Berlin’s New Culture Senator Wants to ‘Rethink’ Chris Dercon’s Appointment

Klaus Lederer made no secret of his opposition to Dercon's appointment to the Volksbühne.

For the first time in 10 years, Berlin’s parliament has appointed a new senator to head the department of culture. Klaus Lederer, the head of the Die Linke (The Left) party in Berlin, has been named the first culture senator since 2006.

The city of Berlin enjoys a unique reputation as a capital of arts and culture, and is home to countless important galleries, artists, and world-renowned museums, as well as a famous philharmonic, opera houses, and theaters. And yet—while some of these institutions are managed by the federal, rather than local state government—the city did not have a dedicated senator or a separate department for arts and culture since the former mayor, Klaus Wowereit, added it to his responsibilities a decade ago.

The current mayor, Michael Müller, took over from Wowereit in 2014. He continued to manage the culture department, and named former music manager Tim Renner the city’s culture secretary.

Lederer, however, has criticized the structure. He campaigned for the parliamentary elections this past September, calling for an “integrated cultural policy” that would address both the social challenges of the city, as well as the cultural fabric of its different districts.

The question on everyone’s minds is whether the position of “culture secretary” will now be made redundant, and, if so, what Tim Renner’s subsequent departure would mean for the controversy surrounding Chris Dercon’s appointment as head of the Volksbühne. Though it will be costly and unprecedented, it is not impossible for Lederer to revoke Dercon’s contract before the position officially starts next fall.

The newspaper Der Tagesspiegel published an article this morning asking precisely this question. The direction that Lederer is leaning towards is no mystery: On June 23, he addressed the employees at the Volksbühne as the leader of Berlin’s Die Linke party, with a letter stating his solidarity with their situation.

“The incumbent mayor Müller and the secretary Renner were ill advised” in their selection of Dercon, he wrote. “The Left [party] will strive to ensure that the Volksbühne remains a theater with a solid ensemble and repertoire in the tradition of Piscator, Besson, and Castorf.”

Berlin Mayor Michael Müller, Chris Dercon and Berlin Culture Minister Tim Renner. Photo: Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images

Berlin Mayor Michael Müller, Chris Dercon and Berlin Culture Minister Tim Renner. Photo: Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images

The opinion piece in the Tagesspiegel, written by Rüdiger Schaper, takes a clear position against revoking Dercon’s appointment, and considers the effect such a step would have on Berlin’s standing in the international realm.

“We are looking forward to meeting Klaus Lederer and working together with him,” Dercon said in a statement yesterday, speaking for him and his team, “because we know that the Volksbühne is especially important to him.”

UPDATE: Since this article appeared on Thursday, October 17, Klaus Lederer, Berlin’s newly appointed culture senator has given an interview to the radio station RBB, stating: “It is certainly clear that not everything that Tim Renner and Michael Müller tried to set in motion will work out as they have planned, the Volksbühne and the Staatsballett being two keywords here.” He then specified, saying “The Volksbühne looks back at a long tradition, that of Brecht and Piscator. In order to continue this tradition into the future, we need to rethink whether [my predecessors’] decision regarding personnel was the right one.”

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