As we continue to (wo)man the European Desk of Drammy Towers Inc., at least for a short while longer, we felt that, here in Germany, we should take in something a little different. So last night, alone and unaided, this writer ventured to a “Puppenspiele” (puppet show) at the rather gorgeous little Haenneschen Theater.
As you can see from the photo above, the venue itself, tucked inside the quietly elegant Eisenmarkt (itself an architectural gem), looks rather refined and somewhat proper. Nothing, but nothing, had prepared me for the raucous, hearty atmosphere of the lobby when I arrived for the 7.30 PM show. I had expected tourists, and maybe a few straggling natives. But this was a crowd of beer-swilling, cake-munching, back-slapping Koeln locals, ranging in age from 20ish to 80ish, men and women, who all seemed to know each other, and greeted each other loudly in the distinctive local dialect. I was amazed.
Lots of people seemed to be carrying cushions (the kind you take to sporting events) and once inside, I could tell why. The delightful little theatre (proscenium arch, red velvet curtains, 200 or so capacity) sported long rows of hard, painted, wooden bench seats. I found my place (Reihe 7, Platz 95) and found myself squashed between large friendly groups, all of whose members greeted me (and each other) with a jolly “Guten Abend” as they sat down. I felt that I was in the middle of a giant party (and a bit of a gate-crasher, at that).
The puppets were okay (nothing we can’t do in Portland!) and the scenery/sets FABULOUS. The story seemed to be about a rich woman who wanted to buy a local bakery and pull it down, so a wealthy sheik could build a hotel. Natch, the locals don’t agree, and there’s a bit of a standoff. What was truly weird was that, at the end of each scene, the house lights came up, but somehow everybody (except me, but I was wary and watchful of others’ behavior) knew not to jump to attention and leave.
Several times during any scene, the puppets, jointly or severally, would sing, and the WHOLE AUDIENCE would join in, loudly and lustily, with much foot tapping and shoulder shaking. I couldn’t tell how on earth people knew lyrics or melodies. The songs didn’t seem like folk songs, or pop songs. Well, maybe the latter, but on that sort of Eurovision-song-contest level that is neither fish nor fry nor good red herring. Did those people come OFTEN to see these puppets, and therefore know the tunes? I had no idea.
I understood very little (my German is lamentable, and this dialect impenetrable), though I could tell where the laugh lines came (mostly throw aways at the end of vignettes). A lot one could guess at. The local bakery clientele included a big bosomed blonde (I mean, REALLY big), an obviously gay man (by clothes, by intonation, by earrings…and by the fact that he was the only male NOT to double-take at the enormous knockers), an old woman, a pair of mischievous schoolgirls, a village-idiot type, some workmen (including a Turk, or Arab of some kind), and sundry others (there was also a chorus of rats and other nameless but apparently funny creatures who lived in garbage cans, and a pair of down-and-outs). Some of the jokes I suspect might have offended me if I’d understood them, maybe more than a tad, but who was I to know? I got the one where the, er, mentally otherwise-abled person asked for “African coffee.” (Koffee To Go…get it?). But the crowd loved every second, and roared with laughter like there was no tomorrow, frequently turning towards their neighbors to repeat, in glee, the final punchline.
At one point, about 80 minutes in, the lights came on again (for perhaps the fifth time?) and, though there was no difference in quality from the four previous occasions, everyone knew it was intermission, stood up, and thronged to the lobby, to buy more cakes and ale (Koelsch). Me, I slipped quietly away. I felt I had what I came for. A very different theatrical experience (good in its way) and certainly an OUTSTANDING slice o’life. I worried a little that the good burgers either side of me would think I was passing judgement, by my absence, on their excellent sense of fun. I wasn’t. But I felt I knew the ending (and my own uncushioned ending was frankly a bit sore).
There were no programs to be had, so I went back today and took a picture of the notice in the window. The show I saw was the second one listed.
And then my son took a picture of me and a new friend. I didn’t understand a word HE said, either.
See you soon at the (Portland) theatre!