An Archive of Migration: The Ballhaus Naunynstraße in the 1980s

Ela Gezen* and Olivia Landry**


In this essay, we explore a small archive of programs designed and printed in the 1980s to promote the theatre and performance events at the Ballhaus Naunynstraße of that period. As one of the critical stages of early postmigrant theatre in Berlin, the Ballhaus has received much attention since the early 2000s. A return to an earlier period in this theatre’s history, with particular focus on the Ballhaus as a community space and municipal venue, reveals a longer historical continuity of transnational collaborations and narratives. Coalescing migration histories, transnational theatre work and theories of the archive, this essay presents a critical cultural and historical intervention.

Keywords: archive, migration, postmigrant theatre, Ballhaus Naunynstraße, Kreuzberg

The concept of the “archives of migration” has taken a critical position within German transnational studies, linked to the writings of young Turkish German authors, especially Deniz Utlu (“Das Archiv der Migration”; Gezen and Reisoğlu).[1] On the one hand, it has provided a platform for an alternative canon or a counter-canon of German artistic creation, against the grain of traditional German cultural production, from which it has long been excluded (Utlu, “Aras Ören zum 80.”).[2] On the other hand, the concept of the “archives of migration” has become shorthand for historical intertextuality and connectivity. At a moment when “postmigrant” cultural production, in particular theatre, presents radical new forms and narratives, there has also been a move to reclaim a heritage and genealogy that assert if not direct historical continuity than at least conceptual influence (Sharifi, “Theatre and Migration” and “Multilingualism”; Landry; Stewart, Performing New German Realities).

Drawing on these developments, this essay seeks to offer a tangible example of one such archive of migration. It takes as its focus the Ballhaus Naunynstraße, a small free-scene theatre in Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighborhood. The theatre gained international recognition in the late aughts and early 2010s under the auspices of Shermin Langhoff and her postmigrant productions, most famously Verrücktes Blut (Mad Blood; written by Nurkan Erpulat and Jens Hillje; directed by Nurkan Erpulat; premiere 2010). Her team later moved to the state theatre in central Berlin, the Maxim Gorki Theater. Yet, the history of the Ballhaus as a theatre and cultural center prior to this period is obscured. Indeed, evidence of its earlier heydays in the 1980s and its vast range of performances remains relegated to a collection of event programs contained within a very small box (see images below) housed in the back office of a pharmacy turned museum at the Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien. As inconsequential as the contents of a small box might seem, they tell us much about the earlier days of this theatre and the antecedents of a celebrated theatre movement. A perusal of these programs reveals a lively, multimedial, collaborative and transnational repertoire of plays, musical performances, film screenings and art exhibitions.

The Ballhaus Naunynstraße. Photo: Web

Before we explore the nature of the programming and how it ultimately re-shapes our thinking about the history of the Ballhaus, let us consider the archive in its varied meanings, both conceptually and materially. With this turn to the archive, we must also consider a series of questions. What can an archive do for the past, present and future of a history and a community? What is the value of an archive and what is its price? The archive can represent structural power, but here it is a mere collection of objects, officially part of this power but hitherto conceptually unaccounted for. Is this small box, therefore, a counter-archive or an anarchive—in other words, a working against or in spite of other historiographies, which have disregarded or even suppressed it? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what do we learn from this potential archive? Rather than arguing for a particular reading of the archive, this essay presents a case history of archival absence and avowal. By way of this paradigm of lost and found in the archive, new insights about contemporary transnational theatre in Germany and its longer tradition unfold.

Of the Archive (of Migration)

Can we call this an archive? The skepticism and ambivalence with which we have come to approach the archive in the wake of French poststructuralism, and the writings of Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida in particular, appear to have been overcome in some circles. Black studies, queer studies, trans studies and, indeed, migration studies have embraced the concept and tool of an archive as an important site for the recuperation of lost histories (Hartman; Halberstam; Lau et al.; Nyong’o). The archive’s status as a contested site of power and discourse in the ratification of certain historiographies over others, as Foucault has taught us, has not altogether disappeared, but much new scholarly reappropriating of the archive as such is less concerned with returning to existing archives than imagining and creating new ones (129).

