Berlin is a-buzz with Hinterm Horizont (Beyond the Horizon), Germany’s answer to Billy Elliot (or so its producers hope). On twenty thousand posters and billboards across the city, Udo Lindenberg, Germany’s pouting, wrinkly rebel rock poet, entices audiences to come to the new musical which features 30 of his hit songs. ‘The story isn’t ours alone,’ he said at last week’s premiere. ‘It’s the story of many people who were torn apart and then got back together.’ In other words Hinterm Horizont is a pop chronicle of the separation of Berlin.
Lindenberg, a Teutonic cross between lyrical Joe Cocker and a geriatric Michael Jackson, is a modern German legend. His whisky-scorched voice and brash, inventive use of language have electrified audiences here for decades. With his Panikorchester (Panic Orchestra), he ‘Germanized’ rock classics from Little Richard to the Rolling Stones and collaborated with international stars like Eric Burdon and David Bowie. But his greatest legacy was to hound the former Communist leader Erich Honecker to let him perform in East Germany, using music as a means of uniting the people of the divided country.
Hinterm Horizont tells a story of love separated by barbed wire and the Wall. In 1983 West German Udo – played by Serkan Kaya – performs at East Berlin’s Palace of the Republic. He falls in love with Jessy (Josephin Busch), a beautiful young singer in the FDJ (Free German Youth) choir. With their romantic alliance (or ‘illegal proximity’ depending on ones political perspective), the Stasi see both disaster and opportunity. First, they try to dilute Udo’s influence on ‘susceptible’ East German youth by replacing him with a double. When their plan fails, and Jessy’s brother is imprisoned for trying to smuggle a love letter to Udo, they force Jessy to spy on her beloved rock star. The affair is consummated in Moscow and, unbeknown to Udo, Jessy becomes pregnant. In 1989 he rejects her, knowing only that she had been a Stasi informer. Twenty years later he discovers the truth, and father, one-time lover and their son are united in a grand, all-singing all-dancing finale.
The musical’s witty and touching text was written by Thomas Brussig, gifted author of the Mauerfall classic Heroes Like Us. Brussig’s sparkling dialogue is among the show’s greatest delights. For example, when the East German Security Minister is told by his Stasi comrades that Udo – as a decadent Western rocker – has no abilities.
‘(But) this is our area of expertise,’ responds the minister, preparing himself for a fight. ‘We excel at having no abilities.’
(‘Was kann der eigentlich? Nichts. Und, Genossen, im Nichtskonnen lassen wir uns von niemandem ubertreffen, darin sind wir Weltspitze.’)
Later in their nuptial hotel room, Udo tells Jessy, ‘If Communism was as lovely as you it’d stand a chance.'
Finally in response to her question about his new life in West Berlin, Jessy’s brother tells her, ‘It’s not a constant orgasm. But I’d rather live in the jungle than in a zoo.’
Hinterm Horizont features dancing East German border guards, a song-filled escape over the Wall in an FDJ balloon and brutal, choreographed street demonstrations. The lovers reunion scene in Red Square – in a bed surrounded by Bolshoi ballerinas, black marketers, springing Cossacks and begging babushkas – is powerfully staged. But for me the musical’s most moving moments were when the sell-out audience relived the events of 1961 and 1989. On stage and on eight, huge video screens, the Wall rose up to separate families, city and nation, then opened to reunite the divided people. Time and again the audience burst into spontaneous applause, for example when the East German television announcement of the opening of the Wall was replayed.
Hinterm Horizont has already broken theatre records here, selling over 100,000 tickets before its opening night. The show features 35 performers, a backstage crew of 200, a live eight-man boogie rock band (think Status Quo), 480 costumes, 115 wigs and a three ton, nine-metre wide ‘Udo hat’ which hovers above the stage on steel cables. At the premiere – in front of 1,800 guests including former West German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the last East German leader Lothar de Maizière, Nina Hagen and a bevy of glitterati -- Lindenberg himself appeared on stage to sing two of his hits and to mark the celebration.
‘1989 -- that was the best party of my life,’ he said at the end of the show. ‘But today I really need my dark glasses as tears are rolling from my eyes.’