Apparatus Berlin

By Helgard Haug / Daniel Wetzel

Stage work on managing the masses, panic research and an experiment on the self in both parts of the divided Berlin in Winter 1963/64.


Apparatus Berlin – 2 agree 2 disagree.

Apparatus Berlin begins at 11 am at Potsdamer Platz, the Brandenburg Gate or the city hall (Rotes Rathaus). On each day of the performance Willenbacher and Kaltwasser find a Berlin expert – the tourist of the day. These ‘experts’ are approached because they are photographing and are asked to distribute their day’s snapshots that evening among the audience and to sign them. A city must provide images, otherwise tourists will go to the wrong places. Tourists need cameras, otherwise the city cannot photograph them. With black box in hand. Apparatus Berlin. A border only exists if it’s used.

In Winter 1963 / 64, after 28 months of separation in which all contact had been cut, West Berliners were allowed into the other part of the city for the first time – the reason: family reunion for one day. The experiment lasted 18 days. The apparatus was set in motion, for a short time organs with different timings sought shared frequencies, ‘architects of unity’ and poets of public order work overtime. The formula that makes this possible is “We agree to disagree“. 13 times Ostpost (East German Post Office) staff are picked up at the border and driven to schools in the West. There they sit at tables, process applications and issue ‘Passierscheine’ (travel permits). A state can only reach as far as it can stamp, so the stamping goes on all night in the city’s East. Thousands queue in the snow in front of the school buildings, some for longer than one night – to ‘pick up application forms’ or ‘submit an application’, or ‘pick up a travel permit’. Initially only a few hundred are processed per day and per post office.

Who will be allowed to change sides for one day? How can I get a travel permit? How do you organise an onslaught of millions of applicants? This experiment of a divided city on itself was played out in real time on kitchen radios. In the RIAS archive there are 40 hours of taped material from the RIAS special broadcasts on travel permit issues in the winter of 1963/64. On the tapes listeners are heard asking Peter Herz and the other moderators about the current state of the rules and their intricacies. They want to know: What do I have to do, how can I get one, what can I take with me, what am I risking? What they find out on the phone is that the rules are in motion and the callers are pawns in a temporary experiment. Apparatus Berlin sticks extracts from the tapes to Bert Neumann’s stage setting, the Wohnbühne (and to Berlin’s fastest billboard at the bus stop at the Prater in Kastanienallee). The nine doors of the Wohnbühne are connected to ghettoblasters; if the doors are opened, the tapes start running.

By: Helgard Haug, Daniel Wetzel

With: Josephine Fabian, Martin Kaltwasser, Sascha Willenbacher and the tourists of the day

On tape: Peter Herz, Ruprecht Kurzrock, JoJoachim Jauer, and listeners to the RIAS special broadcasts on travel permit issues (Winter 1963/64)

Stage setting: Bert Neumann

Costumes: Janina Audick

Production: Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg Platz

Premiere: Berlin, Prater der Volksbühne, 28th of November 2001

In cooperation with DeutschlandRadio Berlin

Publication in “Wohnfront 2002” (Alexander Verlag Berlin)
Apparatus Berlin / Nov 9 2019 / El Born Centre de Cultura i Memòria, Barcelona