Berlin production brings theatre to youth offenders

Can theatre be therapeutic? Ben Knight visits Kaspar H. – the latest prison production performed by inmates of the young offender’s detention centre in Berlin.

Berlin production brings theatre to youth offenders
Photo: Thomas Aurin

Once you’ve gone through the security airlock at the entrance, given your mobile phone to a suspicious-looking man in uniform, and exchanged your ID card for a visitor’s pass, the venue is like any assembly hall in a school. The seating is made of chairs linked together on a raked podium, there’s a bare stage, and the visitor’s hall that serves as a foyer contains vending machines and a cabinet displaying the results of handicraft workshops.

But this is Berlin’s Jugendstrafanstalt, or juvenile detention centre. The place had a shot of negative media attention last year when a documentary by public broadcaster ARD claimed chronic under-staffing meant that the prison staff tolerated drug smuggling at the institution. This controversy stoked all the recurring tabloid fears about youth crime and the attendant beliefs about society’s moral decline. But a new production by aufBruch theatre company is an antidote to these prejudices, attempting with its unique Brecht-inspired aesthetic to break the walls between society and its outcasts.

A young offender’s centre offers more opportunities for self-improvement than a regular prison making it more difficult for the company to stage a play. “It’s a lot harder than directing adult prisoners,” says aufBruch’s long-time director Peter Atanassow, explaining they’ve being producing shows at Berlin’s Tegel prison for 11 years.

“We’ve established an ensemble of long-term prisoners who know what to expect from us there, and that we demand a professional level of commitment. Here there’s a lot of competition and sometimes they just don’t do what you say.”

But what he has to offer the young prisoners is unique: the aufBruch theatre company has established a strong and respected reputation for taking on stories that mirror a prisoner’s own situation. And this is certainly appreciated by inmates.

“I really enjoy it, and I’m definitely going to try and do more theatre when I leave here,” says one of the performers, known by his nickname Blizz.

The current production is called Kaspar H. and it maintains the peculiar tension of all aufBruch’s productions – it is as much about the inmates themselves as about the ostensible subject matter. The audience is not asked to ponder the sensational rumours of a mysterious foundling’s lineage or the unimaginable conditions of his confinement. This is not the conventional re-telling of Kaspar Hauser’s story.

Hauser’s tale has been told often enough to become a recurrent myth in German literature, perhaps culminating in Werner Herzog’s 1974 movie “The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser.”

In 1828, a 16-year-old boy was left on a street in Nuremberg in front of a cavalry officer’s house. He spoke only one sentence: “I want to become a rider like my father once was” and could only write his name. Once he had been taught to speak, he claimed he had been kept in a two-metre wide cell all his life and that he had not seen another human being until shortly before his release, his food being left by his bed while he slept. He quickly became a celebrity, attracted rumours and excited speculation of noble birth, and almost won the patronage of an English lord, before he died aged 21 of what may have been a self-inflicted knife wound.

AufBruch’s focus is on Hauser’s position as a social outcast, and the methods society develops to try to bring outcasts like him back in. “Whether we live in a totalitarian society or a democratic society, there will always be people who fall through the net,” Atanassow says.

Kaspar H. the show is a non-linear collage about re-integration and education, and the effects this has on young men. The young men, all dressed in white, with black boots and braces, speak in chorus or watch as one of them addresses the audience. Dialogue is kept to a minimum, and conventional scenes where someone is “playing” someone else, are non-existent. The audience is never allowed to let go of the metaphorical significance of the situation of the performers, and Atassanaw explains that they were encouraged during rehearsal to adapt and invent texts and new elements.

Thus, the show includes raps, songs (backed by an excellent band of students of the Fanny Hensel music school in Mitte), dance, martial arts and plenty of choral speaking, all in a Babel-like collection of languages.

The spoken chorus is aufBruch’s recurring theme and defining technique and a large part of rehearsal is spent on perfecting it – long texts become powerful, mesmerising chants. The effect it has here is to widen the meaning of Kaspar Hauser’s story. In this show, he is not one strange, isolated boy, but a group of young men dressed uniformly and locked into a disciplined routine. Here, Hauser’s fate is not an exception. He is not a scandal or a sensation, he is like any number of exiles trying to find a way in.

But just like the real Hauser, these boys are not immune to dreams and a sense of their own specialness. At one point in the show, they echo Hauser’s introductory statement of ambition, “I want to become a rider, like my father once was,” and enhance it with their own dreams: “I want to become a racing driver like Michael Schuhmacher once was.” And: “I want to become an actor like James Dean once was,” until finally one voice chimes in: “Whatever happens, I don’t want to become what I have been so far.”

AufBruch is always careful to avoid the conception that their work is meant to reform, and Atanassow was keen to point out that this was a line the boy had invented himself, but it added a starkly affecting moment to a strictly formalist piece of theatre.


Kultursaal der Jugendstrafanstalt Berlin

Friedrich-Olbricht-Damm 40


Wed, 03.12.2008

Fri, 05.12.2008

Wed, 10.12.2008

Fri, 12.12.2008

Time: 5:30 pm, last entrance 5:15pm

Tickets only available in advance from the Kasse of the Volksbühne.

For members


What we know so far about Berlin’s follow-up to the €9 ticket

After weeks of debate, Berlin has settled on a new budget ticket to replace the €9 ticket for a limited time. Here's what know about the travel deal so far.

