In German society, which is steeped in pluralism, there can just as little be one predominant cultural trend as there can be one metropolis that towers over all the others. Buttressed by the country’s federal structure, Germany is typified by the simultaneity of many exceptionally different things from different periods, indeed even countervailing or competing currents – in theatre, film, music, the visual arts, and literature.
There is a clear trend in theatre: The number of premiere performances by contemporary playwrights has soared. They run the entire gamut of current forms of the performing arts, in which traditional spoken theatre mingles with pantomime, dance, video, play acting, and music, giving rise to dense performance-like, post-drama stage work. The sheer variety presented each year at the May Berlin Theatertreffen can be read as the polyphonic response to the issues raised by a complex reality.
Alongside the cultural mainstream driven by the centre-ground in society new things are arising, increasingly from marginalised sections of society, and these ideas are penetrating and enriching the established world of theatre. “Postmigrant” is the buzzword describing the phenomenon, reflecting that Germany is an immigration society as is visible in many cities, especially in Berlin. Millions of Germans with a migrant background are the second or third generation of their family living here; they tell tales of themselves and the lives of their parents and grandparents, unlike the stories told by citizens who have lived in Germany for centuries. Whether they were born in Germany or not, as a rule they are not influenced by some hands-on experience of immigration, but by the experience of cultural hybridity. This life in various cultural contexts engenders new forms of artistic enquiry into society and draws up new front lines for negotiating rights, a sense of belonging, or participation. New narratives arise that encourage society to view itself in a new light and define how German culture is perceived abroad.
A beacon of such art that celebrates trans-culturalism is Shermin Langhoff’s Post-Migrant Theatre in Berlin’s Maxim Gorki Theatre, the city’s smallest state theatre, but one with a long-standing tradition. Langhoff’s shows reach out well beyond traditional theatre-goers and have successfully attracted a new and primarily young clientele; they reflect an opaque process that is constantly shifting and becoming more differentiated. In 2015 and 2016, the Gorki Theatre was invited to present the plays “Common Ground”, which addresses the war in the Balkans, and “The Situation” about the Middle-Eastern conflict, both produced by Israeli director Yael Ronen, at the Berlin Theatertreffen. Theatre is thus now doing what has long since taken place in the worlds of Pop music and literature. Here, too, the biographies of the artists reflect society’s diversity, presenting exciting fusions of widely differing styles to offer new perspectives. In Pop, a whole array of international styles of music, ranging from Balkan beats, African-American sounds, and Turkish Saz Rock to American Hip Hop and even Techno, blends with other strands or electronic elements that are considered “typically German”. As in other countries, Rap is a point of identification for young people from migrant families, with languages often blurring in the process.
The son of Turkish immigrants, director Fatih Akin has made it right to the top. In 2018 he won a Golden Globe for his drama “In the Fade”, starring German Hollywood actress Diane Kruger. In his films, Akin does not shy away from sensitive issues of living together and in conflict, and has milieus and clichés collide. Post-migrant Germany is not necessarily cosy, but it is exciting and dynamic.
Post-migrant themes play a key role in contemporary literature
For many years, as a matter of course there have been important authors with migrant backgrounds among the most successful authors writing in German. They include Navid Kermani, who in 2015 won one of Germany’s most illustrious cultural prizes, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, and is known for both his fiction and his books on religious tolerance, as well as Katja Petrowskaya, Sherko Fatah, Nino Haratischwili, Saša Stanišić, Feridun Zaimoglu, and Alina Bronsky, to name but a few. Their books, which reflect among other things on their experiences with their Iranian, Russian, and Turkish backgrounds, are eagerly read and their works transport the specific themes and experiences of migration into the heart of society, where they are regularly discussed.
The visual arts in Germany are likewise cosmopolitan and international. As the statistics of the new intake at German art academies and colleges shows: Since 2013, the annual number of foreign students enrolling for the first semester has exceeded that of Germans. Today Berlin, with about 500 galleries and its many spaces for presenting artistic positions, is considered the metropolis for young, contemporary art that features strongly in the Berlin Art Week, when all over the city venues present the latest artistic ideas. Indeed, Germany’s capital is today undoubtedly one of the world’s largest hubs where contemporary art is produced. This is demonstrated every two years at the Venice Biennale, and not just in the German Pavilion there: A large number of the international artists exhibited in the city on the lagoon state that they live in Berlin.