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Volksbuhne: controversial theatre

The Volksbuhne, right in the middle of Berlin Mitte stages many controversial plays. The Volksbuhne makes really interesting and modern adaptations of old novels and plays. We have visited this theatre lots of times. From the outside it looks a bit like an old bunker. The building is a big block of concrete with kitschy wooden decor inside. The inside is a bit tacky, but the plays never bored us. It is impossible to visit the Volksbuhne and not be amazed.

Volksbuhne Berlin

Volksbuhne Berlin

Controversial plays at the Volksbuhne

If you prefer romantic plays with actors reciting Shakespeare, you better stay out of the Volksbuhne. Or you might end up walking away in anger or disgust during a controversial play, like we saw a lot of people doing. Director Frank Castorf does not want to please that kind of audience.

What Frank Castorf does want is plays with a bleeding heart and a hurt soul. Not only on stage, but in the audience as well. His plays matter, you can not watch them without emotions. And that is what we like about the Volksbuhne so much.

Der Spieler at the Volksbuhne, photo by Thomas Aurin

Der Spieler at the Volksbuhne, photo by Thomas Aurin

Berlin Alexanderplatz at the Volksbuhne

The best play we saw over here, was a raw adaptation of the novel Berlin Alexanderplatz. The main character, Franz Biberkopf just got out of prison and tries very hard not to be a criminal again. In the Volksbuhne Franz Biberkopf wanders through Berlin on stage, trying to sell the audience weird clip ties. When that doesn’t work out, he desperately walks past neon signs with hissing whores. In the adapted story Franz is a sad, violent man who tries to make it in the big city of Berlin. He drinks, fucks and spins the wheels of a real car on stage, leaving the first rows coughing. But who cares about the fumes? The audience is part of Franz life and he takes us with us to show how fast and wild his life is. When Franz is hungry, he starts grilling sausages on stage and offers the audience a few of burned ones as well. The sad, mad world of petty criminals and desperate whores comes to live on stage. The Volksbuhne perfectly knows how to show how tough city life can be.


volksbuhne berlinRough city life at the Volksbuhne

In many plays rough city life is present. The play Fuck of America, an adaptation of the book of Edward Limonov, a young Russian writer tries to make it in New York and fails miserably. The actors are not scared to scream or slab each other in the face. If life in New York is miserably, they will show you violently. Even if that means they have to drink a smoothy made of the most disgusting ingredients ever, like beer, bananas and fish. The actors show the audience vividly how fucked up life is if no one wants you.

Acting like it’s real life is in all the history of the Volksbuhne. Not that strange if you look at the history of the Volksbuhne. The theatre stood in an area where the inhabitants and later communists and fascists fought each other bitterly. A lot of blood was spilt. The Volksbuhne was build to calm the area down a bit.

But the roughness of Berlin life always remained on stage. In the communist period the Volksbuhne was famous for it as well. Director Benno Besson wanted to show the audience in the seventies that theatre was more than a nice play on a safe stage. He let his actors also play in the bars and corridors to let everybody see theatre was a part of the rough life in Berlin. They performed everywhere and actors had to run to make it to the next play they were in. And they still do. In Bertolt Brecht’s der Massname/Mauser the actors run through the theatre and outside, in the freezing cold. At the Volksbuhne life is theater and theater is life.


rotersalonRoter and Gruner salon

The Roter Salon and Gruner Salon are also worth visiting if you are planning a visit to the Volksbuhne. The Salons are famous for the Sylvester party’s. People come here all dressed up and dance like it’s their last day on earth. We celebrated new year here on the beats of Onkel Berni and Wladimir Kaminer’s Russendisco and had a weird, great time. But it is of course it is also interesting to check this place to be out on other days of the year.

funny fact: did you know how the Roter&Gruner Salon got their names? During the Cold War the fabric for the chairs and curtains was not that good any more. But there was no more blue velvet. So they changed the colors. Hence: Roter and Gruner Salon. Luckily they didn’t have any pink and yellow leftovers. If you want to know more about the theatre and get a look behind the scenes, there is a monthly tour in German.

More Berlin theatre 


The Schaubuhne makes ancient stories bright new. They make Shakespeare spectacularly modern with glossy kings and queens with sunglasses and bling bling. But don’t expect sugar sweet stories. The actors of the Schaubuhne are not afraid to play dirty, swear a lot and dive in the mud. You will see rage, madness, blood and a lot of dirt.

berliner ensembleBerliner Ensemble

Berliner Ensemble is Bertolt Brecht territory. If you are into Meckie Messer playing with his knives and whores Berliner Ensemble is the place to be. Old Mutter Courage and her little kids roam the stage. And one of the scariest dictators are played by staractor Martin Wuttke in der Aufmerksame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui.


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