government. With a scratchy voice and in a halting rhythm
that makes the speech sound like one of his poems, Mller concludes his short politi-
cal address with a personal note: If the government should step down in the next
week, then we can dance at demonstrations.2 Mller is just one of many speakers on
November 4th, most of them creative artists. The writer Christa Wolf ends her address
by invoking one of the most common slogans of 1989: We are the people [das Volk]!3
After the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9th this chant became We are one
people [ein Volk], and the East German government ceased to function in any practical
manner. This included the Ministry for State Security, the GDR secret police known as
the Stasi, which worried that it could be prosecuted and began to destroy its archives.
In January 1990, demonstrators stormed and then occupied Stasi headquarters, pre-
serving for posterity the secret files kept there, many of them documenting spying on
and by private citizens.

Matthew Cornish is an assistant professor of theatre history at Ohio University. His essays have ap-
peared in Performance Research, PAJ, Theatre Forum, and TDR, and he contributes to Theater
der Zeit. Currently, he is completing a manuscript on performances of history and nation in Germany
following reunification, and is also editing a collection of contemporary German performance texts. He
received his doctorate degree from the Yale School of Drama.

The research for this essay was funded with a DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) research
Heiner Mller, Reden vom 4.11.1989Heiner Mller, available at
4november1989/mulr.html. All translations from the German are mine unless otherwise noted.
Christa Wolf, Document 5: Christa Wolf, Christoph Hein, and Steffi Spira at the Berlin Demon-
stration, 4 November 1989, trans. Allison Brown and Belinda Cooper, in Uniting Germany: Documents
and Debates, 19441993, ed. Konrad Jarausch and Volker Gransow (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1994), 71.

Theatre Journal 67 (2015) 6382 2015 by Johns Hopkins University Press

64/Matthew Cornish
Around Alexanderplatz, small and large changes took place after official unification
in October 1990 as a new ideology replaced the old. Trains at this major transportation
hub began to run all the way through Berlin; Soviet-style buildings came down; and
major shopping centers selling expensive perfumes opened.

Berlin/Alexanderplatz, June 13, 2011

On a late spring day almost twenty-one years after the November 4th demonstration,
I walk through this transformed Alexanderplatz. Still, not all has changed. Leaving
the subway station in Alexanderplatz, I see ghosts of GDR-era monuments as I walk
past an Ampelmnnchen, the jaunty East German traffic-light man, and toward the Fern-
sehturm television towerboth Berlin emblems now replicated on countless T-shirts,
coffee mugs, and other tourist knickknacks available for purchase in all parts of the city.
During the afternoon of June 13th I do not hurry past the scars of history in Berlin
that refuse to entirely fade or that the citys residents refuse to allow to mend. I walk
directly into a piece of that history, the Fernsehturmor more specifically, what feels
like an abandoned commercial area on the second floor of the towers base. Here,
the German theatrical collective Rimini Protokoll (Helgard Haug, Stefan Kaegi, and
Daniel Wetzel) has set up the headquarters for 50 Aktenkilometer. Ein begehbares Stasi
Hrspiel (50 kilometers of dossiers. A walkable Stasi audio-play).4 Assigned a smart
phone and set of headphones, I walk back out into Alexanderplatz to the sounds of
the GDR Dynamo March, the pounding anthem of the East German security agen-
cies sports club5 (fig. 1).
For the next three and a half hours I listen to recordings of events in 1989 as they
happened, large demonstrations as well as personal affairs; Stasi officials speak, as do
informers, dissidents, and other GDR citizens. In addition to recordings made in 1989,
Rimini Protokoll includes later recollections, individuals discussing their experiences
twenty years ago. My Android cell phone uses GPS to track me, and when I arrive in
certain locations, marked by an orange circle on the phones map, it plays a report that
lasts between one and ten minutes. Sometimes I sit and listen, following occasional
instructions; for example, walk into the Radisson Hotel, formerly the Palasthotel, act
like a normal guest, sit down by the bar, look around inconspicuously. Are you being
watched?6 A flaneur, I sometimes just walk on, out of one circle and on toward another.
Rimini Protokoll spreads roughly 120 of these orange circles throughout the center of
the former East Berlin, 120 stories pulled from both memories and the archives of the
Stasi, files saved by the demonstrators in 1990.
In 50 Aktenkilometer, Rimini Protokoll seeks to contribute not only to what Germans
remember from the time period just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, adding voices
of both Stasi informants and protestors not generally included in histories, but also,

Rimini Protokoll (Helgard Haug, Stefan Kaegi, and Daniel Wetzel), 50 Aktenkilometer: Ein Begehbares
Stasi-Hrspiel, Hebel am Ufer Theater Berlin, June 13, 2011. The quotes below come from my personal
notes taken from my tour. I supplemented these with recordings on the Press CD given to me by
Rimini Protokoll, as well as with recordings freely available on the productions website: http://dradio- Citations refer to the names that Rimini Protokoll gave to individual recordings.
50 Aktenkilometer, Start / Ziel: Dynamo-Marsch.
50 Aktenkilometer, Romanze im Palasthotel (Rllig).
History and Memory in Recent German Theatre/65

Figure 1. A participant in 50 Aktenkilometer listens to a recording.

(Photo: Dorothea Tuch, courtesy of Rimini Protokoll.)
66/Matthew Cornish
and just as importantly, to how memory happens in Germany. Participants experience
a multiplicity of stories, which cannot all be fully heard, with their bodies while walk-
ing through the landscape of Berlin. Rimini Protokoll embraces many contributing
voicesthey made no transcript of the recordingswhile compelling their audience
to select and interpret. Reflecting November 4, 1989 back to us in the transformed
Alexanderplatz, 50 Aktenkilometer asks Germans to reconsider the goals and conse-
quences of the demonstration, as well as the people who contributed to, feared, or
even fought against it.

