Berlin inaugurates contemporary art hall

Berlin's new contemporary art hall opened on Wednesday night with an inaugural exhibition by artist Candice Breitz in the heart of the city. The Local’s Kristen Allen was there to check out the hype.

Berlin inaugurates contemporary art hall
Photo: DPA

Such a concentration of well-heeled, well-groomed Berliners is a rare sight to behold in a city of poor aspiring artists. But there they were, packed into the clean-lined new art hall to see Breitz’s video installation series, “Inner + Outer Space” and catch a bit of Mayor Klaus Wowereit’s speech.

Click here for The Local’s photo gallery of the Kunsthalle.

“It’s certainly interesting to see it staged this way,” Berlin-based Mexican painter and video artist Enrique Villaseñor López told The Local over the crowd noise. “I think this building will act as a magnet.”

The boxy bright blue and white building, designed by Adolf Krischanitz, is eye-catching indeed. For the next two years, the Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin, or “Temporary Art Hall Berlin,” will occupy the prominent Schlossplatz, featuring art by contemporary Berlin-based artists near some of the city’s most famous and central landmarks.

Appropriately, the Breitz exhibtion features three video installations that focus on pop icons and the cult of celebrity, media and collective identification. For the three pieces – “Working Class Hero (A Portrait of John Lennon), King (A Portrait of Michael Jackson) and Queen (A Portrait of Madonna)” – she filmed fans of the musicians as they sang along to entire albums they heard on headphones. Breitz then synchronized the recordings and grouped them on separate screens so that the audience experiences the songs in a surreal a capella chorus of individual idiosyncrasies and personalities.

“It’s really quite funny and embarrassing, sort of like what you would look like if someone caught you singing in the shower,” Beate Schulzt told The Local as she eyed the screens of people singing along to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” Some of the video subjects had dressed up in Michael Jackson “Thriller“-era garb, going as far as mimicking Jackson’s dance moves, meanwhile one woman oddly chose a belly dancing costume, and others sang shyly, refusing to look into the camera. The footage from this and the other two sections conjures a raw personal discomfort, forcing the audience to watch their most private air guitar moments.

“I’m not convinced,” Anne Schneider said as she stepped out of the dark, crowded room that featured the “King“ portion of the exhibition. “This is art for the masses, you could explain it in three sentences.”

But accessibility is the main point of the Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin, Mayor Klaus Wowereit said in his opening remarks. “What does contemporary art in Berlin mean? When you come to Berlin, then you are a Berlin artist and a Berliner,” he said, gesturing to Breitz, who is from South Africa.

The privately-funded Kunsthalle plans to make itself available to Berlin-based artists of any nationality as part of the ongoing efforts by the city to encourage international attention to the city’s art scene.

The bright new bastion of art, located where the grand Neptunbrunnen palace once stood, will only have a short time to enlighten the people, though. In two years, the city plans to rebuild the palace, which was demolished by the communist East German government in 1951.

“But the success of this evening shows that we urgently need a permanent space like this,” Wowereit said. “And we are working to get it at Humboldthafen [near the central train station].”

The first part of the Breitz exhibition runs until November 27, and the second installation runs from November 28 to December 28.


German town resurrects 400-year-old biblical play tradition

Walk around the German Alpine village of Oberammergau, and the chances are you'll run into Jesus or one of his 12 disciples.

German town resurrects 400-year-old biblical play tradition

Of the 5,500 people living there, 1,400 — aged from three months to 85 — are participating this year in the once-a-decade staging of an elaborate “Passion Play” depicting the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Dating back to 1634, the tradition has persisted through four centuries of wars, religious turmoil and pandemics — including the most recent Covid-19 crisis which caused the show to be postponed by two years.

“I think we’re a bit stubborn,” says Frederic Mayet, 42, when asked how the village has managed to hold on to the tradition.

Mayet, who is playing Jesus for the second time this year, says the Passion Play has become a big part of the town’s identity.

Oberammergau Passion Plays

Posters for the 42nd Oberammergau Passion Play – which was originally scheduled to take place in 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmth

The only prerequisite for taking part in the five-hour show, whether as an actor, chorister or backstage assistant, is that you were born in Oberammergau or have lived here for at least 20 years.

“I remember that we talked about it in kindergarten. I didn’t really know what it was about, but of course I wanted to take part,” says Cengiz Gorur, 22, who is playing Judas.

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‘Hidden talent’ 

The tradition, which dates back to the Thirty Years’ War, was born from a belief that staging the play would help keep the town safe from disease.

Legend has it that, after the first performance, the plague disappeared from the town.

In the picturesque Alpine village, Jesus and his disciples are everywhere — from paintings on the the facades of old houses to carved wooden figures in shop windows.

You also can’t help feeling that there is a higher-than-average quota of men with long hair and beards wandering the streets.

Religious figurines Oberammergau

Religious figurines adorn a shop window in Oberammergau. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

An intricate image of Jesus graces the stage of the open-air Passion Play theatre, where the latest edition of the show is being held from mid-May to October 2nd.

“What has always fascinated me is the quality of the relationship between all the participants, young and old. It’s a beautiful community, a sort of ‘Passion’ family,” says Walter Lang, 83.

He’s just sad that his wife, who died in February, will not be among the participants this year.

“My parents met at a Passion Play, and I also met my future wife at one,” says Andreas Rödl, village mayor and choir member.

Gorur, who has Turkish roots, was spotted in 2016 by Christian Stückl, the head of the Munich People’s Theatre who will direct the play for the fourth time this year.

“I didn’t really know what to do with my life. I probably would have ended up selling cars, the typical story,” he laughs.

Now, he’s due to start studying drama in Munich this autumn.

“I’ve discovered my hidden talent,” he says.

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Violence, poverty and sickness

Stückl “has done a lot for the reputation of the show, which he has revolutionised” over the past 40 years, according to Barbara Schuster, 35, a human resources manager who is playing Mary Magdalene.

“Going to the Passion Play used to be like going to mass. Now it’s a real theatrical show,” she says.

In the 1980s, Stückl cut all the parts of the text that accused the Jews of being responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, freeing the play from anti-Semitic connotations.

“Hitler had used the Passion Play for his propaganda,” Schuster points out.


Christian Stückl, the director of the Oberammergau Passion Play, holds a press conference announcing the cancellation of the play in 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

The play’s themes of violence, poverty and sickness are reflected in today’s world through the war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic, say Mayet, the actor playing Jesus.

“Apparently we have the same problems as 2,000 years ago,” he says.

For 83-year-old Lang, who is playing a peasant this year, the “Hallelujah” after Christ has risen for the final time in October will be a particularly moving moment.

“Because we don’t know if we’ll be there again next time,” he says, his eyes filling with tears.

By Isabelle Le Page