Always the focal point in modern times for momentous political, social and cultural upheaval, Berlin has continued, since the fall of the Wall in 1989, to be a city in transition. As the new capital of a reunified Germany it has embarked on a journey of rapid reconfiguration, involving issues of memory, nationhood and ownership.
Bertolt Brecht, meanwhile, stands as one of the principal thinkers about art and politics in the 20th century. The 'Street Scene' model, which was the foundation for his theory of an epic theatre, relied precisely on establishing a connection between art's functioning and everyday life. His preoccupation with the ceaselessness of change, an impulse implying rupture and movement as the key characteristics informing the development of a democratic cultural identity, correlates resonantly with the notion of an ever-evolving city.
Premised on an understanding of performance as the articulation of movement in space, Street Scenes interrogates what kind of 'life' is permitted to 'flow' in the 'new Berlin'. Central to this method is the flaneur figure, a walker of streets who provides detached observations on the revealing 'detritus of modern urban existence'. Walter Benjamin, himself a native of Berlin as well as friend and seminal critic of Brecht, exercised the practice in exemplary form in his portrait of the city One-Way Street.
Street Scenes offers various points of entry for the reader, including those interested in: theatre, performance, visual art, architecture, theories of everyday life and culture, and the politics of identity. Ultimately, it is an interdisciplinary book, which strives to establish the 'porosity' of areas of theory and practice rather than hard boundaries.
'A thoughtfully argued, original, and multifaceted book.'
– E. Wickersham, Villanova University, USA
'Nicolas Whybrow is the author of a bold and accessible work of German cultural studies in which the visual intertextual focus, namely of post-Wall Berlin, is relayed as a series of 'street scenes'. [F]or those willing to absorb Berlin through its unique physical geography, that has been subjected to radical reformulations over the last century and more, Whybrow's book provides a strong, skilful interpretation. [He] has made a dramatic poem - if not quite a Brechtian performance - out of Berlin. Whybrow's mode is 'brechtian' with a lower-case 'b', providing thereby endless opportunity for urban analysis as an anti-metaphysical technique for engaging everyday life. [A]n astute and refreshing study.'
– Janet Ward, University of Nevada, USA (in The Brecht Yearbook)
'With his very original approach Whybrow re-establishes the flâneur's art à la Benjamin and Baudelaire. Yet he never acts as a 'distracted Bohemian' in the mode of the nineteenth century, but much rather as an interfering spectator in a Brechtian sense. [...] Whybrow's wanderings to scenes and places such as Brecht's house and grave and to monuments and memorials, his sight of the somewhat compulsory car accident and his attendance at an anti-Nazi demonstration and the Love Parade are both entertaining and instructive.'
– Nikolaus Müller-Schöll, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany (in Theatre Research International)
'Whybrow stages Berlin as an encounter zone, as a space through which he rambles and in which he picks up connections [...] The text is accompanied by Whybrow's photos of Berlin, shots of street signs, panoramas, monuments, architecture, and other images that clearly connote the snapshot, the tourist's gaze. The images are made en passant, minor because of their small size and of the way that they are inserted into the running texts. I find them personal and intriguing, since they are so clearly dialogic, rather than illustrative, in character. Potential dialogue, heteroglossia, and (missed) connections create for me the atmosphere of reading Whybrow's book. [It] is most successful when he goes ambling and allows me insights into his magpie mind, [for example] binding together his own experience of witnessing an accident while on the way to a wedding party and Brecht's poem ' On Everyday Theatre'.'
– Petra Küppers, Bryant University, USA (in Modern Drama)