It goes without saying that these new archives eschew the entrenchment of the projects of nationalism, imperialism and colonialism. Did Derrida not claim that the archive contains at once the traditional and the revolutionary (12)? Terry Cook understands this shift in its initial form as the postmodern approach to archival science from something static to something dynamic, from a product to a process (4). Some have proposed a rhetorical shift as well. We might call these new archives, which map different histories, “anarchives” (Derrida 79), “counter-archives” (Amad), “shadow archives” (Nyong’o 11–12), or in the context of this essay, “archives of migration.” Indeed, is not a focus on migration histories already contra the state-sanctioned archive of a nation?

The archive of migration in focus here is a tiny black and gray leaf-patterned box labeled “Kunstamt Kreuzberg / Programme 9/1983 – 12/1991.” It looks like something you might pull out of your closet: a box of memories, keepsakes, trinkets or old photos. It sits on a shelf of a bright office-cum-storage space to the back of the Theodor-Fontane-Apotheke, an original pharmacy turned museum from the nineteenth century, in which Theodor Fontane briefly worked and trained nurses. Aside from the geographical connection in Kreuzberg not far from the Ballhaus Naunynstraße, the location of this small archive and its storage behind a historical pharmacy might seem haphazard. But the pharmacy is part of the FHXB Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Museum and its archive, and it houses documents pertaining to the Kunstamt Kreuzberg, including materials and files from the Ballhaus (Dewey). First erected in the mid-nineteenth century, the building originally served as a hospital until 1970. It was scheduled to be razed and replaced by social housing at various points in its history but, due to public protest, has been safeguarded as a historical edifice and a center for contemporary culture and art, as well as preservation (Kunstamt Kreuzberg).[3] Of the several boxes containing materials from the Ballhaus in the office, this tiny box of programs was the first to be properly “archived”—in other words, sorted, classified and made available for exploration and study.

The box contains roughly 48 programs (published bi-monthly over an eight-year period). On average, 5,000 copies of each program were printed. These copies were mailed to interested parties, distributed to cultural centers in the neighborhood and delivered to local cafes, cinemas and libraries (Treziak). They are rectangular in shape and occupy a circumference similar to a package of cigarettes. These pocket-sized programs vary in length but range typically between 20 and 25 pages. Their design alters too, but each maintains a black-white-and-red coloration and sharp-angle patterning in modernist Soviet design, originally created by typographer and designer Erik Spiekermann. Within, we find not only programming for the Ballhaus but also for the Bethanien and the Galerie Franz Mehring. Both still active, the Bethanien and the Galerie Franz Mehring are Kreuzberg centers which predominantly serve as exhibition spaces for the visual arts. Collaboratively, the three institutes offered a wide range of activities and performances. According to the programs, local and international artists and groups were featured in various languages. Images and text fill the pages. While mostly in German, we also see Turkish as well as some Azerbaijani, English, Greek, Italian, Kurdish, Nepalese, Persian, Polish, Russian and Spanish.

As we will explore more comprehensively, the Ballhaus served the local community in Kreuzberg and its rich population of immigrants from Turkey and elsewhere, but the frequent engagement of international artists, something we discuss in detail in a later section, reveals an extensive reach in the 1980s that parallels its more recent history in the 2000s under the direction of Langhoff and, currently, Wagner Carvalho. Don’t be fooled by the size of this minor archive of programs; even considered apart from the larger museum archive, it is still rich in content.

Photo of the box containing the programs for the “Kunstamt Kreuzberg.” Photo: Olivia Landry
Photos of box of programs for “Kunstamt Kreuzberg” and front image of a program. Photo: Olivia Landry
The Theatre and the Archive

