European Cake Mix
taz.de , Marco Wedig , 17.05.2015
The theatre company Rimini Protokoll stages Europe as an entertaining parlour game – a game show and chocolate cake are included.
BERLIN taz | A backyard in Neukölln. Strangers meet at the door of an apartment building. „Are you here for Europe too?“ An unfamiliar doorbell is pressed and five storeys ascended. „Take off your shoes and come in.“ Thus begins Rimini Protokoll's latest performance, "Home Visit Europe" (Hausbesuch Europa).
The collective, who recently drew attention with its staged world climate conference and a performance on the topic of firearms possession, treats theatre like an experimental set-up. For its latest opus, people from Berlin, Bergen, Lisbon, Poznań and other cities have been asked to open their homes, to achieve what the dramatist Helgard Haug calls a private view of Europe.
Thirteen guests from all over the world squeeze in around two tables, over which a homemade map of Europe has been rolled out. The evening's participants are asked to draw and connect three points on the map: the place where they were born, a place to which they feel emotional attachment, and a place where they spent a long period abroad. A colourful web covers the map in no time flat.
A rudimentary apparatus acts sets the pace for the performance. "Are we supposed to decide which wire to cut?" jokes one of the participants. Europe as a bomb technician? But at the push of a button, the gadget – a black box which the game master affectionately refers to as 'the evil machine' – merely expectorates a piece of paper with instructions for the game while cheeping an alien rendition of Beethoven's 9th Symphony.
The evening's performance, which is in English, is divided into five levels, each beginning with a history lesson on European integration. In the first round, the machine spits out questions for the hostess: Why does she live in this neighbourhood? What do her neighbours vote? What's with that kitschy picture in the dining room? It's a first getting-to-know-you, albeit a quite superficial one.
Level 2: Now there are questions for all of the participants: Who is involved in an NGO? Who is afraid of the future? Who feels more like a European citizen than as a citizen of their country of origin? The players are also asked to rate things on a scale of 1 to 5: "How would you rate your solidarity, your confidence in democracy, your advantages from the free market?"
The game master records all of the responses; they are necessary for the rest of the game, and beyond that: soon, all of the information collected in the performances will be available on the project's website, creating an impression of Europe beyond all of the speeches and crisis reports.
The European cake – which is more than just a metaphor this evening, but also an actual cake from a cake mix – goes into the oven. Guests are then divided into groups of two based on the information they provided earlier. The game begins to take on the character of an evening game show. Each team receives points for answering the quiz questions correctly. More points mean more cake at the end.
In the end, the losing team has the option to remove, relocate or create a boundary on the map to collect more points. The two decide to move the Spanish border south so that asylum claims can be made in Africa. Everyone is keen on the idea.
The following evening, several kilometres away in a flat in Kreuzberg, a motion is made to remove the Turkish border. The idea is rejected. The group is somewhat older and playing in German. Compared to the previous evening, participants are less afraid of what the future may hold.
"What do you think that the majority here consider Europe's greatest achievement?" The previous evening, the majority of the more international, younger group had responded 'freedom of movement due to open borders'. The older group answers unanimously: Peace. A favourable kick-off for an exchange of ideas, but it doesn't lead to any substantial discussion. All of the players stuck to the game as dictated by the black gadget – except when it came to dividing up the cake. On both evenings, the cake was cut into equal pieces after two hours' time, regardless of the points earned: Europe as a solidary community.
During the performance, the players were asked to close their eyes and picture a place where Europe did not work. "I think we're all picturing the same place", one of the participants said. It wasn't until everyone was leaving that it was revealed that the players were actually picturing different places. One player was thinking about Brussels and another Greece, and yet another saw the mass grave that is the Mediterranean Sea.
What is Europe? A parlour game for the whole family? A cake made from a mix, over whose pieces Europeans argue? On both of the evenings orchestrated by Rimini Protokoll, Europe appeared to be a system choreographed by a machine and a game master, with little room for debate – easily applicable to the actual political situation in the European Union today.
But perhaps there really are group constellations that defy the structure of the game. Alone that discovery makes being a part of the experiment worthwhile.
And how does the Europe cake taste? On the first evening so-so, a bit overdone, and on the second baked to perfection, delicious and chocolately.
Translation by Justina Bartoli