We cultivate empty Space

Interview mit Aud Merkel

"I hope that the citizens of Halberstadt have discovered new ways of seeing things, just as one sees things better when wearing a new pair of glasses."
Aud Merkel, Chief Dramatic Advisor of the Nordharzer Städtebundtheater

How did the Nordharzer Städtebundtheater come to participate in the IBA and in the “Cultivation of Empty Space”? How does that fit together?


Aud Merkel: The municipal authorities approached us, invited us to a preliminary meeting and introduced us to the IBA theme. For us it’s an exciting project and a good opportunity to fulfil our intrinsic theatrical function, which is showing. In the theatre world, we have our own way of looking at things, at the “Cultivation of Empty Space”. This has three aspects: Firstly, as a theatre, an institution, we occupy an important public platform in Halberstadt. Secondly, there is the phenomenon that with every new staging – given the right technical resources – we boldly and freely design and redesign an empty space, our stage. Last but not least, theatre can counteract the feeling of emptiness in a person, confront them with topics, ideas, figures and utopias. We can play with time, move forwards and backwards and through spaces … in essence, cultivate empty space.

As with the first action on the “Vision Training Pathway”, the “Reading Picnic” on the derelict Abtshof site?

Aud Merkel: Exactly. That was an action that actors helped shape. Texts were read out, a dancer mapped out the empty space with his pantomimic gestures and animated the visitors to do the same. That is a challenge we want to rise to: How do we get the visitor to be open-minded? How do the visitors see this empty wasteland, this empty space with its puddles, and how do they perceive what they find there? The challenge was to give these points an artistic form.

You did this in an equally successful yet very different way with the “trip to the swimming pool”, a second IBA action in the empty municipal swimming pool.

Aud Merkel: The pool was a fascinating theatrical environment. Our choir and dancers performed in the empty basin, and a singer stood on the diving board and sang. We performed among others a piece called “Five” by the American avant-garde composer John Cage, who is a familiar figure in Halberstadt because “As slow as possible” is being performed here in the Burchardi monastery. With a playing time of 639 years, this is the longest-lasting piece of music in the world. The visitors’ response to the “trip to the swimming pool” was very positive.

The local residents who had negotiated the “Vision Training Pathway” were especially positive. Has Halberstadt changed?

Aud Merkel: It’s certainly a good place to live, although Halberstadt wouldn’t be as lively as it is without its theatre. The city has developed well in recent years. I’m here for the eighth repertory season, and I never would have thought that I could fall so in love with a city. Life here is varied, and there is always something to inspire you. This is also something we try to communicate with our participation in the IBA.

Are there plans for another collaboration for the final presentation in the former swimming pool?

Aud Merkel: A performance entitled “Die Vermessung der Leere” (measuring empty space), a tribute to the artist Yves Klein, will be shown at the opening of Halberstadt’s final IBA exhibition. We are currently working on the staging of the piece, which is conceived and directed by Hannes Hametner in collaboration with Jürgen Groetzinger of the European Music Project. Daniel James Butler is the choreographer. We’re very excited about it, because it’s an experiment for us too, not just for the audience.

In your opinion, what has the IBA achieved in Halberstadt?

Aud Merkel: I hope that it has managed to change the perceptions of the city and its form, that the citizens of Halberstadt have discovered new ways of seeing things, just as one sees things better when wearing a new pair of glasses. If one lives in one place for a long time, then the way of seeing things becomes rigid. The IBA has attempted to break with this everyday perspective and open it up to new ideas. If that succeeds, then the gains are considerable.

Info: Halberstadt

(Municipal Area of 2010)
1989: 53.086
2009: 42.939
2025: 34.717 (Future Prospect)

Municipal Area: 142,97 qkm

IBA-Website of Halberstadt