Documentary Theatre in Germany after 2000

Rimini Protokolls 50 Aktenkilometer demonstrates some of the ways in which, over
the past ten years, German theatre artists have been creating what could be a called
a documentary theatre of the digital age, transforming the documentary form with
alternative dramaturgies, contemporary technologies, and moral ambiguity. In this
essay, I examine two recent productions from the German theatre that deal directly
with the past in theme and content and argue that performance can draw on the at-
tributes we assign to both history and memory to encourage a critical attitude toward
the past, with individuals encountering objects in museums and archives, as well as
the layers of memory in streets, as scriptive things7 to be engaged and improvised
with. Although the productions I discuss belong to the distinctly post-unification Ger-
man sphere, the methods I use and questions I raise about history and memory apply
more generally to other national and cultural contexts, from post-communist Eastern
Europe to post-dictatorship South America. I use the productions to reflect on, and at
times revise, ideas first presented by Diana Taylor and Robin Bernstein, as well as the
key scholars they drew on.
The events that led to the unification of West and East Germany in 1990 have been
represented and commemorated in many ways: in movies, including the humorous and
nostalgic Good Bye, Lenin! (2003);8 and at historical sites such as the Berlin Wall Memo-
rial on Bernauer Strae (completed in 2014), where visitors can walk along the site of
the Wall and read about the men and women killed there attempting to escape from
the East. 50 Aktenkilometer is one of several productions and theatrical experiments in
the past ten years by independent German theatre artists, located primarily in Berlin,
that explore not so much the events themselves, but rather the collective memory and
historiography of the unification period by citing or satirizing the aesthetics of archives
and museums. Among other examples that I have had the opportunity to see, the col-
lective She She Pop arranged a conversation between themselves, from the West, and
women born in the former East for Schubladen (Drawers, 2011). Director Hans-Werner
Kroesinger examined the historiography of the Berlin Wall in Vermauern (To wall up,
2009): amid a clutter of photographs and objects, Kroesinger staged a 1961 discussion
between Nikita Khrushchev (leader of the Soviet Union from 1958 to 1964) and Walter

In this part of the argument, I build off of Robin Bernsteins theory of scriptive things in Racial
Innocence: Performing American Childhood and Race from Slavery to Civil Rights (New York: NYU Press, 2011).
Good Bye, Lenin!, directed by Wolfgang Becker (Berlin: X-Filme Creative Pool, 2003). Set in 1990, the
film follows a young mans increasingly desperate attempts to keep his mother, who was in a coma
during the fall of the Berlin Wall, from finding out that the GDR has collapsed. The film delights in
recreating the material objects of life in the GDR.
History and Memory in Recent German Theatre/67

Ulbricht (who led the GDR from 1950 to 1971), just before the building of the Berlin
Wall. Ren Pollesch satirized the 2006 Stasi film The Lives of Others in his production
LAffaire Martin! Occupe-toi de Sophie! Par la fentre, Caroline! Le mariage de Spengler.
Christine est en avance (also 2006, at the Volksbhne Berlin). andcompany&Co., another
collective, staged its first of several history-obsessed productions with little red (play):
herstory (2006), a fragmentary piece in which a time-traveler questions former and
future communists about the end of history, creating a documentary fairy-tale and
an archive for utopias, lost and found.9
These works are related to German documentary theatre, but also sharply break
from that movement. Tracing its roots to the work of director Erwin Piscator, who
incorporated films of recent events into his highly political productions in the 1920s,
documentary theatre of the 1960s relied upon a belief that objective truth can be found
and represented. In the introduction to Die Ermittlung (The Investigation, 1965), Peter
Weiss wrote that the testimony included in the play should contain nothing beyond
facts.10 Weiss and other documentary playwrights desired the thing-in-itself, building
dramas solely out of archival materials, which they hoped would allow them to avoid
the delusions and propaganda of the Nazi period. For these artists, documents equaled
objective facts, and facts equaled authentic historical reconstruction, a relief from the
fakery of the media, politicians, and theatrical representation. In an essay on German
documentary theatre of the late 1990s, scholar and critic Thomas Irmer defined the
mode of 1960s documentary theatre concisely: historical documents are treated as
the principal material for the stage; characters are seen as authentic protagonists from
history; and quite often the forms of investigationtrial or factual reconstructionare
employed to confront the audience with the content.11
Many artists today share with Piscator, Weiss, and playwright Rolf Hochhuth a com-
mon interest in archival research and in bringing startling materials that document the
past onto the stage and into public view; but rather than accepting the universal truth
of such materials, these artists explore the representation and story-telling inherent in
presenting historical documents. They interrogate how actors, primary source material,
and various media can work together to create the feeling of truth and how audiences
perceive and relate to different methods of presentation. As Irmer wrote, in German
documentary theatre since the 1990s, [t]he audience has to be engaged in relating and
deciphering history from the broken pieces forming the collaged scenes to understand
a discourse constructed of associations between long past and contemporary history,
with no clear cause-and-effect relations specifiedthe way it is in reality.12 He lays
out a solid introduction to documentary projects in Germany in the 2000s, but the

andcompany&CO, little red (play): herstory, available at
Peter Weiss, Die Ermittlung: Oratorium in 11 Gesngen (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt Taschenbuch
Verlag, 1984), 7. Weiss moderated this definition a bit a few years later, in 1968, in his landmark essay
Notes on the Contemporary Theatre: Documentary theatre abstains from any kind of invention, it
adopts authentic material and presents it on the stage without any modification of its content, but with
definite formal modification. See Weiss, Notes on the Contemporary Theatre, trans. Joel Agee, in
Essays on German Theatre, ed. Margaret Herzfeld-Sander (New York: Continuum, 2002), 294.
Thomas Irmer, A Search for New Realities: Documentary Theatre in Germany, TDR: The Drama
Review 50, no. 3 (2006): 17.
Ibid., 23.
68/Matthew Cornish
methods of the artists and groups I have listed differ so sharply from those of Weiss
and Hochhuth, who made dramas with clear characters, narratives, and ideological
ends, that one should not draw a direct line of influence, as Irmer does.13
In this essay I build off of Irmer, analyzing two projects in depth in order to explore
the potential of performance to shape identity. The first production I examine, Hans-
Werner Kroesingers Vermauern, engages with history and memory through its material
and museum-like setting; the second, Rimini Protokolls 50 Aktenkilometer, relies upon
the signs of theatre though not the theatre building itself, asking participants to embody
the archive. Although now several years old, Vermauern and 50 Aktenkilometer make
interesting innovations in the performance of archival research and museum culture,
illustrating how archives and museums subtly need and make use of performance,
and both productions merit sustained analysis, which they have yet to receive. Rimini
Protokoll and Kroesinger are two of the most important German theatre-makers today,
although Kroesinger is little known to Anglo-American scholars and practitioners. These
two productions provide key examples of their work, and more generally of the work
being done outside of the German state-funded repertory theatres by freie Szene (free
scene) practitioners, who are making much of the most inventive live performance in
Germany today.
Before examining the productions I will first present a brief background on the de-
bates surrounding unification, which will clarify the specifically German context that
Rimini Protokoll and Kroesinger work within.

