At least when it comes to organization, Amelie Deuflhard knows what it feels like to have an open relationship. The director of Kampnagel – Germany’s biggest independent venue and production site – simultaneously manages the program of five stages. Inside the premises of the former machine factory within Hamburg’s district Winterhunde, Kampnagel presents around one hundred premieres, international guest and debut performances, and unique event formats every season. This is an environment that is constantly in motion.
Kampnagel is a resonance body for emerging aesthetic positions and groundbreaking trends not only in theater, dance and performance, but also within music, the fine arts and architecture. We accompany Amelie through her daily routine and talk about surprising collaborations and discuss the power of innovation within the independent creative scene.
The Stuttgart native has a dream of turning the city into a theater. For Amelie, public space is a laboratory and its citizens are her accomplices. Before arriving in the Hanseatic city, she built up a wealth of experience working on similar urban projects outside Hamburg. While living in Berlin she initiated an international discourse concerning the city center through the iconic Project Volkspalast. Whoever gets to know Amelie quickly realizes one thing above all: this woman works and thinks big.
How did you end up in Hamburg and where are you from originally?
I grew up in Stuttgart. Before moving to Hamburg, I lived in Berlin. I was there for a long time, since 1986. I guess this is why I consider myself much more a Berliner than someone from Stuttgart – even though my Swabian accent comes out now and then.
Can you discuss your personal and professional development in Berlin before moving to Hamburg?
I worked in Berlin as a freelance producer and also had my four children there. In 2000 I took over Sophiensaele, which was founded by Sasha Waltz and Jochen Sandig in 1996. It was a production place for young, experimental performing arts. From there on I worked on many projects for public spaces. If I placed a city map on my bed, I think there would be only a few places left where I haven’t actualy worked on a project.
Which project left an impact on you the most?
Through Sophiensaele, I created the deconstructed Palace of Republic. That project cost me many years of my life, as getting in there was basically impossible. It was a huge, complicated story, since the palace wasn’t supposed to be accessed according to the government. It was about the execution of the GDR architecture within the heart of Berlin.
Which question was mainly kept in focus in regard to the debate about the Palace of Republic?
The palace was located in the middle of the city and the main question was: what does a city want to have in its center nowadays? At the same time, the palace was the last place where the East-West debate culminated. Berlin, meaning our government, managed to make the worst decision: to reconstruct the city palace. That is a good enough reason to spaciously circumnavigate Berlin.
Could your temporary entry into the Palace of Republic be viewed as some type of occupation?
It wasn’t a real occupation. Everything was legal. Essentially we rented the palace. The palace was basically not in existence anymore. During the ‘asbestos removal’ everything was taken out – the only things left were cement and steel. No electricity, no heating, no furniture. We stood in a completely skeletal building: a perfect playground and extraordinary space for possibilities. A core team was created, with Matthias Lilienthal and Philipp Oswalt, the subsequent director of Bauhaus Dessau and thinker behind the project Shrinking Cities, which dealt with the utopian potentials of vacancies. The State Opera, Raumlabor Berlin, and many other experienced temporary occupiers were also part of it. The idea was to bring in the subversive independent art scene – which developed after the fall in Berlin – from the peripheries of the city into the center. It really worked out well, everybody had such drive to participate. No one cancelled.
Which artistic disciplines were represented and which themes were touched upon during the creation?
Our focus merely consisted of ‘examining’ the Palace of Republic: its space, history, aura and pure architecture. Every project was newly developed. All disciplines were present, just like with Kampanagel in Hamburg today: theater, dance, music, and visual arts which arrived later as well. There was a big architecture congress, with Rem Koolhaas and plenty of other significant architects, who dealt with the future of the center. We flooded the palace with water (Fassadenrepublik by Raumlabor Berlin). It was a big spectacle, but also a sort of reflective creation, which took place for several months in 2004 and a second time in 2005.
What was your vision?
We wanted to create a utopian art house in midst of the city, based on Cedric Price’s Funpalace, or the Centre Pompidou of the 21st century. It was a house in which artforms and reflections about society’s future could find a place of their own. The government’s idea was to reconstruct the city palace. Today the palace has been demolished – such a missed opportunity! At least we initiated a discourse about the future of the city center which was talked about worldwide and still has an influence today.
After the project at Palace of Republic you became the artistic director of Kampnagel in Hamburg. How you have changed Hamburg’s cultural scene through your expertise?
When I created the palace, I actually had a dream of conceiving a city as a theater. Back then that was my favorite idea: not to create a conceived place, but an entire existing city. I wanted to go out with artists and ‘artistically’ occupy every space within the city. In order to make this dream come true, I took over the least suitable theater with Kampnagel.
Working at Kampnagel is pretty challenging with the management of five performance halls. However, I imbued my interest in artistic works to the public space. I am interested in cities where I can work in a quasi research field in regard to political challenges, as well as urban development. This is also connected to my previous experience, having done projects within the last years with the Gängeviertel, Hafentreppe, in Hafencity and Wilhelmsburg, or at the main station. For us it is especially interesting to start actions where certain developments take place. When it comes to Hafencity, which is often criticized, my aim was to ‘artistically’ add something to its development in a critical way rather than via glamorous means.
At the repertoire theater actors interpret mostly pre-written roles. At Kampnagel, free theater groups – like Geheimagentur, Rimini Protokoll, or Hajusom – bring so-called ‘Experts of the Everyday’ on stage too.
