What ruined the office after Michael left
Chronology of a disaster
On Thursday, April 12, 2018, Chris Dercon has an appointment that will change his life. On Wednesday he was asked in a surprising phone call to come to the Berlin cultural administration at 10 a.m. the next day - Brunnenstrasse in Berlin-Mitte, about 15 minutes away from his workplace, the Berliner Volksbühne on Rosa Luxemburg Platz. He has been managing director for seven months. Chris Dercon comes into the cultural administration alone. Had he known what to expect there, he would probably have taken a lawyer with him.
Only three days earlier, on Monday, he had already been to the offices on Brunnenstrasse to report to the responsible speakers on the economic and artistic situation of the theater. It is catastrophic. The utilization of the theater performances on the big stage is less than 50 percent. Many performances in the house with 824 seats, the largest theater in Berlin, have fewer than 200 spectators. The budget is barely enough for larger repertoire new productions. Prominent artists cancel their agreed performances, renowned directors end their collaboration with the theater before their first premiere. The Volksbühne is in crisis.
Chris Dercon is sitting in the Secretary of State's office on Brunnenstrasse. He was given two letters: a resignation, effective from September, and immediate release from his duties as director. After only seven months in office, his employer, the State of Berlin represented by the cultural administration, just wants to get rid of him as quickly as possible.
After the appointment in Brunnenstrasse, Chris Dercon goes to his artistic director's office on the third floor of the Volksbühne for the last time. He informs his program director Marietta Piekenbrock. You decide not to communicate the resignation in the house. In the evening, the production "What if Women Ruled the World" premieres on the big stage. Dercon and Piekenbrock want to concentrate on that now. Dercon tries to cover up the shock of being fired. He tries to contact Peter Raue, his lawyer. Raue is on vacation in South America.
Dercon smokes in the yard, as always. He sits down in the canteen for lunch. Actually, he should have given a little speech that evening at the premiere. He no longer sees the premiere. At 4 p.m. he leaves the Volksbühne without saying goodbye to his staff. He no longer reacts to calls and SMS. This is the story of how it got this far:
19th September 2014
The First meeting
It all started in the “Deutsche Bank KunstHalle”, Berlin, Unter den Linden. On September 19, 2014, Chris Dercon, then director of Tate Modern, opened an exhibition on contemporary African art. In the audience was Tim Renner, Berlin's State Secretary for Culture and, alongside the Governing Mayor and Senator for Culture, the most powerful cultural politician in Berlin.
"That's when I met Tim Renner. We talked for about ten minutes. The Volksbühne was not an issue that evening. We exchanged our cell phone numbers, it was a relaxed first contact, nothing more. Tim Renner thinks beyond borders, that I noticed on the first evening. "
Chris Dercon *
"In the cultural administration we have dealt intensively with the question of who could become Castorf's successor. Some candidates had just signed new contracts, while others were simply afraid of taking over as Castorf's successor. They either feared the apparatus he had shaped for over 25 years the Volksbühne, or the comparison with the exceptional director Castorf, or both. "
Tim Renner *
A few days later there was a phone call between Renner and Dercon.
“Tim Renner called me and asked: 'Could you think about the Volksbühne?' I thought he wanted to talk to me about the Humboldt Forum, but then he said it was about the future of the Volksbühne and that of art -Works. And so it happened. "
October 24, 2014
Successor for Castorf
Chris Dercon came back to Berlin to moderate a discussion with African artists. The discussion took place in the evening. On the afternoon of the same day, October 24, 2014, he appeared at 12.30 p.m. for a working meeting in the Berlin cultural administration on Brunnenstrasse in Mitte. According to the internal files of the cultural administration, the subject of the conversation was: “Exploring possibilities / opportunities with regard to the Castorf succession plan”. Dercon remembers that at that meeting he was asked if he could imagine “moving to Berlin”.
“The meeting on October 24, 2014 was about the future of the Volksbühne and that of art works. It was Tim Renner's idea to combine both institutions under one management. I didn't find that interesting. My condition was always an extension to Tempelhof. That interested me! "
According to an internal chronicle that Marietta Piekenbrock wrote for Chris Dercon, it was Matthias Lilienthal, who later became the director of the Münchner Kammerspiele, who suggested Dercon that Tempelhof should be set up as a new venue.
“Dercon showed great respect and affection for the house. But he had the necessary distance to tackle the task confidently. With him you didn't have to worry that he would work off his predecessor. We assumed he could add something new. Precisely because he had gained his professional recognition outside of the theater, we hoped to be able to achieve both continuity and further development with him. " Tim Renner
But Dercon was still undecided. At the same time he was negotiating the management of the Basel Museum.
