Karin Beier to head famed Hamburg theater | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 14.05.2013
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Karin Beier to head famed Hamburg theater

She rescued the Schauspiel Köln theater from provincial mediocrity and is now the first woman to head the renowned Schauspielhaus in Hamburg. Director Karin Beier doesn't shy away from politics and new challenges.

During rehearsals Karin Beier is constantly on the move. She jumps on stage, approaches the actors, listens attentively and gives directions. The petite 47-year-old is full of energy.

"You can very quickly be devoured by theater. You lose your grip on reality if you spend too many hours in an ivory tower," says Karin Beier. "That's probably the worst thing that can happen to anyone. And it happens a lot in this profession."

Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg

Beier is heading to Hamburg's famed Deutsches Schauspielhaus

Beier speaks from experience. At the age of 21 she founded the English-language theater group Countercheck Quarrelsome (CCQ) in Cologne. Away from traditional theater houses, the group performed Shakespeare plays in factories and exhibition halls. After that, Beier staged productions in Hamburg, Bochum, Zurich and Vienna.

In 2007, the talented and successful director took on a bigger challenge: the directorship of the Schauspiel Köln (in Cologne). With that, Beier realized two dreams at once: "First of all I was able to shape the theater's profile. Secondly, I could decide which artists would work in my house."

And so she built her own personal, unique cosmos. "It's an extremely appealing task and extremely creative, too."

Theater for the city

Karin Beier not only created theater in Cologne, she also helped to shape the cultural life of the city. For Beier, a true "city theater" is one that actively engages with matters of public interest.

A scene from The Rats at Schauspiel Köln

A scene from "The Rats" at Schauspiel Cologne, to be honored at the Berliner Theatertreffen 2013

The plan was to demolish the Schauspiel in Cologne and build a new theater. Beier was excited about the new building, but when she realized that the new theater wouldn't offer much more than old one, she became the figurehead of the campaign to preserve the landmarked building.

The theater became the heart of Cologne's political life. There were citizen initiatives and petitions and then, in April 2010, the city council ruled that the theater should stay. It was a success for Beier and the majority of the city's residents, but the theater director's relationship with most local politicians had been ruined.

On the other hand, the audiences both in and outside of Cologne loved her. When Cologne's city archive collapsed in 2009, Karin Beier asked Nobel Prize-winning author Elfriede Jelinek to write a piece about it.

Beier herself was the stage manager for "Ein Sturz" ("A Fall), as well as for two other Jelinek works. The shows were always sold out and were invited to the Berliner Theatertreffen - a highly respected annual festival honoring the 10 best theater productions of the year.

Courage for culture

Schauspiel Köln

The Schauspiel Köln, twice voted German theater of the year, is currently being renovated

In 2010 and 2011, the citizens of Cologne honored the director in their own unique way by giving Beier her own float at Cologne's Carnival parade. The image of her standing on the float waving a flag reading "Mut zur Kultur!" ("Courage for culture!") is fixed in Beier's memory.

It's the motto Karin Beier had in mind when she began staging courageous theater productions, rescuing the Schauspiel Köln from provincial mediocrity and, with that, becoming the most successful female theater director in Germany. The Schauspiel Köln was twice voted theater of the year.

But local politicians were not impressed. While the public flocked to the theater, the city council demanded that she save millions of euros. When Beier got the call to go to Hamburg, local politicians didn't try to keep her.

Beier left and starting this fall she'll be the first female director of the oldest dramatic theater in Germany. "One reason is that the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg is the first address in Germany. And also because for me there are more important things in life outside of theater."

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Beier talks to DW about her career, motherhood and music

A life with her husband, actor Michael Wittenborn, and her young daughter, for example. It's also related to getting older. "As a young director I sought my entire self-worth, my entire identification with this world, in the theater profession." Having a family changed that.

Beier actively pursues a life outside of the theater. She makes sure to take time out and for many years now, she's traveled to an isolated Scottish village to work on a farm during lambing season in May. Then she returns to the theater, full of renewed energy.

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