The relationship between theatre and the archive has never been a straightforward one. Frequently discerned as a place for exploring memory, the theatre and its commitment to performance troubles its status as an enduring and unchanging site of knowledge and information. Certainly not unchallenged, Diana Taylor’s thesis about the tensions between the archive and the repertoire remain critical. According to Taylor, “theatre, weighed down by centuries of colonial evangelical or normalizing activity,” falls into the category of the former (15). But the category of theatre might be broken down further. In the context of non-repertory theatre, such as the Ballhaus, in which there is neither a fixed ensemble nor a permanent repertoire of plays, the ephemerality of performance certainly comes to the fore. Katrin Sieg proposes that we reconsider this divide between archive and repertoire within German theatre itself as a divide between traditional state-sponsored theatre and non-repertory, free-scene theatre. In the context of postmigrant documentary theatre, she writes: “I begin by considering theatre as an archive of Germanness that constitutes and continually reproduces exclusionary concepts of identity and community through scenarios of insurmountable difference” (166). Theatre as archive refers to state-sponsored theatre. Following Taylor, Sieg also understands the archive here as a metaphor for exclusionary power and immutability that speaks to the institutionalized tradition of German theatre; a tradition postmigrant theatre has sought to challenge.

Thus, a return to the archive to trace a history of the Ballhaus, long a culturally and socially marginalized theatre inextricably linked to postmigrant theatre, presents a vexed process. Yet, with only a spotty chronicled history of this theatre before the 2000s at our disposal, the archive, any archive, proves indispensable (see Gezen, Brecht, Turkish Theater). In her work on Turkish German theatre history, Lizzie Stewart demonstrates the relevance of “reading the remains” of theatrical work to discover new insight on obscured theatre histories, what she takes up as “countermemory,” or an undermining of official, hegemonic memory discourse (3). Benjamin Hutchens employs the term “counter-memory” to qualify the work of the anarchive as that which does not simply reject the archive but provides in its place a productive and reparative alternative (37).

Taking the concept of countermemory predominantly from literary studies, wherein it has served as a metaphor for the creation and impetus of historical narratives traditionally excluded from the national canon, Stewart brings it to bear on theatre production and invites us to think about the theatre archive as more than just a metaphor. She examines documents and multimedia artifacts from divergent archives to discover and piece together a more comprehensive history of the original production of Emine Sevgi Özdamar’s play Karagöz in Alamania (1986), an early and critical piece in the development of a theatre of (post)migration (Stewart). “Crucially, this [more practical archival approach] involves moving beyond those materials held in state collections to those held by individuals and placing an emphasis on multimedial sources” (Stewart 6). Not filled with bundles of written documents and state-sanctioned sources, our tiny archive of programs offers a similar example of an anarchive as the site of countermemory, which serves to guide us toward a more comprehensive history.

We turn to this archive of programs with their range of images, texts and designs in pocket-sized format to, thus, learn more about the history of the Ballhaus Naunynstraße of the 1980s, when it was the main venue of the Kunstamt. We recognize, following Helen Freshwater, that “[a]s the archive cannot offer direct access to the past, any reading of its contents will necessarily be a reinterpretation” (738). Narrow as it might seem, this aperture is still an important start.

Re-Interpreting the History of the Ballhaus Naunynstraße

Krista Tebbe was the director of the Kunstamt Kreuzberg from 1977 until 2002. The Kunstamt Kreuzberg was a public district authority that was active in municipal work, devoting one fourth of its program to “engagement with the cultures of foreigners living in the district” (Brauneck 70).[4] Tebbe is to be credited for the establishment of the renovated and reopened Ballhaus Naunynstraße in 1983, as space of “everyday cultural offerings emanating from target-group oriented cultural work with residents and its environment,” which featured “continued international cultural programming”—prior to its reopening in 2008 and its important intervention through postmigrant theatre (Kunstamt, “Presseinformation”). Not only did early Turkish theatre groups perform here throughout the 1980s, but it was also the meeting space of the Türkisch-Deutsche Gesellschaft,[5] a venue for pedagogical youth workshops, which we might consider a precursor to the Ballhaus’ current Akademie der Autodidakten, as well as a concert hall. It was even briefly considered as space to house the Türkei Archiv e.V., which was founded in West Berlin in 1981 foregrounding the Ballhaus’ significance not only as central community space but also as an archive of Turkish cultural activities (Kunstamt, “Türkei-Archiv”).

The history of the Ballhaus dates back to 1863, when it was one of many backyard ballrooms that existed in Berlin throughout the nineteenth century, which were mainly used for private functions. Throughout its existence it was repeatedly remodeled and repurposed for different uses and functions. In 1961, it was closed—due to lack of revenue as a result of the construction of the Wall, the new “Fernsehkultur” (television culture) but also continuous decay of the building (Kunstamt, “Ballhaus Naunynstraße” 1)—and the Ballhaus became a storage space until it was (re)discovered by monument conservators (Denkmalpfleger).

