A Russian Filmmaker’s Plan to Recreate the Berlin Wall Was Scuttled in Germany. Now, It Will Make Its Debut in Paris

The controversial installation will take over two historic theaters in Paris this month—and visitors will need visas to enter.

Photography from the “Institute” in Kharkiv, Ukraine. © Orlova.
Photography from the “Institute” in Kharkiv, Ukraine. © Orlova.

Last September, just two weeks before Russian filmmaker Ilya Khrzhanovsky was due to open an ambitious project in Germany that would recreate the Berlin Wall, authorities nixed the plan amid cries that it hit too close to home.

“People in a city who have suffered two dictatorships in a few decades need no instruction on what a dictatorship means,” several public figures wrote in an open letter published last fall.

Now, the project has a second chance at life. It will make its debut in Paris, according to a report by the publication Monopol.

Two theaters along the Seine, the historic Théâtre du Châtelet and the Theatre de la Ville, will host a slightly pared-down version of the original project. A 15-meter-high (50-foot) bridge will connect the two venues, according to the the newspaper Le ParisienAccording to the newspaper Tagespiegel, the Paris project has also been experiencing bureaucratic hurdles, but none so far threaten to halt the project.

Titled DAU Freiheit, Khrzhanovsky’s dramatic recreation of the Soviet world is due to run in Paris from January 24 through February 17. Four hundred people at a time will experience something of life under Communist dictatorship. They need to apply for “visas”—three kinds of which are available, with fees ranging from €35 to €150 ($40 to $170)—to enter the installation, and will be asked to fill out psychometric questionnaires so that each experience can be individually tailored.

The walls of the Théâtre du Châtelet and the Theatre de la Ville (both venues are currently under renovation) will be painted dark red, and rooms will recreate Stalin-era interiors.

Theatre du Chatelet will host the controversial DAU project. Photo: Francois Guillot AFP/Getty Images.

The Berlin version was due to take over a strip of the city’s historic Unter den Linden avenue for four weeks in October. Visitors would have been guided around a set built to look like a Soviet-era city after passing through Cold War-style checkpoints. The presentation was to include some 13 feature films (compiling over 700 hours of footage), plus contributions from Brian Eno, Marina Abramović, and Massive Attack.

The films were recorded between 2009 and 2011, when Khrzhanovsky invited around 400 people, including waitresses, families, famous artists, and Nobel Prize-winners, to live for two years in isolation at “The Institute,” a Soviet-inspired world he created in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. It is said to be the largest Russian film project ever undertaken, and was seen as highly controversial at the time.

A version of Khrzhanovsky’s project is also planned for London. It is unclear if the artist hopes to revive its Berlin iteration there.


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