Engaging [with] Politics – Theatron Members against Xenophobia in Dresden

Since October 2014, the anti-immigrant movement ‘Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West’ (PEGIDA) has been spreading in German cities. Its birthplace – Dresden –  is developing an international reputation as the ‘capital of xenophobia’. But Theatron directors Wilfried Schulz (Dresden State Theatre) and Dieter Jaenicke (Hellerau – European Centre for the Arts) are heading a movement of cultural institutions that aims to be more than just a symbol for openness, tolerance and democracy.

Dresden Creatives for a Cosmopolitan City

Dresden Creatives for a Cosmopolitan City – Image on their Facebook Page

In mid-January, one could witness an unusual collaboration: the theatre directors of Hellerau and Dresden State Theatre jointly leading the group of ‘Dresden’s cultural professionals for a cosmopolitan Dresden‘ in one of the weekly counter demonstrations against PEGIDA. Ever since the emergence of the movement, the two cultural leaders have been actively fighting for openness and tolerance in their city.[2] “It is our task as theatre-makers to actively reflect the most pressing and virulent issues of the society we live and work in” explains Dieter Jaenicke in reference to his participation.[1]

But demonstrations and banners on the theatre facades are by far not the limit of their engagement:

Hellerau: Refugees are Welcome Here

Hellerau: Refugees are Welcome Here (c) chr via nachtkritik.de

Hellerau has offered the city of Dresden part of its facilities for the safe accommodation of refugees: “Firstly, we do have the space. Secondly, it is important that we don’t just talk, or hang a banner, but that we make concrete offers. And thirdly, dealing with people from all cultures is part of our daily practice” says Dieter Jaenicke, explaining the reason for this unusual offer. [1] He believes that – rather than trying to understand the fears expressed by PEGIDA members – it’s time to address the fears of foreigners . This holds true for artists, who increasingly worry whether they are safe at night on the way to their hotel, just as much as for any other foreigners – who feel more molested and vilified than ever before on the streets of Dresden. [2]

Installation @ Dresden State Theatre

Facts for an open society – Installation @ Dresden State Theatre c) @kathamatheis auf Twitter

The State Theatre Dresden is reflecting the need for dialogue in its 2015 programming. Wilfried Schulz explains: “We are now offering a series of events for which we invite people via the Refugee Council. A second aspect is the work of the citizens stage where we are working on a number of integrative projects.”[1]  The citizen stage – a professional setting to work with citizen actors on serious cultural productions – is one of the formats that has been enthusiastically debated and widely adopted by Theatron members.

Are Hellerau and the State Theatre Dresden transforming from ‘mere’ cultural into political players? Or is it simply the role of theatre to actively reflect the socio-cultural reality of their environment? “I believe that theatre and art are bound to certain attitudes and ideas of the Enlightenment. We are automatically on the side of the weak and fugitives,” believes Wilfried Schulz. [1] Politics or culture, one thing is certain for Dieter Jaenicke: “In the entire six years {that I’ve been working in Dresden], I’ve never been as often and repeatedly called by the city mayors as in recent weeks.” [1]

Author: Benita Lipps

Sources/ Read More:

  1. Und ewig rollt der Stein – Interview with Wilfried Schulz and Dieter Jaenicke about the role of Theatre when dealing with Pegida (Nachtkritik, 26/1/2015; in German)
  2. Speech at the 2015 Opening at Hellerau by Dieter Jaenicke (Hellerau Website, 22/01/2015; in German)
  3. Refugees Welcome Here – Hellerau’s offer to house refugees (Hellerau Website; in German)

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