In the 20th century people were shipped between the continents like barrels of oil. The documentary-theatre piece “Bodenprobe Kasachstan” (Soil Sample Kazakhstan) sets out in search of oil with a cast of individuals able to talk about the resource in terms of personal history. Stefan Kaegi and his team began casting in March 2010; the biographies brought together on the stage trace the route of the pipelines from Germany back to Kazakhstan then below the ground. The people who pursue the oil trail are:
Heinrich Wiebe, who lost his family in Germany during World War II and was raised in an orphanage in Semipalatinsk, the Kazakh town close to the site more than 400 atomic bombs were tested during the Cold War. Because the cumulative power of the explosions equalled 2,500 bombs of the type dropped on Hiroshima, the locals are now entitled to early retirement. Heinrich Wiebe drove an oil tank truck all his working life, transporting petroleum from Pavlodar refinery to petrol stations throughout Kazakhstan – singing loudly all the time to stop himself falling asleep in the monotony of the steppe.
Nurlan Dussali, a Kazakh born in Almaty, who now markets solar cells in Germany, where he came to study business and economics. His very first internship was in a trading company for which he purchased entire railway consignments of Kazakh crude for re-sale to Belarus. Every transaction took place over the internet, meaning Nurlan never got his own hands dirty.
The opposite is true of Gerd Baumann, an East German engineer who drilled for oil in Iraq, Texas and, in the 1980s, Kazakhstan. Working under strict safety constraints due to the risk of dangerous blow-outs – sudden eruptions of gas – he and his colleagues triggered crude-oil migration by means of underground detonations.
Helene Simkin spent her childhood gazing at the sky. She grew up near Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, where she saw rockets disappear into the heavens or come crashing down to the steppe. In Hanover, where she now works at the check-in counter of a Russian airline, she faces the prospect of losing her job unless the price of crude oil stops rising.
Elena Panibratova grew up in Tajikistan during the civil war. Her family always viewed Kazakhstan as the rich neighbour in the north. In 1994 her grandfather obtained permission for the entire family to join him in Germany. Elena served an apprenticeship in a bank, trained as a beautician, and now dances on bars for cash and reads her Russian-German colleagues’ hands.
The search for oil fields in Europe began shortly after ten-thousands of Germans followed Catherine the Great’s invitation to emigrate to Russia in the 18th century. By the time Stalin deported hundreds of thousands of ethnic Germans to the steppes of Central Asia during World War II, crude oil had become the world’s primary source of energy. In the early 1990s, Helmut Kohl invited a million ethnic Germans to return to Germany from Kazakhstan; in the same period one of the world’s largest oil fields was discovered in west Kazakhstan.
Today, twenty years on from the wave of repatriation, many Russian-Germans resident in areas like Marzahn in Berlin still speak no German. Within the next ten years, Kazakh oil production is expected to surpass Kuwaiti output prior to the Iraq war. Crude oil is used, directly or otherwise, to fuel 98% of global transportation movements. Almost any product – from hand cream and felt-tipped pen to washing machine or space shuttle – contains some crude oil distillate. And yet, the viscous black substance remains invisible, intangible, remote.
“Bodenprobe Kasachstan” enables five performers to return to their almost-forgotten Kazakhstan and meet up with distant relatives via CinemaScope messages. The theatrical result is a simulated Kazakhstan, a celebration in Russian and German of the trails of the steppe, the paths of people’s lives, of oil, and of power.
With English and Russian subtitles.
Concept & Direction: Stefan Kaegi (Rimini Protokoll)
Video Design: Chris Kondek
Music: Christian Garcia
Set Design: Aljoscha Begrich
Dramaturgy: Aljoscha Begrich, Juliane Männel
Lighting Design:Sven Nichterlein
Director’s Assistant: Jessica Páez
Assistant Set Design: Justus Saretz, Maria Ebbinghaus
Translation & Surtitles: Franziska Zwerg (Ger. & Russ.), Amanda Crain (Engl.)
Production Management:Juliane Männel
Technical Director: Sven Nichterlein
Video Operator:Bodo Gottschalk
Sound Operator: Daniel Dorsch, Niki Neeckes
A production by Rimini Apparat and HAU / Hebbel am Ufer Berlin.
Coproduced by Schauspiel Hanover, Wiener Festwochen, Goethe Institute Almaty, Le Maillon – Théâtre de Strasbourg / Scène Européenne, Territory Festival 2011 and BIT Teatergarasjen.
Supported by the Capital Cultural Fund and the Governing Mayor of Berlin – Senate Chancellery for Cultural Affairs.