Rio Reiser: The King of Germany

WiseMan put an entry into our joint calendar that just had dates and times on it - no inkling of what it was. We're going to Lübeck, he said. We'll stay with friends. The rest is a surprise. I tried to google what was going on in Lübeck that weekend, but didn't come up with much that would interest me. And no one would tell me, so I just showed up at the train station at the appointed hour.

It turned out to be tickets to see a play about Rio Reiser that was playing at the local theater, the Kammerspiele. Just what I need, provincial theater. Oh well, I do like Rio Reiser's songs, so I'm game.

What an amazing evening - the actors/singers put on a 3 hour show that included 17 songs from Reiser's many songs. The story is told of how the band grew up to be the protest song band in Germany in the 70s, how they had contact with the RAF and were rejected by them for being to decadent, how they fought about making money vs. just making music, how they fought about who slept with whom.

And also their seeking - what is the meaning of life, of love, of protest? We follow Reiser through alcohol and sex and drugs and fantastic music, until his untimely death at the age of 46. The actor playing Reiser, Andreas Hutzel,  was surpurb - he could sing, he gave a great impression of *being* Reiser. The drummer, Till Bauer, seemed to be a marvelous drummer who had taken some acting lessons, the last pieces - and the encore - were just tremendous. The guitarist (Henning Sembritzki) and the bass player (Susanne Höhne) were also good, but apparently actors who learned some music. Off on the sides a guy at at keyboard and many non-traditional instruments seemed to keep everything together.

One of the minor characters, playing a girl from Berlin, whipped out a bottle of sweet Lambrusco and lots of cups and passed them around. Oh. My. God. We used to drink Chianti and Lambrusco all the time, because they were the cheapest. Horrid stuff.

Many of the minor characters - the disapproving choir of good citizens, the New Age healer - brought back many, many memories of the 70s and 80s in Germany. They included Helmut Schmidt as a voice from the off and alluded the entire terrorist agony Germany went through - no idea if the young'uns in the audience got the references.

It was a wonderful play, has been in rep since 2009. And yes, it is worth taking a trip to Lübeck just to see this play!



WiseMan has insisted that we go to the theater more often instead of vegging out on the sofa with Tatort or Wallendar. He's right, we both actually love theater, it's just the hassle of a) finding an evening and b) deciding which one to go to, Berlin has so many theaters.

We used to belong to a theater club (Freie Volksbühne), it was kind of neat. The cheapest subscription was "we give you two tickets to a theater about every six weeks, we choose the day and the theater". You had to pay more for just Friday nights, or just a specific night, or a certain amount of opera included. We really loved this, as the seats were actually rather good. We've sat way down front (and gotten wet at the Schaubühne, but that's another story) and seen some great plays - and some rubbish. We feel free to leave at the break if it's bad - we've already paid for it. That's also the thing - we would make time for the play, because we had already paid for it.

Anyway, all sorts of stuff got in the way and we canceled our subscription. "We'll just choose the plays we want to see and go when we please." And we never seemed to get out to the theater. So we are restarting a theater-going phase, and WiseMan decided it needed to be Lulu by Frank Wedekind.

The city is in some kind of Wedekind fever. Two theaters are playing Lulu and one is playing Frühlings Erwachen (Spring awakening). WiseKidGirlFriend had to read the latter in school and they went to see the play. She hated it.

We had seen Lulu in Hamburg in 1988, the year of the world premiere. Wedekind had spent more than 20 years on this, putting together two of his other plays, Erdgeist (Earth spirit) and Büchse der Pandora (Pandora's box). Since most of his plays have to do with death and sex, he never actually was able to get Lulu presented while he lived. Peter Zadek did the production in Hamburg with the divine Susanne Lothar playing Lulu.

It was the first time we were at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg, and we went there many times. Get on the train in Kiel, get off at Hauptbahnhof, have dinner at the steak house across from the station, go down a block or so to the theater, see the play, get the last train back to Kiel. Easy-peasy.

I had already been in Germany for 12 years, so I thought my German was good, but I didn't understand much of what was happening, other than Lulu died. They passed out Loulou perfume to all the women, and I liked that so much that I actually wore it after that for years.

