In 1988 the "Werkstatt Berlin" paved the way for the Hebbel-Theater's pilot experiment. According to Volker Hassemer, the cultural senator of Berlin at the time, the "Werkstatt Berlin" was to carve West Berlin into the public consciousness as the "Cultural Capital of Europe". Under the direction of Nele Hertling, a rather unconventional programme was especially developed, dedicated almost exclusively to the production and presentation of contemporary culture. The central idea was to invite artists from around the world to Berlin in order to give creative life in the city new impetus. The creation of a network was underway. Thanks to the contacts gained through this project, the Hebbel-Theater was able to continue working on its image as a theatre offering an international programme almost seamlessly.

The concept with which the team at the Hebbel-Theater began in January 1989 was regarded as unusual and highly risky not only in Berlin, but in Germany in general: the theatre was without its own company, without a special repertoire or extensive administrative body, and with only a small team of regular employees and an artistic budget which was very limited in comparison with that of the usual state and city theatres. "When we began here, to see a pedestrian on the Stresemannstrasse was a rarity", remembers Nele Hertling today. Situated amongst post-war apartment blocks in the vicinity of the Berlin Wall, the Hebbel-Theater was at the time located in a rather desolate part of Berlin. This situation changed dramatically with the fall of the Wall in November 1989: "Suddenly we were in the middle of the city; we quickly hooked up with people from the East, and discovered great interest for contemporary dance and musical theatre."

The staff around Nele Hertling and her assistant manager, Maria Magdalena Schwaegermann, enthusiastically developed their new programme as a centre for international theatre, new music and contemporary dance (with its own productions as well as co-productions). The theatre was flexible enough to initiate projects, embrace new theatrical forms and present them in Berlin. Through its connection to a network of international producers - which often has made costly projects possible through common financing and organization - the Hebbel-Theater quickly established itself as an alternative among Berlin theatres. Today, it is regarded not only as an internationally acclaimed location for first-class dance, theatre and musical theatre, but also - and this is its very basis - as an important contemporary forum which allows the space to explore the boundaries between dance, performance, theatre, music and the fine arts in new and unexpected ways.

"In these times, in which more and more cultural institutions - and with them, more and more artists - become losers in the struggle for existence, we regard it as a challenge to support those creative processes and projects which attempt to formulate and assert alternative positions."
Nele Hertling

The Hebbel-Theater attained an artistic profile through its in-house productions - in part independently produced, in part in cooperation with various partners, both local and international. The goal has been to develop a programme which is not centered on short-term guest performances, but rather on the on-going collaborative work with international artists and companies, work which grows out of experience and mutual trust. This production model is only possible because the Hebbel-Theater has no permanent company, and because its productions are not tied in any traditional way to the business of theatre. The productions develop, rather, through small groups of artists and technicians coming together for the length of a project or tour.In this way, the Hebbel-Theater has, over the eleven years in its current form, developed its image as an international co-production site for contemporary theatre, modern dance and new musical theatre. Connected to a flexible network of comparable theatres and festivals, the Hebbel-Theater endeavours to facilitate the work of ambitious and innovative artists through varied modes of collaboration. Initially connected to the TAT (Theater am Turm) in Frankfurt, Felix Meritis in Amsterdam, the Kaaitheater in Brussels, the Szene Salzburg and international festivals in Avignon, Barcelona, Brussels, Edinburgh, Paris, Rome and Vienna, the network has changed over the years and expanded beyond Europe. Today, the Hebbel-Theater enjoys active contact with cultural institutions in many parts of the world. This international cooperation inspired some of the co-producing theatres in the early 1990's to edit a joint publication. From 1992 to 1998, thirteen editions of "Theaterschrift" were published, with interviews and articles in which contemporary artists discuss their own work and the world in which they live. The international edition, published in four languages, considered recent developments in theatre and attempted to create a bridge between theory and practice.

"The International Dance Festival Berlin - Dance in August", which takes place annually in cooperation with the "TanzWerkstatt Berlin", is another of the Hebbel-Theater's success stories. As one of the largest dance festivals in Europe, it has inspired an ever-increasing audience for more than ten years now, and is regarded as an important and virtually unique forum for international contemporary dance in Berlin.

"The Hebbel-Theater is a truly international place with a structure unique to Berlin. Liberal-minded and free. In Moscow, Montréal or Paris, people know of three theatres here, the Berliner Ensemble, the Schaubühne and us."
Nele Hertling