In 1978, the Kunstamt Kreuzberg, under the leadership of Tebbe, developed a concept for the Ballhaus as a “kommunale Spielstätte” (municipal venue) (Kunstamt “Ballhaus”). For its reopening in September 1983, the Ballhaus was renovated (from 1981–83) and restored as a “nationales Baudenkmal” (national monument).[6] The Kunstamt’s conceptualization of “kommunale Kulturarbeit” (municipal cultural work) foregrounded the need to provide access (“Zugänge”) and to also not only represent “all cultures” but to facilitate encounters between cultures (Kunstamt, “Anmerkungen” 1). Based on experiences in the context of past collaborations, culture was understood as a realm where positive and reciprocal exchanges between so-called foreigners, “Ausländer,” and the local population, “Einheimische,” were possible (2). While Kreuzberg’s Turkish population was a central focal point, Tebbe did not wish for the Ballhaus to become an exclusively Turkish cultural center, which in the Kunstamt’s view would only exacerbate its isolation and ghettoization, but rather a “space of intercultural encounter of all of Kreuzberg’s nations” (2).

Conceived of as “multikulturelle Spielstätte” (multicultural venue; Kunstamt, “Anmerkungen” 2), the Ballhaus’ programming was developed in collaboration with the “freie Gruppen” (independent groups) various initiatives and other cultural institutions, and included theatre, dance, music and youth programming. Moreover, its cultural programming was conceived of as “district-related,” “close to home,” “everyday” and “intercultural” (1). The Ballhaus was, thus, understood as a space that would fulfill a “societal” and “communicative” function, which was perceived as establishing a continuity with regard to the Ballhaus’ past uses (1). Various target groups were identified, but the encounter between German and so-called “foreign” (“ausländische”) residents was continuously and repeatedly reiterated as the main goal, achieved in part by overcoming “separated infrastructure” in the district (2). The Ballhaus was, thus, understood as a meeting space underlined in its “Treffpunktfunktion” (meeting function), which was highlighted during the preliminary discussion documented in the “Diskussionsgrundlage für Rekonstruktion des Ballhauses” in 1978 (3). It would provide an opportunity for the “foreign” population to undertake cultural activities leading to improved integration (the various cultural associations founded in the 1970s and 1980s, frequent collaborators with the Kunstamt, equally foregrounded means of cultural self-presentation through culture and its Vermittlungsfunktion).

The Kunstamt’s goal to engage and support the community within which the Ballhaus was located also included artists, initiatives and associations:   

The purpose of a municipal venue such as the Ballhaus Naunynstraße is, on the one hand, to provide suitable cultural programming for the population of the district, especially those who only have limited or no access to theatres and concert halls. On the other hand, it provides a versatile, professionally supervised venue for artists, initititives, projects and associations in the district.

Kunstamt, “Zu den Aufgaben” 1

The Ballhaus provided workspaces, performance spaces and exhibit spaces for cultural activities, especially the independent theatre scene, in particular Turkish productions, for which there was no dedicated workspace. One focus of their programming was on Turkish and Turkish German theatre, ranging from amateur ensembles to guest performances from professional ensembles in Turkey. Indeed, the Ballhaus became the main performance venue for independent Turkish theatre groups: “At the moment there is no independent Turkish theatre group that has never performed at the Ballhaus” (Kunstamt, “Ballhaus”). Its focus on theatre programming also included a Turkish children’s theatre group as well as Polish and Kurdish groups.

In the 1984 report “Bericht. Über die bisherigen Erfahrungen mit kommunaler Kulturarbeit im Ballhaus Naunynstraße (Stand 31.12.1984),” the following two program focus areas were identified: “Organization of continuing and versatile municipal cultural programming ” and “development of a target-group oriented district work with laypersons ” (2). Since its reopening in September 1983 (within a period of 16 months), the Ballhaus hosted a total of 316 events that attracted 43,000 visitors. Its main focus, constituting half of its repertoire, were theatre performances with 80 events total, with 32 in the Turkish language. This is followed by youth theatre with a total of 55 events, out of which 29 were performed in the Turkish language.

