Katrin Sieg*

Germany received over a million asylum seekers in 2015, and for one halcyon moment last summer, basked in the international community’s admiration of its “welcome culture.” Cultural institutions there played an active part in spurring public discussions concerning the reception and treatment of refugees. These efforts have continued unabated, and ten percent of the German population, or eight million people, have remained engaged and active even when the mood in politics and the mass media turned doubtful after Eastern European states rejected a coordinated European solution to burden-sharing, and soured drastically after New Year celebrations in Cologne and other cities were marred by ugly sexual attacks on young women, some committed by young men of Arab and North African background.

The continuing activities of private citizens in providing shelter and schooling to refugees, and accompanying them on their odyssey through the German bureaucracy, are unprecedented in a country where citizens generally believe that it is the responsibility of the state to provide such services. Although I am delighted that so many theatres have recently devoted resources to strengthening civil and political solidarity with the vulnerable and dispossessed, I am also disconcerted by the forms this support often takes, and by the constraints around reimagining German society enacted by the discourse of “crisis.”[1] Welcoming refugees on stage harkens back to the days of the first guest-working recruitment contracts, when it was assumed that the useful, hardworking “guests” would eventually leave, but while there would lend themselves as foils to imagining a beneficent and tolerant German self.

By contrast, chancellor Angela Merkel’s confident declaration “Wir schaffen das” (“We can co this,” during a press conference on August 31, 2015) evidenced a cool and clear-eyed perception of mass migration as the “new normal” dependent on steady solidarity.  The rhetoric of a sudden refugee crisis overwhelming any capacity for orderly processing becomes dubious when the one million arrivals are put in the context of Germany’s eighty million, or the EU’s 500 million citizens. To compare, Germany’s postwar population of about thirty-eight million absorbed roughly eight million expellees and displaced people between 1945 and 1950, plus 1.5 million refugees from Eastern Europe.

Economic historian Hartmut Berghoff estimates that by 1960 nearly a quarter of all West Germans were victims of expulsions and resettlement, and refugees from Eastern Europe or East Germany.[2] They were essential to the relatively quick recovery of the country during the postwar economic miracle. Next to these numbers, the one million plus last year are peanuts. The comparison is also useful to throw into relief the divergent results of mass mobility for migrants and receiving societies when conceptualized as temporary (a “refugee crisis”) or permanent (immigration).

The questions I would like to tackle here arise from the tension between the insistent rhetoric of a crisis —and the forms of representation adopted by cultural institutions to respond to an unprecedented emergency— on the one side; and my sense of profound and lasting social transformations on the other. Framing mass migration as urgent yet temporary, I maintain, obscures the cause or scope of displacements, which sociologist Saskia Sassen calls but one in a larger system of expulsions that characterize contemporary capitalism.[3] The discourse of a refugee crisis, to be met with closed borders or open arms, neither helps “those who benefit from the system to feel responsible for its depredations,” nor does its short-term focus help to envision sustainable, diverse, and economically equitable societies.[4] While it will be important to explore a poetics of solidarity alongside a politics of memory to assess what theatre can contribute to profound and enduring changes, I limit myself here to reviewing three examples of one dramatic genre that promises direct access to refugees.

The advertising poster of the Asylum Monologues
The advertising poster of the Asylum Monologues

The most common genre that arose in response to the recent mass influx of refugees from war zones is the documentary play, which presents personal narratives of flight, survival, and bureaucratic harassment in order to affirm the right to protection from persecution as a key human right. Put simply, plays like Asylum Monologues (2013) tell refugees’ stories to make familiar people who are much talked about but less often heard from. Feeling isolated in camps and hostels, and interacting largely with state officials, refugees like the ones that produced the play Letters Home (2014) sought to reach out and build relationships not entirely constrained by the relentless sorting to which they are otherwise subjected. In the words of Carol Martin, they “intermingle autobiography with history,” and thereby add a human, everyday dimension to large-scale historic events.[6]

