August 27, 2013
Alex: Like so many people who end up living in Berlin, I couldn’t say I actually moved here for a specific reason. After a short trip when I was 19, something of the atmosphere stuck with me, tucked away in the back of my brain. I knew there was something special in the air (and the Döners).
So, after I finished studying and working for a while at an exceptionally poorly paid job, I had saved up a couple of grand and fancied an adventure. I booked a one way flight with one bag, no German language, no friends in the city and no plan. I was perfectly prepared for this trip to be a month or two of just enjoying myself, exploring and blowing off steam – but that was over three years ago, and I’m still here.
There are so many things about Berlin that make it unique, the lack of a financial centre (like London or Paris) I think makes a massive difference. It seems like music, theatre, art and parties are really at the heart of what makes the city tick. It’s also of course, the many small, simple things that make the whole; being able to smoke everywhere, the passionate yet still somewhat cosy love affair you have with your local späti, getting on your bike for 20 minutes and being at some gorgeous lake, the freedom to not be filmed on CCTV every second of your life.
Rowan: I’m not a superstitious person but I had a feeling, as I sped through a bleak January evening on the S-bahn towards Warschauer, my first time in Berlin, that I would live in this city.
I’ve been here two and a half years now. I visited that January to audition for a place in the International Opera Studio at the Berliner Staatsoper and it turned out to be a worthwhile visit (not least because I was having so much fun with my fellow auditionees that I ‘missed’ my plane back to London and stayed to explore the snowy city for another week).
Alex: I think it is fair to say that the only things I really accomplished in the first year or so was losing a few brain cells whilst getting better acquainted with the night-life scene in the city. Coming from England, the novelty of the fact that you didn’t ever really have to go home once you went out on Friday night took a while to wear off I suppose.
But the odd few shifts standing behind the bar at an art exhibition was quite seriously challenging my ability to pay the rent and eat after a while. I started getting back to what I was actually good at, and started to focus on freelance writing and illustration work. I began to realise that despite the huge amount of amazing creative people here, there were opportunities to be found with a bit of luck. It’s tough to make any kind of approximation of a living through being creative in any place, but doing it here in Berlin started to become an actual possibility.
Rowan: Waxing lyrical about Berlin is not hard to do; I will say only that it is a very special place and a great time to be here. I think there is a sense for everyone that this boundless creativity can’t last, that all this must inevitably come to an end with the encroachment of gentrification, rising rents, big businesses. And that adds the bittersüß flavour to it all.
Berlin allows for a lot of creative intermingling. The lack of class/social barriers means that artists from varying genres can and do meet, exchange ideas, encourage, support each other. Ideas are currency here. I had the feeling that it would be possible to take opera to a new crowd in this city, that there is such an interest in the art form already here, with the three opera houses, that a younger crowd would be receptive to it if we presented it to them in their stomping grounds, Kreuzberg and Neukölln.
I don’t think I would have met Alex anywhere else, it says something that we are both British yet met over here. The combination of our very different backgrounds and interests is I’m sure what makes up the magic dust of our Kiez Oper success. Traditional opera training and sweaty raves are an unusual mix but it seems to work. I think we’ve learned a lot from each other and put that into what we do, both into Kiez and our own separate artistic pursuits.
Alex: After I met Rowan (in a bar in Friedrichshain) we got on incredibly well straight away and it was only a couple of weeks before we started forming the concept for the first show. At the time it was just really nothing more than a crazy, elaborate scheme cooked up over a few too many Dunkel biers. I’m sure we have all have done that plenty of times, but rare is it that they come to fruition in quite the way this has.
We were working on no-budget whatsoever, but the team/cast we found and the crew at ‘Wilde Renate’ were so great and such fun people it didn’t seem to matter at all. The team we brought together was a mash-up of singers from the Staatsoper, friends, recommendations and people who we found through the internet! Everyone’s passion and effort was amazing and infectious, we soon became aware that something we wouldn’t soon forget was happening.
Rowan: Of course, the problem is you never really know if anyone is going to come to these things. But in the end, the idea of putting opera in this new setting seemed to catch on and both nights sold out. I think the all-night party afterwards probably helped too…
Alex: Since then we have gradually got more and more ambitious. From drained swimming pools at Stattbad in Wedding (with speaker stacks as tall as the deep end) to riverside factories in Neukölln. We are trying to maintain that same sense of excitement and unpredictability that have characterised all the shows so far.
For the last show we were flying in singers and musicians (to form a 9-piece baroque emsemble) to play out a version of Acis & Galatea by Handel amongst the silos, wooden towers and burnt-out cars that litter the grounds of an old pasta factory. But that time, as well as an all-night line up of techno we will had a full 10-piece brass swing band, fire breathing alternative burlesque, live art, specially commissioned dance pieces, body painting and loads more. It’s hard to imagine something like this happening in another place. We’re just so glad to be in Berlin, where ideas like this can be realised fully and there is a thirst for something different.
The next show is now coming full circle in a way. Just over a year ago we did the first show at ‘Renate’ and now they have opened their new space ‘ELSE’ on the other side of the Spree. We’ll be doing another site-specific retelling of Acis under the disco balls there and can’t wait.
Rowan: Looking forward, we’re plotting to take the show on the road to other cities as well. It’s an idea that couldn’t have started anywhere else and it will be interesting to see how the Berlin vibe translates/develops in new places. We’ll always be back in the Kiez before too long though!
Don’t miss out on the next Kiezoper event this coming weekend (30/31 August) – this time, Rowan and Alex and many more international creatives will bring Handel’s Acis & Galatea to Else, classical music at the latest addition to Berlin’s club scene.