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This Berlin Theater Shows How Entertainment Might Look Post-Coronavirus

By Sarah Buder

Jun 11, 2020

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The Berliner Ensemble removed 500 seats in its main auditorium at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm to adhere to the German government’s required COVID-19 safety protocols.

Photo by Moritz Haase

The Berliner Ensemble removed 500 seats in its main auditorium at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm to adhere to the German government’s required COVID-19 safety protocols.

In Germany’s capital, the historic Berliner Ensemble removed more than half of the seats from its main auditorium to guarantee social distancing for future theatergoers.

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As coronavirus lockdowns are steadily being lifted across Europe, recently reopened restaurants, hotels, museums, and other public venues have had to get creative with new ways to host visitors from safe distances. In Germany, which began to ease its strict lockdown measures in early May, a historic theater in the capital is providing a glimpse of what live entertainment venues could look like in the future.

The Berliner Ensemble, located in East Berlin by the River Spree, recently released pictures of the stripped-down interior at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm. At the historic building where the theater company performs, it has overhauled its seating arrangements to ensure proper social distancing for future theatergoers. The German theater company, founded in 1949 by actress Helene Weigel and her husband, playwright Bertolt Brecht, removed 500 of the 700 seats in its main auditorium to adhere to the government’s required COVID-19 safety measures, which require 1.5 meters (approximately five feet) of distance between individuals in public spaces.

The Berliner Ensemble is one of the most renowned and long-standing theater companies in Germany.

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The Berliner Ensemble’s updated layout uses just 200 red velvet chairs spread across the ornate main hall at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, which was originally constructed in 1892 and features an elaborately carved ceiling and balconies. “We simply could have blocked seats or taken out only entire rows, but that would have looked ghostly,” artistic director Oliver Reese said to the Guardian. Instead, the theater’s remaining seats were arranged in spaced out pairs to create what Reese described as “an experience that is special, that will anchor itself in people’s emotional memory.” 

The German theater, which has been closed since March 13 due to the pandemic, also said its layout will maintain a distance of three meters (10 feet) between the edge of the stage and the first row of spectators. When the establishment reopens, some doors will be kept open during performances to ensure proper air circulation. Additionally, the productions will temporarily eliminate intermissions to prevent crowded restrooms during the regular act-break rushes.

While the Berliner Ensemble is preparing to welcome back theatergoers with heightened social-distancing protocols, the theater company won’t reopen until September 4, as large public events—such as concerts and major performances—remain banned in Germany through August 31. Even after the theater’s productions do resume this fall, some of its previously scheduled programs will remain postponed until next year, such as a new ensemble show by Belgian director Luk Perceval, which would have required too many actors to appear onstage at once. 

The German theater company was founded in 1949 by actress Helene Weigel and her husband, playwright Bertolt Brecht.

The mail hall at Berlin’s Theater am Schiffbauerdamm (where the Berliner Ensemble performs) features just 200 red velvet chairs separated in pairs 1.5 meters (five feet) apart.

The Berliner Ensemble will resume its productions with COVID-19 safety protocols from September 4.

>>Next: When Will We Be Able to Travel to Europe?

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