‘I will never be German, but I am a Berliner in and out’

Gayle Tufts is arguably the most famous American performer in Germany. Exberliner magazine’s Summer Banks caught up with the Fatherland’s favourite showgirl.

‘I will never be German, but I am a Berliner in and out’
Photo: Tom Wagner

The Massachusetts-bred, New York-educated Gayle Tufts is the original post-reunification Berlin expat performer. Unapologetically mainstream, her onstage charm and original blend of Denglish and pseudo-Anglicisms – lovingly referred to as Dinglish – has made her one of the darlings of the German entertainment circuit.

Tufts’ latest extravaganza “Everybody’s Showgirl,” a musical revue of the best of Broadway, directed by “West Side Story” choreographer Melissa King, just ended its year-long tour through Germany with a limited gig at the Admiralspalast. Exberliner magazine’s Summer Banks caught up with the ever-exuberant Tufts.

Everybody’s Showgirl is a very American show. Why do you think it’s done so well in Germany?

I think there’s a certain realness – in general, people are hungry for realness. We all want that feeling that somebody’s talking to us, that we belong somewhere. It started for me 17 years ago at what is now the English Theatre Berlin. I didn’t sit there and think up a concept, I’m going to call it ‘Dinglish’ and I’ll be an American comedian in Germany.

I was working at the time in Tanztheater, and I was always the funny person in a serious piece. That’s kind of a metaphor for my entire life here: I’m a funny person, trying to take the piss out of a situation, and Germany’s a great place to do that.

You’re talking a lot about being an American, but you’re saying, “take the piss”. That’s a British-ism.

Yes, I have slept with many people of many nationalities and stolen wantonly their thing. But it’s a good thing. There’s no English word for schadenfreude. So you use what you can get, take it, taking yourself not so seriously. If there’s one thing we Americans do, it’s not take ourselves seriously – sometimes to our own detriment.

What do you say to people who see a glitzy show and say that it can’t be real art, that it’s just entertainment?

I grew up with Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, Michael Jackson, and for me that was something to look up to. I was at NYU in the Experimental Theater Wing from 1978 to 1982. I was so lucky to be there at that time. Whether it was the Ramones or Blondie or the B-52s, it was about what’s commercial and what’s not. And why not be commercial? Why not reach more people and keep your integrity at the same time?

What has being an expat American in Germany meant for you?

I came to the land of Nachdenklichkeit (pensiveness) and Überlegungen (deliberation), and I think that those are all really, really good things to learn as an American. I will always however be an American. I recently thought: I’m getting very tired after all these years of filing my taxes in America, so I said to my tax guy, “Is there anyway I can stop doing this?” And he said, “Well you could take German citizenship, but you’d have to give up your American passport.” And I thought, “I can’t. I just can’t.” It means something to me still – something about being part of some grand experiment, this young upstart spirit. That’s always going to be in me, and somehow that little booklet means that. Whether it really does or not is another question, but for me it has a Bedeutung (meaning).

What do you say to the statement that multiculturalism has failed in Germany?

It hasn’t. It’s funny, I’ve been doing this show [Deutschland für Einsteiger] and going to all of these different places. I met an Indonesian woman in Ostfriesland, I met a Brazilian couple in Mainz, a man from Cameroon and his German wife in Cologne. And I asked all of them, especially the people who had a different color skin, “How is it for you? How is it when you take your daughter to the swimming pool?” And they said, “It’s fine, it’s really fine.”

Of course there’s a racist part. Of course there are people that are afraid, just like there is in the Tea Party in America. They should all just make one big club and call it: “They’re going to take away our insurance. They’re going to take away our jobs.”

After over three decades of performing, what still inspires you?

For Showgirl I went to the classics, this American show business thing. Somebody gave me the box set of Barbra Streisand’s TV specials back in the day; they were really amazing. It’s out of the box. She does this incredible set with modern dance. She comes around the corner and – boom – orchestra! There must be 12 cameras.

And the other thing that inspires me is just Berlin. I will never be German, but I am a Berliner in and out, this is my city: the craziness of it, the hardships of it, the history of it. What’s in this city, at the end of the day, is about surviving and moving on. Keep moving forward and don’t disrespect the past, but live with it. And I hope I’ve learned something of that from this city and celebrate it.

For members


EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.