Moreover, playwrights and performers seek to stir in audiences the desire to participate in collective struggles portrayed on stage, such as the networks of helpers documented in Maxi Obexer’s Illegale Helfer (Illegal Helpers).[1] The plays’ program notes and marketing material lead spectators to believe that the “I” they hear enunciated on stage corresponds to a person in the world outside the theatre, whose experiences are recounted in her own words (in verbatim theatre) or as close to them as possible, sometimes —as in Letters Home— warranted by the identity of actor and role.[7] As Sidonie Smith and Kay Shaffer have emphasized, the power of personal narratives in human rights advocacy and public performances hinges on that unspoken documentary pact.[8]

While public performances of human rights narratives can be crucial in bringing about legal and political changes, and arguing for recognition, official apologies, or reparations, the two scholars also point to the risks attached to personal narratives in human rights advocacy. Performers may not fully understand, much less control, the agenda of media and institutions that host them. The presence of their bodies elicits powerful affects, but can also make performers “participants in the repetitions of [their] own social death” and fix them in essentialist subject positions as victims of violence.[9] Their voices, translated and editorialized, often generate meaning and effect change only through the mediations of experts, whose speech articulates the implications of their experiences.

The critical literature about documentary theatre, too, warns against opposing official discourses with alternative, yet similarly monolithic and authoritative truth claims. Alison Forsyth and Chris Megson, the editors of an anthology on documentary theatre, assert, however, that the sophisticated documentary forms they survey increasingly account for complex and contradictory constructions of reality, in which media representations can be scrutinized and contested.[10] In addition, Reinelt points out, documentary plays can invite spectators’ active participation in meaning-making, not just as individuals who bring distinct experiences to bear on what they observe and feel, but as members of interpretive communities whose “social experience of documentary inquiry and critique” may catalyze public engagement and political activism.[11]

These risks and possibilities guide my discussion of three plays about and by refugees, by asking, first of all, what kind of relationship the documentary plays set up vis-a-vis a mediatized reality determined by sedimented orientalist perceptions overlaid with newer distinctions between deserving refugees and self-serving economic migrants. And secondly, I examine whether and how they evoke specific traditions of political engagement in order to activate contemporary audiences.

Since 2013, the Bühne für Menschenrechte (Stage for Human Rights, hereafter SHR), in its popular, widely performed play Asylum Monologues, has presented three stories culled from interviews conducted by the group’s founder, director, and manager, Michael Ruf. Ruf was trained in the UK and the USA, where verbatim theatre is frequently used by minority groups.[12] SHR consists of a network of about a hundred actors and musicians across Germany, who can be hired by civil society organizations to perform staged readings in low-tech settings, followed by panel discussions with local experts on refugee matters. In the eyes of SHR, the documentary format is well-suited for reaching a broader audience than those who traditionally identify as theatergoers, and for being able to emotionally engage those who would otherwise switch channels when confronted with troubling stories on the news.[13]

In Asylum Monologues, three actors present first-person personal stories in direct address to the audience; when one speaks, one or both of the others take up parts that assist in the storytelling. Each story conveys an individual’s suffering of political persecution at their place of origin, which escalates into an acute threat to their lives, followed by the abrupt decision to leave. Departure is followed by a period of peripatetic searching for safety and a new home, then arrival in Germany—not necessarily their destination of choice—and application for asylum there. The last part chronicles the torturous wait for the asylum judge’s decision, sometimes complicated by illness or psychological problems, and always marked by bureaucratic whimsy and harassment.

While all three stories have “happy endings” in the sense that no one is denied or deported (yet), all characters are broken and worn down at the end by their battles with uniformly hostile state officials aiming to get rid of applicants, rather than protecting the victims of persecution. In trying to root out illegitimate applications, some officials are reported to go as far as to cooperate with foreign dictatorships. The narrative organization and dramaturgy emphasize the refugees’ isolation and construct stark antagonisms between them and the representatives of the German state. While performances are unadorned in terms of action or choreography, the stories’ affective import is underlined by the accompanying live music. Audience members are implicitly exhorted to become active in either caring for refugees and improve their living conditions, or in challenging the legal framework of asylum. Models for such engagement are provided by the activists invited onto the stage during the post-show discussion.

