Performances of Border: Theatre and the borders of Germany, 1980-2015

Thumbnail Image

Persistent link to this item

View Statistics

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Performances of Border: Theatre and the borders of Germany, 1980-2015

Published Date




Thesis or Dissertation


Introduction-At the center of my research is the idea that a concept of border is specific to a place and history. I ask how this concept is represented on stage, and what the role of performance is in creating and maintaining such a concept. To investigate these questions, I examine key moments when borders and boundaries became the center of political discourse in post-war Germany. The border is an especially powerful political symbol, and everyday performances of borders that imply their enforcement or diminution are central tropes in contemporary politics. Such performances can be discursive or non-discursive— they can range from statements to the building of walls or troop deployment. The border is also the locus where fields of meaning concentrate: social and political ideas of belonging, citizenship, sovereignty, immigration, and ideas of difference – racial, ethnic, cultural, political. The political reality and its necessities activate configurations of these associative fields that are fitting for it. A concept of border marries a specific constellation of meaning, an organization of these associative fields, with a temporal question. It activates histories and referenced, such as the history of the Berlin wall, and conjures potential futures – of a Fortress Europe or a Europe Without Borders. Such a concept of border appears to us in social practices, public discourse and aesthetic creation, and at the same time it is constituted (and changing) through such practices. It is a constellation of images, practices, and linguistic articulations, sometime competing and contradictory but nonetheless enmeshed within constraining terms for their intelligibility. Part I- I examine the work of the Turkish Ensemble (TE), focusing on their original work. I read it within the context of the rise of culture as a perspective on migration integration, kindled by progressive movement in the late 1970s that aimed to address guestworkers beyond labor/economic context. I argue that we see the emergence of multiculturalism, not as a specific set of practices or attitude towards minorities, but a discursive field that focuses on culture as the primary point of interface between ‘local’ and ‘foreign’. I argue that although initially intended to expand and humanize the understanding of minorities, the insistence on the perspective of culture quickly turns towards different kinds of cultural essentialism and ethno-national articulations of cultural difference. In the work of TE, I compare and analyze the first (un-staged) project with the production that premiered in 1980. I show how the focus shifts from a labor perspective that includes concerns shared between immigrant communities (international immigrant labor concerns and generational differences), towards an ethno-national representation of ‘authentic’ Turkish culture. I continue to discuss the development of a children’s theatre repertoire as a translation project, where Turkish artistic and cultural practices (such as the circumcision) are mediated to German and 2nd generation Turkish audiences. I look at the TEs promotional materials, dramaturgical department correspondence with schools, and engagement with student organizations to discuss how it became a tool for the mediation of Turkish cultural difference. Part II- I examine Volker Braun’s play Transit Europa, written in 1984-5 and staged at East German Gorki Theatre in Dec ’89 (month after fall of the wall). My discussion of it is in 2 sections. In the first I locate the wall, called by the state the ‘antifascist defense barrier’ within the East German foundational myth of antifascism. I argue that as such, the wall had both spatial and temporal aspects, a delineation of different stages in Marxist-Hegelian articulation of progress and history. I focus my analysis of the play on the disruption of this myth in its statist form, which subordinates it to the need to establish a formation history (the progress narrative of the state as historical necessity) and the elimination of contradiction and tension within it (such as the clash between antifascist claims and most peoples memory of complicity with the Nazis, or the early alliance between the Nazi and soviet regimes). In this reading I focus specifically on Braun as following a Benjaminian critique of progress and traditional historiography. The dramaturgy, disrupting linear narrative, staging dreamlike and citational scenes, disallows the articulation of simple linear ‘history’ within the play; at the same time focusing on the theme of instability of identity and subjectivity challenges the ability of foundational myths to buttress state-identity. In the second part I focus on the contexts in which the play was written and produced. Particularly important is the ‘mass exodus’ of intellectuals (including Marxist intellectuals) after the ’76 Biermann scandal (which saw the forced exile of a prominent left-critic of the state), as well as the slowly forming non-state social organizations within the church (the peace and environmental movements). I discuss the theme of emigration in the historical context and the plays insistence on the recovery of identity through the repurposing of the antifascist goal. I focus on Ethos of resistance, holding on to ethos as both character and ethical orientation, as the central intervention of the play and production. Turning to the history of ’89, I discuss the production and the production materials (such as the program and other materials provided to audiences) within the position taken by the leading east German intellectuals, trying to maintain the central demand for reform and leftist-Marxist critique of the state. I show how the production was taking part in the attempts to preserve support for the reformation of the socialist project. At the same time, I highlight how Braun diverged from this movement and the wider terms of his argument (change on the European and not strictly East German field). Part III- I examine the protest performances of the Center for Political Beauty and Milo Rau’s play Compassion at the Schaubühne, to discuss contemporary German politics regarding refugees. I argue that at stake is the affective border—the limits of extension of care and responsibility by the nation-state. The boundaries currently at stake are border practices and their relation to the self-image of liberal-progressive European “goodness” emerging during enlightenment and further developed after the world war. I locate this within the context of the formation of Frontex, the joint European border agency, and the extension of border practices to practices such as rescue missions in the Mediterranean (and the refusal of such extension), and the formation of off-shore refugee camps in Libya and Turkey. Through intervening into questions of where and who care and responsibility are extended to, productions such as those discussed intervene in the stabilization of these affective borders. In the work of the CfPB I show how it uses the history of protest, horror, and attempts to prevent death at the Berlin wall in order to highlight the denial of such care and responsibility to refugees and migrants attempting to cross the borders into Europe. I show how the performance proposes a historical comparison that highlights the extension of care to those deemed to belong while denying it to those that are now found to be beyond the responsibility of the polity- the historical legacy of colonialism and unequal power in the world order. As such the performance both rearticulates the liberal-progressive European identity, and partakes in the delineation of the affective border, be it through arguing for its further extension. In the work of Milo Rau, I show how he addresses the question of mediation central to the issue of the affective border. I argue that questioning how intervention in the public sphere orients affective relations (through the prominence of certain images and articulations) Compassion forces us to query the role of theatre in the direction of public concern. It questions how dramaturgies such as the staging of “real people” (refugees, disabled) and verbatim theatre (interview) engage in affective reorientation of their audiences, and how the “reality effect” they rely on intensifies the emphatic relation created.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. November 2020. Major: Theatre Arts. Advisor: Margaret Werry. 1 computer file (PDF); ii, 270 pages.

Related to




Series/Report Number

Funding information

Isbn identifier

Doi identifier

Previously Published Citation

Suggested citation

Hadar, Misha. (2020). Performances of Border: Theatre and the borders of Germany, 1980-2015. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

Content distributed via the University Digital Conservancy may be subject to additional license and use restrictions applied by the depositor. By using these files, users agree to the Terms of Use. Materials in the UDC may contain content that is disturbing and/or harmful. For more information, please see our statement on harmful content in digital repositories.