The director of the Volksbühne theater in Berlin quit on Monday after accusations of sexual harassment, creating a hostile work environment and humiliating older actresses were published in a German newspaper. Klaus Dörr had led the Volksbühne, one of Europe’s most influential theaters, since April 2018.
His resignation, which the theater confirmed in an email, came just days after Die Tageszeitung, a daily newspaper, said that complaints against Dörr by 10 women were being investigated by Berlin’s culture ministry, which oversees the playhouse. The women said Dörr had stared inappropriately at women who worked at the theater, made sexist comments and sent inappropriate text messages, the newspaper reported.
City officials received the complaints in January and were investigating them, the ministry confirmed in a statement released on Saturday. Dörr was interviewed as part of this process at the start of March, the statement added.
“I take full responsibility, as the artistic director of the Volksbühne, for the allegations made against me,” Dörr said in a statement released by the theater.
“I deeply regret if I have hurt employees with my behavior, words or gaze,” he added.
A spokeswoman for the theater declined to comment further.
Dörr’s resignation is only the latest scandal to hit the storied Volksbühne. In 2018, Chris Dercon, its previous director and the former leader of the Tate Modern museum in London, quit just months into the job after widespread protests over his appointment. Those included an occupation of the theater by left-wing activists; at one point, someone left feces outside his office.
The activists, who included members of the theater’s staff, accused Dercon of trashing the company’s tradition of ensemble theater, in which a permanent company of players creates a rotating repertoire, and turning it into a space for visiting international performers to mount their shows. Many saw the strife around Dercon’s appointment as a proxy for debates about gentrification in Berlin.
Dörr was meant to be a stabilizing, if temporary, force at the theater until a new permanent director could be found. In 2019, René Pollesch, an acclaimed German playwright and director, was named as the new leader, set to take up the role in summer 2021.
The latest problems at the Volksbühne emerged at a time of focus on the behavior of male leaders in Germany toward female members of staff. On March 14, Julian Reichelt, the editor in chief of Bild, Germany’s largest newspaper, took a leave of absence after women who worked at the paper accused him of misconduct.
A law firm is investigating the allegations, which have so far not been specified. Reichelt denies all wrongdoing.
Jagoda Marinic, an author who has written extensively about the #MeToo movement in Germany, said in a telephone interview that she saw Dörr’s resignation as a watershed. That the revelations in Die Tageszeitung concerned a group of women, rather than an individual accuser, was significant, she said, adding that the case was also the first time someone in Germany had resigned so quickly after a complaint became public.
“My hope is it spurs other people to speak out,” Marinic said.
On Tuesday, the Volksbühne’s ensemble expressed its “unreserved solidarity” with the women who spoke out against Dörr, in a message posted on the theater’s Instagram account. “Our industry suffers under outdated power structures,” the message said. “This discourse must not end with Klaus Dörr’s resignation.”