Ideally, cultural institutions like theaters have people debating and talking about their productions. In Berlin these days, however, venues and their leadership are the focus of attention after complaints of sexual assault, bullying, age discrimination and racist remarks.
In the most recent case, Shermin Langhoff, the artistic director of Berlin’s Maxim Gorki Theater, is in the spotlight. According to media reports, several employees accuse Langhoff of creating a toxic work environment. Another article in Der Spiegel news magazine spoke of a “climate of fear.”
One specific complaint was brought to court. A female dramatic adviser sued the theater because her contract was not renewed, a decision she believed resulted from of a letter of complaint she wrote about Langhoff. The adviser also said she was discriminated against for taking parental leave.
Before the Berlin Stage Arbitration Court, the plaintiff and the theater agreed on a settlement on Wednesday: The adviser’s contract is to end in the summer against a compensation of €15,000 ($18,000).
Langhoff has not commented on the accusations of abuse of power and bullying since the publication of reports and the court case.
The Maxim Gorki Theater was named twice German ‘Theater of the Year’ since Shermin Langhoff became director in 2013
Berlin theater scene shaken by series of allegations
The Maxim Gorki Theater scandal is the most recent chapter of a series of allegations of misconduct at various theaters.
In March, the interim artistic director of the Berlin Volksbühne, Klaus Dörr, resigned from his post after several female employees accused him of making lewd and sexist remarks.
In April, also before the Stage Arbitration Court, a settlement was reached between the city’s State Ballet and a Black member of the corps de ballet who had accused her ballet mistress of racism.
An award-winning director
Born in 1969 in Turkey, Shermin Langhoff was long considered a shining example of successful integration and communication. She was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit, along with numerous theater and cultural prizes.
At Berlin’s Ballhaus Naunynstrasse Theater, where she was the artistic director from 2008 to 2013, she established through her projects a new approach, which she characterized as “postmigrant theater” — works dealing with the realities of second and third-generation members of immigrant families.
Langhoff has been at the head of the Maxim Gorki Theater since 2013. Six years later, employees approached Themis, an independent agency against sexual abuse and violence in theaters and the film industry that was established in 2018 in the wake of the #MeToo debate. Mediation was set up.
The mediation process at the Gorki Theater was completed at the end of that theater season, and was concluded on the part of the cultural administration and Themis in November 2020, according to a spokesperson for the Senate Department for Culture and Europe, who also said that the theater made organizational and structural changes.
Klaus Lederer, the city’s Senator for Culture, was therefore aware of the situation for some time. Langhoff’s contract was nevertheless extended last year until 2026. According to the administration, the renewal gave “the artistic work at the Gorki Theater, which is recognized beyond Berlin, a reliable planning perspective.”
This article was translated from German.