A text message that changes a whole life
A few days later, Marietta Piekenbrock received a text message from Chris Dercon. She was at home in Essen and had just decided to take a break from work after ten exhausting years at the Ruhrtriennale. Her mother was sick, she was preparing to move.
“I wrote an SMS to Marietta: 'Listen to me, you know what's going to happen to me now, Tim Renner offered me the Volksbühne ... what do you think?‘. I also discussed that with three or four other close confidants. You can't make such a decision alone. "
“Chris Dercon's SMS was short: 'Tim Renner offered me the Volksbühne. What do you think? ‘During this time I was very busy with other things, so I ignored that at first. I had no idea how this little text message would change my whole life. " Marietta Piekenbrock *
November 2014 - January 2015
The idea of the “New People's Theaters” is born
From November 2014 to January 2015 Dercon and Piekenbrock developed the first concepts for their possible directorship at the Volksbühne. The new name of the theater is already used in emails between them and Tim Renner: “Neue Volksbühnen”. A concept that will have a decisive role in the demise of Dercons.
Part of the vision of the Neue Volksbühnen was to use two hangars at the disused Berlin Tempelhof Airport. In the center: the huge check-in hall of the airport as the entrance to hangars 5 and 6, similar to the entrance of the Tate Modern. “The idea was always to expand the Volksbühne, never to limit it to the old Volksbühne,” says Tim Renner. "The result is a meaningful sign of identity with which the city of Berlin is repositioning itself as a location for art and internationally," says an internal concept paper. International artists should produce and perform works between visual arts, theater, installation, media art and dance. The plan was on a large scale: On November 29, 2014 Dercon wrote in an email that 250,000 visitors could come to Tempelhof every year.
Although Chris Dercon had not yet decided on Berlin, he and Tim Renner developed activities in the days leading up to the end of the year that prepared Dercon's directorship at the Neue Volksbühnen.
December 27, 2014
The tour of Tempelhof
In December 2014, Chris Dercon was able to visit the place that was to become the center of his vision of the New People's Theaters for the first time: Tempelhof Airport. Tempelhof GmbH organized a site visit for him and an experienced theater professional who believed in the future of Tempelhof as an art venue: Matthias Lilienthal, the former director of the Berlin theater HAU and designated director of the Kammerspiele Munich, which he was to take over in summer 2015.
“On December 27, 2014 I was in Tempelhof with Matthias Lilienthal. I knew the area from the ‘World Exhibition’ that Matthias had held there on the field. Back then he wanted to use the hangars, but that couldn't be done because he couldn't pay the rent, the rent was too high. The visit was great, there was a Tempelhof employee who received Matthias and me. It was very cold and sunny that day, I was very, very excited. The Tate Modern's Turbine Hall is big, but these hangars are much bigger and you can even slide open the doors to Tempelhofer Feld. " Chris Dercon
100 years of the Volksbühne - a festival with a signal effect
Three days later, on December 30, 2014, the Volksbühne celebrated its 100th birthday with a big party.
“I took Dercon as my companion and introduced Castorf. At the time, he was only one of several possible candidates. In the ceremonial address I quoted from a letter of rejection from another candidate for the Volksbühnen directorship. He had written to me that Frank had made the house into a kind of Bayreuth, which one could hardly imagine without him. When I reproduced this in my own words (without citing the source, of course), Castorf itself was probably perceived as an eternal job guarantee, I was told later ... ” Tim Renner
“I was in Berlin on the day of the 100th anniversary and was curious to see how it works here. Everything was cleared away, there was a huge table, 100 guests, 50 on the right, 50 on the left, dozens of glasses with vodka, there was meatballs, potato salad and live music with Sophie Rois and other Volksbühne artists. I met a lot of friends. Tim Renner said come over, there is room here. I was nervous and excited to finally meet Frank Castorf for once. I told him there was a lot talked about him at Tate too. After 30-40 minutes I left, the director Pollesch wasn't there. I looked for him, but he wasn't there. " Chris Dercon
“I don't know if you know the photo of Renner and Dercon shaking hands with me at the Volksbühne's centenary. That is twice Tartüffe, figures as if from a piece by Molière. You can see the picture and actually know everything. Dercon doesn't seem to know any shame either. Enduring this is also an achievement. " Frank Castorf in an interview with Peter Laudenbach in November 2017
Art as social work and city-making
Tim Renner and Michael Müller, after the resignation of his predecessor Klaus Wowereit, the new Governing Mayor and Senator for Culture of Berlin since December 2014, had an additional agenda: They wanted to establish a new urban center for the creative industries with cultural institutions on the Tempelhof Airport area. Müller comes from Tempelhof and, as a long-time Senator for Urban Development, had learned to think in long-term perspectives. With the expansion of the Volksbühne into the not yet gentrified district, a 20 to 30 year development of the location should begin.
