The East in Me
- an artistic process
The culture of remembrance for East Germany has reached a turning point: at the latest 30 years after the fall of the Wall, reunification, Rostock-Lichtenhagen, a new generation has grown up that no longer wants to remember the GDR as a “defunct dictatorship” or a “bygone utopia”.
This generation feels “the East” differently: in the present tense and as a source of alternative ways of life. Instead of “Ostalgie” or “GDR bashing,” this generation is concerned with articulating the East and the remnants of the GDR anew in the present: as part of their own identity. What is fascinating is that this new generation remembers the GDR without having experienced it.
For this generation, the East is no longer history that has to be reappraised or justified, but a phantom-aching “home,” buried self-history, and a resource for diverse constructions of the future.
With our project The East in Me, we took up this new discourse on memory and invited various artists from the theater scene to work on their “inner East”. This resulted in various sub-projects:
Project “worry machine”: Anna Stiede
The project asks about the acoustic afterlife of VEB machines.
Project “rooks”: Maike Möller-Engemann, Kerstin Hurbain, Giorgia Bovo, Jenny Helene Wübbe, Susann Neuenfeldt
The project investigates physiology and mythology of rooks in the National Park “Unteres Odertal”
Project “Psycho GDR”: Jana Olschewski, Maike Möller-Engemann, Werner Türk, Susann Neuenfeldt
The project sets the downfall of the GDR in the “Psycho” landscape of Alfred Hitchcock.
Project “Eastern Coastal Part”: Alison Shea
The project is looking north for the inner east as a flotsam and jetsam mobile.
Project “Sabine H.”: Sabine Böhm, Jenny Helene Wübbe, Susann Neuenfeldt
The project deals with the case of the nine-time child murderer “Sabine H.”.
Project “Broken Heroes”: Maike Möller-Engemann, Clara Höhre, Susann Neuenfeldt, Anat Homm, Hans Narva
The project designs an emotional starving costume for the inner east.
Project “Skinhead Aria”: Danja Schilling, Susann Neuenfeldt
The project clashes the “baseball hitting years” with civic high culture.
Project “Ghosts”: Richard Pfützenreuter
The project calls ghosts of the inner east.
Quotes from those involved in the project
“The East in Me” is a crack full of ghosts. Ghosts are memories that cannot be laid to rest. In normal grief, we accept the loss and internalize an ideal image of the dead. When grief is disturbed, the dead live on in us, they retain a life of their own and sometimes speak in and through us. (Richard Pfützenreuter, project “Ghosts”)
“The end of my childhood was also the end of the GDR and is the connection to Sabine H.: Her dead babies remain children forever. And forever innocent. To innocence comes the theme of death. GDR dead. My childhood dead. Sabine H.’s babies dead.” (Sabine Böhm, project “Sabine H.”)
“I was fascinated by how different the research results were: I remember the delicate and bizarre crow flights; well-told bad jokes in yellow jogging suits; a Nazi whose touching opera singing gave me goosebumps; a perverted and vulnerable meat monster and Trump as a granny crow in a wheelchair.” (Luise Grell, project “Turning Point”)
“I very much enjoyed the reference to Hitchcock’s Psycho. It made me reflect on what type of unique mourning for the defunct mother/country people from the East are probably experiencing.” (Giorgia Bovo, project “rooks”)
“The reproduction of a simple individual memory can express a whole time. The simplicity of a personal impression can reflect the complexity of a time” (Kerstin Hurbain, project “rooks”)
“My greatest joy in the project The East in Me was the linking of Hitchcock’s Psycho and the GDR – based on my own experience of being told the story of the film by my mother when I was 9 years old while walking in the woods, and later again around the campfire because I shuddered.” (Jana Olschewski, project “Psycho GDR”)
“With the work on the WORRY MACHINE, I learned that the corpse of the machine still lies in the cellar. The GDR is still there because it was never buried. The SORGENMASCHINE needs the child murderer “Sabine H.”. The WORRY MACHINE is the child murderer. The WORRY MASCHINE kills because the GDR is still alive.” (Anna Stiede, project “Worry Machine”)
“Crows sit on the ruins and on the graves of memory and watch. I learned that crows are the future because they eat the past.” (Maike Möller-Engemann, choreographer of The East in Me)
“My east is in the north, where the wind blows the strongest when it’s amber weather. I was born here when the GDR no longer existed. I’m preoccupied with an East German identity that I can’t grasp. The work created for The East in Me, Eastern Coastal Part, is an attempt to capture fragments of this and bring them into balance.” (Alison Shea, project “Eastern Coastal Part”)
“Yes, well, the skinhead wanted to comfort the child murderer, he was drawn to the child murderer. But there was nothing, he could do NOTHING. Yes and suddenly full blast interest worry machine. Worry Machine and Skinhead have found each other for a rendezvous. Total interest. There was dancing, there was hugging, until it changed into a fight, a fight for the baseball bat” (Danja Schilling, project “skinhead aria”)
“Even today Broken Heroes still loud in my ear, I am still deeply flashed by this emotional trip, this Mit-Erleben dürfen. As a West German, you can get a lot of facts about THE EAST, read a lot in books (I don’t mean the school books, because we didn’t learn anything about the GDR there) – I have rarely experienced such an emotional learning as here, through shared tears, from laughing and crying.” (Jenny Helene Wübbe, projects “Sabine H.”, “rooks”)
“Mother is standing at the window in the high house. Mother sees us. We speak to her and for her, we murder for her and with her, we killed her back then in the fall.
The light still burns in the window. Since then we have been weirdos, psychos. Our stage is on the edge of normality. We let ourselves fall, into the mask of the dead.
Into the house behind the houses, where the strange guests live. We are all Norman Bates!” (Susann Neuenfeldt & Simon Strick, Idea & Concept The East in Me)
“The East in Me” is both a response to the new culture of memory about the East and to the changed digital viewing habits through e.g. meme production.
Our project wants to formally approach the hypercomplexity, the flood of information, the synchronous difference of East experiences and map theatrical memes for diverse East feelings.
Currently, the consensus on the East has run out: migrant histories of the GDR, economic-political takeover narratives, discourses of right-wing radicalism and grassroots democracy have replaced the empty formula of “reunification.”
Formally, too, “The East in Me” is very topical: our method of “parallel” or “meme theater” responds to changed viewing habits in the digital age. Where publics must constantly negotiate new and disparate scenarios, theater can no longer insist on one material, one text, one staging concept.
At a time when theater makers are trying to bring theater into the digital space (e.g. Zoomtheater), we work in reverse with our method of “meme theater” and try to transfer digital techniques into analog theater practice and elaborate them on the foil “East”.
The project was funded by Fonds Darstellende Künste as part of #TakeHeart. With special thanks to the Theaterhaus in Schöneweide.