Narratives of Unification
What history and what memories do Kroesinger and Rimini Protokoll contend with,
knot up, and encourage us to interact with? By history, I mean written records of
past events of national importance that follow the established practices of historical
scholarliness, for example, the practices of source criticism, logical argument, and al-
lowing for the possibility of checking, criticizing, and revising its truth-claims,14 to
quote Stefan Berger on the historians task. A historian collects traces from the past,
evidence in stones, objects, words, and biological material, and then works to recon-
struct the past through text, as Paul Connerton writes in How Societies Remember.15
Scholars consider memory to be more individual, subjective, and mimetic. I do not
deal here with the memories of specific individuals, but rather collective memory, by
which I mean representations collective, publicly available symbols and meanings about
the past, to quote Jeffrey Olick on Maurice Halbwachs.16 This can include history
books, but memory need not be factual, the domain of experts. Scholars have divided
history and memory into binaries: the former being the archive of documents and objects
curated and formed into coherent narratives about large collectives of people, versus
the oral stories and gestures of memory, which are often cyclical in pattern and can

Ibid., 17.
Stefan Berger, The Search for Normality: National Identity and Historical Consciousness in Germany since
1800, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2003), xxi.
Paul Connerton, How Societies Remember (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 13.
Jeffrey C. Olick, Politics of Regret: On Collective Memory and Historical Responsibility (New York:
Routledge, 2007), 6 (emphasis in original). Here, Olick is commenting on the contributions of Maurice
Halbwachs to the field of collective-memory studies.
History and Memory in Recent German Theatre/69

sustain small-group identities. Or to put it more simply, the written versus the bodily.
In Pierre Noras widely cited 1989 essay Between Memory and History, the French
historian writes that [m]emory takes root in the concrete, in spaces, gestures, images,
and objects; history binds itself strictly to temporal continuities, to progressions and
to relations between things.17 Nora hopes that by studying environments of memory
(milieux de mmoire: oral and gestural traditions), which he opposes to the contemporary
obsession with sites of memory (lieux de mmoire: museums, archives, monuments), we
will be able to overcome the condition of modernity, which confines memory to history
(to the archive), hence reinforcing established power structures.
To return to my initial question about the history and collective memory confronted
by the artists I am discussing, German historians shaped the history of their nation in
a new way following unification. Prior to 1989, most structured the historiography of
Germany to emphasize the Holocaust and subsequent division, as well as divisions
throughout central European history, with much skepticism toward ideas of German
national identity.18 Berger shows that many historiansnot just conservative ones,
but almost all historians except those on the Leftreacted to the events of 198990
by punctuating the German past to show unification as the final turning point in a
teleological process.19 Proponents of this teleological history of Germany, writing about
past events as a coherent and natural process greater than its individual human par-
ticipants, argued that the fall of communism ended the last major conflict over the best
way of organizing human society. They structure free-market capitalism and liberal
democracy as the clear endpoint of the historical process. The forty-year existence of the
GDR is seen as perpetuating totalitarianism (begun under the Nazis), and the division
of Germany as punishment for World War II, now duly served.20 This historiography
works to normalize the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) as a nation on the
world stage, to make it no longer responsible for structuring its diplomacy and inter-
national actions around the Holocaust, thus opening a path for the return of the more
expansionist-minded Germany of Bismarck.21 Often, such historians have the explicit
goal of increasing national consciousness and amplifying nationalism in Germany.22
Similar to historians, museum curators rely upon evidence to tell coherent narra-
tives about history; they reconstruct the past and make it material for visitors, shap-
ing collective memory more actively than scholarly historians. As cultural historians
Liedeke Plate and Anneke Smelik argue in Technologies of Memory in the Arts: An
Introduction, museums have served to construct and preserve the nations cultural
memory through rituals of canonization23 since the nineteenth century. Objects in mu-
seums conjure the past and make us feel close to it; unlike everyday objects, artifacts

Pierre Nora, Between Memory and History, Representations 26 (1989): 8.
See the work of Karl-Dietrich Bracher, Dolf Sternberger, and Alexander Schwan, among others.
Berger, The Search for Normality, 9699.
Ibid., 8.
Ibid., 198201; see also the work of Michael Strmer, Hagen Schulze, and Christian Meier, among
Berger, The Search for Normality, 198: Reunification of Germany in October 1990 convinced some
historians that a re-evaluation of the role of the nation in German history was in the cards. They now
attributed a new normality to the nation in their writings.
See, for example, Hefried Mnkler, Die Deutschen und ihre Mythen (Berlin: Rowohlt, 2009).
Liedeke Plate and Anneke Smelik, eds., Technologies of Memory in the Arts: An Introduction,
in Technologies of Memory in the Arts (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 4.
70/Matthew Cornish
cast what can be described as auras. In the past twenty years or so, museums have
invited more visitor participation, trying to avoid imposing master narratives on them
while maintaining exhibits arranged around artifacts. Although they still rely upon the
archive and make truth claims, they also ask visitors to physically engage with objects
and even to reenact events and characters. Silke Arnold-de Simine, a memory theorist
and German studies scholar, argues that this new genre of the memory museum
interactive exhibits focusing on everyday livesadopt[s] a mode of representation
that has so far been the domain of art, and specifically literature.24 I agree with this
statement to an extent, but the mode of representation in memory museums relies
upon narratives told through objects, dioramas, and text while requiring the visitor to
complete the loop of meaning by actively engaging with the exhibits to imaginatively
project themselves into the stories of the characters. With props, sets, and scripts ask-
ing for participatory performance, memory museums are much closer to theatre than
literature. At first, memory museums seem to avoid the problems of traditional history
museums, but the stories told there still often add up to nationalist master narratives.
And by placing artifacts in dioramas and with invitations for interaction, memory
museums actually intensify the aura of objects, as well as feelings of being close, or
even present, to the absent past. Such an aesthetical creation of (almost) perfect dream
worlds ends by paralyzing the critical faculties of visitors, Berger argues. They either
go down memory lane (if they belong to an older generation) or they find themselves
enthralled by a kind of time machine which allows them the illusion of participating
in past events.25
Through both the auratic presence of their artifacts and the mode of participation
they invite, memory museums encourage identification over critical engagement. As
Arnold-de Simine contends: What has been described as the global memory boom
means that representations of the past do not aim first and foremost to further knowl-
edge, but more importantly to generate a sense of belonging to a past that requires
emotional investment and identification, sometimes to an extent that suggests imagi-
native reliving of events.26 This is especially true of performative memory museums
and memorials.
A number of important museums and memorials in Berlin shape collective memory
with their content and structure. In their overall effect, the German Historical Museum,
the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, the Berlin Wall Memorial, and the DDR Museum create
narratives of political history and everyday life from 1945 to 1989 that emphasize the
movement toward and role of free-market capitalism. They reify memory and foster a
consumptive relationship to the past, encouraging identification over critical engage-
ment; the Berlin Wall Memorial especially relies upon imaginative reliving. Narrative
paths through the park space of the memorial, as well as among the artifacts collected
in the museums, script the behavior of visitors. People may reach out and touch ob-
jects, but the museums discourage them from deviating from the layouts presented to
them and from thinking critically about the narratives created by the objects along the
paths. The museums echo post-unification historiography as written by conservative

