70 Years of Berliner Festspiele

Breaking News, Talking Heads and Arts

Available 5 September 2021 – 3 January 2022

This film project, marking the 70th anniversary of the Berliner Festspiele, is the result of sifting through about 1,000 hours of audiovisual material from public and private archives. More than five hours of sound recordings, images and films have been restored and edited to produce eight new videos presenting news, talks and art from those 70 years.

A person wrapped in clothing, wearing a mask and with their hands raised.

The filmmakers Thilo Fischer and David von der Stein examined dozens of hard drives, hundreds of VHS tapes, numerous large boxes full of 16mm and 35mm films, audiotapes, vinyl records and Betamax tapes. In the eight video works, they tackle the capricious 70-year history of the Berliner Festspiele. The videos are showing as part of the exhibition “Everything Is Just for a While” at Gropius Bau until 17 October 2021. The videos will also be available on demand at the Berliner Festspiele until 3 January 2022.

So much has happened in the last 70 years! We’ll take a close look at some examples of it, create collages and compilations, and observe the undepictable. By digitising old inventory and archives, as well as recoding them through the sumptuous interplay of collage and décollage, we’ll trace the existence of art independently from its reception, along with the interrelation of art and reality. The history of the Berliner Festspiele is outlined through an extensive rearrangement of, in particular, cross-border and contradictory outgrowths and overgrowths. The artefacts and objects of those far-off times testify to the absurdity and progressiveness that they might once have held when performed live. The cinematic patchwork is ready to be overgrown, recede, and its components find a life of their own. They persist for various durations, resist appropriation, become restless and, in doing so, reveal unexpected power and potential.

Thilo Fischer

Four rows of images can be seen, each consisting of four identical images that feature four male read people. They stand in a row in front of a theatre curtain, wearing dark knee-length costume sets consisting of a jacket, knee-length pants, pulled-up socks and shoes. They move their hands.

Channel Sixteen. Breaking News

by Thilo Fischer and David von der Stein
Sound: Max Heesen
11 minutes
4:3, stereo
German, no subtitles

Eleven minutes of television erupts on sixteen screens, dealing with the Berliner Festwochen. The cinema newsreels and television reports from 1951 to 1987 reveal, with their sharp juxtaposition and vibrant musicality, the observant, judgmental, illustrative, abrupt, oversimplifying and lurid tone of public reporting. What emerges is a process of emancipation for the Berliner Festwochen, an institution caught between foreign policy and cultural policy mandates, the American allies, a national spirit of optimism, and an infinite amount of art and culture that demanded to be shown and discussed again after 1945. Emancipation is achieved primarily through the programme itself turning towards political, activist, experimental and avant-garde forms of art that include cultural and artistic spectrums beyond the Central European horizon. It is a televisual feast.

A Siamese cat in close-up. A human hand rests on its back. Behind the animal, a male read person can be seen who sits at a desk. In the background of the picture on the right, there are two people who are also seated in the same room.

Channel One. Talking Heads

by Thilo Fischer and David von der Stein
Sound: Max Heesen
42 minutes
4:3, stereo
German, English, French with German subtitles

“Channel One. Talking Heads” shows 70 years of authentic Berlin conversation, culture and war history from the Berliner Festwochen and Berliner Festspiele, all condensed into a 40-minute collage with top-class representatives from art and politics. They range from Willy Brandt to Judith Malina, Volker Braun to Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Luther King Jr. to Hildegard Knef, and Fela Anikulapo Kuti to Steffie Spira, and from Angela Hampel to Udo Lindenberg. What are their expectations for the arts? Should art serve only itself, or should it serve the whole complexity of reality? What consequences does Berlin’s former structure as a divided city have on the arts, culture and society? And which legacies of the Nazi era still shape the arts, politics and society today?

Channel Three. Arts

by Thilo Fischer and David von der Stein
Sound: Max Heesen
260 minutes
3 x 4:3, stereo
German, English, French, Russian, partly with German subtitles

“Channel Three. Arts” shows a compilation, lasting more than four hours, of art presentations taken from every decade of the festival’s history, selected because they expose the greatest possible intransigence, obstinacy and lunacy. The assemblage includes previously unpublished material whose video and sound have now been restored and digitised, overcoming the scepticism about the feasibility of preserving stage arts from long ago. It conveys the same feeling that a live audience might once have experienced.

Film still from „Frankenstein“ by The Living Theatre, 1966

Channel Three. Arts


From Anna Magnani through Herbie Mann and John Cage to Merce Cunningham, the programme covering the first 20 years gathers the Who’s Who of the international art scene. Also included are discoveries such as the Living Theatre from New York, the bagpipes jazz player Rufus Harley from Pennsylvania, and Berlin greats such as Boris Blacher, Boleslaw Barlog, Erwin Piscator, and Tatjana Gsovsky. Artistic presentations from Africa have also been part of the programme from the outset.

Film still from “Aktion Tau (Angleichung IV)” by Wolf Kahlen, 1973

Channel Three. Arts

1970–1979, Part 1

In the 1970s, artists increasingly moved away from conventional performance venues and started using exhibition spaces for their performances and concerts. They also made use of public space. The audience was encouraged to participate directly, and political, activist and processional aspects entered the programme of the Berliner Festwochen. From events to circuses, procession to confusion – the art of the 70s shook things up and challenged the status quo. This part includes theatre by Beckett, Fassbinder, Kantor and Zadek; performance art from New York; an entire festival dedicated to the circus; dance and drama from China; war dances from Burundi; and events by Allan Kaprow and Wolf Kahlen.