In addition to theatre events, programming included music, dance, film, discussion, but also “Mieterversammlungen” (tenant meetings) highlighting the multi-functionality of the Ballhaus as a communal space for Kreuzberg’s inhabitants. As stated earlier, the “ausländische Bevölkerung” constituted an important target group, Kreuzberg’s Turkish residents in particular (whom the Kunstamt deemed cultural-politically neglected in the cultural sector). The Ballhaus’ program curators included Martin Düspohl (1983–86), Volker Bartz (1984–2006) and Ulrike Treziak (1986–94).[7]

Archival Excavations and Discoveries

Given the scope of this brief essay, we are neither able to document nor address the Kunstamt’s conceptualization of Kulturarbeit in relation to the Ballhaus in all its complexity (reports, meetings, official documents, funding structures, institutional support). We have only been able to highlight key aspects of its centrality in the district’s cultural work pertaining particularly to its “foreign” population. In the same vein, we are unable to take its vast cultural programming into full consideration and will therefore highlight two significant theatre projects in its early phase that were emblematic for the Ballhaus’ programming throughout the 1980s: the Deutsch-Türkisches Jugendtheaterfestival (30 March 1984–1 April 1984) and the Berlin Aile Tiyatrosu (later Türkisches Kulturensemble Diyalog). The programs were the starting point for this discovery, which led to further research in two further archival collections within the FHXB Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Museum Archive: ongoing recent inventorization of Ballhaus Naunynstraße documents and Mürtüz Yolcu’s recently donated Vorlaß, which includes extensive materials on the Aile Tiyatrosu, of which Yolcu was artistic director.

Photo of Deutsch-Türkisches Jugendtheaterfestival flyer. Photo: Ela Gezen

In its 1984 report, the Kunstamt highlighted festivals as an important programming aspect, providing opportunities for continuous exchanges extended over several days. Among the various festivals it curated at the Ballhaus in its first year was the “deutsch türkische Jugendtheaterfestival” (German Turkish youth theatre festival). The Jugendtheaterfestival comprised different components: a panel discussion, Podiumsdiskussion on Jugendkulturarbeit, youth culture work in the district a Theatre-Workshop to facilitate exchanges on practices and experiences, including theoretical and practical aspects, and an exhibit for the documentation of various plays as well as self-presentation of participating groups. This festival attests to the significance of children and youth as a target group for the Ballhaus’ theatre programming (constituting half of all theatre performances in its first year, with 31 in the Turkish language) in terms of performance but also audience. Here, the collaboration with schools and preschools in Kreuzberg was also a key component. Its programming included performances by various active youth groups: Jugendtheater der Volkshochschule Kreuzberg Der goldene Schuss (“The Golden Shot”); Türkisch-Deutsche Jugendtheatergruppe der Volkshochschule Neukölln El Ele Tiyatrosu Ahmet und Andrea (“Ahmet and Andrea”); and the Ballhaus’ own Ballhaus Jugendtheater (comprised of 17 German and Turkish youths) with Die Sieger (“The Victors”). The Taschentheater’s Heute in Berlin (“Today in Berlin”) which was the ensemble’s inaugural play and premiered in December 1983 at the Theatermanufaktur am Halleschen Ufer, constituted the opening performance. The ensemble was founded by director Metin Tekin in 1982 and comprised Iranian, Turkish and German members, including students, workers, housewives and artists.

The panel discussion “Jugendtheaterarbeit im Kiez – Chancen und Grenzen” (“Youth Theatre Work in the District—Opportunities and Limits”) was led by Krista Tebbe and included an impressive range of participants, such as Sauerbaum (Senator für kulturelle Angelegenheiten), Niyazi Turgay (Volkshochschulen), Jürgen Fuhrmann (director of Ballhaus Jugendtheater), Marlis Krause (HdK Vorsitzende im Beirat “Spiel in der Schule”), as well as parents and youth actors. At the center of the discussion were questions about the “motivation of youths, artistic and pedagogical possibilities and limits, demands of ‘hosts’ as well as current limits due to financial, material and staffing possibilities” (“Podiumsdiskussion”). By involving all constituents from actors to representatives of municipal and cultural institutions and including audience members, this exchange in the context of the festival provided a forum for addressing not only the benefits and needs for cultural work but also its limits, as indicated in the brief description frequently due to financial constraints and understaffing.

