Museum overnights have become well-established, but I had never heard of a sleepover at a theatre venue before. So I was curious when I read about theatre Ballhaus Ost’s temporary project Hotel Berlin.
It was not booked out, so I just turned up and chose between three categories; mattresses on the floor in a dorm sold for 13€, while bunk beds and private rooms came for just a few extra euros. Most of the rooms, however, did not come with doors.
I got my hand-stamped at the door, night-club style, and then tried to find my bed among the 75 scattered all over the listed ramshackle six-storey building. Less than half of the almost forty guests finally decided on staying overnight, so everybody could pretty much have their pick regardless of which category they had booked. If you felt like it, you could sleep on stage or next to the bar.
Artistic director Tina Pfurr welcomed the guests. She introduced the people actually living at Ballhaus Ost: designer and performer Lisa, Brazilian architect turned mixed media artist Fernanda, and octogenarian former circus acrobat Herr Diano, who can no longer afford the rent in Prenzlauer Berg.
The members conducted entertaining tours of the building, full of anecdotes about the theatre company’s ten year history, the history of the building and adjoining enclosed park – a cemetery that is now also used for wedding receptions. Recently, the space has seen conflicts over apparently incompatible uses. For example, when a co-working space was separated from experimental theatre rehearsals by only a plywood panel.
At first, the founders of the theatre company had rented only the theatre hall, but then they made a hole in the wall to take over the empty spaces as offices and living quarters on the sly. Some rooms are filled to the brink with props, trash, or kitschy memorabilia. There are surprises all over the place, like a game room with a miniature bubble bath in the basement.
The diverse art work is even more interesting. Fernanda presented a bedsit installation where every item apart from a suitcase was covered in white paint. She said she wanted to demonstrate what it feels like to keep moving from one furnished flat to the next where nothing really belongs to you and you have no personal connection to the objects you chance upon. She also reflected that she was a victim as well as a perpetrator of gentrification.
In between tours, there were staged live links between Tina and the company’s off ground rehearsal, which quickly descended into chaos.
At midnight, we gathered at a long table where an architect explained how the partially dilapidated building structure could be preserved and generate more income for the company. Ideas included adding a new floor on top of the building, tree house offices and camping in the park, and a regular hotel service. Afterwards there was a vegetarian or vegan pasta dinner (for a small donation) that Lisa and her crew had prepared.
Shortly afterwards, I retired to my bed. Time passed quickly. The atmosphere made it easy to start conversations with other visitors, artists, and performers. The night felt like a weird mix of sleepover, museum tour, school trip, gallery walk, TED talk, late night dinner, and of course unconventional theatre.There was also a complimentary breakfast. The night porter even got up before 5 am to serve it to one guest who needed to leave early. All of that for a very competitive price that probably no nearby hostel can beat.
Hotel Berlin was on at Ballhaus Ost from 7 – 18 September 2016.