The playwright and director René Pollesch was a central figure in Dercon's plans and his program director Marietta Piekenbrock from the start. In Dercon's handwritten notes from late 2014, “RENE POLLESCH” is written in large letters across the center of the page. A possible motto for the entire project was thought of as a line that quotes the beginning of the title of a Pollesch production: “I look you in the eye”. René Pollesch knew nothing about these plans.
"I found the microcosm, the vision of the Neue Volksbühne with Pollesch on one side and the very large hangar stage with the huge Tempelhof foyer on the other hand very exciting: art as social work and city-making." Chris Dercon
"As usual, we made several proposals for the management of the Volksbühne to the Senator and Governing Mayor, but we made no secret of the fact that we thought Chris Dercon was the bravest, but also the best solution." Tim Renner
Dercon accepted the offer of the Governing Mayor Müller after a long hesitation. Now there was no turning back for him. He had to try to realize his vision of the “New People's Theaters”.
One of the most delicate culture discussions
The concept of Dercon and Piekenbrock also meant a realignment of the Volksbühne from an ensemble structure to a platform structure for changing artists of different genres. Marietta Piekenbrock reports that she pointed out to Tim Renner that this would mean the end of the classic ensemble structure: “I explicitly asked Tim Renner whether we should keep the ensemble operations, whether it was important to him, and Tim Renner told me very clearly that this was not the focus for him. "
In an email to the cultural administration, Piekenbrock outlined the transformation of the Volksbühne from a “classic repertoire operation” into a “project company”. She knew it was explosive. In the mail she writes that the plan “touches on one of the most sensitive and delicate cultural discussions on the future of city theaters”. She should be proved right - and not least overthrow Dercon over this discussion.
“On January 20, I sent the cultural administration an email warning that the expansion of the classic repertoire business into an internationally oriented multi-branch company would trigger a presumably nervous discussion. I wanted to create an informal memo to ensure that everyone involved is clear not only about the idea, but also about the scope, potential for conflict and the time and trust required. Tim Renner wanted to bring about a merger of stages and venues with the involvement of the parent company Volksbühne, in which theater, museum, cinema and digital inspire each other. That was the job. "
This email from Marietta Piekenbrock was never answered.
A concept for the mayor
Renner and Dercon now had to try to convince Berlin's Governing Mayor Michael Müller not only of the idea of appointing Dercon as the new director of the Volksbühne, but also of the expansion of the “umbrella brand” Volksbühne. A meeting with Müller, Dercon, Renner and a department head of the cultural administration was scheduled for February 11, 2015. Dercon's team got to work. They had to develop a financial concept that would convince the governing mayor of their plans. On January 27, 2015, Marietta Piekenbrock sent this preliminary financial plan to the cultural administration.
“There was little talk of classical ensemble and repertoire theater in those months. On the one hand, because the continuation was a given, on the other hand, because a new kind of programmatic orientation was required. The basis for this are the ensemble structures released by Castorf. In January or February at the latest, one should have said: We don't want that. But the opposite happened. And from autumn 2015 the development of Tempelhof moved more and more into the foreground. "
Fatal financial planning
A central problem with the planned development of Tempelhof as part of the new Volksbühne was the financing. Dercon calculated with a budget of five million euros a year. “Requirements: structural upgrading of the hangar as a multidisciplinary exhibition and performance hall including operating costs (heating, electricity, air conditioning)”, Piekenbrock wrote on January 27, 2015 to the cultural administration. These are exactly the conditions that Matthias Lilienthal, the man who accompanied Dercon on his first visit to the Tempelhof, spoke about in 2012 Read the article from the Berliner Zeitung to a Berlin newspaper Read the article from the Berliner Zeitung here: "If I could choose the world: give me a hangar in Tempelhof, expand the thing for me and give me five million euros a year."
The expected income should be particularly problematic. In their financial planning, Dercon and Piekenbrock reckoned with sponsorship money of 750,000 euros for Tempelhof. They wanted to acquire another 500,000 euros from sponsors for the Volksbühne - a total of 1.25 million euros in grants.According to a letter from the cultural administration, Dercon is said to have said that he could possibly get sponsorship from BMW or Mercedes. Dercon wanted to raise another 750,000 euros in Tempelhof through guest performances, income from co-productions and commercial rentals. Numbers that should never become reality.