Silke Arnold-de Simine, The Spirit of an Epoch Is Not Just Reflected in Pictures and Books, but
Also in Pots and Frying Pans: GDR Museums and Memories of Everyday Life, in The GDR Remem-
bered, ed. Nick Hodgin and Caroline Pearce (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2011), 99.
Berger, The Search for Normality, 207.
Arnold-de Simine, The Spirit of an Epoch, 98.
History and Memory in Recent German Theatre/71

historians, fostering an increased consciousness of national identity by emphasizing

the similarities between individual lives in East and West Germany (we were never
that different), as well as legitimizing the latters political and economic structures
(against the totalitarian former East). The German citizen,27 as imagined through the
exhibits and the memorial, understands him- or herself first and foremost as German;
has knowledge of the atrocities committed by Germans, especially the Holocaust and
the Berlin Wall; understands the GDR as totalitarian and the FRG as the best possible
nation of Germans; and remembers the East through the Wall.

A Museum Inside a Theatre: Vermauern

In a cramped and dusty-feeling room, the black-box space of the Maxim Gorki
Theater, simple wooden tables have been laid out with dioramas: letters, photographs,
maps, statistics, and objects, such as a model of the Brandenburg Gate (fig. 2). With
its references to the Berlin Wall and its amateur feel, the space evokes the Checkpoint
Charlie Museum,28 but after wandering through the exhibit, I sit in a bank of seats.29
Soon, two women enter and, business-like in simple brown and purple dresses and
high heels, cordon off the audience from the displays. One clears her throat and flips
open a folder she has been carrying: Transcript of a conversation between Comrade
N. S. Khrushchev and Comrade W. Ulbricht on August 1, 1961.30 Walking just past
the cavernous German Historical Museum on Unter den Linden, we have come to this
small studio space at the Gorki to watch Kroesingers Vermauern. His hour-long staging
of this conversation between Khrushchev and Ulbricht from just before the building of
the Berlin Wall, excerpted from a previously unknown transcript, premiered in 2009.
Spare and direct in its performance style and aesthetics, Vermauern adds depth to our
understanding of the economic and political forces at work in the summer of 1961,
while intervening in the collective memory of the Berlin Wall.
Born in Bonn (the West German capital) in 1962, Kroesinger apprenticed with Ml-
lercrossing between West and East Berlin regularly just before November 9, 1989
and his work often shows the influence of Mller, as well as of Andrzej Wirth and
Hans-Thies Lehmann, two of his teachers at the Gieen Institute for Applied Theatre
Studies. Irmer focuses primarily on Kroesinger in his essay on new German documen-
tary theatre and argues that [f]or Kroesinger, the question is not just the document or
what is presented as documentary in theatre; it is also the ways in which audiences
relate to documents in different media.31 Irmer connects Kroesingers emphasis on
the problematic nature of history (as incomplete, symbolic, and abstract in theatre)

Many of the visitors are also tourists with little experience of these stories, who will imagine the
German nation rather than imagine themselves as German citizens. Others, of course, are young Ger-
mans, born after 1989; they still experience the museums as contributing to German collective memory.
The Checkpoint Charlie Museum, located on Friedrichstrae in the former border crossing between
the Soviet and American zones, is a privately run museum dedicated to the history of the Berlin Wall.
It sells knickknacks, including pieces of the Wall, focuses almost exclusively on escape attempts, and
feels anachronistically cold warera with its overwhelmingly negative portrait of the GDR.
Vermauern, created and directed by Hans-Werner Kroesinger, Maxim Gorki Theater Studio, Berlin,
December 18, 2010.
Ibid., 1. My notes come from my experience of the production on December 18, 2010, and from
a private copy of the script, acquired from the Maxim Gorki Theater archive. The page numbers in
citations refer to this script.
Irmer, A Search for New Realities, 21.
72/Matthew Cornish

Figure 2. Judica Albrecht (left) and Ana Kerezovic (right) in Hans-Werner Kroesingers Vermauern.
(Photo: Bettina St.)

to the influence of Mller, and writes that this understanding of history, as viewed
through the events of the past, calls into question the means by which those events are
represented.32 For example, in one of Kroesingers early productions, Q&AQues-
tions and Answers, which premiered in 1996, he examined the Adolf Eichmann trial
by separating video of the proceedings, sound from them, and actors recreating them
into three different rooms, allowing the audience to think through both the trial and
the way it was shown in the news media (television and radio) and in the theatre.
Kroesinger focuses his attention in Vermauern on how museums mediate the past. Ju-
dica Albrecht and Ana Kerezovic speak the dialogue, translated for this production, with
little emotion and without identifying with their characters. Rather than representing
Khrushchev and Ulbricht through clothing and gesture, the actresses simply reference
them by setting up portrait photographs of the men. Occasionally, they use objects on
the tables to illustrate a subjectmoving around matchboxes as tanks, for example,
or piling up potatoes when the two men discuss problems with crop production in
East Germany (fig. 3). I will begin with an explanation of our economic situation,
Ulbricht addresses Khrushchev. (The actresses switched roles for each performance.)
For two months no one could buy potatoes. The reason is that we had a bad harvest
last year, and this year the weather was wet, so the potatoes rotted in the land. This had
absolutely nothing to do with the incorporation of privately owned farms into coopera-
tive societies.33 The mens blunt conversation lays bare the everyday considerations
of creating real existing socialism in Germany with a nonideological practicality

Ibid., 22.
Vermauern, 45.
History and Memory in Recent German Theatre/73

Figure 3. Judica Albrecht in Hans-Werner Kroesingers Vermauern. (Photo: Bettina St.)

