Gaps and All

Rimini Protokoll’s “Bodenprobe Kasachstan” in the HAU theatre

Von Christine Wahl

30.04.2011 / Tagesspiegel

 Gerd Baumann is a man who knows how to set up drilling operations. The east German engineer has been drilling for oil for years. Not just in Iraq and Texas but, back in the 1980s, in Kazakhstan too. Within the next ten years, the Central Asian republic is expected to reach oil-production levels surpassing those of Kuwait prior to the Iraqi invasion.
Helene Simkin was about ten when that war broke out. She grew up in Kazakhstan, now lives in Hanover, and is on the stage of HAU 2 together with Baumann and other “experts in the everyday reality of Kazakhstan”. She used to dream of a career as a cosmonaut – she lived close to Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome, which she saw every day – and delivers a snappy on-stage demonstration of how to dismantle a Kalashnikov.
She takes the gun apart in 17 seconds exactly: weapon maintenance was on the curriculum of the primary school she attended in the region. Thirty years on, the oil republic has a shining new capital. Built almost overnight, Astana looks like a collection of immeasurably enlarged perfume flacons.
The strong point of Rimini Protokoll’s theatrical congresses of experts is the effortless way they reflect the global in local dimensions, confront world politics with specimen biographies, and derive differentiated informational capital in the process. Stefan Kaegi pulls off a similar feat in “Soil Sample Kazakhstan”, which links up oil production with the life stories of two Russian-Germans, a Tajiki woman, and a German-based Kazakh who trades in mineral oil and solar panels.
Kaegi, who has been known to gather plagues of locusts on the stage or to send truck-loads of theatre audiences onto the streets of Berlin on the trail of Bulgarian truck drivers, this time opts to use low-key stage metaphors. His performers enter into relatively realistic dialogue with video images, supplied by Chris Kondek, that amount to a life-size Kazakhstan simulation. Helene, for instance, meets up with the director of the “palace for pioneers” she once attended. The redoubtable lady continues to encourage her former pupil to match the achievements of Yuri Gagarin – and the head teacher is not the only figure to leave the audience with a highly ambiguous impression. Drilling engineer Baumann, who throughout the evening moves on a treadmill set to the velocity at which oil flows through a pipeline, talks to a colleague via another preproduced video. Kazakhstan now occupies fifth place in the worldwide oil producers league, the far-off colleague says, and Baumann would be able to earn up to 1,500 dollars a day if he came back.
These characters permanently oscillating between past and present not only have high information value, they also allow Kaegi and Kondek to generate a very special atmosphere. No Rimini Protokoll documentary-theatre piece ever offered so much mournful singing as this one – thanks in particular to Russian-German Heinrich Wiebe, who was an oil-tank driver in Kazakhstan and now gets by as a caretaker because Germany refuses to recognize his driving licence.
Some experts in everyday Kazakh affairs deliver their histories so pointedly and plausibly that one has to look very closely for the small catches – well, that probably lies in the nature of things. But, firstly, that tells you something about the points of collision between past and present. And, secondly, Kaegi’s “soil sample” is so refreshingly accepting of differences, so careful not to fill in the gaps, that anybody willing to trust appearances soon begins to change their tack.


Bodenprobe Kasachstan