Filmstill from “The Wall” by Gordon Matta-Clark, 1976

Channel Three. Arts

1970–1979, Part 2

The second part is dedicated to musical experimentation, among other things. At the Metamusik festivals of the Austrian music pioneer Walter Bachauer, and later at the first Horizonte festivals, music of all genres and continents came together: griots from Africa, rock from Europe, experimental singing from America and koto string playing from Japan. Also on show are acts by Gordon Matta-Clark, George Maciunas and Wolf Vostell, Luca Ronconi’s knights charging through the audience and, for the first time in Europe, traditional Kabuki theatre from Tokyo.

Film still from “Structures Sonores” by Bernard Baschet, 1980

Channel Three. Arts


In the 1980s, divided Berlin as a construction for peace in Europe becomes the dominant theme of the Berliner Festspiele’s programmes. Above all, the painting and theatre art of East Germany was appreciated in the west of the city long before the fall of the Wall. As the school band Anyway performed at the Treffen Junger Liedermacher (Meeting of Young Songwriters) in 1989, the opening of the German-German border took place just a few kilometres away. Since then, the German-language theatre scene has been strongly influenced by East German artists such as Bert Neumann, Corinna Harfouch, Frank Castorf and Heiner Müller. But the theatre performed at the Berliner Festwochen also drew new energy from other directions: Pina Bausch was the first person to perform dance at the Theatertreffen, Thomas Brasch’s controversial play scripts were interpreted exuberantly there, and Einar Schleef deployed the potent forces of choric theatre. In addition, René Block invented an exhibition for the eyes and ears that was devoted entirely to musical spatial experimentation; an exhibition on Prussia was on display at the reopened Gropius Bau; and the open-air exhibition “Topography of Terror”, which still exists today, opened on the neighbouring site.

Film still from William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, directed by Christoph Schlingensief at the Theatertreffen 2001

Channel Three. Arts

2000–2021, Part 1

Arriving in the 21st century, we look back at Jean-Luc Courcoult’s legendary urban space reunification spectacle, “The Giants”; Olafur Elíasson’s play with optical illusions; René Pollesch’s discourses at the Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz; Milo Rau’s highly political documentary theatre; Christoph Schlingensief’s Nazi Hamlet; Sasha Waltz’s abstract dance pathos; Susanne Kennedy’s expressive alienation theatre; and much more.

Film still from “Nationaltheater Reinickendorf” by Vegard Vinge and Ida Müller, 2017

Channel Three. Arts

2000–2021, Part 2

Rarely has art on the stages of the Berliner Festspiele been as uncompromising and stubborn as it has been for the last 20 years. It no longer has to win anything; the play itself is the big prize. More is more, and love, brutality and humour are not mutually exclusive. We follow this assessment all the way to the home stretch. Artists such as Vegard Vinge and Ida Müller, Ragnar Kjartansson, William Forsythe, Jonathan Meese and Ilya Khrzhanovsky once again strike deep into the pit of the stomach of the international art world. Either it will be very loud or very quiet, extremely long or pure repetition, quickly and directly transferred from the immediate reality of life or artificially created over several years. We also look back at the Immersion programme series and see wonderfully sprawling musical experiments.

“We can’t start until you’re out!”
That is the announcement at the beginning of the performance “Stomp” by the group The Combine; Circus Busch, Berliner Festwochen 1970

Videos Thilo Fischer, David von der Stein

Sound Max Heesen

Cooperation Partners

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Akademie der Künste, Arsenal – Institut für Film und Medienkunst e.V., Associazione Grupporiani, Berlin Art Link, Boosey & Hawkes, Bundesarchiv, Transit Film, EAI Electronic Arts Intermix, Edition Peters Group C.F. Peters Ltd & Co, Felix Bloch Erben, Filmgalerie 451, Japan Actors Association, Kobalt Productions GmbH, MONA productions, Sammlung Video-Forum des Neuen Berliner Kunstverein e.V. (n.b.k.), Phenomen Berlin Filmproduktion GmbH, Progress Film GmbH, Suhrkamp Theater Verlag, Shochiku Co. Ltd. Tokyo, Schott Music GmbH & Co. KG, Südwestrundfunk (SWR), Telewizja Polska S.A., ZDF / Arte, ZKM | Zentrum für Kunst und Medien Karlsruhe

With special thanks to

German Embassy in Bujumbura (Burundi), Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Federal Republic of Germany, Bunraku Kyokai, Osaka (Japan), German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv, Galerie Hauser & Wirth (Zürich), Goethe-Institut Tokyo and Kyoto (Japan), Goethe-Institut Kigali (Rwanda), Japanese-German Center Berlin, Japan Foundation in Berlin, The Living Theatre, La MaMa Archive, Landesarchiv Berlin, National Ballet of China, Neue Nationalgalerie (SMB), Nohgaku-Kyokai (Association of Noh Actors), Rowohlt Verlag GmbH, Wolf Vostell Estate

as well as René Block, Maksym Demydenko, Guido Diekmann, Ulrich Eckhardt, Helfrid Foron, Petra and Erhard Grosskopf, Felix Gruntz, Werner Heegewaldt, Nathalie Huck, Mona Intemann, Peter Konopatsch, Torsten Maß, Udo Lindenberg, Ida Müller and Vegard Vinge, Heinz-Dieter Reese, Frieder Schlaich, Julia Schmejkal and Martina Seidel