Once Again, a Woman’s Murder
Becomes Necessary on Stage
A Cold Night in Berlin, written and directed by Barış Eren. Premiere in Ankara State Theatre, October 2010.
About the Play
Since the emergence of Europa myth, which is about an Anatolian young woman tempted to see life on the other side of the coast in Ancient Greece, for almost three thousand years, Europeans have the presupposition that Easterners are enthusiastic about leaving the East, heading for the West to reach the countries of civilisation, rights and freedoms. Germany has been on the top of the list for the Muslim Eastern people for more than forty years. In this way, European becomes “I” and the immigrants become “the other”. For Muslim immigrants this being “the other” is like a visible greasy stain which reappears on a wedding dress after each wash. At first, these Muslim Eastern people were invited and welcomed at the border of Germany. They were seen off by their countries, as was Europa. Then the host closed the gates and ignored the migration as a social phenomenon, the “guest” became the “foreigner” who started to sweep and wipe the European countries clean.
Distinguished Turkish writer and director Barış Eren has occupied himself with drama in Germany for a number of years. His A Cold Night in Berlin (Soğuk Bir Berlin Gecesi) is a contemporary piece which reveals the last days in the life of Tarık, a young well-educated Muslim photographer striving to make a living in Germany.
A Cold Night in Berlin is a 21st century tragedy about the excessive jealousy of a young Muslim man towards a young German woman, Katrin, whom he lives together with; his turning into a rude violent man in his relationship with Katrin’s mother Gerda, Katrin’s elder brother Peter and her former boyfriend Olaf because of his jealousy; his killing the young woman in one of the outrageous fights caused by his suspicions; living together with the dead body of Katrin for four days due to the breakdown of his perspective of reality; his final decision to put all the blame on the well-educated Olaf, whom he suspects to be the young woman’s lover; and in the end his failing to stick to this solution and killing himself by jumping off a balcony on the fifth floor.
Tarık is well-educated like Hamlet, but he is lonely in terms of contemporary human relations based on power; and he is deeply in love just like Othello, and culturally he is also a kind of Maghrebean. On the other hand, Katrin is patient in her relationship, just like Ophelia was, and she is quite loyal to her love although not to the extent of Desdemona’s absolute commitment. However, this does not save her from being suffocated with a cushion. Gerda and Peter are the class manifestation that the new world order is not fair even for pure-blooded German citizens. In Peter’s world view, the main reason of inequality is all the foreigners in his country! It is difficult to make Peter understand that these “dirty, noisy and over fertile” foreigners are not responsible for the class barrier he cannot overcome. This is an issue of internalised “perfect I and the incorrigibly defective other” as in the myth of Europa.
Characters and Acting
In A Cold Night in Berlin, we see Mahmut Işık as the downstairs neighbour Mr Manfred, who cannot stand foreigners just because they are foreigners, Adnan Erbaş as Olaf, Eray Eserol as Peter, Ferahnur Barut as Gerda, Fulya Koçak as Katrin and Olcay Kavuzlu as Tarık.
Adnan Erbaş has a calm and serene way of acting Olaf, which indicates that there can still be universally good individuals even in such a crude world. He is the only voice to give us hope as to the possibility of a dialogue in a relationship without gender and nationality dicatomies.
Peter, who is portrayed by Eray Eserol, enables the Chekhovian alienation to be transferred to the audience by means of tragicomic acting. In his acting Eserol is able to reveal that Peter is lost in the absolute fact that, ironically, he is indeed in no better a position than those foreigners whom he loathes. Peter is the representation of the global games played on all socio-economic castes after the Second World War. And Eserol reflects Peter who is in a process of alienation sacrificed to these games. Eserol contemplates on a role which shares with us the huge gap between where the character stands and where he claims to stand. Eserol’s Peter is like a postmodern pastiche of a European gentleman elapsed in time, which reminds us that there are no gentlemen anymore, we only see their pastiches.
Ferahnur Barut’s character Gerda portrays a mother/woman who makes us understand why Katrin attained such a good position, with a motherly touch. Barut’s experienced acting shows how many images could be created in a short amount of time especially in the sexist world of drama where women characters are rarely given the opportunity to remain on the stage.
Fulya Koçak has found a great opportunity to improve her acting experience in the role of Katrin. In world drama, even female leads are often filled with gender stereotypes. It is rare to witness a woman of Katrin’s calibre on stage, almost a heroine. I wish to see leading roles written for women. But the text follows a pattern where the reasons are given for “why” the man committed the murder, and an account is given of “what” happened afterwards. And the female actress is expected to help portray how the male lead has reached his current state-of-mind and in doing so to be more aesthetic than dramatic. Even the dead body of the woman is not buried, as it would deserve, on time. Under the circumstances Fulya Koçak, just like all actresses who have been subject to the history of Western drama, presents the expected woman to the audience. It is apparent that Koçak has been very meticulous with the role expected from her as a young tragic victim.
As Tarık, Olcay Kavuzlu who has been given the mission to portray masculinity in the dilemma of East-West, obviously worked his way to the role in a Raskolnikov - like method. Tarık can be insane. But he is a murderer. Can there be any justification at all for murder, can jealousy be claimed as one? Is there any plausible reason for us to say “come on, he is right for sure, he loves her madly?” Thanks to the acting of Olcay Kavuzlu, we are not stuck between a contemporary tragic hero and an anti-hero, which would undermine our empathy. Also, thanks to Kavuzly, there is no need to make a preference. Our actor saves us from this theatrical burden and enables us to leave the building experiencing a contemporary catharsis.
Staging of the Play
The playwright is also the director. Therefore, we do not see the impossibility of the director having the point of view of the writer, in accordance with the 20th century Barthesean mis/understanding of the text. Yet, the play has its limitations, e.g. everything derives from a single mind! It could be better to have a gender-sensitive point of view. Because it is the responsibility of drama to ask the following question in response to the injustice encountered by women in theatre for a thousand years; is A Cold Night in Berlin the contemporary tragedy of Tarık who decides to commit a murder, or is it the tragedy of Katrin who dies from the act of the man? We should not forget that violence against women is twice inhuman because woman becomes the target of violence because of not only her individual human flaw but also because violence toward her sex is exerted for the very reason that she is a woman. The stage has had an extremely sexist attitude for thousands of years and it does not seem to let it go. Women have been raising their voices underlining that their bodies are not subordinate; they are not objects like Europa was. It is a historical task to be responsible for prioritising female characters. This is what I criticize, but as for all the rest, well-done, A Cold Night in Berlin!
 Güzin Yamaner (born in 1968 in Eastern Anatolia) wrote her master's thesis on Postmodern theatre and staging Peter Handke, and first graduated as a stage designer. Her second thesis was on The birth of feminist theatre. She is an academic at Ankara University State Conservatory Dance Department. She is also a member of Womens' Studies Master and PhD Programme at the same University. Her work concentrates on oral history, autobiography, creative drama and focus group studies. She works with Magdalenaproject which is a world-wide female artists' organisation. She has published three books on theatre research and gender studies in particualr. She contributes to The Open Page in Denmark.