«The future is truly open»

Berliner Festspiele director Thomas Oberender ponders existential questions on the role of the arts and why we need to introduce a universal basic income.

By Peter Laudenbach

Peter Laudenbach: They say you should never let a good crisis go to waste. Does the pandemic offer opportunities for reorientation?

Thomas Oberender: Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we are once again living in a time of change. The transformation in agriculture, the transformation in transportation, the transformation in energy – suddenly there is talk of «transformation» everywhere. The Corona situation has interrupted many routines. We have been snatched away from our usual everyday logic, sometimes very brutally. We have to improvise and be inventive. We are experiencing the distress and fragility of this exceptional situation, and realise the fragility of the circumstances in which we live. In this situation, solidarity becomes important. Face masks are a medical necessity, but they are also a powerful image of social and human cohesion. And the virus has reminded us that the fabric in which we live includes not just other people, but other species. Here, too, our solidarity is called for: the earth is not a supermarket where we can endlessly take goods off the shelf. All of this is now blossoming in our minds… The future is truly open.   

PL: If you had one wish for the coming year, what would it be (besides an end to the pandemic?)

TO: I would like the voices of change experts like [transformation researcher] Maja Göpel and the philosopher Andreas Weber to be heard. They are pioneers of the new territory we are all heading toward. People like [coronavirus expert] Christian Drosten have been our pathfinders and have given a whole country new language and understanding – all without dividing and agitating. A functioning state has a protective function for the community, and ours is functioning well. But perhaps this crisis is also an opportunity for the community itself, for civil society, not to delegate crisis management to the state alone. Even before the pandemic, there was a renaissance of cooperatives.