In 2019 it will be thirty years since the Berlin Wall fell and the inner-German border was abolished. From 1949 until 1989/90 Germany was divided into East and West Germany. Over the course of the existence of the DDR (or East German Democratic Republic) about 3.5 million people tried to leave – some succeeded, others did not.
Based on the book by Dorit Linke, the play ‘Beyond the Blue Border’ (Original title: Jenseits der blauen Grenze) depicts the story of two young people living in the 1980’s in Rostock, East Germany. Hanna (Sophia Platz) and her friend Andreas (Alban Mondschein) make a plan to escape the GDR. To avoid the possibility of getting caught they decide to swim all the way across the Baltic Sea from Rostock to Fehmarn, 50 kilometres. The play starts with Hanna and Andreas leaving the beach in Warnemünde and making their way into the sea. Hanna, the narrator, tells us what they encounter on their adventure in the cold water and we as the audience get a direct look into the thoughts, fears, hopes and dreams of the two friends.
The play goes back and forth between scenes of the escape through the cold ocean, and school and how the two friends met. In flashbacks we get an idea of the harsh reality of life in East Germany. Throughout the play incidents which illustrate why Hanna and Andreas were so unhappy are revealed, leading up to the exact reasons why they wanted to leave. From being beaten at home and school, to having family members who openly reject the socialist system, which in the end leads to harsh punishments and measures of forced “re-education”, the two main characters decide to leave the place they called their home.
The production was created by Anna Langhoff, previously a director in Berlin and now the managing dramaturge at the Rostocker Volkstheater. She was involved in creating the dramatic composition for the classic story of the ‘Schneekönigin’ this winter and ‘Fame – the Musical’ earlier in the year. Langhoff does an excellent job at creating an atmosphere fitting to the plot of the story. In the Ateliertheater of the Rostocker Volkstheater the audience walks into a small dark square room. In the middle of the room there are a few blue mattresses piled on top of each other and some neon barrier tape lined around what looks like a stage, although it is on the same level as the audience. This minimalistic outline and closeness to the audience creates an intimate and private atmosphere, which goes well with the general themes of the play such as fear, desperation, hope and uncertainty.
Even though there are several different characters portrayed during the play, there are only two people who perform on stage: Sophia Platz and Alban Mondschein. To show the differences between the different personalities portrayed, Platz and Mondschein exaggerate their facial expressions, gestures, body posture and the way they talk, to make the transition between characters clear to the audience, thus creating characters typical of the DDR, such as the authoritarian headmaster.
The exaggerated character transformations almost seem a grotesque contrast to the serious atmosphere throughout the play. The number of jokes, which seem to be based on a very particular kind of humour, makes the play hard to watch at certain times. It seems that the producers have tried very hard to keep the tone light, which in this case really isn’t necessary.
In 2019, the thirty-year-anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, famous film director and actor Bully Herbig is producing and directing the movie ‘Ballon’ based on the true story of a family trying to flee from East Germany in a hot-air balloon. Films depicting stories about escaping the DDR are more common than plays, nonetheless seeing this story unfold this way was definitely an interesting experience, showing how creative and desperate the population of the DDR was.
The topic of feeling unsafe in one’s own country and having an uncertain future because of this is more current than ever. Almost everyday we hear on the news how people have tried to cross the Mediterranean Sea (a blue border) from Africa, trying to escape the tyrannical and corrupt political systems, in order to get to Europe – hoping for a better life.