Die Berliner Ermittlung nach einem Oratorium von Peter Weiss

The Berlin Investigation, Based on an Oratorio by Peter Weiss

Jochen Gerz and Esther Shalev-Gerz

CR 128. Year 1998

Wv Die Berliner Scan 049 Photo Cristina Damasceno Copy
Wv Die Berliner Scan 050 Photo Cristina Damasceno Copy
Wv Die Berliner Scan 052 Photo Cristina Damasceno Copy
Wv Die Berliner Scan 051 Photo Cristina Damasceno Copy

    "Der Bilderstürmer Jochen Gerz ist auch ein Wortzertrümmerer. Er mißtraut nicht nur der Sichtbarkeit herkömmlicher Kunst, sondern dem kulturellen Verweissystem schlechthin. Dahinter steht freilich keine besondere künstlerische Bescheidenheit, sondern das glatte Gegenteil: Durch den Nebel der kulturellen Muster hindurch soll der einzelne zum Kern des Schreckens vordringen können, wo es keine Worte oder Bilder mehr gibt. Das Eigentliche hat seinen Sitz im Kopf, im Bewußtsein dessen, was einmal geschah und seither gegenwärtig ist und nur noch abgerufen zu werden braucht."

    Mark Siemons 1998

    "The iconoclast Jochen Gerz is also a word smasher. He distrusts not only the visibility of conventional art, but the cultural system of references per se. Of course, there is no particular artistic modesty behind this, but rather the complete opposite: the individual should be able to penetrate through the fog of cultural patterns to the core of horror, where there are no more words or images. The real has its seat in the head, in the consciousness of what once happened and has since been present and only needs to be recalled."

    Mark Siemons 1998

    Gerz sees the danger that the Auschwitz trial mainly serves to produce innocence – i.e. victims of all kind; the perpetrator transfers himself into the victim. To avoid this, Gerz wants to employ fiction in a way "that it resists the audience’s disappearance into grief." A game is being attempted: the crowd’s desire to disappear (whether it be by hiding behind rules, power structures or innocence) competes against one’s joy of playing, the pride of doing, of being present. The audience is seen as an actor - a perpetrator in the theatre, the reader is seen as an informant in the newspaper. Victims change back into perpetrators, persons responsible. "I was there" (in the theatre) opposed to "I was not there" (at the ramp).

    Christoph Rüter 2005. Translated by e_CR editors

    Ultimately a strong insecurity could be felt everywhere, as no one who touched on the text could safely pretend, "I would have acted differently back then." However, in the moment of accepting that, the feeling of impotence changed into a feeling of power that showed all participants to what extent every state and society relies on every individual’s vigilance and vigour. That is why the sentence "I don’t participate in this", cannot be found in the text of Die Ermittlung, i.e. cannot be found in our past and which one participating woman had to urgently scream into a microphone on stage – otherwise she would have probably suffocated – is one of the motifs that runs through. What happened has been performed already, but has to be performed again and again by – for example – making perpetrators victims of a game that voluntarily forces them to go through the hell of this text and to make an experience, which is sensual and makes an impact precisely for that reason.

    Christoph Rüter 2005. Translated by e_CR editors

    Work in public space / installation / theatre performance

    Production of the Hebbel-Theater, the Berliner Ensemble and the Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, in cooperation with Der Tagesspiegel and the ZDF, Deutschlandradio and SFB broadcasting networks

    Participant seminars

    Ads with photographs of seminar participants and texts from Die Ermittlung in Der Tagesspiegel

    Radio spots with texts from Die Ermittlung, spoken by listeners to the radio stations SFB, NDR, HR and Deutschlandradio TV spots from Die Ermittlung, spoken by public celebrities in the culture program Aspekte, ZDF

    5 performances involving audience participation at Hebbel-Theater, the Berliner Ensemble and the Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz (stage design: Installation EXIT/Materialien zum Dachau-Projekt; director: Lukas Hemleb, choruses and libretto: Uwe Mengel, production director: Niels Ewerbeck)

    Live radio retransmission of the premier in Deutschlandradio (director: Uwe Mengel)

    In January 1998, subscribers and friends of the three Berlin theaters are invited to take part in the play. Up to 500 seminar participants work on the text of Die Ermittlung by Peter Weiss. 150 participants agree to have their photographs printed in the Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel along with passages of text from Die Ermittlung. The ads appear in April 1998. For the spoken part of the play planned for the performance, 15 children from Berlin and 30 foreigners learning German recite the questions of the judges and prosecutors from Die Ermittlung for a tape recording. Listeners to the radio stations SFB, NDR, HR and Deutschlandradio speak passages into an answering machine. Radio spots are made from these sequences and broadcast during the stations' programs. In April and May 1998 the ZDF program Aspekte broadcasts 4 spots, in which public celebrities recite short texts from Die Ermittlung. In the five performances presented from May 25 to June 1 at the Hebbel-Theater, the Berliner Ensemble and the Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, members of the audience read the play.

    The installation EXIT/Materialien zum Dachau-Projekt (38) is exhibited on the stage and is accessible for the public.


    Hebbeltheater, Berlin, 25. May (Live-Übertragung Deutschlandradio) and 26.May 1998. Berliner Ensemble, 27. May 1998. Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin, 31. May and 1. June 1998


    I: Berlin 1998. Bolzano 1999, p. 134. Zürich 2000, p. 104 – 105. Berlin 2005. Ivry-sur-Seine, pp. 132, 190-191

    II: Ritter 1997. Bittner 1+2, 1998. Dermutz 1998. FAZ 22.5.1998. Fitzel 1998. Funke 1998. Freitag 1998. Göpfert 1+2, 1998. Kiehn 1998. Krug 1998. Kageneck 1998. Martenstein 1998. Ruthe 1998. Schaper 1998. Schütt 1998. Seibt 1998. Siemons 1998. Slevogt 1998. Tiedemann 1998, p. 23. Tomerius 1998. Vogel 1998. Walde 1998

    III: BZ 1998

    Access general bibliography


    Video: Berlin 1998 a: Christoph Rüter, Die Berliner Ermittlung. Nach Vollzug
    Audio: Berlin 1998 b: Stephanie Hooter, Die Berliner Ermittlung. Berlin 1998 c: Uwe Mengel, Die Berliner Ermittlung, Kinder- und Fremdenchöre

    My name is Jochen Gerz