Go West Junger Mann (1984)

An East German graffiti artist escapes over the Berlin Wall

Story, Choreography, Direction and Costume design by John Kelly
Original Music by Guy Story
Additional Music by Alban Berg, Gustav Mahler, Felix Mendelssohn, Piotr Ilich Tchaikovsky
Set Design by Huck Snyder
Film Sequences by Anthony Chase
Premiere: Performance Space (P.S.) 122, New York, November 23-25, 1984.
WITH: John Kelly (Waldemar Dix) and Marleen Menard (Statue of Liberty).





I will leave a letter, as I must do what I must. I spit on the wall, and it is red spit––the blood from my gut, from my sad and sorry soul. I paint my figures on The Wall when I feel courageous and a spell hits me. So what. It is good, but on the other side I could paint what I wanted and it could sell. So what––fuck it––this shit makes me crazy and I must leave. Never mama, never again.

                        Your Loving Son,


When I was very young I saw a TV commercial for Radio Free Europe. Shot in black and white, and depicted young people who looked to me like beatniks, seated at a simple table in a bleak and cramped room, huddled around a radio. They leaned forward, silent, listening with a focused intensity to the tiny voice emitting through static on the airwaves.

At the time, I was too young to fully comprehend this aspect of the Cold War, or the Cuban missile crisis. Freedom was a given, though the Atom Bomb lingered in our lives as an ominous and fickle possibility, a feared enemy, like cancer.

In 1983 I went to Europe for the first time, on a tour with playwright John Jesurun, acting in his Chang In A Void Moon. We traveled to Zurich, Munich, Berlin. And to East Berlin.

I just had no idea. The intimidation, the awful food, the shut-down faces, the guns, the guard dogs, checkpoints, bullet holes from World War 2 still scarring the buildings––it appeared to be such a dismal life. The idea of these people not being able to leave this place––I couldn’t conceive of it. For the first time, I really saw my freedom.

You know, we grow up, we have the Statue of Liberty and the Pledge of Allegiance and after a while, it’s hard to see through the politics and remember that there are some aspects of our democracy that work. I wanted to make a piece that focused on what I had, until now, taken for granted. So I invented Waldemar.

Waldemar Dix is a young East German graffiti artist stuck behind the iron curtain in East Berlin. Romantic, rebellious and dangerously furious, he detests the misery of his state-controlled life. He dreams of Rapunzel, of climbing the stair of her hair, only to find that she has the face of Hitler. Tantalized by glimpses of Western culture and rock and rap music heard on the radio, he resolves to escape to the West.

I met the gifted visual artist Huck Snyder in January of 1984. He became my partner and, with Go West Junger Mann, a major collaborator. In life and work, we hit an incredible stride. Huck provided me with an understanding, and exciting visual arena for my ideas. In the interior of Performance Space 122, he constructed a massive faux Berlin Wall out of seamless photographic paper. As Waldemar, I sported a red mohawk and sprayed his complaints on the Wall under the flashing light of a guard tower. I was the restless prey with break dance moves that morphed into a Swan Lake motif. The actual escape consisted of Waldemar inching himself along a rope strung high up along the ceiling, holding on with hands and elbows and bent legs. Upon safely reaching freedom, he dances a duet with the Statue of Liberty, who presents him with a green card.

At the time, it wasn’t particularly fashionable in the art world to be appreciating the good aspects of what we have as Americans. Reagan was in office and there was all this gung-ho Star Wars, isolationist, and evil empire bullshit. Amazingly, one journalist practically called me a Reaganite, as if being patriotic automatically made one a Reaganite. I was being patriotic because this is real. I had no idea. I’m really lucky here.

© John Kelly 2019/2001