Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Context and Culture

Guest Blog: Afghanistan on stage in Germany

Kathrin Ost 4 min

In our events column, we had announced a new theatre performance in the German town of Potsdam, not far from Berlin, dealing with Afghanistan which opened on 12 January. Now we offer the personal impressions of Kathrin Ost(*), a young and promising German actress, who attended the opening performance.

What do I know about Afghanistan?

I’m afraid not enough.

For that reason I find it hard to form my own view on the current situation in this country and the efforts in the so-called peace process.

Almost every day I try to classify the non-transparent and confusing news on a conflict which pile up more and more in front of me. However, I’m still trying. But sometimes I even just shrug my shoulders… It’s a disgrace!

These thoughts again occured to me on my way to Potsdam where the documentary play “Potsdam-Kunduz” opened at Hans-Otto-Theater Wednesday the other week.
To be honest, I did not expect it to be a very instructive evening. Don’t ask me why, but I feared to be confronted with loud and heavy statements telling me that ‘War isn’t beautiful’, ‘Soldiers are all murderers’ and so on. Surely, they will throw around facts during a long evening on events I can hardly remember or haven’t even heard of before, not to mention being able to put them into any order. And afterwards I won’t be able to say something about it at all…

To cut a long story short: None of my fears came true.

“Potsdam-Kunduz“ turned out to be an evening of documentary theatre thoroughly researched, planned and directed by Clemens Bechtel. It is concerned with the (current) Afghanistan War and the way that led down to that situation, tracing several events that actually happened from 2001 until recently: the Bonn conference, the Loya Jirgas, the killing of four German soldiers in July 2003 when sitting in a bus that would bring them to Kabul airport on their way home, the bombardment of two fuel tankers in Kunduz on 4 September 2009 requested for by the German PRT commander in Kunduz, the German debate about whether this is a ‘war’ in Afghanistan or not.
The text of the play is entirely based on original documents and interviews director Bechtel and his team conducted with German politicians, NGO workers (among them Thomas from AAN), physicians and soldiers as well as a spokesman of the Bundeswehr command based just outside Potsdam which is responsible for the Afghan operation.

At the beginning, Afghan Hip-Hop music is playing in the background. The scenery appears like an office. Or is it a tent somewhere in Kunduz? Plenty of documents and newspaper articles hang on the walls on three sides of the stage. Folders are placed in bookshelves or just lie on the floor all over the stage. In the middle there is a large screen and several smaller monitors scattered around. A few desks, chairs – that’s it.
The cast of six is seated on stage to enact their many parts in the play and shifts through a collage of several events, political debates and testimonies. Occasionally, the actors jump into brief scenes, characters remain sketched. Sometimes they simply read out of the folders.

The six are supported by an Afghan woman born in Kabul in 1975 but by now living in Germany since many years. She reports on her childhood and her family left in Afghanistan. Numerous recorded video interviews are another important stylistic device in the performance.

Soon it strikes me that this show aims at providing the – strongly needed – display of many more perspectives on the Afghanistan War than most of the theatre-goers might be used to from the national media.

Especially those voices appealed to me that you can only access if you really look for them: statements of people who gained their very own impressions through their work in Afghanistan and put forward a view that the operation there has probably miserably failed.

Naturally, the individual statements are very personal and mostly lack a detached view of things in Afghanistan. But why should they not? What counts is that the performance-as-document visualises existing contradictions between different views through a process of filtering, reorganising and confronting them with each other. It goes without saying that there are still many things left unsaid, but I prefer being left with a space of uncertainty that provokes me into asking my own questions when confronted with an overload of information as in the case of Afghanistan. For me it is distressing and comforting at the same time to learn that even people I assumed to be much more informed and in touch with the situation than me reveal to be as helpless as I am.

Clemens Bechtel’s work offers a multi-layered picture of the current situation and events over the past ten years without even presuming that it can give answers or point to proper solutions. It deals with a subject important to all of us. And for me the most sentiment-arousing moments occur from simply what is said matter-of-factly. So afterwards I felt unable to assess the form or the quality of playing or to divine the play’s artistic merits. This would seem inadequate to me.

The barely two-hours-lasting play brings me back into the public discussion about Afghanistan. It leaves its audience enriched and, in some cases, probably better informed.

Later, in the theatre’s foyer, there are numerous lively conversations going on. A proof that the theatre is still (or again?) a very suitable place for the complexities of contemporary life to be told.

Worth seeing!

Next performances: 27 and 29 January; 18 and 19 February. Order ticketshere.

(*) Kathrin Ost is a German free-lance actress. In 2010, she played the ‘Stella’ in Goethe’s play of the same name at Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg which was nominated for the ‘Faust’, one of Germany’s most prestigious theatre awards.