that surprised the critics who wrote about the production.34 The mens chief concerns
lay with the generally low agricultural production in East Germany, and the nations
inability to buy resources like steel in order to keep its factories running efficiently.
We are suffering enormous losses through the border-crossers (the people who live
in the GDR and work in West Berlin) and through deserters of the republic, Ulbricht
complains. Thats why we cannot fulfill a part of the plan.35 Engineers especially
were fleeing the GDR, making the building of a communist state much more difficult.
In order to solve problems arising due to the enormous losses, Khrushchev and
Ulbricht repeatedly turn to the concept of building an iron ring36 around West Berlin.
Again, they address how this could happen with the utmost practicality. Khrushchev was
the de facto leader of all of Eastern Europe, and he takes a clear lead in the discussion:

Before the introduction of the new border system, you should explain absolutely nothing, as
that would only increase desertion and lead to traffic jams. This must be done in the same
way that we implemented the monetary exchange. We will allow you one or two weeks
time so that you can prepare yourselves economically. Then you should call in parliament
and share the following communique: As of tomorrow posts will be constructed and
crossings forbidden. Those who want to pass through will only be able to do so with the
permission of particular GDR public authorities.37
Hartmut Krug, Its the economy, stupid! VermauernHans-Werner Kroesinger lsst Moskauer
Documente sprechen, Nachtkritik, May 29, 2009, available at
com_content&task=view&id=2898&Itemid=40; see also Christine Wahl, Vermauern tut gut, Tagesspiegel,
May 31, 2009, available at
Vermauern, 11.
Ibid., 3, 4, 21.
Ibid., 24.
74/Matthew Cornish
Ulbricht, whose nation was dependent on the Soviet Union but did boast the stron-
gest of the weak economies in communist Europe, reveals that preparations for this
contingency were already underway: We have a specific plan. The houses that have
exits to West Berlin will be walled up. On other spots we will erect barbed-wire bar-
riers. The barbed-wire has already been ordered.38 Albrecht and Kerezovic set up a
diorama of the Berlin Wall: cigarette-boxes that ring a large map of Berlin that covers
one of the wooden tables. Loud music periodically interrupts the dialogue, and the
actresses sing along with (even dance a bit to) communist classics, including Die
Partei hat immer Recht (The Party is always correct). The conversation between the
two leaders closes with a brief consideration of how Western governments could react
to their unilateral closing of borders, and a decision to put off that discussion until their
next talk. The actresses read the final words of the document: The conversation lasted
two hours and fifteen minutes. Transcription: (signature) (V. Kopletzew).39 They close
their binders, drive a toy Trabantthe iconic East German automobilethrough the
cigarette-box wall, and exit.
After the production ends, the audience leaves the theatre by passing through the
tables and has an opportunity to examine the collection up close: the stage becomes
a museum, both to the Berlin Wall and the performance that has just taken place. On
the night I attended, many audience members stayed and browsed around. We had
a chance to examine the materials of the production, picking up corncobs and model
boats and studying photographs of President Kennedy and of people killed attempting
to escape the East. Through charts that list escapees and timelines that describe the
stages in the building of the Wall, we learn (or relearn) about its history.
On one level, the overall effect of Vermauern is of rather straightforward historical
research. The history of the Berlin Wall that it contributes to, arguing that Soviet and
East German leaders locked down borders to the West primarily out of economic
concerns rather than ideological principles, is not atypical;40 the eminent historian
Mary Fulbrook tells exactly that story in A Concise History of Germany (2004),41 a sum-
mation of her more wide-ranging studies. With Vermauern, Kroesinger contributes
to the archive of evidence that supports chronological, nationally focused accounts
of the origins of the Berlin Wall by focusing on the motivations of the powerful elite
responsible for having it built.
This is the written history. But what collective memories of the building of the Wall
do German audience members bring with them to a performance of Vermauern? Un-
der the influence of Nora, tienne Franois and Hagen Schulze edited an enormous,
three-part collection titled Deutsche Erinnerungsorte (German memory-places) to create
a repository of collective memories connected to locations throughout Germany. The
entry on the Wall in Deutsche Erinnerungsorte (written by historian Edgar Wolfrum)
jumps right to the early morning of August 1961. Of the motivations of Khruschev and

Ibid., 25.
Ibid., 28.
See also Gordon A. Craigs review of historical studies of Berlin The Big Apfel: The building
of the Wall solved an urgent problem and helped to stabilize the eastern regime for almost three
decades (New York Review of Books, November 7, 1991,
Mary Fulbrook, A Concise History of Germany, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1990), 21516.
History and Memory in Recent German Theatre/75

Ulbricht, Wolfrum writes only that a week before, in Moscow, the party heads of the
Warsaw Pact states agreed to the construction of the Wall, giving in to the pressure of
Walter Ulbricht.42 Wolfrums forgetfulness is reflected in the museums and memori-
als in Berlin, which do not address the building of the Wall, emphasizing instead the
victims who were killed trying to go over or under it. History makes clear the origins
of the Wall as a barbed-wire, realpolitik border; German collective memory focuses
on the Wall as it appeared after 1975, as a tall concrete barrier with watchtowers and
a death strip.
As he has done in previous productions, Kroesinger uses Vermauern to encourage
a critical collective memory: a memory aware of the effects of mediating technologies
and approaching the past analytically, especially as represented in museums. Like all
theatre, Vermauern always-already frames its own performativity, the field of represen-
tations it uses to tell its stories. Kroesinger accentuates this potential. The casting (of
women to read the words of men) and the acting style (deliberate and nonempathetic)
both serve to clearly delineate between the historical figures and the artists quoting
them. When the actresses set up dusty portraits of Khrushchev and Ulbricht, they
make their intentions clear: they will speak in the place of, but not epitomize the two
men for the next hour. The breaks for communist song and dancing, set off strongly
against the reading of the text, self-consciously place the realpolitik text in a cultural
context, a mix of propaganda and popular culture. The songs, from pre- and post-1961,
ask us to put the Walls construction in dialogue with its later effect and imaginary,
as well as its eventual demolition (the latter especially when the women drive their
toy Trabant through the cigarette-box Berlin Wall). The German Historical Museum
presents objects in such a way as to emphasize their historical aura, encouraging
visitors to feel authentically connected to the past, simultaneously limiting critical
engagement with the objects and narratives. In Vermauern, the props look make-do
and handcrafted, including the toy Trabant and the cigarette-box Wall. We can see how
aura-creation functions while touring the museum stage after the production, without
succumbing to it. Kroesinger intends the objects on his set to signal toward the past,
but as obvious fakes laying out in the open instead of behind glass, we see that they
are propsrepresentations of the past instead of artifacts.
Not overawed by the objects before us, we can better analyze the text and the way
that Kroesinger presents it: a classic example of Bertolt Brechts Verfremdungseffekt,
through which everyday objects, experiences, and stories appear newly strange and thus
more open to examination. While the documentary theatre of the 1960s used aspects of
Brechtian performance style to create feelings of objectivity, a theatre for the scientific
age, Kroesinger uses the V-Effekt to historicize his material. In his essay Alienation
Effects in Chinese Acting (1936), Brecht wrote that he intended the V-Effekt to his-
toricize the incidents portrayed.43 Years later, he took up the idea of historicization
again in A Short Organum for the Theater (1948): The historical conditions must
of course not be imagined (nor will they be so constructed) as mysterious Powers (in
the background); on the contrary, they are created and maintained by men (and will