“My first meeting with Michael Müller was on February 11, 2015 in his very long office. We sat on his sofa and talked a lot about Tempelhof. He had read our concept. He said to me: ‘I cannot guarantee you the long-term financing of Tempelhof. He said that one would have to proceed 'step by step', we could get a preparatory budget for the time being. And I know that I said that I was optimistic that I would be interested in Tempelhof sponsors. I had organized tens of millions of pounds of sponsorship money for Tate Modern, and finding partners for Tempelhof seemed easy to me. But sponsors want a positive environment. When all the negative press came up, it got a lot more difficult with possible sponsors. One of our employees came back from a sponsorship conversation and said: ‘They are scared."
The day after this presentation, Dercon sits with Tim Renner in the office of the cultural administration and analyzes the agreement made with the governing mayor. The responsible department head in the cultural administration summarizes the internal discussion the next day in an email to those involved. Despite the friendly wording, this mail contains bad news for Dercon that is hardly hidden: “There is a firm will to use Tempelhof in line with your concept. We will try to achieve this. But at this point in time (...) no commitment can be given. "
In an internal chronicle of the events around Tempelhof, Marietta Piekenbrock writes: “Matthias Lilienthal advises that the financing for Tempelhof be anchored in the budget of the city of Berlin during the negotiations on artistic directorship.” With Müller's refusal, negotiations with Dercon are short before failure.
"Actually we should have broken off here. But we decided together to give in and accept the use of Tempelhof as a challenge. In retrospect, that was the beginning of a financial downward trend."
“The budget sovereign is the parliament and not the ruling mayor. In this respect, Michael Müller could not give him any guarantees regarding the financial resources of Tempelhof. We encouraged him to use his sponsor contacts to secure the project beyond budget or lottery funds. "
Dercon now faced major problems. How the vision of a new large cultural center under the umbrella brand Volksbühne in Tempelhof would be realized was unclear. There was no realistic and binding financial planning in the state of Berlin. Right from the start, the project was dependent on sponsorship funds running into the millions. After all, acquiring such funds at Tate Modern had been one of Dercon's great abilities. He discussed the possibilities of attracting sponsors with Renner. One idea was to use Tempelhof not only when the artistic directorship began in September 2017, but as early as 2016. The aim was formulated in an email from the cultural administration to Dercon: The earlier display was intended to “fuel” the interest of potential sponsors.
A “completely unrealistic” calculation
An employee of the cultural administration notes in an internal note for State Secretary Renner that the rental costs for Tempelhof are missing in Dercon's calculation. Neither Dercon nor the cultural administration calculated the costs of the necessary renovation. Neither in the budget of the cultural administration nor elsewhere in the state budget will be allocated funds for this in the coming years. At Dercon's presentation to Governing Mayor Müller, the unclear financing of the Tempelhof plans became clear. Even if the city were to finance the Tempelhof display with subsidies of three million euros, in addition to the previous Volksbühnen budget, the need for third-party funding would remain high. The vision was courageous. Gabriele Gornowicz, however, has great doubts that it could be implemented. The experienced theater manager was the managing director of the Volksbühne until 2014. She considers Dercon's calculation to be "completely unrealistic". Rightly so, as it should show.
Renners and Dercon's next step was the attempt to convince René Pollesch, one of the most important authors and directors at Castorf's Volksbühne, to take over the management of the acting division at the Volksbühne. Their goal was clear: Pollesch as acting director would signal continuity and a link to the history of the theater. On March 5, 2015, René Pollesch had an appointment in the office of the cultural administration.
“On March 5, 2015, I went to the Senate Department for Culture for the first time in my life. Tim Renner had invited me to an interview, I only knew him from the newspaper. He told me that he and the Senator for Culture Müller wanted to take the Volksbühne to the next level and that they had found a general manager to succeed Castorf, whose name he could not tell me yet. They had asked Castorf to extend another year, but he was making life difficult for them by saying either two years or zero, both of which could not be reconciled with the new director. The new director would know me very well and have been following my work for a long time. The “new” Volksbühne would be divided into three sections: dance, drama, film. The new general manager would like me to lead the acting division. Of course I started to think about who it could be. I asked Tim Renner ‘Is it Tom Stromberg?, Which he denied, and said I shouldn't continue guessing, he couldn't tell me yet. I then said two names of people who I thought knew me well, but he wouldn't say. Then I told him that I couldn't do that and reminded him that he had just told me that there was still no agreement with Castorf about the duration of his extension, and that he was my director, I couldn't do that now to stab in the back. Then I asked him what was going to happen to the Prater and whether Bert Neumann and I could not play on the place as a separate location that was independent of the Volksbühne. To which Tim Renner said that the Prater would be a centerpiece in the planning of the new artistic director, and that that would not be possible. "
“René Pollesch was delighted to have been invited. He emphasized that he had never been a guest at the Secretary of State for Culture and that my predecessors had never sought a conversation with him. I found the atmosphere to be extremely pleasant from the start. That didn't change when I told him that we were talking to a potential successor for Frank. I told him that this was an international personality who did not come from the theater. It is all the more important for the cultural administration and the future artistic director that Pollesch should take over the management of the theater stage. The candidate wants to call him about this over the weekend. Pollesch agreed that I could pass on his number and I was confident that everything would work out. "
It should turn out differently. The next day, Pollesch wrote in a Read here René Pollesch's rejection mail to Tim Renner that he could not accept the offer.
