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Take the underground again! – Germany’s export hit, the musical 'Linie 1'

Berlin’s GRIPS Theater is well established in children’s and youth theatre scene. The company, set up in the 1960s by Volker Ludwig, performed realistic, socially critical plays for children right from the start. At a time when theatre for young people usually meant the obligatory Christmas fairy tale, this was completely new concept.


However, the success of the GRIPS Theater in subsequent years was not restricted only to Germany. The plays written by Volker Ludwig and his co-authors have been translated into more than 40 languages and are performed all over the world. Today, the GRIPS Theater performs for children, young people and adults alike. Its repertoire for adults includes Linie 1, the second most successful German musical after Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera.


The musical Linie 1

The musical was first performed at Berlin’s GRIPS Theater back in 1986, when Germany was still divided. The plot has since become part of contemporary history: A young provincial girl takes refuge in West Berlin to look for her ‘Prince Charming’, a rock musician who made her pregnant on a one-night stand. She arrives at West Berlin’s main station, Bahnhof Zoo, and gets no further than Line 1 of the underground. On her journey between the main station and the district of Kreuzberg, she comes face to face with a wide range of city characters and fates.

The Berlin Wall has long since disappeared and the deutschmark has been replaced by the euro, but times have not changed at the GRIPS Theater, located near to Hansaplatz. Here, Berlin is still a city surrounded by ‘the East’, where beggars still ask for a mark, not a euro.

A German musical as an export hit


The specific historical situation poses no problem for foreign adaptations either. The musical has now been adapted all over the world: In Calcutta, it was called Chord Line and featured a refugee girl from Bangladesh. In Seoul Line 1, a young Chinese Korean girl comes to Seoul, where she travels back and forth on the underground between the main station and the red light district 588. In the Korean version, the ‘Wilmersdorf widows’ of the original play become the widows of former military big shots. This Korean version has been even more successful than the original in Berlin. While the GRIPS Theater celebrated its 1,500th performance of Linie 1 in May 2011, Seoul Line 1 has now been performed 4,000 times.

The Namibian version was also adapted to the regional situation: A German girl arrives in Windhoek searching for a Namibian musician she met while he was playing in Germany. She travels all over Namibia with various typical means of transport, such as the infamous minibus taxis and a donkey cart. The Wilmersdorf widows in this version are widows of former Boers still dreaming of white supremacy in Africa. In Barcelona (Linea Roja), Hong Kong (Island Line) and Aden (Mak Nazl) too, the musical has been adapted to fit the respective city while, with the exception of Hong Kong, retaining the original music.

Trolleybus instead of underground

In Lithuania’s capital Vilnius, the musical is currently being performed under the title Taisyklé Nr.1, arba Sapnuoti Vilniu draudziama! (‘Rule no. 1: no dreaming of Vilnius!’). As Vilnius does not have an underground, the plot has been moved to the city streets. The girl from the provinces looks for her Prince Charming on foot and takes the trolleybus through the Old Town of Vilnius. The Wilmersdorf widows are widows of former Communist Party leaders. The musical opened back in 2000 and has met with similar success as the Korean version in Seoul. In 2003, the Lithuanian version was even performed in the place where the success story began: in Berlin’s GRIPS Theater.

Dou you know the musical? Have you experienced a special situation in the subway? Share your impressions with us in the community group KULTUR - CULTURE!

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July 2011

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