Edgar Wolfrum, Die Mauer, in Deutsche Erinnerungsorte, ed. tienne Franois and Hagen Schulze
(Munich: Verlag C. H. Beck, 2001), 553.
Bertolt Brecht, Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting (1936), trans. John Willet, in Brecht on Theatre:
The Development of an Aesthetic, ed. John Willet (New York: Hill and Wang, 2000), 96.
76/Matthew Cornish
in due course be altered by them): it is the actions taking place before us that allow
us to see what they are.44 In Vermauern, Kroesinger extends the V-Effekt beyond the
theatre and into the museum, focusing attention on specific historical conditions and
the specific motivations and choices of individual men.

An Archive in the Streets: 50 Aktenkilometer

In the years since Haug, Kaegi, and Wetzel founded Rimini Protokoll in 2000, the
team has often raised questions about global and local citizenship in a liminal zone
between theatre and theatrical experience, making performance political through a
representational mode, in addition to explicit thematization. I have seen or participated
in a number of their pieces, including staged productions that use amateur perform-
ers, as well as radio plays, city tours, lectures, and unclassifiable one-on-one experi-
ences. Let us return to Alexanderplatz, where participants begin Rimini Protokolls
genre-bending 50 Aktenkilometer.45 I stroll through the landscape of 2011 Berlin, as my
whispering headphones conjure 1989. The program for the piece, a large poster with
a map and list of every recording, helpfully includes a time-crossing legend of street
names that the Berlin Senate has changed over the years in order to scrub the East of
communist nomenclature, a guide for outsiders like myself: for example, Dimitroff-
Strae became Danziger-Strae and Marx-Engels-Platz became Schlossplatz. Sitting on
a bench near the thirteenth-century Marienkirche, I listen to actor Axel Wandtke, who
was engaged at the Volksbhne in 1989, as he asks me to observe the people walking
by on Karl-Liebknecht-Strae. He recalls what I might have seen before 1990: perhaps
a group of children, with white shirts and blue neck scarfs, Young Pioneers [the GDR
equivalent of the Boy Scouts]. . . . A division of Russian soldiers could walk by, . . . or
a member of the Peoples Police, your friend and helper. He remarks that you could
identify the Westerners back then. They were just more colorful. But the easiest way
to recognize Westerners before 1990 was the shopping bag in their hand.46 I look
around. Almost everybody carries shopping bags, and all dress colorfully.
The yesterday summoned by 50 Aktenkilometer includes November 4, 1989 and the
protests that led up to it, but not from the perspective of Mller or Wolf, the people
on the dais. Moving northeast of the Alexanderplatz train station, I listen to a man
read protesters posters to a Stasi administrator over the telephone: Bring vote-cheats
before the Peoples Court, he reports one sign as demanding, while the agent sighs
Oh boy.47 Walking into an orange circle near the World Clock (a GDR landmark just
east of the station), I hear activist Frank Pfeifer recollect his trouble differentiating
the plainclothes Stasi from actual demonstrators: You really couldnt tell who had
come to demonstrate, and who to impede the demonstration.48 The police broke up
one protest that Pfeifer was participating in and chased him through Alexanderplatz.
In several locations spread out around Alex, scratchy recordings play of individuals
calling Stasi headquarters to report planned protests or the movements of demonstra-

Bertolt Brecht, A Short Organum for the Theater (1948), trans. John Willet, in Brecht on Theatre, 190.
Rimini Protokoll has continued experimenting with the form of the technology-enabled tour. In
August 2013, it premiered the critically lauded Situation Rooms, a multiplayer video-piece in which
participants use iPads to explore the stories and environments of individuals connected in different
ways to the weapons trade (a peace activist, factory workers, a child soldier, a refugee).
50 Aktenkilometer, Spaziergang rckwrts (Wandtke).
Ibid., Demo am Alex (ZOS).
Ibid., Protest und Brunnenflucht (Pfeifer).
History and Memory in Recent German Theatre/77

tors, including five hundred to a thousand walking in the direction of the Palast der
Republik on October 10, 1989.49 On November 4, more than 500,000 protesters would
march by this now-deconstructed government and civic building.
The experience of 50 Aktenkilometer complicates readings of the GDR that seek to
remember crimes though forget joys, such as a young girl eating ice cream in the same
building that houses the leaders of her country.50 But it also troubles readings that may
nostalgically delight in GDR kitsch (known as Ostalgie) while avoiding discussing the
dangers of living in the East, such as a young man arrested after meeting his Western
male lover at one of the nicest hotels in East Berlin. Haug, Kaegi, and Wetzel put the
people on their stages or in their radio plays in charge of their own stories. The recorded
figures in 50 Aktenkilometer do not become characters, much less stereotypes; they are
individuals with complicated relationships to their former nation, not representatives
or representations of the dissident or the informant.
In opening up the Stasi archives, Rimini Protokoll has made material generally
difficult and time-consuming to access easily available. In fact, after its premier, 50
Aktenkilometer became downloadable as a free Android app. And it has brought the
Stasi material into the landscape where the stories take place, allowing for reflection
on everyday life in a historical city and on the situatedness of memory, its close con-
nections with space and with the present. Initially, 50 Aktenkilometer appears to exploit
Noras ideas to the fullest, bringing history out of the archive to be reexperienced in
space as memories. Berlin is a notoriously haunted city, every street carrying remi-
niscences of past events and filled with the presence of the absent. With 50 Akten-
kilometer, Rimini Protokoll allows participants to experience the multidimensionality
of time in Berlin while walking through the city: rejuvenating old memories; adding
to what is remembered; and attaching those memories to spaces, images, and objects,
even to the gestures you make upon direction. To paraphrase Rebecca Schneider in
Performing Remains, this experience disrupts the present with the past, and also the
past with the present,51 by projecting memories onto the landscape of today, a process
that must inevitably change those memories, overlaying them with contemporary
interests, fears, and goals. I will no longer casually walk past the Radisson without
remembering it as the Palasthotel, site of a young mans betrayal at the hands of an
ex-lover, a betrayal that landed the man in prison.52 And I will always remember the
Palasthotel for becoming a Radisson.
Upon closer examination, however, we can see how 50 Aktenkilometer also expands
on Noras thinking. It is helpful here to turn to Diana Taylor, who draws on Nora in her
influential book The Archive and the Repertoire (2007). Taylor argues that the ephemeral
repertoire allows for the enacting of embodied memory53 through embodied practice/
knowledge,54 thereby transmitting social identity among generations while opening
space for subverting the power structures sustained by the archive.55 As examples of