Anyway. We chose Robert Wilson's production of Lulu at the Berliner Ensemble with the 65-year-old beloved German actress Angela Winkler as Lulu, Brecht's theater and got our tickets. Then the reviews started to pour in. They hate it. FAZ finds subtle words for her displeasure, Tagesspiegel declares it a failure, the Berliner Morgenpost tries to figure out why the audience seems to like it, Berliner Zeitung focuses on the music by Lou Reed ("Lulu-Lala mit Lou"), heaping scorn on the rest.

Oh well, we can leave at the break. The tickets are paid for.

We got ticket to the Monday evening show, in which someone from the theater gives an overview of what will be happening and answers questions. We had none other than Claus Peymann, the artistic director of the Berliner Ensemble, telling us about Lulu and answering our questions.

And now to the play - did I understand it now? No. Wilson repeats the death scene a few times to make that abundantly clear. The figures are like marionettes, there is not much of a plot visible. The little old lady who runs across the set on occasion muttering funny things is golden! The music is excellent and does remind at times of Laurie Anderson :) Most of the actors can't really sing, but they do give it a try!

It was not a thought provoking evening, but it was not bad enough for us to leave. One was fascinated to see what was going to happen next. Oh, and the shows are all sold out, so damn the critics, full speed ahead!


Walpurgis Night

I'm in Sweden over the weekend, trying to get a paper finished that was promised to a journal weeks ago. But I just don't seem to be able to write in Berlin. I have to be in Sweden, fuss around in the garden, and then write, write, write, usually with the fire going and a nice glass of red wine on my desk.

I came up by train just for a longish weekend, having no appointments for some reason the past Friday. The night train is again running, I used to take it 12 years ago when I had my sabbatical in Malmö and would go home to Berlin with WiseKid every other week. It's great - you get on at 10.30 pm in Berlin, and get off in Malmö at 8 am. The other way you get on at 9.30 pm and get into Berlin at 6 am - just perfect for people like me who can sleep in trains. A neighbor picked me up at the station, so I don't need a car.

Anyway, tonight is Walpurgis Night. In Germany this is the night the witches fly to the Blocksberg and do their thing. Here in Sweden this is one of the high holy drinking days (the others being New Year's, Midsommer, and the Friday after Payday every month). There is all sorts of rituals involved in this holiday, besides just drinking.

I saw on the notice board that there was going to be a family evening down at the community center, so I walked down in the early evening. First they sang all sorts of spring songs, accompanied by piano, accordion, and guitar. Then there was a play. I recognized the chairman of the church board, the chairman of the community center, and the woman who hands out the hymnals in church. She was actually very funny, playing "Uncle Eric". They spoke Skånska, the local dialect, which I can in general understand if I concentrate, but not with two kids screaming just behind me. I gave up and read my magazine.

Then there was coffee and cinnamon buns. I went up the the pianist, who speaks German and I have known for many years. She was happy to see me and introduced me to all sorts of people - and brought me up to speed on the gossip of the last 4-5 years, I had only seen her a few times recently.

As it was getting dark we followed the marschaller, little torchpots set out to show us the way to the bonfire. The local boys men had apparently been collecting branches for quite some time, they had quite a collection piled up on a field a good ways from all the buildings. They doused the pile with gasoline, made the kids stand back, and set a propane torch.

With a whoosh the flame jumped to the sky, sending sparks all over the place. The kids squealed with joy and began dancing around the fire as the adults poured some alcoholic refreshments and started singing. The pianist introduced me to more people, and we had attempted to have some conversation, although the blood alcohol level was quickly rising, precluding most rational thought.

As the flames died down more brush was put on, the flame thrower used again, and then the kids got out long sticks to grill hot dogs and marshmellows - I believe these customs are imported from Hollywood and not handed down from the Vikings, but one never knows.

All along the hillside you could see bonfires blazing. I remember the first time I saw this, I thought Sweden was under attack!

It was cold, so I said my goodbyes and trudged home and made my own fire - in the fireplace.