The world plays the port

Hamburg celebrates "Theater der Welt 2017"

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The port is held to be the heart of Hamburg. During the "Theater der Welt 2017" Festival it will also be a stage for international artists. Our author Imke Wrage visited the Festival Centre at the Baakenhöft dock near the Elbe with curator Sandra Küpper.


Imke Wrage

Imke Wrage likes best to write about art, literature and pop culture. A book is her constant companion.

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Photos: Torben Weiss

The Elbe's shallow waves reflect the afternoon sun as Sandra Küpper – 39, blonde, tall – enters the village with her black wheeled case in tow. A man in a green flannel shirt thunders by occasionally on a forklift truck. Otherwise, peace still reigns in “Haven” – the temporary village at the former freight terminal Baakenhöft in the port of Hamburg, currently under construction as the Festival Centre for “Theater der Welt 2017”.

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Glimpse of the Thalia tent: venues everywhere.

“The last peace we'll see for a while,” says Küpper, parking her case behind an enormous water container. It's the final few days before the launch of an incredible theatrical springtime. The “Theater der Welt 2017” Festival has been held every two or three years in a German city since 1981; Mannheim last time, Hamburg this time. Traditionalist Thalia Theater and progressive Hamburg stage Kampnagel have been working on the Festival programme for two years, 45 international dance, performance, theatre and music productions will be shown in Hamburg in the next 18 days.

A crew from all over the world

Sandra Küpper is one of four Festival curators alongside Joachim Lux, Amelie Deuflhard and András Siebold. She came to Hamburg to study dramaturgy, now the Thalia dramaturge and native Rhinelander lives in Eimsbüttel. The four curators had very little hesitation about deciding the overarching theme for “Theater der Welt 2017”, she says, with a glance out across the Elbe's wide expanse. “What would be more obvious in Hamburg than the port?”

Workers are hammering, sawing and painting at a wooden hut on the edge of the village square. It's a diverse crew – artists from all over the world, craftspeople, local men and women from Hamburg's culture scene who are helping hands-on or realising their own ideas. Carpenter Rudolfo Fuentes-Perry is building a wooden house designed by Argentinean artist Fernando Rubio. A white-haired man, 86, in navy-blue suit trousers and a paint-splashed shirt, is sliding his oil-soaked brush over the timber, plank by plank – it transpires that he's Fuentes-Perry's father. For five days, the hut right on the riverbank will be home to actor Christoph Finger, he'll sleep there, gaze at the water and get into conversation with visitors. “The time between us” is the name of the performance, developed by Rubio.

Having a look around Baakenhöft

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  • For five days, the hut right on the riverbank will be home to actor Christoph Finger, he'll sleep there, gaze at the water and get into conversation with visitors.

  • Artist Fernando Rubio: the Argentinean designed the wooden house. He calls the performance "The time between us". Before Hamburg, the wooden shed stood in Singapore and Santiago de Chile.

  • Perry senior paints the wood with nut oil, one plank at a time.

  • The 86-year-old Chilean likes to help out his son who's a carpenter.

  • Cocoa storage until 2014, Theatre Festival for the coming weeks.

  • Thomas Gaedke will cater the "Theater der Welt" guests with handmade sandwiches.

  • On a rubber boat, he fished the wood for his stall out of the river Elbe.

  • Thomas Gaedkes actual job: he designs wallpaper.

  • The motto for his mobile sandwich bar: „Always at special places and only when we're into it, everything made by hand and sourced regionally."

  • "Theater der Welt 2017" will take place until June 11.

Next door, construction workers are busy with a bar and a kiosk, setting up open kitchen units and a big living-room, the foyer. Except that no one is building walls here, instead, transparent sheets of heavy plastic divide the space – it feels a little bit like being in a greenhouse. “We want to make the port visible from every angle of the village square,” says Küpper.

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No walls at "Haven", instead, transparent sheets of heavy plastic divide the area.

Venues throughout the city

A short time later, she enters the heart of the Festival, the former Africa Terminal. The 9000-square-meter hall was used for storing bulk raw cocoa until 2014, it's been empty ever since. The warehouse will now be open to the public for the first time for “Theater der Welt 2017” and will be the scene of the opening production “Children of Gods”, a music performance by New Zealand director Lemi Ponifasio about flight and migration from the point of view of children. Over 300 performers are involved in the community project.

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Sandra Küpper inside the former cocoa storage, the heart of the Festival.

Community also plays a major role in the theatre-makers' planning – which is why, says curator Sandra Küpper, “Theater der Welt 2017” will fan out beyond the Baakenhöft, the Thalia Theater and the Kampnagel venue to other places close to the water across the whole of Hamburg. In the Elbphilharmonie, the Catalan theatre group “La Fura dels Baus” will interpret Haydn's Oratorio “Creation” – one of its most spectacular shows also opened the Olympic Games in Barcelona.

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The Baakenhöft in the HafenCity is the northern quay of the peninsula in the Baakenhafen, the Baakenhafen has been part of the HafenCity project since 1998. In the distance: Elbphilharmonie where "La Fura dels Baus" will interprets Haydn's "Creation".

In the Oberhafen district, Dutch acting group “Wunderbaum” will interpret a book about a cruise, written by David Foster Wallace, South African artist Brett Bailey's installation performance “Sanctuary” engages with questions of racism and post-Colonialism. The community ship Bagalute will host lessons in building a houseboat, a group of artists will transform the former German Democratic Republic reefer MS Stubnitz into a play area for thinking about the construct of a “port” for the duration of the Festival.

Prototypes for new ideas in the port

For some of the Festival players, there's more at stake than the Festival spring – the members of artists' collective “geheimagentur” (“secret agency”) would love to make “Haven” into a permanent site. “We would like a public space to grow up here at the Baakenhöft – close to the HafenCity,” says a representative of geheimagentur – which always acts as a collective, i.e. no individuals are named. They would like to keep the area and use it for cultural performances, bearing its historical Colonial background as the original Africa Terminal in mind. “Theater der Welt 2017” could open the first window to its permanent use. “We'll create a wave, then we'll either ride it or be washed up on shore”.

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former German Democratic Republic reefer MS Stubnitz: one of the venues all over the city.

“To us, Haven is a prototype for ideas and formats that see the port in a different way,” is also Sandra Küpper's take at the end of her building site tour. Then she reaches for the wheeled case and waves goodbye – there's still much to do at the other venues as well. But she'll be back tomorrow. Because then the variety-filled village at the Baakenhöft Elbe peninsula will be her home for 18 days

Find more info on the Festival “Theater der Welt 2017” here M

Theater der Welt Outro