An Evening with Photographer Elke Günzler and Excursion to Theatre O-Tonart in Schoeneberg

4 Jun

Elke pic

By Rhea H. Boyden

Berlin winters, as most people know, can be long, cold and sometimes a little lonely. One thing that always makes winter here a little more bearable is that I know, as soon as spring and summer arrive,  various friends and family from around the world will visit Berlin. It is always a surprise to see who shows up. This season, so far, has already been fabulous with reunions with dear friends and family visiting, some of whom I have not seen in years.

One interesting reunion I had in the past weeks was with a woman- a native Berliner- who only lives on the other side of the park from me. Her name is Elke Günzler and she is an old friend of my mother’s from the time she lived here. I first met Elke 20 years ago, but I had not seen her for about 6 years until she invited me over for dinner a few weeks ago. It was great to finally catch up.

During the day, Elke works as a medical technical assistant, but her true passion is portrait photography and she has travelled widely taking photographs of people. In particular she photographs people in drag. Decadent Berlin, of course, has its fair share of drag queens. ‘To focus my work on drag and transgender’ Elke says ‘ means to me the reflection of sensitivity and fragility in portraiture. I’m interested in the moment that shows a human being between gender or in opposite to gender definition through society or religion.’ And her photographs surely show her talent in capturing these moments.  Her travels with her camera in hand have led her (among other places) to New York, Las Vegas and India. In Berlin, however, her main project of the past 13 years has been house photographer for a transgender  theatre group in Berlin known as the ‘O Ton Piraten.’

After  Elke  served us a delicious dinner of pork filet with homemade pesto served with fresh pasta , we pored over her many photo albums, both of her travels and her subjects at the theatre. She then invited me to come to the current show that the group were performing at their cozy back yard theatre ‘O-Ton Art’ near Yorckstrasse in Schoeneberg which seats 74.

When we arrived, we had a drink in the bar and wandered around the very intimate and inviting theatre foyer. The entire foyer and bar are decorated with Elke’s wonderful black and white and colour photographs which she developed in her own bathroom at home.

I was a little skeptical about the performance before it began as it bore the title ‘Roman Five- The Sandal Show.’ I was pleasantly surprised, however, as it turned out to be a hugely entertaining and brilliantly choreographed performance. The group, dressed as Caesar, Cleopatra, Nero, galley slaves and then finally liberated slaves dancing in the garden of lust took us through the history of cinema in 100 minutes, every minute of which was thoroughly enjoyable.  It was a delightful way to spend a Sunday evening in May at yet another of Berlin’s many small theatres and cabarets. We are so blessed to have such an abundance of culture in this fine capital city. And even though I have lived here for 13 years, which is the same length of time that Elke has been theatre photographer for this group, I still sometimes feel that I have barely scratched the surface of Berlin theatre culture.

One Response to “An Evening with Photographer Elke Günzler and Excursion to Theatre O-Tonart in Schoeneberg”

  1. Judy June 4, 2013 at 9:52 pm #

    I do think that not matter how well we think we know a place, especially a complex place like an old historic city, that there are undreamt of layers. Layers that maybe we read of in books but seem far removed from ‘real’ life…the gritty underbelly so to speak! Plus an interesting topic for portraiture and I think that being ‘between’ is always somewhat poignant whether it is gender, being caught between timeline or generations, or even wars. Enjoyed your post and the interesting Elke.

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