Photo of Deutsch-Türkisches Jugendtheaterfestival announcement in March/April 1984 program. Photo: Ela Gezen

The Berlin Aile Tiyatrosu (Berliner Familien Theater) was an amateur group founded in 1983 (and consisted primarily of workers and students) with the aim to thematize “German-Turkish coexistence” (Berlin Aile Tiyatrosu “BAT”). In 1987, it changed its name to Türkisches Kulturensemble, and in 1988 founded the Diyalog e.V. (chaired by Mürtüz Yolcu) with new members. The following plays premiered at the Ballhaus Naunynstraße throughout the 1980s: Oktay Arayıcı’s Kennwort Rosenknospe (Romuz Goncagül 1984), Bilge Erensu’s Der Gast (Misafir 1985) and the Dürrenmatt adaptation Romulus der Große (Büyük Romulus 1988). From 1983 to 1995, its program primarily consisted of bilingual performances and was expanded to include theatre festivals between 1995 and 2005.

The name change to Türkisches Kulturensemble in 1987 signaled a new orientation to include adaptations of internationally renowned dramas in order not to be reduced to so-called “Ausländerproblematik” (foreigner problem), while also including a new target audience: children of German and Turkish descent. Starting in 1995, they hosted the annual Diyalog Theaterfest Berlin (directed by Mürtüz Yolcu) at the Ballhaus Naunynstraße, which comprised the following program areas: providing a platform for local artists to present innovative international productions, to foster collaborations between international artists and to contribute to the development of an European network of “Migrantentheater” (migrant theatre) (Geschichte des Diyalog).[8] The multilingual festival programming included events in Turkish, Farsi, Greek, Spanish and English. Its long-term close collaboration with the Ballhaus Naunynstraße—providing space, technical, financial and organizational support as well in public outreach—is acknowledged as a key factor for Diyalog’s continued viability (Krüger, “10 Jahre Türkisches Kulturensemble”).

Photo of Kennwort Rosenknospe premiere flyer. Photo: Ela Gezen

In sum, these materials and the cultural events they present tell a complex story of community, creativity and transnational collaborations. They reveal, furthermore, a particular emphasis on youth involvement and transgenerational interaction with discernible goals to educate and foster cultural awareness.

Final Notes from the Archive

In many ways, the present discussion of an archive of the history of the Ballhaus Naunynstraße in the 1980s is paradoxical. The archive—any archive—still evokes the specter of the authoritative institution that conditions the way in which history is promulgated. The archive and theatre, certainly non-repertory theatre, have furthermore long challenged each other’s existence. Finally, to speak of an archive of theatre and performance that tracks a history of migration that is culturally rich, broadly transnational and artistically innovative, sets forth something of an anomaly. An encounter with this box of programs forces us to reassess the possibilities of the archive.

From a small box housed in the back of a nineteenth-century pharmacy we learn much about the history of a theatre, which has played such a pivotal role in the culture and community of Turkish Germans in Berlin, especially in Kreuzberg. The rich programming that made it famous at the turn of the aughts reaches back into the 1980s, when the Ballhaus Naunynstraße, then the main venue of the Kunstamt, was also a theatre and vibrant meeting point for local and international ensembles and diverse performances, such as the Deutsch-Türkisches Jugendtheaterfestival and the Berlin Aile Tiyatrosu considered here. On the pages of pocket-sized programs, a dynamic pre-history of postmigrant theatre emerges before our eyes in miniature. No less consequential, however, these miniature objects present something like the remains of a theatre history widely unknown and untold. We must read these remains (Stewart, “Countermemory”). For, as Deniz Utlu reminds us, every object tells a story, and the Ballhaus plays an important role in archiving the history of migration: “In einer der ersten Migrationsstraßen Deutschlands, wo jeder Stein, eine Geschichte zu erzählen hat, wurde eine Grabungsstätte errichtet: das Ballhaus Naunynstraße in Berlin. Das Ballhaus trug zur Archivierung der Migration bei” (On one of the first migration streets in Germany, where every stone tells a story, an excavation site was built: the Ballhaus Naunynstraße. The Ballhaus contributed to the archivization of migration) (“Das Archiv der Migration”).

