The culture sector and the public funding authorities disagree. The cultural sector in Germany has already known since the beginning of November what now applies to a wide range of companies: containment. It is a severe test for German cultural institutions.
“We already have 10,000 infections per hour here,” said an actress wearing a yellow hazmat suit and gas mask in a parody of German Chancellor Angela Merkel dealing with a strange virus. Until a few days ago, the sketch was still in rehearsal at the Die Stachelschweine (The Hedgehogs) cabaret theater in Berlin – under almost normal conditions, thanks to a new ionic air purifier. The device was financed in large part by the Neustart Kultur (New Start Culture) program of the German Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media, Monika Grütters, providing assistance of one billion euros (1.2 billion dollars ).
Theaters in deep crisis
For weeks over the summer, Stachelschweine Managing Director Caroline Lüdecke scoured the internet for funding programs, trying to get a feel for complicated application procedures. She was delighted with the result: “This is our survival strategy and in that regard, I am very grateful that these coffers exist.
Like many independent businesses in the cultural scene, Berlin’s oldest cabaret theater has been plunged into deep crisis by the months-long lockdown of cultural venues. Even though Die Stachelschweine may reopen at some point thanks to its elaborate hygiene concept, things will remain difficult as there is no way the usual 330 guests will be able to attend a show in the near future, making it impossible to cover the costs. Without subsidies, many independent cultural venues will not survive.
To make sure funds don’t run dry, Grütters said the aid program will need more money. “The first billion euros was a response to the first spring lockdown, and we weren’t expecting a much longer winter lockdown at the time,” she told DW. “We will have to follow up.”
Minister of State for Culture and Media Monika Grütters at the Berlinale in 2020
The New Start Culture Project is one of several federal and state aid programs for people and institutions in the cultural sector, severely affected by the restrictions of the coronavirus crisis.
Brönner: Wake Up and Take Action
The state must finally wake up and act, German trumpeter Till Brönner said in late October in an Instagram video that has been viewed more than 2.8 million times.
But too little has happened since then, he told DW. Brönner calls for quick and unbureaucratic help, especially for independent artists. “After nearly 10 months without being able to work, it is a question of earning a living because the confinement will continue,” he said. Many people don’t know how to pay their bills before Christmas – in Germany of all places, where culture is the most important heritage, he added.
A different assessment
This discontent is a quintessentially German phenomenon, said Wesko Rohde, director general of the German Technical Theater Society, adding that nowhere in the world is the cultural industry so well supported. Still, the mood is worse in Germany than in other countries, he said, stressing that people are often unaware of available aid programs.
In recent weeks, artists have increasingly drawn attention to their situation in national campaigns – calling for more financial support as well as appreciation of the arts. Among their arguments was the fact that hardware stores and hair salons were allowed to remain open, while cultural institutions were due to close weeks ago.
Just before the new harsher lockdown, Gonzalo Ruelas, an art student from Mexico, hosted a small art exhibition for his friends on the outskirts of Berlin this weekend. He showed his artwork which deals with the coronavirus, arguing he needed comments to be able to work.
Many artists suffer not only from financial difficulties, but also from isolation. They miss the dialogue with others, making music together, the audience reaction, the thrill of the performance – that’s what keeps them going. The Internet, which has become the most important artistic forum, cannot replace the shared experience of art.
The Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media is aware of their dilemma, but she is convinced that artists in particular will be able to overcome the crisis. “We must not forget that our cultural richness dates back several hundred years and that we saved it in two world wars,” said Grütters. “That is why I am confident that with our help our very tough and resilient culture will also survive this pandemic.”
Translated from the German by Dagmar Breitenbach.