Asylum Monologues premiered in 2013, at a time when refugees and supporters were seeking to put pressure on the German government to revise or scrap the Dublin regulation, the core of the EU’s patently unfair asylum regime, which left the poorest EU border states struggling to deal with the masses of refugees arriving via the Mediterranean and Balkan routes, while shielding the prosperous economies at the geographical center. Refugees and sympathizers also protested Germany’s restrictive asylum law, the law’s deterrence-oriented administration, and the poor and inhumane conditions in facilities that opponents —not too subtly— call Lager, through occupation of public squares, marches, and hunger strikes.

In 2015, however, the situation became more complicated when the government adopted an open door policy, even as the asylum law continued to be tightened further and conditions in the overcrowded camps deteriorated. The play found itself accusing a state whose government had taken a sudden benign turn, but now needed to secure support for this bold move both domestically and abroad. That affirmation became even more important when the German media turned against refugees after the attacks in Cologne, when the chancellor lost the support of her own governing party, and Germany’s eastern neighbors refused to cooperate on a common policy on asylum and migration.

In this context, the construction of a crude antagonism between refugees and a uniformly hostile German state in Asylum Monologues proved problematic. The mood during the post-show-discussion grew somber after an activist confirmed that there is “nothing good about the German asylum system.” Whereas depictions of the status quo as unjust, and of refugees as victims without any agency, provided the activists invited onto the stage with the heroic role of rescuer, spokesperson, and accuser, they demotivated many in the audience when I saw it in the sold-out Saalbau Neukölln in March 2016.

The presentation of refugee narratives by actors associated with the network, many of whom have a migration background themselves and tend to be people of color, contributes to the conflation of actor and role from which documentary theater traditionally derived authority. Performers surely affiliate with the Network out of solidarity and political commitment. Yet their visual appearance works to cement the unspoken presumption that Germans are white and people of color must be non-Europeans, rendering invisible the colonial history and demographic complexity of Europe. While German actors of color are evidence of longer histories of migration, they are not able to link to the imaginative forms that have arisen in postmigrant theater. Stepping aside at the end of the show to make place for Ruf and his activist guests, their bodies serve to confirm the very division between German activists and suppliant outsiders that the postmigrant theater has vigorously challenged.

Asylum Monologues at Refugee Protest in front of Brandenburg Gate, Photographer Jonas Wuestefeld
Asylum Monologues at Refugee Protest in front of Brandenburg Gate. Photo: Jonas Wuestefeld

The personal narratives, which SHR’s website describes as having been condensed and edited on the basis of lengthy “interviews with the affected as well as expert organizations,” conform quite strikingly to long-established stereotypes from the literature and cinema of migration, however. A Kurdish refugee, who eventually finds happiness with a kind German man who marries her, recalls a series of “maltreated Suleikas.”[14] And the two male characters are noble sufferers, and one is clearly recognizable as a “kind-hearted Ali” whose body converts the injuries of oppression and racism into stigmata of suffering. These types drag behind them long histories of orientalist peeping through the veil, and of paternalistic sympathizing with an infantilized Other, respectively. Cultural scholars have attributed these much-derided stereotypes to the paternalistic framing of the migrant within German national culture.[15] After postmigrant theater had deconstructed and shelved such types, they are now dusted off and presented as authentic in the context of the current “crisis.”[16]

Even as Asylum Monologues posits human rights as universal, it unwittingly reinforces the nationalist paradigm thought to be obsolete, by parading an oppressed Other for recognition by a paternalistic German subject. I am not implying that Ruf fabricated the portraits; rather, I surmise that his selection and editing of the textual material in preparing the script was likely guided by his sense of “what works,” on the basis on what appears as truthful and realistic in terms already set in advance. However, the model migrant stereotypes paraded on stage clashed with the widely reported attacks on young women during New Year’s eve, some of them committed by migrant men.