Ibid., Demo Volkskammer (ZOS).
Ibid., Das Loch der DDR (L.)
Rebecca Schneider, Performing Remains (New York: Routledge, 2011), 15.
50 Aktenkilometer, Romanze Palasthotel (Rllig).
Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham,
NC: Duke University Press, 2007), 20.
Ibid., 19.
Ibid., 31.
78/Matthew Cornish
the repertoire, she includes spoken language, dance, sports, and ritual, and opposes
them to archival objects: texts, documents, buildings, bones.56
But in asking participants to reexperience Berlin and reenact the gestures of dissidents
and informants, Rimini Protokoll actually does not fight against the archive as a space
that reinforces power structures; instead, it uses digital technologies to interweave the
archive and the repertoire. Taylor, in Save As . . . Knowledge and Transmission in
the Age of Digital Technologies, says that digital technologies constitute yet another
system of transmission that is rapidly complicating Western systems of knowledge,
raising new issues around presence, temporality, space, embodiment, sociability, and
memory (usually associated with the repertoire) and those of copyright, authority,
history, and preservation (linked to the archive). She continues by arguing that the
embodied, the archival, and the digital overlap and work together and mutually con-
struct each other.57 50 Aktenkilometer illustrates how theatre and performance artists
can productively explore and challenge the digital/repertoire/archive dynamic.
To begin with, Rimini Protokoll actually contributes to the Stasi archive, adding
interviews and increasing knowledge of what the Stasi archive contains (which is far,
far more than what Rimini Protokoll was able to use). This is a symbiotic relationship,
repertoire and archive actively reinforcing each other. Although Taylor writes that the
repertoire requires presence,58 50 Aktenkilometer shows how the archive also requires
presence. By presence, Taylor means that people participate in the production and re-
production of knowledge by being there, being a part of the transmission.59 This is
exactly how Rimini Protokoll approaches the archive: it must be explored, cataloged,
transmitted, even digitizednot just by experts, but also by the experts of the ev-
eryday that Rimini Protokoll makes the subject of many of its piecesthe everyday
citizens of Germany. And if history attaches itself to events, as Nora claims, then 50
Aktenkilometer must be seen as contributing to both memory and history. Many of the
recordings come from specific demonstrations, already hugely important in written
histories of the period, and also from personal actions, among which the walkable
audio-play shows should be included. Meanwhile, the audio-play itself has been ar-
chived, in particular through the smartphone app, which preserves 50 Aktenkilometer
for future embodied interactions while also allowing Rimini Protokoll to continue
adding to the stories. And a website60 archives the audio-play without the walking,
thus giving people the opportunity to hear and re-hear stories without having to be
on the streets of Berlin, not so much displacing live bodies as encouraging those who
have not visited the lieu de mmoire to do so. The archived website also enables further
interaction and thought after the embodied experience. In Save As, Taylor is uneasy
about online archives and for good reason. She points out that the objects in the
digital archive require, rather than resist, the change over time I associated with the
traditional archive. But copy as a form of transmission also differentiates the archi-

Ibid., 19.
Diana Taylor, Save As . . . Knowledge and Transmission in the Age of Digital Technologies,
keynote address at the 2010 Imagining America conference Convergence Zones: Public Cultures
and Translocal Practices, Seattle, available at
Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire, 20.
Available at
History and Memory in Recent German Theatre/79

val from the digitaland most profoundly from the repertoire.61 Rimini Protokolls
project shows the potentialnot the promise, only the potentialof online archives to
promote forms of transmission more similar to mimesis and performance than the
exact copying of the digital.

The Scriptive Past

Both Kroesinger and Rimini Protokoll intervene in the how of memory, modeling and
encouraging a critically engaged relationship to the past; they also add to the content
of the archive, supplementing what is known. And Vermauern and 50 Aktenkilometer
disturb and complicate the structures of German history, making several different though
connected interventions in the post-1989 historiography of Germany, with its increased
national consciousness. Both pieces reconsider the GDR, refusing to forget it or write
it off as totalitarian and thus not worth examining. Vermauern illustrates the practical
considerations behind the cold war symbol of the Wall, and 50 Aktenkilometer shows
the GDR as an important source of individuals memories and identities, a force in the
physical and imagined landscape of contemporary Germanypresent in its absence.
Rimini Protokoll also makes a structural intervention in post-unification historiog-
raphy. Considered as a whole experience, 50 Aktenkilometer avoids becoming a narra-
tive of macro-historical turning points, with unification as the ultimate break. Some
recordings, naturally, tell stories of personal caesuras centering on the events of 198990.
But many also find caesuras before fall of the Wall (especially in Stasi repression) or
afterwards (in the destruction of certain landmarks, for example). And others ignore
the historiography of breaks altogether by relaying sounds of certain events without
commentary or by telling anecdotes that develop thematically instead of chronologi-
cally. The experience is micro-historiographic, focusing primarily on small actors rather
than on national leaderssimilar to the historiography told by Eastern activists, who
wrote memoirs after 1990 about their personal experiences.62 50 Aktenkilometer does not,
however, work to achieve the ideological ends of those activists, whose narratives show
Western politicians, especially Chancellor Helmut Kohl, co-opting the force developed
in demonstrations to ends not pursued by protestorsspecifically, the absorption of
the former East into the existing constitutional system of the West. Kohl, born in 1930
and chancellor from 1982 to 1998, led the unification process after the fall of the Berlin
Wall; he takes a central role in most histories of the period.
Kroesinger does not make such a radical structural intervention. What he does instead
is to introduce a knot into the current collective memory of the Wall, complicating our
understanding of it and thus forcing us to reconsider the narratives we rely upon.
Kroesinger also includes signs in his production that cause the audience to question his
own intentions as the creator of the pieceabjured in 1960s-era documentary theatre.
At one point Khrushchev appears to lose patience and asks Ulbricht: Weve been
discussing this question for three years. Perhaps the translator is doing a poor job?63
In emphasizing this lineit was played for a laugh the night I saw the production
Kroesinger highlights the translation that took place to bring this conversation to us,

