Oskar Kaufmann’s theatres on Kurfürstendamm.

In 1921, architect Oskar Kaufmann built the Theatre at Kurfürstendamm and, three years later, the Comedy, which were Berlin’s first reform theatres. The Theatre was opened under the direction of Eugen Robert, while the Comedy was opened by the famous director Max Reinhardt, and met with a very positive response. In 1933, both Jewish directors had to emigrate – Robert went to London and Reinhardt to Vienna. Hans Wölffer, who was a liberal theatremaker, took over both theaters and, with incredible tricks and courage, he managed to bring them through the era of National Socialism. He had to comply with new theatrical laws, prove his professional qualifications, and demonstrate his “awareness of national responsibility”. A risky maneuver with Sigmund Graff, censor from the Ministry of Propaganda, allowed Wölffer to perform a play based on the novel by two Jewish authors – it became the longest-running play of the thirties. A portion of the royalties went to the authors without Graff knowing about it.

In 1936, when Wölffer engaged the well-known Danish-Jewish actor Max Hansen for Ralph Benatzky’s play “Das Kleine Café”, the confrontation between Wölffer and the ministry escalated: Goebbels himself ordered Wölffer into his office and told him to perform the play with a different cast, threatening him with imprisonment in the Oranienburg concentration camp.

This film attempts to document the relative simultaneity and connection of two adjacent theatres. Using a two-channel shot, different protagonists and documents are presented which reflect on the common history. The pioneering concept of the enlightened reform theatre was to bring the audience and the actors closer together. Kaufmann’s interior architecture created a cheerful and casual atmosphere.

Currently a basement theatre is planned which shall eventually replace both old theatres, the common heritage of Kaufmann and Reinhardt. This film is a tribute to the threatened buildings, and also calls for reflection about how to deal with historic fabric of buildings and the opposing commercial interests.

A project by
Lucas Spranger
Ji Luo

watch full film (password protected)
Duration  9:41 min