Asylum Monologues Special Performance at Heimathafen Neukoelln, December 2013, Photographer Milan Benak
Asylum Monologues Special Performance at Heimathafen Neukoelln, December 2013. Photo: Milan Benak

Most damagingly, right-wing populist social media responding to that event linked racist depictions to an attack on the mainstream press, which was decried as hampered by political correctness. Whereas the postmigrant literature, cinema, and theater that emerged in Germany in the 1980s has contested stereotypes by examining their orientalist history and ideological function, the discourse of authenticity deployed by Asylum Monologues required spectators to take sides in a political conflict largely on the basis of faith and compassion alone.

The Refugee Club Impulse, by contrast, strikes a less confrontational pose. Refugees have presented their own stories in the play Letters Home on stages in Berlin and across Germany from 2014 to 2016.[17] The piece interweaves individual accounts addressed to loved ones back home, which describe how refugees experience the German bureaucracy, and survive scrutiny and harassment, but also stress that they have made friends and enjoy support from Germans and other refugees. These stories are embedded in collective choreographies, so that each single person appears physically supported and kinesthetically connected with all others on stage. The remarkably dynamic movement helps performers to vent anger but also affection and exuberance, in order to physically ward off the lethargy and depression plaguing hostel dwellers. The selection of stories and the dramaturgy communicate the club’s dual purpose, namely, first, to convey to German audiences the urgency of improving refugees’ living conditions, stress their deservingness of asylum, and emphasize the temporary nature of their stay. Secondly, and most importantly, the play aims to bolster the well-being of refugees themselves, by furnishing a sense of community for the youth, and by providing a sense of agency and structure to people condemned to long waiting periods, forbidden to work, and often punished for overt political activism.

A group of ten refugees and non-refugee supporters, who met and rehearsed in the reception and processing center for newly arrived refugees, is credited with authorship of Letters Home. The workshop that led to the play was run by German social workers, who had used Boal-inspired theater techniques in empowerment training for minority youth. The social workers’ mediation arguably helped the performers’ stories reach an audience, evidenced by the numerous invitations the group received by theaters across Germany, as well as by political venues all the way to the German parliament. While the performers’ hope, that public recognition garnered through performance would bolster their appeals for asylum, proved unrealistic, theater-making lessened the ordeal of waiting. Yet the play, by eliciting empathy with the refugees and affirming the deservingness of the applicants, could not unravel the framing of the discourse of a refugee crisis, in which “good” refugees, defined by their victim status and suppliant posture, were differentiated from “bad” economic migrants, now widely decried as freeloaders and strains on the welfare state.[18]

Finally, Maxi Obexer’s play Illegal Helpers focuses on those who aid and shelter refugees.[19] Its ten subjects, who live in Austria, Switzerland, and Germany, express their objections to national laws they find xenophobic and unjust, and recount their struggle with judges and other state officials who either go out of their way to get rid of refugees, or do not use their full discretion in applying the law in their favor. Some helpers smuggle migrants across borders, several provide legal counsel, one shelters young refugees, one married an asylum seeker to provide him with legal status, and one assists them in their encounters with German bureaucrats. By emphasizing that most of the actions taken by the helpers are quite small and undramatic, the play works against the sensationalist potential of the word “illegal” in the title. Interviewees resist drawing attention to themselves and heroizing their thoughts, feelings, or experiences. The play thus not only refuses the voyeuristic gaze at refugee subjectivity that risks ontologizing her condition. But it also balances the attempt to model “good citizenship” against setting too high a bar for that.

