How East Berlin's leading political cabaret tried to get their message through despite strict state censorship... and what happened when the system they were laughing at ceased to exist. Part of our mini-series The Final Curtain.
For the citizens of the GDR, laughter was often the best medicine when dealing with the absurdities of the political system they lived under. And if you were a resident of East Berlin, there was no better place than Kabarett Distel (meaning 'thorn' in German).
The content of Kabarett Distel shows was strictly censored, so performers had to find clever ways to fully communicate with their audience – who would be focussed on every word and facial expression. Even if it was likely that the Stasi secret police was watching. As the regime began to crumble, late 1980s members of the cabaret joined other East Germans on the streets to demand democratic reforms.
How did the cabaret respond to the tumultuous events of 1989 and the opening of the Berlin Wall? How did Kabarett Distel adapt to the new democratic reality, where you were suddenly free to say what you like? Find out in this episode of The Final Curtain.
Like our show? Sign up for our newsletter!
[01:01] Laughing at the system
[06:00] Testing the boundaries of censorship
[10:13] The final years of the GDR
[12:43] The fall of the Berlin Wall & what it meant for Kabarett Distel
[14:32] Unification, scandal & the Stasi
[18:22] Staying relevant & funny in a free system
[19:59] Almost time to pack our suitcases
Written & produced by Piotr Wołodźko
Edited by Adam Zulawski & Wojciech Oleksiak
Scoring & sound design by Wojciech Oleksiak
Hosted by Nitzan Reisner & Adam Zulawski
And a special thank-you to Justyna Chaberek, our Berlin-based fixer and translator for this episode.