“After my email to Renner with the rejection, I received several calls from an English number two days later and I did not answer. I just thought, ah, the new director is probably Katie Mitchell. Two days later I received a text message on the number that had been trying to call me for days, in which Chris Dercon said that he was the new director of the Volksbühne and that he would like to meet me again despite my cancellation. Renner and Dercon probably thought that if I knew who the director was, I might change my mind. "
The following week, Renner and Pollesch met again, this time in the “Crackers” restaurant on Friedrichstrasse. Tim Renner told him at the meeting that Dercon was a big fan and loved Pollesch's work. Renner asked Pollesch to meet Dercon before he finally refused. In the end, Pollesch agreed to meet Dercon. Dercon and Pollesch arranged a meeting after a performance of Pollesch's production “Of someone who moved out because he could no longer afford the rent” in the Volksbühne.
“I have sent a lot of SMS to Pollesch, at least ten: When can we see each other ...? Finally we met. I loved Pollesch's work. I was very nervous before the meeting. He picked me up, took me through the Volksbühne labyrinth to the canteen to a staff table. We were only briefly interrupted by Martin Wuttke, who had a quick question for him. "
“I met him in the foyer and went to the canteen with him. We sat in the corner under the television. Dercon came with his girlfriend, an actress. I was surprised that, although they had just seen a piece of me, they said nothing about it during the entire conversation. "
“I was already interested in the work of René Pollesch when I was in Munich and London as a museum. In 2011 I was a member of a jury in Munich that René Pollesch discussed for an ‘artist residence’. In this context, I received the complete DVD recordings of his productions ‘I look you in the eye…’, A choir is very wrong ’and Kill your Darlings’ from the Volksbühne with the approval of René Pollesch and watched them. I visited the Pollesch exhibition ‘The dialogue is an incomprehensible classic’ in the Buchholz gallery. At the Volksbühne I saw ‘Kill your Darlings’, House for sale ’and From someone who moved out’. At Tate Modern, I discussed a Pollesch exhibition with Catherine Wood. Unfortunately, the Tate Board of Trustees did not approve this idea. ”
“Dercon said he loved my work, but it quickly became clear that he didn't know it. His girlfriend knew some of the track titles, but she messed everything up. I got the impression that Dercon hadn't even read my Wikipedia entry. "
“I was so enthusiastic to meet the great artist Pollesch, that was the first time I had been to the canteen, only once before I had seen a talk show by Schlingensief in the canteen. Pollesch asked what would you like to drink? And then I asked him whether he wanted to direct the drama at my new Volksbühne? He replied that he doesn't need a curator. I tried to explain to him that I have absolutely no intention of doing this and that all the artists who are important to me cannot do anything with curators. I told Tim and Marietta afterwards that it was a good meeting. "
“His plan was that there should be different branches: dance, film, theater, and each branch should have its own director, an older artist who would work as a mentor with a younger artist. I should work with Suzanne Kennedy. And we should all work under his general manager. It was clear to me that in this construction every success would be his success and every failure our failure. That could never work. "
The next day Pollesch wrote this letter you can read here; a letter with his final rejection to Tim Renner.
Pull the emergency brake?
At this point in time, in March 2015, it was clear that there were serious difficulties in realizing the concept of repositioning and expanding the Volksbühne. The core and identity of the theater were the directors and the unique ensemble. However, the Dercon team planned to replace the classic ensemble with a project company. The money for playing on Tempelhof was not secured - the financing depended on Dercon's skills as a fundraiser. Pollesch's commitment would have been important in order to win the public over to the new directorship and to signal continuity. That failed.
Would that have been the time to at least rethink the concept and the chances of an artistic director of Dercons?
The preparations for the future directorship continued despite the obvious problems. Four days after Pollesch's rejection, the Governing Mayor Müller wrote a letter to Chris Dercon's superior at Tate in London, in which he informed him of the Berlin state government's plan to hire Chris Dercon.
The battle has only just begun
Because they feared that Dercon's planned appointment could become known prematurely, the cultural administration, the mayor's office and the Dercon team worked flat out to prepare a press conference at which Michael Müller, Chris Dercon and Tim Renner announced their plans for the future of the Volksbühne should give.
