Elisa Moolecherry: Bringing English theatre to Munich

The Local's series "Making it in Germany" presents Elisa Moolecherry, the Canadian actor and entrepreneur behind Munich’s English-language BeMe Theatre.

Elisa Moolecherry: Bringing English theatre to Munich
Photo: BeMe

It’s a Thursday night and the small theatre in Munich is nearly full and people speak a mix of German and English while they wait for the lights to go down. The play, “My Zinc Bed,” finally starts and the cast of three Canadians commands the audience’s attention for the next 100 minutes.

Such scenes are now routine for Moolecherry, who is taking to the stage for the sixth production of her own theatre company BeMe. First established in Barcelona, BeMe relocated to Munich in 2007 to become the Bavarian capital’s first professional English-language theatre.

“Right from the first production (in Munich), I knew this was going to stick here,” the Toronto native told The Local. “I think people here are really interested in the English language and, from what I understand, they seem a little starved for English theatre of a high quality.”

Since moving to Europe, Moolecherry has made the transition from actor to artistic director and entrepreneur. She now offers regular productions for Anglophile Germans and theatre-starved expats with the help of her German husband Felix Leicher, who is also BeMe’s managing director.

For the first production, “I, Claudia,” Leicher and Moolecherry did very little in terms of marketing, but still managed to sell out two weeks of performances. And over the last year, Moolecherry said BeMe Theatre’s audience numbers have jumped by 50 percent.

After getting over her initial culture shock, Moolecherry has come to appreciate the kind of support the arts get in Germany and now considers Munich home.

“I think I would have given up a long time ago if I didn’t have all these avenues of support, and because of them, now I can’t give up,” she said. “We have a very, very loyal audience.”

Part of that audience is Kamla Saltau, an Australian who has spent the last 10 years living in Munich. She has attended all of the BeMe productions to date.

“As an expat in a German-speaking country, I am grateful for the opportunity to see theatre in my own language. The BeMe Theatre really does a good job,” she told The Local after seeing “My Zinc Bed.”

For Saltau and her friends, the treat isn’t just the language, but the quality of actors and plays chosen by Moolecherry and Leicher to bring to the stage.

“It is a credit to the production company that after every play, my friends and I want to discuss what we’ve just seen,” Saltau said.

And that’s just the kind of theatre Moolecherry strives to put on for her English-speaking and German crowds.

“I think that’s something that appeals to both German and English speakers,” she said.

While she dedicates herself full time to the theatre, Leicher still keeps his day job as an architect. But they both hope that BeMe will not just expand and grow, but also find sponsors.

The Munich-based theatre is also making a name for itself back in her native Canada thanks to the talent it has brought over to perform the plays that have been mostly by Canadian playwrights.

“The opportunity to perform in other countries and to do a Canadian play in another country is a huge enticement,” said Duane Murray, an actor from Toronto who performed in BeMe’s production “Problem Child.”

Murray said in particular the audiences would bring him back to Munich anytime.

“They were generous. It’s as simple as that,” he told The Local.

But as successful as the whole endeavour has been, Moolecherry admits BeMe is still a work in progress. She and Leicher hope to become more integrated in Munich’s theatre community and move beyond its foreign repertoire.

“I don’t want us to be known as the English-language theatre company,” she said. “I want us to be known as one of the theatre companies in Munich.”

Performances of My Zinc Bed:

March 17 – 20, 23 – 27

Showtime: 8:30 pm

Matinees on March 19 and 25

Showtime: 11:00 am

Tickets €18, students €12

Groups of 10 or more €15 per person

Tel: 089-385 377-66

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7 tips for how to survive as a freelancer in Germany

Taking the decision to go it alone and freelance in Germany can be a daunting prospect. But, if you do it right, it can be an exciting and liberating path. Here are some of our top tips on how to survive.

7 tips for how to survive as a freelancer in Germany

1. Get a tax advisor

The German tax system is complicated, even for Germans. All the associated paperwork uses the Amtsprache (authority language) which is more like legalese than ‘normal’ German, and mistakes when filling out tax forms can cause you, at best, a massive headache and, at worst, a costly fine. So it’s best that you employ someone who knows what they’re doing to help you out.

That person is called a Steuerberater (tax advisor) in Germany. They will help you register with the tax office, correspond with them and submit your tax declarations.

Be aware that, in Germany, different deadlines apply for tax returns depending on whether you employ an official tax advisor or not. If you are doing the tax return on your own, the deadline for submitting your annual tax return is earlier than if you use a tax advisor’s services. 

READ ALSO: What NOT to do when you’re freelancing in Germany

When looking for a tax advisor, a top tip is to use your network to get recommendations. Ideally, you want someone who will do more than just fill in the forms for you, but who will actually advise you on how best to manage your business finances so that you can make tax savings.