The helpers’ actions, while criminalized by the Dublin regulation, exemplify what German speakers call Zivilcourage —standing up for one’s beliefs— practiced in informal groups rather than by extraordinary personalities. By showing that networks of people willing to help are already present, if largely invisible, throughout society and the state, the play stresses that an empathetic response alone is insufficient. However, it constructs a civic ideal that does not categorically oppose the state and the law, or demand extraordinary acts of opposition. Nor does it represent the state as uniformly hostile and inhumane; some of the helpers are themselves civil servants. Others point out that state officials often break the law when dealing with refugees, and that enforcing it would alone solve many problems. Illegal Helpers opposes the hero cult among both conservative nationalists and leftist activists. Brecht’s line, in Galileo, “Unhappy the land that needs heroes!” could be its motto.

Illegal Helpers reinforces the ethical consensus that has emerged since the publication of social psychologist Eva Fogelman’s studies of Germans who put themselves at risk helping Jews during the Nazi era, and literary author Peter Schneider’s seminal New York Times essay “The Good Germans: Saving Konrad Latte,” about the same topic.[20] In 2008, moreover, a memorial museum dedicated to “Quiet Heroes” opened in Berlin. These initiatives signal a revision of the earlier conviction (dominant among the 1968er generation), that public attention to rescuers is tantamount to whitewashing German guilt for the Holocaust. “But the argument that the rescuers’ stories could be misused to neutralize German guilt doesn’t hold up, and never did,” Schneider argued in his essay.

In reality, the example set by these few makes the guilt of the collaborators and bystanders greater. It contradicts the self-justifying myth that the Nazi terror machine was so finely tuned that obedience was the only option, unless you were willing to risk your life [….] The legacy of the […] unacknowledged heroes who hid and saved Jews is different. Their example shows that the supposed choice between unquestioning obedience and death-defying resistance is much too crude: you could resist without automatically risking your life. [….] We know too well that heroism can’t be mandated. But it isn’t necessarily life-threatening to give bread or a bed or an address for the following night to a man on the run, an outcast; it may take only decency, some cunning and courage.[21]

Although the voices in Illegal Helpers refer to the perilous actions of historic rescuers only to emphasize how low-risk their own work is by contrast, the assistance they render to refugees conforms to Schneider’s description. It thus affirms a tradition of Zivilcourage that diverges from the focus on complicity and guilt prominent in the 68ers’ confrontation of the past, and affirms the power of small acts of conscientious persistence.

The play focuses on the state bureaucracy as a problem to be confronted with persistence, the ability to improvise, and a tactical, flexible approach to truth-telling. In short, with a theatrical imagination. A performative sensibility steers witnesses (and audiences) through two conundrums tackled by the play: first, the emphasis on authentic voices and stories lends ethical weight to the risks the helpers have taken on behalf of others, but cautions against either naïve or sentimental listening to stories presented as “authentic.”

Put differently, the program notes’ assurance regarding the indexical quality of the actions recounted on stage turns helpers’ stories into moral imperatives, and prompts spectators to think about ways in which they might also become involved in helping. On the other, the production stresses the way in which refugee stories, including the ones relayed by helpers, must be carefully shaped and rehearsed if they want to be effective. The helpers’ reflections caution against any sentimental, empathetic listening. They foreground the refugee narrative as a performative genre, and call attention to that genre’s almost-impossible construction of a “deserving refugee.” The production directed by Yvonne Groneberg I saw at the Hans Otto Theater in Potsdam (June 2016) accomplished this by having witnesses sit on a chair and speak to a camera, which rotated, enlarged and projected recordings onto a large screen suspended above the stage. The camera and the screen here functioned as a trope of the array of visual technologies that secure European borders and the integrity of a European subject, from Frontex’s drones to the recordings of asylum hearings. Yet the camera and the screen also threw into relief the incongruence of live body and projected image: while spectators saw the actor’s body in profile, the screen displayed a frontal, enlarged, and cropped image of only the face. The simultaneity of side and frontal views evoked the conventions of police photography, and framed the performance of subjectivity and intimacy as a product delivered under coercive conditions. This classic defamiliarization technique broke the illusion of presence and immediacy: these testimonies, too, the clips demonstrated, are both indexical and carefully scripted.[22] Understanding human rights narratives as a performative genre directs attention to the institutional apparatus that prescribes what counts as deserving.