Piekenbrock also wrote that Dercon should say “we're talking to René Pollesch”, although he had definitely canceled. When asked about this contradiction, Piekenbrock said in April 2018: "At that point in time I didn't know how definite Pollesch's rejection was."
Five days before the press conference, an interview with Bert Neumann was published in the Tagesspiegel, a stage designer and next to Castorf the formative artist of the Volksbühne. With Neumann's interview sentence “none of the artists who present the house will work here under any curator, neither Pollesch, nor Castorf, nor the actors”, the lines of conflict were set. They should shape the entire two years of the designated artistic director's preparation time.
“Before the press conference, everyone involved was nervous about the media attacks that Peymann, Flimm and Khuon had already ridden, or about the supposed personality of Dercon. The hall was overcrowded and the press spokeswoman for the Senate first had to ask the numerous representatives of the Volksbühne who were present to clear the tables and sit on the floor so that the journalists who were writing could work with their laptops. Dercon appeared very calm and confident. I was relieved. The mood turned in our favor. I just wrote a short SMS to Lilienthal in Munich: ‘Victory, we won ...’ "
Matthias Lilienthal wrote back on the same day: "Watch out, Tim, the battle has just started and you absolutely have to win it!" He was right. Indeed, the "battle" had only just begun.
A few days after the press conference, Bert Neumann, who died in July 2015, writes an SMS to René Pollesch, as he often does. The exchange between the two clearly shows how the artistic direction thought at the time. Large banners, so-called "belly bands", always hung over the Volksbühne portal. As a rule, they showed the title of the piece played in the evening. Neumann writes:
“We're making a belly band“ Sold ”for the Volksbühne. It just occurred to me. How do you like that? "
“Actually, it hits that, Dercon must have conducted an interview where he came out as a fundraiser and Volksbühne privatizer. But then always play with the thing around the stomach. "
“Exactly;) Awesome. Tobi Müller accuses the Volksbühne of having brought neoliberalism into the theater, we produced for the new market in Berlin using pop and discourse ... Oh man ... everything is wrong ... Haha, I thought I would do something different;) ”
“Don't come to me like that! You do NOT always have to reinvent yourself! "
"But Chris wants it that way ..."
“The Dörkin? Yes he is n ”very nice”
“It's against capitalism. For freedom. "
“Recently: Dercon's intimate friend: Dercon is totally reflected. He is totally competent. Me: No, he's a con man. Dercon Freund: He's a total thinker ... What would YOU like? Me: That he should reconsider. Dercon Freund (immediately, like being shot from a pistol): No, he won't ”
“He has friends ?? I do not think so"
In September 2015, despite a letter of intent from Müller, Dercon's contract was still not fully negotiated and signed. At this point in time it would still have been possible to change the concept in view of the unresolved funding. Dercon could have made the binding financing of the renovation and the use of Tempelhof a condition of the contract. All options were still open to him.
“At the end of 2015 I met Marietta Piekenbrock for a conversation.I was ready to help her by telling her something about how a city theater works economically. She could have asked me, after all, she has never directed a city theater. Even more shocking than her ignorance was her complete lack of interest in understanding how this apparatus of city theaters works. "
Gabriele Gornowicz, managing director of the Volksbühne until 2014, in an interview with the SZ in Berlin on April 5, 2018
A staff meeting like a "Stalinist show trial"
One of Dercon's strengths is his ability to speak publicly and attract his listeners. The fact that the managing director of the Volksbühne, Thomas Walter, invited him to a staff meeting with Tim Renner was a great opportunity for Dercon to convince the employees of his plans.
“It was the current Question Time in the House of Representatives, so I could only be present for 30 minutes. The event was already running when I arrived. The atmosphere was something of a Stalinist show trial: Hegemann and Kuttner sat in the second row, in front of them were two bald men who were writing all the time and handing them notes to the back. Kuttner then shouted in his loud voice what occurred to him or what had been written down for him. Sometimes Hegemann also stepped in. It was all arranged very professionally. Most of the employees were silent. Suddenly there was a question from one of the cleaning ladies. There are only two workers in their area at the Volksbühne, she stated. If as much dirt were to be thrown on the stage as under Castorf, there would have to be a third cleaner, was her request. Kuttner silenced them immediately. I thought, ‘Oops, how is it dealing with people here ...’ "
“The staff meeting was like a boxing match, very loud, very aggressive, it was my first encounter with such aggression in this city. But afterwards I had a good feeling, we survived it. This optimism was perhaps naive. "
An employee of the cultural administration reports you can read this note here. In an internal note to his superiors about the course of the staff meeting: “Dercons' attempt to convey the ideas of the new Volksbühn team to the Volksbühn employees present must be assessed as unsuccessful. Dercon has little concrete to announce, hiding behind general empty phrases ... The words of praise addressed to the workforce fizzled out almost ineffectively ... "
The previous ensemble is to be dissolved
Shortly after Dercon's appearance at the staff meeting, the Volksbühne employees, concerned about the future of their theater, began to write an open letter. It should become a declaration of no confidence in Dercon. Dercon found out about the planned letter and immediately informed the cultural administration. Dercon's employees prepared counter-arguments.