What we know so far about Berlin's follow-up to the €9 ticket

So Berlin’s getting a new €9 ticket? Cool!

Kind of. Last Thursday, the Berlin Senate agreed to implement a €29 monthly ticket from October 1st until December 31st this year. 

It’s designed to bridge the gap between the end of the €9 ticket deal and the introduction of a new national transport deal that’s due to come into force by January 2023.

The Senate still hasn’t fleshed out the details in a written decision yet, so some aspects of the ticket aren’t clear, but we do know a few things about how it’ll work. For €29 a month, people can get unlimited travel on all modes of public transport in Berlin transport zones A and B. That means buses, trains and trams are all covered – but things like taxis aren’t. 

Wait – just zones A and B. Why’s that?

One of the sticking points in planning the new ticket was the fact that neighbouring state Brandenburg was reluctant to support the idea. Franziska Giffey (SPD), the governing mayor of Berlin, had annoyed her neighbours and surprised her own coalition partners by suddenly pitching the idea at the end of August – shortly before the €9 ticket was due to expire.

At the time, the disgruntled Brandenburg state premier Dietmar Woidke (SPD) complained about the lack of advance notice for a proper debate. He had previously ruled out a successor to the €9 ticket in the state. Meanwhile, the CDU – who are part of the governing coalition in Brandenburg – slammed the idea for a new cheap ticket as a “waste of money” and an attempt to “buy votes” for the SPD.

The blockade meant that plans for a Berlin-Brandenburg ticket run by transport operator VBB had to be scrapped, and the monthly ticket has instead been restricted to the two transport zones solely operated by Berlin’s BVG. Since zone C stretches into Brandenburg, Berlin couldn’t include this zone in the ticket unilaterally. 

Berlin transport zones explained

Source: S-Bahn Berlin

The good news is that zones A and B cover everything within the city’s borders, taking you as far as Spandau in the west and Grunau in the southeast. So unless you plan regular trips out to the Brandenburg, you should be fine.

However, keep in mind that the Berlin-Brandenburg BER airport is in zone C, so you’ll need an ‘add-on’ ticket to travel to and from there. It’s also not great for the many people who live in Potsdam in Brandenburg and commute into Berlin regularly. 

READ ALSO: Berlin gets green light to launch €29 transport ticket

How can people get hold of it? 

Unlike the €9 ticket, you won’t be able to buy it at stations on a monthly basis. Instead, the €29 ticket is only for people who take out a monthly ‘Abo’ (subscription) for zones A and B. If you’ve already got a monthly subscription, the lower price will be deducted automatically, while yearly Abo-holders will likely get a refund. 

You can take out a monthly subscription on the BVG website here – though, at the time of writing, the price of the ticket hadn’t been updated yet. According to Giffey, people will be able to terminate their subscription at the end of December without facing a penalty. 

What types of ‘Abos’ are eligible for the deal? 

According to Berlin transport operator BVG, people with the following subscriptions are set to benefit from the reduced price from October to December: 

  • VBB-Umweltkarten with monthly and annual direct debit
  • 10 o’clock tickets with monthly and yearly direct debit
  • VBB-Firmentickets with monthly and yearly direct debit 
  • Trainee subscriptions with monthly direct debit

People who already have reduced-price subscriptions, such as over-65s and benefits claimants, aren’t set to see any further reductions. That’s because many of these subscriptions already work out at under €29 per month for zones A and B. 

Passengers exit an U-Bahn train in Berlin

Passengers exit an U-Bahn train at Zoologischer Garten. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

Can students with a Semesterticket get it as well?

That’s one of the things that still needs to be clarified. It’s possible that universities will choose to refund part of the Semesterticket price like they did with the €9 ticket. The Local has contacted BVG for more information. 

Can I take my bike/dog/significant other along for the ride? 

Once again, this doesn’t appear to have been ironed out yet – but we can assume that the usual rules of your monthly or yearly subscription will apply. So, as with the €9 ticket, if your bike is included in your subscription, you can continue to take it with you. If not, you’ll probably have to pay for a bike ticket.

In most cases, monthly BVG subscriptions allow you to take one dog with you for free, and also bring one adult and up to three children (under 14) with you on the train on evenings and weekends. These rules are likely to stay the same, but we’ll update you as soon as we know more. 

How much is this all going to cost?

According to regional radio station RBB24, around €105 million is set to be put aside in order to subsidise the temporary ticket. However, this still needs to be formalised in a supplementary budget and given the green light in the Senate. 

An S-Bahn train leaves Grünewald station

An S-Bahn train leaves Grünewald station. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

OK. And what happens after the €29 ticket?

That’s the million – or, rather, billion – euro question right now. In its latest package of inflation relief measures, the federal government said it would be making €1.5 billion available for a follow-up to the €9 ticket.

The ticket is set to be introduced by January 2023 and will rely on Germany’s 16 states matching or exceeding the federal government’s €1.5 billion cash injection. So far, it looks set to be a monthly ticket that can be used on public transport nationally, with the price set somewhere between €49 and €69.

However, the Greens continue to push for a two-tier model that would give passengers the option of buying either a regional or national ticket. Under their proposals, the regional tickets would cost €29 and the national tickets would cost €69.