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Asia

Berlin theater festival celebrates Vietnamese culture

This week, theatre goers in Germany's capital have been able to catch a glimpse of Vietnamese life and art at the Dong Xuan market halls in the city's formerly communist east.

Festival-goers have had a glimpse into all facets of Vietnamese culture

Festival-goers have had a glimpse into all facets of Vietnamese culture

Imagine a defunct electricity plant in a Berlin suburb: Run-down dark brick buildings are scattered about and dotted around them are new warehouses, painted in bright colors. Everything is surrounded by the prefabricated apartment blocks that are so typical of East Berlin.

The Dong Xuan market halls, sometimes dubbed "Little Vietnam," house shops, restaurants, and other small businesses. Right now, they have been transformed into a stage for a festival dedicated to Vietnamese life and culture.

Matthias Lilienthal, the director of Berlin's HAU theater and one of the festival's curators, said the location was chosen because of "the very good restaurants, the hairdressers and the cheap junk and products that are sold – the contradictions surprised me a lot."

The Dong Xuan market is housed in a defunct electricity plant in Berlin Lichtenberg

The Dong Xuan market is housed in a defunct electricity plant in Berlin Lichtenberg

Plays, songs and speeches

All week, festival-goers have been touring through the halls in small groups. There are small plays to be seen, and songs and sometimes even speeches to be listened to.

The artist Truong Ngu invites visitors to take part in a game. While they roll the dice and advance tokens on a map of Southeast Asia, he tells them the story of his family’s escape from Vietnam.

It's a playful way of telling a touching story, with "chance cards" describing real-life experiences: "You will have to stay in the assembly camp for more than two weeks. It's a decent camp and you will be treated well. Make yourself at home. Miss a turn."

Vietnamese immigrants recall the early days

A large part of Germany's Vietnamese community is made up of "boat people" who came over to the West to escape communism. But there are also many who came to East Germany as contract workers.

Four of them have set up house for the duration of the festival in a crammed room. They talk about the clash of cultures they experienced when they first came over.

Many of the Vietnamese in Berlin came over as contract workers before German Reunification

Many of the Vietnamese in Berlin came over as contract workers before German Reunification

One young man talks about his life today as an illegal immigrant. He explains that he borrowed money so he could be smuggled over, but says he is now finding it impossible to repay his debt, let alone the spiraling interest. He says he could be deported soon.

Music sees off the visitors

At the last station, visitors are seen off with a musical act that was thought up by the Vietnamese-Chinese rap musician ZhiMC and his German colleague Clintwood.

ZhiMC explains that they organized a workshop for second and third generation Vietnamese kids and sampled a variety of sounds from the market halls.

"We took the sound bites and turned them into what we called the workshop anthem. Then we went on experimenting with the material to see what else could be done with it."

Author: Thomas Voelkner (Berlin)
Editor: Anne Thomas

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