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Der Kaiser von Kalifornien
by Alexander Eisenach

German with English surtitles

Großes Haus
Premiere 19.03.20

California, Golden State. The nickname of this state in the western US tells a tale of intoxication, of adventure, of a false joy, the dream of the West. On 24 January 1848, a gold nugget was found on New Helvetia (also known as Sutter's Mill) – the private colony of Swiss immigrant Johann August Sutter located north-east of San Francisco. That same year thousands of fortune seekers rushed to California.

The gold rush tells a tale of virtual assets, which are now becoming more and more decisive for trade and markets in the digital age. Non-real assets, where it's not clear if they're consumable in the end, are ranked over real assets with intrinsic value. Community is sacrificed in favour of individualisation, property in favour of greed. In this way, the gold rush of those times and the unbounded financial capitalism of today aren't that far apart; San Francisco today is home to the digital giants and an immense disparity between the rich and the poor – the dream of the West, of a “better life” still visible in all of its facets.

In his first work at the Volksbühne Berlin, director and author Alexander Eisenach dedicates himself to this dialectic of old and new, past and being up-to-date, reality and fiction. The title of his project comes from Tirol-born director and actor Luis Trenker's 1935/36 Western film, which tells the story of Sutter as American pioneer: half swindler, half fugitive, Sutter immigrated to the US to follow the great dream of the West, and built up, in still-underdeveloped California, an empire that he would eventually lose to the intoxicated seekers of gold. Unconcerned with the historical facts, in the film Trenker turns the character of Sutter into a German that defies authorities and moves through idealised images of nature and landscapes – a unique stylistic element in Trenker's films which contributed to his work being instrumentalised by the Fascist regimes in Germany and Italy.

Following in the tracks of Trenker and Sutter, these representatives of an old Europe that were simultaneously America enthusiasts, Der Kaiser von Kalifornien (The Emperor of California) dissects the topography of adventure, which is also the topography of the beginning of a new life. An image that's coming up again in the large-scale migratory flows of today. The ambivalence of these images, the dialectic of home country and new territory, of farewells and departures, of need and hope can be found in both the 21st and 19th centuries. Above the crossing over of past and present, a surface is created for the projection of historical and narrative ambivalences. Following these cross-references, Eisenach as author allows the images of an old Europe, an old America, to collide with new, different and original texts.

Director: Alexander Eisenach
Stage design: Daniel Wollenzin

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