Europe

Berlin Volksbühne theatre director resigns over harassment claims

The director of Berlin’s Volksbühne theatre has resigned after allegations of sexual harassment and the humiliating treatment of older female actors.

The theatre said that Klaus Dörr would give up his post with immediate effect, after the intervention of Berlin’s culture senator, Klaus Lederer, whose office also confirmed the decision.

Dörr, who took over as interim director at the theatre in April 2018, said he claimed “total responsibility” for the allegations.

“I take full responsibility as the artistic director of the Volksbühne, for the allegations which have been made against me,” he said in a statement. “I deeply regret if I have hurt employees with my behaviour, words or gaze,” he added.

Dörr was accused by 10 women who worked at the theatre – which translates as ‘stage of the people’ – of inappropriate behaviour towards them, including staring at them in an improper way, making sexist remarks and sending unsuitable text messages to them. The TAZ, a left-wing Berlin daily first reported just days ago that Dörr had been under investigation over the claims by Berlin’s culture ministry, which has overall control of the theatre, since January.

The women accusing him secured support for their claims in a petition signed by mostly female directors, playwrights, authors and actors, calling for Dörr’s resignation or sacking and urging the cultural ministry to take the claims seriously.

The scandal is the latest in a string of negative publicity incidents at the playhouse, once the main stage in the capital of the communist-led German Democratic Republic, which gained wider recognition as one of the most important avant garde stages in Europe following the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In 2018, its previous director, the Belgian Chris Dercon, formerly head of the Tate Modern in London, was appointed to the post by the cultural senator, following the effective ousting of the theatre’s longstanding and renegade head, Frank Castorf, who had been in post for 25 years.

But employees reacted angrily at what they saw as a political and commercial appointment and protests included an occupation of the theatre, and threats to Dercon, including placing faeces at his office door.

Dörr was supposed to bring some calm to the theatre as a caretaker director. René Pollesch a respected and acclaimed German playwright and director, was due to take over this summer.

The resignation of Dörr comes at a time when Germany appears to be in the midst of its own belated #MeToo reckoning. Almost three and a half years since its birth, the social movement has led to prominent resignations and prosecutions around the world – most notably that of the US film producer Harvey Weinstein – but had so far appeared to have had relatively little impact in Germany.

Earlier this month it was announced that the TV and film director Dieter Wedel had been indicted, three years into an investigation by prosecutors over claims he raped an actress. Wedel denies the charges. Other actors have also come forward to allege that he sexually harassed them, using the #MeToo hashtag, in what had been Germany’s most prominent case in the debate to date.

Last weekend Julian Reichelt, the editor in chief of Bild, Germany’s largest newspaper, took a leave of absence following accusations by women who worked at the paper of sexual misconduct, which were made public by the magazine Der Spiegel. Reichelt denies the claims.

The Volksbühne said in a statement on a social media account that the women behind the accusations towards Dörr had the whole ensemble’s “unreserved solidarity”. It added: “Our industry suffers under out of date power structures, a discourse which must end with Klaus Dörr’s resignation”.

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