"Siblings" at the Maxim Gorki Theater Berlin

When the dead rattle their tombstones and the vampires quench their thirst for blood, the theater of Ersan Mondtag blossoms. In his productions, the action on stage reliably steers into the horror film. At the Maxim Gorki Theater in Berlin, for example, people are just waiting for the zombies to attack the residents in the wood-panelled salon of a Berlin villa during the Mondtag premiere of “Geschwister”. The hellfire that will consume them all is already blazing in the chimney. The dark cave with its heavy Gründerzeit furniture, the massive stairs to the gallery on the second floor, the bookshelves in the background can easily be recognized as a prison (stage: Simon Lesemann).

In this dungeon, a bygone bourgeoisie is preserved with the formal manners of the family patriarch (Falilou Seck). Dinner is celebrated as a last stop, a bastion of table manners against the looming anarchy. The radio above the fireplace broadcasts Beethoven’s “Eroica”, Furtwangler conducts the Vienna Philharmonic, a recording from 1944, the host is moved. For the admirer of the good old Furtwangler pathos, even Karajan, “recently in the Philharmonie”, does not come close to this concert highlight of 1944. Every perfect Beethoven legato is a wistful reminder of the good times “before the defeat” for the brown-colored hardcore conservative.

Dinner company would please any family therapist

The man is important, maybe a second-tier politician, a high-ranking civil servant, maybe a ministerial director with an educated background. He demonstrates awareness of his state-supporting importance with every assignment to domestic help. On the phone with a colleague, he agrees on a bill with the awkward name “Introductory Law to the Law on Administrative Offenses,” which was passed in 1968 and discreetly bestowed a cold amnesty on Nazi criminals.

Dinner company would please any family therapist. Next to the patriarch, his wife (Cigdem Teke) withers away into a quiet drinker. The little son (best acting performance of the evening: Maxim Loginovskih) stutters in confusion. Decades later, he will return to this mansion-grave as a feverish psycho driven by family secrets in search of the truth (second best acting performance of the evening: David Bennet).

The wealth of the family is enough for one daughter to create meaning (Yanina Ceron), while the other (Lea Draeger) yells at the Turkish household help (Tina Keserovic), but has high moral standards. They express themselves by throwing up in the soup plate and by uttering revolutionary phrases at a left-wing demonstration. Conveniently, her attitude can be recognized by the militant lederhosen, while her well-behaved affluent sister carries her hedonistic attitude in the form of designer clothing. Why be subtle when you can also be striking.

No wonder the revolutionary daughter is running amok

At the beginning of the performance, the radio informs about the time of the event: The Shah is visiting West Berlin, in the evening he will attend a performance of “Magic Flute” at the Deutsche Oper. The German Dinner at the Wannsee Villa takes place on June 2, 1967, the day police officer (and part-time Stasi IM) Kurras shot and killed demonstrator Benno Ohnesorg. No wonder the revolutionary daughter is running amok. Later she will – Attention: Symbol! – turn on the gas tap before she leaves the horror mansion forever: Boom!

Of course, the parade of the undead is inevitable. But logically, no zombie invasion need bother to massacre the mansion dwellers. The villa dwellers themselves are the undead. No wonder that the solemn landlord feels so comfortable with the classic soundtrack from 1944. We are at the Maxim Gorki Theater, which has a strong ideology, and before 1945 the zombies were not only at Furtwangler concerts, but also in the SS Wannsee Conference. What happened to the previous owners of the villa, “you don’t know exactly,” you could buy them cheaply at the time.

So far, so cliché: the German theater Nazi loves Furtwangler and resides in Aryanized villas. One can at least ask whether Mondtag’s effect-safe (not to say: effect-driven) hybrid of zombie genre and theater-Nazi genre serves more to confront German history of violence, or whether he only uses it to enhance meaning and decoration – what would be somewhat obscene towards the victims of this history of violence.

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