The discussion about whether the Volksbühne under Dercon should remain an ensemble theater flared up again with the "open letter". Dercon's press spokesman suggested how the cultural administration could respond to this criticism:
"The ensemble will be retained in its current structure - as a permanent artist ensemble, it will be supplemented by guest artists."
The cultural administration knew that this sentence did not agree with what had been agreed with Dercon and Piekenbrock. Marietta Piekenbrock had always been very clear on this point. A theater advisor in the cultural administration responded to this proposal in an email:
“The formulation that the ensemble is retained in its structure is incorrect, even misleading. This is by no means the case, since the previous ensemble is being dissolved. "
The debate triggered by the open letter became a topic in all media and the atmosphere was charged. Dercon was surprised by the force of the conflict. Tim Renner wrote to his employees in the cultural administration,
“I spoke to Dercon on the phone. The whole thing took him noticeably. Also in terms of health ... Otherwise, the man urgently needs a 'pep talk'. We'll either meet him when he's in town ... or Konrad and I will fly to London ... "
The next day Michael Müller was informed about the state of affairs.
Despite the critical atmosphere that arose in Berlin after the general assembly, Dercon appeared as a participant in a cultural dialogue in the Rotes Rathaus. Dercon seemed to want to blame the city itself for the troubles he was facing:
“Berlin is the capital of introspection in Europe, I have felt that in the last few months. The Berlin scene doesn't exist right now. It hung up somewhere. So the city is mainly about itself ... That sometimes goes very far, as I have experienced myself. "
The Tempelhof display in 2016 did not take place.
Nothing came of the plans to finance Tempelhof to a large extent with sponsorship money. Instead of the previous 1.25 million euros, Dercon's team planned only a tenth, 125,000 euros, in donations from sponsors in 2017. On August 21, 2017, two and a half years after Dercon and Piekenbrock presented their first, ambitious financial plan, an employee of the cultural administration wrote in a note for the governing mayor on the Volksbühne's “Economic Plan 2018/2019”: “Tempelhof will be shown in 2018 and 2019 not shown. Financing through third-party funds, as Dercon mentioned as an option in the culture committee, is also not readable, since only € 125,000 donations / sponsoring are shown. ”The fact that the planned income is“ shown ”does not necessarily mean that it could be achieved.
Before resigning as Secretary of State for Culture in December 2016, Renner wrote a farewell letter to Marietta Piekenbrock and Chris Dercon.
“You have great and good plans. Do not get confused and do not believe in any case the lies and allegations that others are spreading about you. Remains to stand openness to the world against narrow-mindedness, diversity and soft power against choral spirit and machismo, team spirit against hero cult (...). You can do it and the city needs it. "
Tim Renner in his farewell letter dated December 8, 2016
“I was very, very touched by his letter. I thought it was a shame, he didn't deserve it, that he was broken up because of us. I have a guilty conscience, you should have that. That was not good. I felt guilty. "
In the period between January 2015 and December 2016, i.e. in just under two years, Dercon's vision of the Volksbühne as the umbrella brand for the city fell into a downward spiral. Many at the old Volksbühne asked for his resignation. Important Volksbühne directors like Pollesch and Fritsch refused to work with him. Dercon would not be able to fall back on the repertoire of the old Volksbühne. The city was unable to provide the necessary funds for Tempelhof, and Dercon's plans to raise funds did not work. The crisis in which Dercon found itself in December 2016 arose at a time when the city's cultural and political leadership - Michael Müller and Tim Renner, the men who had brought him to Berlin - were still on his side. After the state elections there was a new state government. Klaus Lederer (Die Linke) became Senator for Culture. He had been critical of the decision to make Chris Dercon artistic director of the Volksbühne.
At the beginning of April 2018, three years after Dercon had developed big plans for his “New Volksbühne”, seven months after he started acting, the Volksbühne is in an obvious crisis - artistically, structurally and financially. One of the causes: a lack of professionalism in the management.
