- An Interview with Alexander Schroeder
Alexander Schroeder has been working for the last fifteen years in the acting department at the University of the Arts in Berlin. During that time, he has also been teaching at universities in Salzburg, Leipzig, Dresden, Hannover, Weimar, Stuttgart, Cairo, and other places. He also has been acting and directing in the Berlin theatre scene for the past thirty years. He was an assistant director and member of the Schaubühnen-Ensemble and has worked with Peter Stein, Peter Zadek, Andrea Breth, Luc Bondy, Klaus Michael Grüber, Thomas Ostermeier, and others. In 2015 the productions he participated in as a writer and actor won various awards: Jobs in Heaven (produced by posttheater) won the Stuttgarter Theaterpreis award; and Das Projekt bin ich (The project is me) won the German radio award, the Hörspielpreis der ARD.
In January 2016 Schroeder started working with refugees at the Tempelhof refugee center in Berlin. Tempelhof is a defunct airport that is now one of the biggest refugee centers in Germany. Set up to host up to 7,000 people, as of March 2015 it housed 2,000 and has 450 employees. The center serves refugees who come mostly from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, fleeing war, hunger, and prosecution. The center’s stated mission claims that the integration of refugees is a challenge that can only be achieved by using all community resources. Therefore it serves as the connecting point between the refugees and other community organizations that are willing to assist them. The German authorities inform asylum seekers that they are supposed to stay at Tempelhof only for a maximum of four weeks before being transferred to other locations, but many find themselves stuck there for up to six months, with no other prospects. This is the community that Schroeder visits once weekly to work with refugees who are interested in expressing their narratives through theatre. The number of refugees who attend his workshops vary between five and thirty. His five core members are refugees from Syria. In addition to leading workshops, Schroeder has also been introducing this core group to Berlin theatre productions.
For Schroeder, knowing about these refugees via the media was not enough. He chose to meet them firsthand and to establish a theatre group. Entering a refugee center in Germany is difficult because of the security threat posed by the country’s extreme right-wing faction. Indeed, over a thousand attacks on refugee camps in Germany were reported in 2015. Without having secured official permission, Schroeder managed to get into the center via an emergency exit, after having failed to gain access through the main entrances. After entering illegally, he was granted access by officials only after some serious negotiations.
Schroeder himself is the son of refugees. His maternal grandparents are Russians who fled the Soviet Red Army numerous times before arriving in Germany and becoming citizens during the 1950s. His paternal grandfather is from Alsace-Lorraine and had to leave his homeland after World War I when it became French; his paternal grandmother is Jewish and has a long family history of exile. Schroeder’s work comes from his desire to be the “host” he wishes his ancestors could have found when they moved to a new place.
He was inspired by his family heritage and belief in the power of theatre to offer a platform for the disempowered to share their stories. He meets with his group in what he calls “open improvisation,” where the refugees talk and act out their personal stories that trace the time from their origins [End Page 351] in Syria (or other home countries), their departures from home, and their arrivals at Tempelhof—with all the experiences they faced in-between.
The following interview took place in a cafe close to Tempelhof on 15 March 2016.
We hear a lot about refugee centers in Germany from the media. How would you describe the situation at the Tempelhof center?
It is an emergency center; it is not supposed to be a home for refugees to stay there for months or even weeks. The center...