Like many old documents from municipal cultural institutions in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, the programs from the Ballhaus made their way to the Apotheke for storage and eventual inventorying. Physically part of the larger FHXB Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Museum Archive, but not subject to extensive study and often overlooked in contemporary discourse on the Ballhaus and postmigrant theatre, this collection of programs and its own history are in many ways exemplary of an archive of migration. This archive is a paradox, which according to Utlu bears no name, no fixed location and was ultimately forgotten (“Das Archiv der Migration”). In the present essay, we have sought to share some of our observations from this archive. These observations are minor in their derivation; we can make no claims of broader experience of the Ballhaus and its life in the 1980s. Yet, these observations are radical in their deepening of our appreciation and understanding of this theatre and its remarkable role in renegotiating the canon of German theatre. Postmigrant theatre is frequently discussed as a post-millennial practice of diversity, inclusivity and multidirectionality in German theatre. However, through this compact archive we discover that the diverse and dynamic nature of postmigrant performance made its mark in Berlin much earlier avant la lettre. Developing as a more mainstream theatre movement in the last decade, postmigrant theatre appears to have garnered its erstwhile influences in international and multilingual performances as well as community and youth projects in the 1980s. Archival work does not remind us of what has been lost so much as how rich the historical layers of this theatre are.


[1] We would like to express our deepest thanks to Ulrike Treziak and Michael Dewey who generously and patiently supported our research (on site as well as virtually).

[2] Consider also the ongoing lecture series on Zoom organized by Deniz Göktürk and Elisabeth Krimmer and hosted by the University of California, Berkeley: “Archives of Migration: The Power of Fiction in Times of Fake News.”

[3] See the Kunstraum Kreuzberg website for a brief summary of the building’s history.

[4] All translations from German to English are our own unless otherwise indicated.

[5] For further information on the Deutsch Türkische Gesellschaft see Ela Gezen “Deutsch-Türkische Literarische Begegnungen in West-Berlin um 1980” and “Integration, Turkish Theater, and Cultural-Political Interventions in West Berlin: Vasıf Öngören’s Kollektiv Theater (1980–1982).”

[6] This abbreviated history is based on “Ballhaus Naunynstraße,” Kunstamt Kreuzberg, Krista Tebbe 9/90, Archival document, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg Museum Archive.

[7] Ballhaus programming was integrated into the hierarchies of public administration. In the districts, the political responsibility was assigned to the according city council. The professional responsibility lied with the head of office, in the Ballhaus’ case, with Krista Tebbe, director of the Kunstamt, to whom program curators presented their proposals which were then jointly voted on.

[8] See Deniz Göktürk’s critical discussion of the tenth anniversary festival of the Türkisches Kulturensemble (Göktürk, “Zehn Jahre deutsch-türkische Theaterarbeit in Berlin”), which constitutes the inaugural Diyalog Theaterfest Berlin. Here, she addresses funding allocations and structures with regard to Turkish theatre in Berlin but also the potential of multilingual productions and new impetus coming from the festival program.


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*Ela Gezen is an Associate Professor of German at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of Brecht, Turkish Theater, and Turkish-German Literature (2018) and is currently working on her second book Cultures in Migration: Turkish Artistic Practices and Cultural-Political Interventions in West Berlin. She is the co-editor of two special journal issues, one book on minority discourses in Germany, and editor of a special issue on Aras Ören. In addition, she has published articles on music, theatre and literature, focusing on the intersection between aesthetics and politics in both Turkish and German contexts. 

**Olivia Landry is an Associate Professor for German at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is author of Movement and Performance in Berlin School Cinema (2019), Theatre of Anger: Radical Transnational Performance in Contemporary Berlin (2020), and A Decolonizing Ear: Documentary Film Disrupts the Archive (2022). She is currently co-editing Transnational German Film at the End of Neoliberalism: Radical Aesthetics, Radical Politics (forthcoming). 

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