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  • Integration, Turkish Theatre, and Cultural-Political Interventions in West Berlin:Vasıf Öngören's Kollektiv Theater (1980–82)
  • Ela Gezen (bio)


The mid-1970s and early 1980s witnessed the development of a very active Turkish art scene in West Berlin.1 Various cultural institutions were integral to this process, especially the Kunstamt Kreuzberg and Neukölln (Arts Council for the districts of Kreuzberg and Neukölln), the Künstlerhaus Bethanien (Artists' House Bethanien, a center for arts and social affairs), the Deutsch-Türkische Gesellschaft e.V. (German-Turkish Society), and the Türkischer Akademiker- und Künstlerverein (Turkish Academics and Artists Association). Frequently collaborating with one another, these organizations sponsored recurring cultural events, such as ausländischer Berliner (foreign Berliner), the Fest auf dem Mariannenplatz (Festival on the Mariannenplatz), and the Türkische Kulturwochen (Turkish Cultural Weeks). Financially supported by the Berlin Senate, these public events showcased a variety of genres and media, including music, visual arts, theatre, and film; participants and organizers alike aimed to promote Turkish culture beyond folklorization, Orientalization, and essentialization.

Particularly prominent among the rosters of participants were Turkish theatre ensembles. A majority of these ensembles, such as the Berlin Oyuncular (Berlin Actors, 1976), the Kreuzberger Türkische Volksbühne (Kreuzberg Turkish People's Theatre, 1978), the Türkisches Arbeitertheater [End Page 301] (Turkish Workers' Theatre, 1979) and the Kollektiv Theater (Collective Theatre, 1968) included professional theatre practitioners who had left Turkey for political reasons.2 In this essay, I will focus on the Kollektiv Theater, an ensemble that was founded by dramatist Vasıf Öngören3 in Turkey. Re-established in West Berlin after his emigration from Turkey in 1980, the Kollektiv Theater contributed to political debates on integration in West Germany through theatre. Rather than analyze specific productions, I will instead situate Öngören's ensemble's theatre practice with respect to efforts by Turkish artists and intellectuals during the late 1970s and early 1980s, discussing the project both as an early manifestation of Turkish self-presentation in West Germany, and, more specifically, as a key part of the formation of a Turkish public sphere in West Berlin. First, I will examine the founding of—and interactions between—the institutions mentioned above, which were designed to promote cultural events. As I will show, cultural practices, and specifically theatre, were understood as crucial factors within discourses on integration (as opposed to assimilation). The Kollektiv Theater's programming and contributions will be read as a current within broader efforts to represent Turkish culture as multi-layered and as essential to political debates on integration. This essay concludes by asking how we may relate Turkish theatrical activities in the early phase of Turkish migration to theatre practices today, such as the postmigrant theatre movement.

Cultural-Political Interventions and Collaborations

Turkish artists, intellectuals, and academics founded associations in West Berlin throughout the 1970s and 1980s in order to establish institutional settings for the planning of cultural activities, with collaborative efforts presenting a particular priority. Two institutions which I would like to highlight specifically are the Türkischer Akademiker- und Künstlerverein (Turkish Academics and Artists Association) and the Deutsch-Türkische Gesellschaft (German-Turkish Society), which were crucial for self-advocacy and self-representation through culture as well as for collaborations with local and district authorities charged with sponsoring cultural programming such as the Kunstamt Kreuzberg and Kunstamt Neukölln. Established in 1980, the Deutsch-Türkische [End Page 302] Gesellschaft aimed to foster "mutual understanding between the Turkish and German population" while promoting the "integration of the foreign population by maintaining their cultural identity."4 This entailed efforts to foster the necessary conditions for an understanding of "differing historical, social, political, and cultural conditions, and the awareness of their changeability."5 Integration, here, was understood as realizing and implementing political and social equality while also increasing the willingness of Germans to actively participate in this process. The Deutsch-Türkische Gesellschaft underlined the bidirectionality of such processes of integration by involving Turks and Germans equally, while foregrounding as a premise the familiarity with changing societal conditions in both countries. In addition to organizing cultural events, its objectives included taking positions on current issues...


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