Es lohnt sich / Es lohnt sich nicht #3: Berliner Ensemble Tour

German theaters and operas generally take the summer off, so the performing arts options are fairly thin at this time of year. But a man can dream, right?

On August 12 (gosh the days slip by quickly) I took a tour of the Berliner Ensemble, joined by a couple of Bosch friends I dragged along. For those not in the know, the Berliner Ensemble is closely associated with Bertolt Brecht. The building is a good deal older than the ensemble. It was built in 1892, and became known as the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm. In 1928, the premiere of Brecht's Dreigroschenoper (Threepenny Opera) took place there. Brecht and his wife Helene Weigel created the Berliner Ensemble in 1948, and moved into the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm in 1954. It is a house with a lot of history.

Here's Brecht and his theater.

Our tour guide was Werner Reimann, a jolly 75 year-old Ensemble member who has left the boards but clearly keeps himself entertained as the theater's sole tour guide. (He explained that he had to, because the students who led the tour were so awful.) Not a bit proud, he gave everyone on the tour a newspaper clipping about him: This year marks his 75th birthday, his 55th anniversary, and his 50th year with the Berliner Ensemble. He has given the tour 650 times since 2000 and I suspect he will keep doing so until he dies.

Though a druggist by training, Helene Weigel added him to the company. She was looking for untrained actors who had presence. (Translation: this guy is a natural ham.) His first part was a small role in The Life of Galileo. Not a shabby beginning at all for a theater career.

It was great fun to hear him talk about and do impressions of Brecht (who had a high, girly voice) and Weigel (who had a low, manly voice). She was clearly the person in charge.

Here Reimann is in front of a wall of plaster casts of actors faces. (These are used by costume designers to try stuff out without having the actors present.) The face in the center is Brecht. Reimann says his is at home, and that they often converse with each other, which is pleasant because he seldom disagrees with anything he says.

The current director, Klaus Peymann, saw fit to have this glass room built. Before I tell you what it is, see if you can guess.

This, my friends, is a smoker's lounge for the actors. In winter it's cold, and the smokers need someplace warm to get their fix. Somehow, I don't think an American theater director could ever get away with building smoking facilities, but this is old Europe.

Peymann, by the way, was the director of the Burgtheater in Vienna during most of my time there, so I have a strong hunch that I know all the tricks in his bag already. I digress. I would still love to see some plays at the Berliner Ensemble.

It is a charming, lived-in old theater that has survived a lot. Tour guide is tops, provided that you speak German and enjoy theater anecdotes.

Verdict: Es lohnt sich.

Architectural detail in the lobby.


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