2. Keep your accounting in order

The better you keep your own accounts in order, the easier it will be for your tax advisor to compile your tax declarations and therefore the cheaper their services will be.

As a freelancer, there are a lot of costs you can deduct from your taxes – from train tickets, working materials, to meals out – so it’s best to keep hold of all your receipts and to keep them in good order.

2 euros and 50 cents lie on a receipt in a beer garden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

In Germany, you’re obliged to keep hold of receipts for two years, in case of a tax inspection, so it’s a good idea to photocopy the type of machine-printed receipts you get from restaurants so that they stay legible for a long time.

There are also a few things to be aware of when writing your own invoices. Firstly, make sure that you include your tax number. This isn’t the 11-digit Steueridentifikationsnummer that everyone gets when registering in Germany, but the 10-digit Steuernummer you get from the Finanzamt after registering yourself as a freelancer. 

Most companies won’t pay you if you don’t have this on your invoices so make sure you include it.

You should also make sure that you number your invoices properly – ideally in ascending order so that you can easily keep track of them. You are not allowed to issue two invoices with the same number and if you do so and the finance office notices, you could face an inspection of your whole accounting system.

There are numerous great accounting software programmes you can use to help you, such as Lexoffice and Sevdesk and, even if you have to pay for them, the costs will be tax deductible!

3. Find out if you’re eligible for financial support

In Germany, there are several opportunities for freelancers to gain financial support and to cut their outgoings, and its worth finding out if you’re eligible for them.

If you’re claiming unemployment benefits under ALG 1 and are thinking about becoming a freelancer, the employment office offers a special type of financial support to help you to get your freelance business off the ground.

Called the Grundungszuschuss (“foundation grant”) the payment is a six-month grant equalling your monthly entitlement under ALG 1 plus €300 towards your insurance costs can be applied for those in receipt of this unemployment benefit.

READ ALSO: Will freelancers benefit from Germany’s €300 energy allowance?

If you are engaged in some form of artistic profession in Germany – which can include journalism to pottery – you may be entitled to membership to the Kunstlersozialkasse (artists’ social insurance).

Being a member of the KSK means you only have to pay half of your health insurance and pension contributions, and the KSK will pay the rest.

4. Work out how much you think you will earn

As with starting any business, you need to have some idea of your expected earnings from the outset.

If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, or have some freelance gigs on the side of an employment position, then it might be worth considering registering yourself as a Kleinunternehmer (“small business”).

As a Kleinunternehmer, you can currently earn up to €22.000 per year without having to charge VAT and having to submit only yearly tax declarations. 

An income tax declaration form lies on a table. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Hans-Jürgen Wiedl

Be aware that if you are registered as this kind of freelancer, you must include the following sentence in your invoices: ‘Gemäß § 19 UStG wird keine Umsatzsteuer berechnet’ which means ‘In accordance with Paragrah19 of the German VAT law, no VAT has been added to this invoice.’

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about your German tax return in 2022

If you think you will earn more than €22.000 per year, you will need to pay Umsatzsteuer (VAT) and will have to submit tax declarations in advance and more often. Depending on how much you earn, this could be every month or every quarter. 

5. Get your insurance in order

In Germany, it’s a legal requirement to have health insurance.

If you’ve just made the move from employment to being a freelancer and want to keep the same health insurer, you should get in contact with your health insurance provider straight away to tell them about your change of circumstances. They will ask you to re-register and to tell them your projected freelance earnings for the year, so they can amend your monthly fees.

If you don’t keep your health insurer provider updated, you could continue to be charged the higher rate that you had from your previous salary.

The insurance cards of the health insurance companies DAK, AOK, Barmer and Techniker-Krankenkasse TK lie with euro notes under a stethoscope. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Daniel Karmann

It’s not just health insurance you need to think about as a freelancer. It’s also wise to think about protecting yourself from any sort of claims that could arise as a result of any working mishaps. 

If, for example, you lose your laptop which contains confidential client information, you need to be protected against claims.

That’s why it’s good to have both Betriebshaftversicherung (business liability insurance) and Rechtschutzversicherung (legal protection insurance).

6. Plan your time wisely

All of these bureaucratic obligations take time. So it’s really important that you take account of that when planning your time. For example, planning half a day a week to deal with your invoices, filing, emails to clients, and conversations with authorities can be really beneficial when scheduling your working time. 

7. Grow your network

As a freelancer, networking is absolutely crucial to success. 

Keep an up-to-date profile on websites like LinkedIn and German equivalent XING and keep in contact with anyone you’ve ever worked with, no matter how brief the contact was. 

Having a network is not only about getting more clients, but also about building a support network in your field to exchange advice, tips and generally for your own enrichment. 

Participating in workshops related to your field, going to seminars, and meet-ups, can be great ways of broadening your network.