Pump it up: Theatre mixes art with science

A new production of “An Experiment with an Air Pump” staged at the English Theatre in Berlin proves collaboration between the arts and sciences can thrill audiences, writes The Local’s Ruth Michaelson.

Pump it up: Theatre mixes art with science
Photo: Christian Jungeblodt,

The English Theatre in Berlin will mark its 20th anniversary this year, and if the opening night of its collaboration with the city’s Free University, “An Experiment with an Air Pump” is any indication, it seems they have plenty to celebrate.

Written by Shelagh Stephenson, the play is part thriller, part philosophical discussion set on the cusp of the 18th and 20th centuries. Based around the Joseph Wright painting from 1768 which gives the play its title, the storyline centres around two sets of people living in the same house in Newcastle, 200 years apart.

Dr. Fenwick, played with comic gusto by seasoned actor Richard Penny, is a scientist who is determined to see in the new century with a passion for the new.

He lectures the two visiting scientists, Roget (the only character based on a real person, the creator of Roget’s Thesaurus, played by Lee Stripe) and the twisted physician Armstrong (Tomas Spencer), on science and social revolution while ignoring his long-suffering wife Susannah (Julie Trappett) and doting on his two daughters, Harriet and Maria (Carolyn Walsh and Elisabet Johannesdottir).

However, we soon learn that the real action stems from the well-crafted character of Isobel, played by Ciara Goss, who is the Fenwick’s servant. Seduced by Armstrong who is fascinated by her disfigured spine, the play examines the immoral implications of sourcing the earliest scientific materials.

The action flickers between 1799 and 1999, keeping the same actors but subverting their roles. As Tom (Richard Perry) and Ellen (Julie Trappett) prepare to welcome in the 21st century, they bicker over Ellen’s new contract as a controversial genetic research scientist, assisted by Ellen’s forthright colleague, Kate (Carolyn Walsh), and gruff builder Phil (Tomas Spencer). Although they strive to look to the future by debating the morality of genetics, the discovery of a skeleton in the foundations of the house makes them think reflect on the past, and leads to some testing questions about its origins.

The play itself, carefully crafted along with staff from the Free University, succeeds in drawing parallels without trying to make any finite conclusions, raising questions about ethics and science in a way that keeps the audience entertained.

“We even had to attend seminars and discussions given by some of the staff from the FU,” Johannesdottir told The Local. “The idea was to really get us to engage with the ideas that the play brings up.”

Although the theatre itself clearly operates on a relatively limited budget (at one point a passerby accidentally opened a fire door leading onto the stage), the quality of the acting, particularly from Trappett and Johannesdottir, makes up for any financial shortcomings.

The clear camaraderie of the cast members overcome any opening night nerves, and the direction of Günter Grosser allowed the play to move between moments of comedy and tragedy without seeming melodramatic.

The cooperation with the Free University clearly paid off too, as the play managed to keep the audience entertained despite the heavy subject matter.

“An Experiment with an Air Pump” runs from February 11 – 27 at 8 pm.

Tickets €18 / €10 reduced

Fidicinstrasse 40

10965 Berlin

030/691 12 11

[email protected]

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Five German drinks to try this summer

There’s nothing quite like a cold drink on a hot summer’s day and the Germans know it well. That’s why they’ve got a variety of tasty alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages to cool them down in the hottest months. Here are five you should try.

Five German drinks to try this summer

Summertime in Germany can get pretty hot, but thankfully there are plenty of popular drinks which can help you cool down, as well as tickle the tastebuds.

In Germany, fizzy water is wildly popular, so it’s not surprising that Sprudel is a key ingredient in most of the drinks on this list.


A Hugo cocktail. Photo: Greta Farnedi/Unsplash

The Hugo is a cocktail made of Prosecco, elderflower syrup, mint leaves, a shot of mineral water and a slice of lime.

This refreshing alcoholic drink was invented by Roland Gruber, a bartender in South Tyrol, the mainly German-speaking region of northern Italy in 2005.

Though the drink wasn’t invented in Germany, it quickly spread across the borders of northern Italy and gained popularity here. Nowadays, you’ll be able to order a Hugo in pretty much any bar in the country.


A woman holds a pint of Radler. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Nicolas Armer

One of the best-known and most popular mixed beer drinks is the Radler: a concoction of beer and lemonade, a bit like a British shandy. In some areas of Germany – particularly in the south – the mixture is called Alster.

Usually, the ratio is 60 percent beer and 40 percent lemonade, but there are also some interesting variants. In some regions of Germany, a distinction is made between sweet (with lemonade) and sour (with water) Radler. Some foolhardy drinkers even mix their beer with cola (called a diesel).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The German regions producing the most important beer ingredient


A woman pours apple spritz into plastic cups. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Soeren Stache

Apfelschorle is an absolute German classic.

The traditional mix of apple juice and fizzy water is a 1:1 ratio, but if you’re making the drink at home you can adjust the measurements to your liking. 

The concept of Saftschorle (fruit spritzer) has moved way beyond the plain old apple in Germany though. On Supermarket shelves, you’ll find major drinks chains offering a wide variety of fizzy fruit beverages, including  Rhabarbe-Schorle (Rhubarb spritz), Schwarze Johannisbeer-Schorle (Black currant spritz) and Holunderschorle (elderberry spritz).

Berliner Weiße mit Schuss

A woman drinks a Berliner Weiße in Berlin.

A woman drinks a Berliner Weiße in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Britta Pedersen

The Berliner Weiße (or Weisse) is an old, German beer, brewed with barley and wheat malt.

As the name suggests, it originates from the German capital, where it was extremely popular in the 19th century and was celebrated as the “Champagne of the North”.

But by the end of the 19th century, sour beer styles, including this one, became increasingly unpopular and they almost died out completely. 

READ ALSO: Five German foods that aren’t what you think they are

So people started mixing the drink with sweet syrup. This gave rise to the trend of drinking Berliner Weissbier with a shot (Schuss) of raspberry or woodruff syrup, which is still widely enjoyed today. Some breweries even ferment fruits such as raspberries or strawberries.

The drink is so well-known in Germany, that there was even a TV series named after it which ran for 10 years 1984 to 1995.


Water and wine in equal parts and both well chilled – a light summer drink. Photo: picture alliance / dpa-tmn | DWI

Another fizzy-water-based German classic is the white wine spritz. 

A wine spritzer is a refreshing drink on warm summer days which has the advantage of not going to your head as quickly as a regular glass of wine. With equal parts fizzy water and wine, the drink has only about 5-6 percent alcohol, compared to glass of pure white wine, which has about 9-14 percent. 

For optimum German-ness when making this drink at home, choose a German white wine such as Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner or Riesling.

Enjoy and drink responsibly!