By by Tobias Becker and Wolfgang Höbel
/ DER SPIEGEL
The matter dividing opinions in German-language theatre was as old as the hills. The story of this bone of contention came from the Thirty Years’ War and involved German leadership ambitions and treachery, valour, pimping and thwarted passion, as well as the megalomania of a poet. "Wallenstein" is certainly not Friedrich Schiller‘s best work, but it is his longest. A monumental opus about a commander’s rise and fall.
For fans of old-fashioned gesticulation and the fervent reciting of texts, director Peter Stein’s "Wallenstein", performed in a Berlin brewery hall in 2007, was a ten-hour long celebration. For those who expect their theatre to forcefully take aim at contemporary society, the "Wallenstein" of Berlin theatre collective Rimini Protokoll was the more exciting stage event of that period, precisely because it dealt not with the Thirty Years’ War, but with the murky depths of contemporary politics, with the profession of procuring sex in the 21st century and with our current wars.
Rimini Protokoll consists of Helgard Haug, Stefan Kaegi and Daniel Wetzel. They see theatre not as a moral institution, as Schiller did and Peter Stein still does, but rather as a sociological chillout lounge. They don’t preach, they do research.
For their "Wallenstein" for example, they went to Mannheim, to which the young Schiller fled more than two centuries before after political trouble, to seek out a disgraced politician who had fallen victim to dirty tricks almost as bad as those used on commander Wallenstein, who fell so swiftly into disfavour. They invited the head of an infidelity agency to talk about how her business works and a US soldier and an officer cadet from the German army to report on how soldiers are drilled to fight nowadays.
A spectacularly unspectacular art of the documentary has made the Rimini Protokoll trio famous. Their theatre’s protagonists recite not from texts, but from their lives: they are ambassadors of their own worldly wisdom.
In "Deadline" for example, funeral speakers demonstrated their bizarre skills, in "Call Cutta" it was Indian call centre workers and in "Blaiberg und Sweetheart 19" it was human heart transplant doctors. In their political karaoke show "Deutschland 2" in 2002, at the outset of their careers, Rimini Protokoll had the citizenry recite speeches from Germany’s Parliament, the Bundestag, live from Berlin, which were transmitted to them via headphones, in a theatre hall in Bonn. This show was due to be staged in Bonn’s former Parliament building, but the then President of the Bundestag Wolfgang Thierse would not allow it.
German-language theatre companies have been in raptures of reality in recent years and the reality machine that is Rimini Protokoll has been one of the most important pioneers of this trend. All over the country theatres have been revelling in the new cult of authenticity. Controversial director Volker Lösch has used a chorus of non-professional actors such as unemployed workers and ex-jailbirds. Feridun Zaimoglu and Günter Senkel set up interviews with radical young Muslim women for their piece "Schwarze Jungfrauen" (Black virgins); Christoph Schlingensief, suffering from cancer, staged a kind of requiem in his own lifetime, really weeping and with lots of pictures recalling his childhood in "Die Kirche der Angst vor dem Fremden in mir" (The church of fear of the unknown within me).
Above all, Rimini productions fit in almost too perfectly with the era of Web 2.0 and the audience participation logic of Wikipedia, YouTube and Flickr. They’re user-generated theatre, an answer to TV’s reality formats, to casting shows like "Popstars", "Deutschland sucht den Superstar" (Pop Idol) and "Germany's Next Top Model" and coaching formats like "Super Nanny" and "Raus aus den Schulden" (Til debt do us part).
The Rimini directors respond with a dramaturgy of care and assistance to the decade‘s shows of self-exposure; they don’t put anybody on show. They therefore speak somewhat grandiloquently of "experts in daily life" instead of ‘laymen’. These ‘experts’ provide the cultured spectators with insights into lives and worlds that are strange to them, mitigating a lack of experience. At the same time they profit from their own defects, from their nervousness, their lacunae, their speech impediments, from the charm of the not-so-perfect in a thoroughly-designed world in which politics has been reduced to a show and identity to a managerial task.
Friedrich Schiller‘s text also plays a significant role in Rimini Protokoll‘s "Wallenstein", by the way. Several of those on stage carry with them the yellow booklets published by Reclam containing wonderful sentences which could also have been coined for the current controversy in the theatre about the contemporary nature of the enquiry into "Wallenstein", such as "Nicht was lebendig, kraftvoll sich verkündet / Ist das gefährlich Furchtbare" ("Not that, which full of life, instinct with power, makes known its present being; that is not the true, the perilously formidable."), for example. "Das ganz Gemeine ist's, das ewig Gestrige." ("O no! it is the common, the quite common, the thing of an eternal yesterday.")