“In view of how completely naive, mindless and ignorant Piekenbrock and Dercon acted after the disastrous start at the Volksbühne, I can not believe with the best will that, if the financial framework would have been right, they would even have this insane mega-brand Volksbühnen Berlin had mastered a bit better. "
A technology department head in an email to the research team on April 17, 2018
“Mr Dercon asks me what I do on the house. ‘I'm a stage master.’ Ah, interesting ’, says Mr. Dercon,‘ and what does a stage master do? ’”
A stage master in conversation with the research team
The financial situation severely restricts the theater's scope for action.
“In March 2018 I was appointed managing director for the coming season. When analyzing the numbers, it became clear that the production and presentation costs are far too high. It is not produced sustainably. The productions are too expensive and run too rarely. The Volksbühne can end up in the black until the end of 2018, but only if two planned productions for the big stage are postponed to 2019. But then the theater won't be able to play enough performances in 2018. There are too few productions suitable for repertoire. The financial leeway is extremely limited. It is hardly possible to finance larger new productions that build up a sustainable repertoire. In August there are almost only guest performances of the festival `Tanz im August´. From October until the end of the year, the theater would be closed for 15 days a month. "
Klaus Dörr in an interview with SZ, published on April 16, 2018
The financial scope of the Berlin theater with the second highest subsidies of all spoken theaters in the city is exhausted. The attempt to set up an expensive guest performance in the structure of a city theater designed for in-house productions and repertoire operations with labor-intensive trades has overwhelmed the budget of the house. The production costs are exorbitant. An example: The production “A dancers day - 10,000 gestes” in September 2017, which was shown over four days, cost 433,910.73 euros, according to the program director Piekenbrock. Income, according to the budget statement made available to the research team by Piekenbrock: none. In order to be able to show a new production on the big stage at all, a performance of the children's and youth theater P14 is planned as the next premiere for the 2017/2018 season. The Volksbühne, one of the most famous theaters in Europe just a year ago, has arrived at amateur theater.
Dercon hoped that Mayor Müller would protect him. But since he was no longer the Senator for Culture, Michael Müller avoided the topic of the Volksbühne. At the request of the research team from NDR, rbb and SZ, he refused to speak about the subject. The Dercon team said that Michael Müller did not attend a single performance.
“I met Mayor Müller four times and never heard from him again. This is an appeal and I like to say it: Where is the Governing Mayor Michael Müller? Quo vadis, Mr. Miller? Where do you go? What do you want? Do you take responsibility? "
The conversation in which Chris Dercon said this was a friendly, relaxed conversation. It took place in his director's office and lasted almost two hours. It was late afternoon on Wednesday April 11th.
Chris Dercon said goodbye to the research team with a suggestion:
“You should actually name your contribution after a play by René Pollesch. ‘From someone who moved out because he could no longer afford the rent’. This is our entire story. Our problem was that we couldn't pay the rent in Tempelhof. Matthias Lillienthal couldn't pay them. Mayor Michael Müller cannot pay the rent either. "
The next day at 10 a.m. Chris Dercon was called to the cultural administration on Brunnenstrasse.
Explanation for research:
The authors of this dossier, John Goetz and Peter Laudenbach, researched for NDR, rbb and SZ for over two months. In order to inspect internal documents, they have submitted applications to numerous authorities and institutions under the Freedom of Information Act, including the Tate Modern in London, the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, the Volksbühne, the Berlin Cultural Administration and the Senate Chancellery. However, documents were also leaked to them.
The researchers were able to see the entire mail exchange between the cultural administration and Dercon's team (provided that this had not violated personal rights). They could read internal call recordings, documents, concept papers, financial plans, memos, etc. Gabriele Gornowicz, managing director of the Volksbühne until 2014, helped the authors to analyze and understand financial plans in detail.
The researchers asked all those affected for interviews. They spoke to many personally and even went through the files with some of those involved, including Marietta Piekenbrock, Chris Dercon, Johannes Ehmann, Tim Renner, René Pollesch. The dossier only uses quotations from these discussions that have been authorized in writing. Matthias Lilienthal refused repeated interview requests. Many others were willing to talk but asked not to be named.
Berlin politicians refused to cooperate with Chris Dercon until the day he resigned. The Senate Chancellery announced that no files on the Volksbühne could be found. When asked, the cultural administration replied that all e-mails on Tim Renner's server had been deleted. Thomas Walter, managing director of the Volksbühne until the end of the 2017/2018 season, did not receive permission from the cultural administration to speak to the researchers.
To this day, John Goetz and Peter Laudenbach are waiting to speak to the Governing Mayor and former Senator for Culture Michael Müller (SPD).
* The conversation with Chris Dercon took place on April 11, 2018 in his director's office. The talks with Tim Renner took place in March and April 2018. René Pollesch and Marietta Piekenbrock also spoke to SZ in March and April 2018.
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