Documentary theater is a form which is structurally being developed at houses like Kampnagel. The idea of working with laymen as ‘Experts of the Everyday’ in the context of theater – whether they are kids, people with disabilities or a migration history – developed in the independent scene. Today discourses about theater are strongly shaped by trends within the independent scene. This is why repertoire theaters easily come under certain pressures and, step by step, integrate these types of disciplines more fully in their houses.
How did the audience react towards these rather unconventional forms of theater? What is it like, for example, when the French choreographer Jérôme Bel lets handicapped people dance in his productions?
Jérôme Bel created an extraordinary theater evening with his piece ‘Disabled Theatre’ with handicapped actors. He only co-produced the piece with big and significant festivals, and important, established art venues. Performing spaces such as disabled festivals were out of the question. As a consequence of this consistent stance, famous houses became co-producers for the piece: documenta, Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Wiener Festwochen, Festival Avignon, Théâtre de la Ville in Paris and Kampnagel. So basically it was represented at all the big festivals and institutions. It’s an important political statement.
What do you think brought along this wave of euphoria surrounding the Disabled Theatre?
The piece was invited to Theatretreffen – nothing like this has ever happened before! A piece with disabled people at Theatretreffen! One of its performers, the actress Julia Häusermann, was chosen as actress of the year at Theatretreffen, which led to irritation amongst ‘normal’ actors. Once I sat in on a panel on the topic – well how would you say it – theater with handicapped people probably wouldn’t be appropriate. Theater and inclusion. That’s what a colleague said during the discussion: “Yes, should we now only produce theater with disabled people?” All of a sudden a new field of competition came into existence.
People affected by trisomy 21 are on the cover of the specialist magazine ‘Theater der Zeit,’ which is lying here on your desk.
Yes, these are consequences. On the cover is the Theatre Rambaramba from Berlin. The founder Gisela Höhne has just won the Caroline-Neuber-Price. These people immediately enter the debate and are recognized as actors.
Which piece will we watch together at Kampnagel today?
We will watch Lucky Strike by Skart, a young group from Gießen. Lucky Strike consists of two leading directors, Philipp Karau and Mark Schröppel, who are both performers as well. They received money from the German Federal Cultural Foundation for their project Doppelpass. Skart got on board to renew the children’s theater. This is done by working together with the kids and teenagers in a very non hierarchical manner. At Lucky Strike, they work together with the children of the Neuen Schule Hamburg, founded and invented by the singer Nena. This school is strongly based on the self-determination of the students, the kids can leave the courses and projects whenever they want. So the theater director or tutor has to be very good, otherwise the kids just go somewhere else. Skart are young and energetic. I like their approach of wanting to change an entire field. Whether that works, we will just have to wait and see.
What do you do besides working in Hamburg, in order to relax?
If I am not at Kampnagel and want to relax, I spent my time in the countryside – in my garden or at the Holthusenbad. I love to swim and cook, spend time with my kids and go out to eat with friends. Sometimes I like to visit the Baltic Sea as well. One day I would like to rent a canoe and sail along Hamburg’s canals. Also, I promised myself to swim along the Osterbek Canal at Kampnagel. It’s allowed and I think it’s clean enough. I also do yoga for relaxation now and then.
What would you recommend someone to do on their first evening in Hamburg when Kampnagel is closed?
Depends what’s happening and who stands in front of me. If someone said that they would like to do something typical in Hamburg, I would send them to Pudel. I think something like Pudel doesn’t exist anywhere else. It’s such a crazy club – this shack – at the same time so famous and when seeing the place for the first time, one just thinks that it can’t be possible.
Where else do you go?
Sometimes I purposefully go to Übel und Gefährliche. Of course I also go to openings or gallery tours at Fleetinsel, to vernissages at the Kunsthalle or Deichtorhallen. I also go to Thalia and Schauspielhaus. In the past we did a lot with Hamburg’s Kunstverein. Now there is a new director, but conversations continue to take place even now. The interdisciplinary concept, which is represented by Kampnagel, leads to being more often guests in other houses, as well as the other way around, during the course of cooperations.
What was one of the most surprising collaborations you have worked on with Kampnagel so far?
Probably many people are surprised about our collaboration with Christoph Lieben Seutter from the Elbphilharmonie. We realized a range of diverse constellations of numerous new music projects with him.
Do you think the performing arts receive the same support as fine arts – which are often commercially exploited as investment?
Performing arts are fleeting and can only be experienced live and in the moment. The fine arts mainly consist of objects. The market, in which paintings or sculptures are being sold, is a ‘real’ market. If I support a young visual artist by buying his paintings, it will most likely create financial value. On the other hand, if we invite a piece by a young choreographer to be performed or produce something with him, who later goes on to become the star of his scene, this also helps to promote our reputation. But we don’t generate a real monetary value. This is why it is also harder to win supporters for the performing arts compared to the fine arts. The acquisition for fleeting projects is much more difficult than the acquisition of tangible things that remain.
A question from the questionnaire of Max Frisch – would you like to have a memory that is absolute?
No, I remember the good things anyway and there are some things that are better forgotten. You work in a specific cosmos, and there, I think, it’s okay to forget the things that are not interesting. I think it’s good that our brain makes a certain selection and doesn’t save everything for the long term.
Would you say you are you resentful?
No, not at all. I can’t stay angry for long. I am someone who remembers the good things as opposed to the bad things.
Amelie it has been lovely meeting with you to hear your story.
Photography: Sarah Bernhard
Interview & Text: Anika Väth