Press photo from the production of Illegal Helpers at Hans Otto Theater in Potsdam (June 2016)
Press photo from the production of Illegal Helpers at Hans Otto Theater in Potsdam (June 2016)

Secondly, public performance compensates for the limited, individual focus that sometimes requires covert activities and thereby hides the extent of dissent. By making public the illegal, often covert acts discussed in it, by presenting them on stage or on the radio, on the one hand jeopardizes helpers and refugees, but on the other, is the prerequisite for effecting change on a systemic level, so that more people can migrate legally. For instance, one woman relates the story of her politically-motivated marriage to a refugee in the 1990s, which retrospectively she regards as a too-isolated and ineffectual act. Such singular forms of assistance may save one individual from deportation, but cannot instigate a rigorous debate about the dearth of paths to legal immigration, and political pressure on making immigration more widely and easily accessible. The play thus both supports the individual acts of helping practiced by its subjects, and highlights their limitations in order to show that only more systemic changes can expand legal opportunities for immigration. Public performance appears as the necessary complement in a dialectic process that must protect individuals and contest laws at the same time. Rather than position spectators as sorters of suppliant others (albeit compassionate ones), Obexer’s play addresses them as judges of their own laws and of the judicial system that administers them.

Documentary theatre promises to add the voices of those most affected by European policies on migration to a discussion often dominated by security concerns and economic priorities, and affirm the commitment to human rights as central to political decision making. Theatre by and about refugees is driven by, and seeks to mobilize, political engagement, although, as my analysis showed, it doesn’t always succeed. I have pointed out some of the pitfalls in documentary theatre, specifically its predication of empathy on authenticity, its unintentional reinscription of the undeserving migrant, and problematic address to the audience as judge of suppliant outsiders. The awkward suturing of dramatic representation and activist appeals, I have shown about Asylum Monologues, can even sabotage the very political mobilization the play aims for.

Documentary theatre’s ostentatious lack of dramatic artifice implies that this is the appropriate form for history unfolding rapidly, because there hasn’t been time for processing. Yet such artlessness does not inure this genre to a crass stereotyping that would raise objections in a more crafted play. A more self-reflective and ‘playwriterly’ text like Illegal Helpers, by contrast, manages to harness documentary theater more deftly for its agenda of lowering the threshold to civil engagement, of eschewing activist heroics, and of standing up to the state and the law while portraying them as changeable. It invites audience engagement also by connecting current predicaments to longer traditions of Zivilcourage, and a cosmopolitan ethics grounded in Holocaust memory.

In Letters Home, too, the cooperation of refugees and Germans with and without a migration background draws on postmigrant theatrical strategies in order to empower the dispossessed and call into being a multiracial public sphere. While the German theatre’s recent advocacy for refugees is commendable, the larger task of imagining solidarity in a diverse society, however, will occupy artists and communities for the foreseeable future. While most German theatres have come to this challenge belatedly and under the pressure of unfolding events, it is not an emergency that shall pass.