Taylor, Save As . . . (emphasis in original).
See Kristina Spohr, German Unification: Between Official History, Academic Scholarship, and
Political Memoirs, Historical Journal 43, no. 3 (2000): 872.
Vermauern, 16.
80/Matthew Cornish
a process necessitating interpretation and thus prone to errors. And at the end of the
piece, when the actresses read that [t]he conversation lasted two hours and fifteen
minutes, they call our attention to the fact that the production has lasted only one
hour. The conversation has been not only translated, but also edited: we are missing
something but cannot know what, at least not while still in the theatre. Kroesinger
does not take the authenticity of the document and his theatrical presentation of it
for granted, treating them instead as methods of representing history that have been
interpreted, and must be constantly reinterpreted, by the audience.
Both Rimini Protokoll and Kroesinger allow participants to develop their own nar-
rative meanings, which brings me to their third intervention: that of individual agency.
In Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood (2011), Robin Bernstein builds on the
work of Joseph Roach and Taylor to lay out a method of examining objects as things
in order to understand how a nonagential artifact, in its historical context, prompted
or invitedscriptedactions of humans who were agential and not infrequently
resistant.64 Bernstein compares a scriptive thing, including objects like dolls and
handkerchiefs in her analysis, to a playscript, which broadly structures a perfor-
mance while allowing for agency and unleashing original, live variations that may not
be individually predictable. She continues by arguing that [t]o describe elements
of material culture as scripting actions is not to suggest that things possess agency
or that people lack it, but instead to propose that agency emerges through constant
engagement with the stuff of our lives.65 Similarly, Taylor writes that the repertoire
allows for individual agency, requiring presence: people participate in the produc-
tion and reproduction of knowledge by being there, being part of the transmission.
As opposed to the supposedly stable objects in the archive, the actions that are the
repertoire do not remain the same.66
Vermauern and 50 Aktenkilometer invite audiences and participants to approach his-
tory and memory, the written facts of the past and the pasts re-performance in the
gestures of the contemporary, as scripts that can be executed in different ways and
with differing content to produce new meanings and interrogate the old. Instead of
approaching the archive, museum, and written history as stable, the productions show
all as contingent, as needing (if not requesting) our interaction and improvisation on
those scripts, the same as memory. For the performances to be complete we must
explicitly engage with the content of the pieces and the structure of the past. If we do
notif we do not explore the stage of Vermauern, do not walk the streets of Berlin, do
not animate the scripts they present to us with our own original, live variationsthen
the performances fail. We must be present; but, importantly, we must also be present
to the museums and archives to produce, reproduce, add to, resist, and deconstruct
the knowledge transmitted there.
Vermauern avoids using documents, objects, and performance style to generate the
feeling that its representation of the building of the Berlin Wall is the truth and thus
closed to critical examination. This production displays itself as the recollections of
artists and researchers, not as an authentic repetition of the past. In straddling the line
among performance, documentary presentation, and museum, Vermauern brings out

Bernstein, Racial Innocence, 8.
Ibid., 12.
Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire, 20.
History and Memory in Recent German Theatre/81

the aesthetic aspects of all three modes of representing the past, training audiences to
see how museums generate feelings of truth and how to see through this effect to
the substance of the past. Kroesinger opens his audience to the process of Khrushchev
and Ulbricht making a series of choiceswithin the material circumstances of postwar
communist East Germanythat led to the building of the Berlin Wall. And he opens
his own process to show his techniques and research in representing the past.
With 50 Aktenkilometer, participants carve their own paths through this history of
Berlin, trying on and then discarding peoples stories like costumes. This is a disor-
dered journey, without an imposed structureand one that, with 120 stories spread
out in a huge area, participants know that they cannot experience in full. We must
decide what to listen toand equally important, what not to listen to, what to forget,
at least for now. Not interested in hearing about the inception of the GDR Museum,
located on the Spree River across from the Berlin Cathedral? Just keep going down
Karl-Liebknecht-Strae, out of that bubble and toward a womans story about her
daughter, a leading athlete.67 To be sure, the agency that Rimini Protokoll grants also
allows for ignorance: if you do not want to be confronted with stories that contradict
your well-established opinions, you can just walk away. But this ignorance is willful.
Agency is the crux of the unique historiography of both productions, even with their
structural differences. Conservative historians reject the agency of individuals in their
teleological narratives of unification; in working to normalize German nationalism,
they also reject contemporary responsibility for the extraordinary atrocities that Ger-
mans committed in the Holocaust. Leftist historians, on the other hand, deny their
own agency, which they see as having been co-opted by more powerful actors, their
revolution transformed into capitalist expansion. And the museums and memorials
of Berlin subsume the agency of visitors, feeling interactive though without inviting
critical engagement.68 Kroesinger and Rimini Protokoll work to grant agency to their
audiences through their works content, describing the choices that individuals made,
and through the works structures, which force participants to interpret the scripts
presented to them and find their own way through documents and memories. After
Vermauern, 50 Aktenkilometer, or a number of the other German performance pieces from
the past ten years that thematize the past, participants are better able to walk through
the Bernauer Strae Memorial, the German Historical Museum, the DDR Museum,
and the Checkpoint Charlie Museum reading the scripts presented there as scripts.
Through the performances, visitors come to see the past as a script around us in Berlin,
requiring constant engagement with the stuff of our lives, as Bernstein writes. This
agency requires personal responsibility for the past, present, and future experienced
in museums and while walking through the streets. Exploring the museum stage of
Vermauern and wandering the streets of the former East Berlin for 50 Aktenkilometer,
visitors train to observe history and reinterpret memories in their everyday lives, and
to see the scripts around them and interact with these scripts. They can better note the
teleologies at work by not simply re-performing gestures, but improvising with the
scripts and resisting them if necessary. In performing their archives, these productions
carve out space for everyday civic responsibility in Berlin and Germanya space for

50 Aktenkilometer, Meine Tochter, DDR-Leistungssport und die Stasi (L.)


Such as Wolfgang Mommsen, Matrin Sabrow, Christoph Klemann, and Jrgen Kocka. See Berger,

The Search for Normality, 21720.

82/Matthew Cornish
the continuing embodied practice of past gestures, images, and landscapes and the
archiving of documents and recordings. Rimini Protokoll and Kroesinger make both
memory and history necessary in preserving the past for future generations of actors
responsible for their city and nation.