The Sophiensæle in Berlin's Mitte district is one of the most important locations for the production and presentation of independent theatre in the German-speaking world. Artists from Berlin as well as from the national and international scene produce and present innovative and experimental concepts, aesthetics, styles and forms here. The programme encompasses theatre, dance, performance, music, visual art and discourse. As well as hosting many emergent artists, the Sophiensaele is also where many renowned companies and artists have established long term partnerships, like Thorsten Lensing, Vanessa Stern, Christoph Winkler, Monster Truck, Sebastian Matthias, Interrobang, Martin Nachbar and Turbo Pascal.
The Sophiensaele was founded in 1996 by Sasha Waltz and Jochen Sandig together with Jo Fabian and Dirk Cieslak (Lubricat). Franziska Werner has been the artistic director of the Sophiensaele since 2011. The Sophiensaele is part of a network of internationally oriented, independent theatre houses which includes the Kampnagel Hamburg, the Mousonturm Frankfurt/Main, FFT in Düsseldorf, Theaterhaus Gessnerallee in Zürich and brut in Vienna. The Sophiensaele organises the Freischwimmer festival for emergent artists and Tanztage Berlin and hosts renowned Berlin festivals such as Tanz im August.
The Sophiensaele is housed in the architecturally protected former Handwerkervereinshaus (Craftsman's Association) built in 1904/05 by the architects Joseph Fraenkel and Theodor Kampfmeyer. The building is situated in one of the oldest streets of the old Spandauer Vorstadt (Spandau Suburbs) - the 300 year old Sophienstraße. The H-shaped complex of buildings comprises over 90 rooms of which the function room was already a much loved theatre. In the 1910s and 20s the building was used as the meeting place for the Berlin worker's movement and revolutionary left wing where Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were among the speakers. During the Nazi period Dutch forced labourers worked in the function room making Nazi pamphlets. During the GDR it was used by the Maxim Gorki Theatre as its workshops. In the autumn of 1996 Sasha Waltz's breakthrough piece Allee der Kosmonauten premiered here and the Sophiensaele established itself as a production house and host for the city's independent theatre. In 2011 the building was carefully refurbished in parts, with the offices and public areas being modernised but leaving its historical traces.