[1] Georg Kasch refers to more than sixty theatres that demonstrated solidarity with refugees in a variety of forms, from staging plays, collecting money, and hosting discussions or weekly salons, to sheltering refugees on their premises. Kasch, “#refugeeswelcome: Viele Theater in Deutschland bringen Fluchtgeschichten auf die Bühne und heissen Geflüchtete willkommen,” Amnesty Journal 2:3 (February/March 2016): 55.  See also the list of initiatives on the website nachtkritik from September 2015: http://nachtkritik.de/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=11497:immer-mehr-theater-engagieren-sich-fuer-fluechtlinge&catid=1513:portraet-profil-die-neuen-deutschen&Itemid=85
[2] Hartmut Berghoff, “Population Change and its Repercussions on the Social History of the Federal Republic, 1949-1990,” in The Federal Republic of Germany since 1949: Politics, Society and Economy before and after Unification, edited by Klaus Larres and Panikos Panayi (London and New York: Longman, 1996), 40.
[3] Saskia Sassen, Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2014).
[4] Sassen, Expulsions, inside blurb.
[5] Carol Martin, “Bodies of Evidence,” The Drama Review 50:3 (Fall 2006): 13.
[6] Maxi Obexer, Illegale Helfer (Cologne: Schaefersphilippen Theater und Medien GbR, 2015).
[7] Janelle Reinelt spells out what she calls “the promise of documentary” as “simple facticity: the indexical value of documents is the corroboration that something happened, that events took place.” Reinelt, “The Promise of Documentary,” in Get Real: Documentary Theatre Past and Present, edited by Alison Forsyth and Chris Megson (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 10.
[8] Sidonie Smith, Kay Shaffer, “’Land of the Free?’ Circulating human rights and narrated lives in the United States,” Comparative American Studies 1:3 (2003): 263—284.
[9] Smith and Shaffer, “Land,” 274.
[10] Forsyth and Megson, introduction to Get Real, 3.
[11] Reinelt, “Promise,” 11.
[12] The Stage for Human Rights is modeled on the network Actors for Human Rights in the UK. http://www.buehne-fuer-menschenrechte.de/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=60&Itemid=66&lang=de accessed May 11, 2016.
[13] http://www.buehne-fuer-menschenrechte.de/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=52&Itemid=27&lang=de accessed May 11, 2016.
[14] Karin Yesilada, “Die geschundene Suleika. Das Eigenbild der Türkin in der deutschsprachigen Literatur türkischer Autorinnen,” in Interkulturelle Konfigurationen: Zur deutschsprachigen Erzählliteratur von Autoren nichtdeutscher Herkunft, edited by Mary Howard (Munich: Iudicium, 1997), 95—114.
[15] Deniz Göktürk, “Beyond Paternalism: Turkish German Traffic in Cinema,” in The German Cinema Book, edited by Tim Bergfelder, Erica Carter, Deniz Göktürk (London: BFI Publishing, 2002): 248—256.
[16] Arlene Teraoka, “Talking ‘Turk’: On Narrative Strategies and Cultural Stereotypes,” New German Critique 46 (Winter 1989): 104—128; Katrin Sieg, Ethnic Drag: Performing Race, Nation, Sexuality in West Germany (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2004).
[17] Letters Home has been invited by a range of cultural and government institutions, from the House of World Cultures, the Academy of Arts, and the Radialsystem, to theatres like the Schaubühne and Maxim Gorki in Berlin, and the Schauspiel Frankfurt, which hosted the festival Fluchtpunkte (Lines of Flight, 2015).
[18] That framing resulted in the prioritizing of Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugees at the expense of other arrivals, whose applications were then rejected out of hand.
[19] Illegal Helpers was first produced as a radio play, directed by Martin Zylka, by the WDR, and had its theatrical premiere at the Schauspielhaus Salzburg, Austria, in January 2016.  The production I saw opened at the Hans-Otto-Theater in Potsdam, Germany, in June 2016.  The play received the Eurodram playwriting award, which funds translations of the play into five European languages.
[20] Eva Fogelman, Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust (New York: Anchor Books, 1994); Peter Schneider, “The Good Germans: Saving Konrad Latte,” The New York Times, February 13, 2000, 52—95.
[21] Schneider, “Good,” 53.
[22] The radio production highlights the performativity of refugee discourses by interspersing helpers’ stories with short montages of rehearsal clips.  Speakers can be heard to confer with, or are instructed by, the director. http://www1.wdr.de/radio/wdr3/programm/sendungen/wdr3-hoerspiel/illegale-helfer-104.html, accessed July 5, 2016.


*Katrin Sieg is Professor of German and European Studies at Georgetown University (USA). Her areas of research are modern and contemporary German theater and European cultural studies.  She is the author of three monographs on twentieth-century German theater and performance. Among her ongoing areas of interest are Turkish-German theater and literature, and Afro-German film and performance.

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Refugees in German Documentary Theatre

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