Edinburgh German Yearbook 5

Edinburgh German Yearbook 5: Brecht and the GDR: Politics, Culture, Posterity

Laura Bradley
Karen Leeder
Volume: 5
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt1x71f4
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Edinburgh German Yearbook 5
    Book Description:

    The avant-garde writer and director Bertolt Brecht left the West for good in 1949, returning to East Berlin and founding the Berliner Ensemble. While he quickly became identified internationally as the cultural figurehead of the young socialist state, his relationship with the authorities was always complex, and he was increasingly marginalized by restrictive and authoritarian structures of power. It was only after his death that the regime sought to elevate him as a socialist classic - a shift that entailed the selective appropriation of his legacy and the development of authorized modes of interpretation and performance. Poets, theorists, dramatists, and directors soon reacted against what they saw as the stagnation of Brecht's critical impetus: they began to subject his work to his own treatment, using his texts as a source of material and taking his methods to more radical conclusions. ‘EGYB 5’ explores the multiple, contradictory impulses behind these broad paradigm shifts and behind Brecht's activities in the GDR. It investigates the tensions engendered by his co-option as a socialist classic, and the range of creative responses his works have inspired, both in the GDR itself and in reaction to its demise. Contributors: David Barnett, Laura Bradley, Joy Calico, Paula Hanssen, Patrick Harkin, Loren Kruger, Karen Leeder, Moray McGowan, Stephen Parker, David Robb, Erdmut Wizisla. Laura Bradley is Senior Lecturer in German at the University of Edinburgh. Karen Leeder is Professor of Modern German Literature and a Fellow of New College, University of Oxford.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-779-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)
    Laura Bradley

    Bertolt Brecht has come to exemplify the dilemmas faced by German socialists of his generation. The popular revolution he fought for failed to materialize, and when the opportunity arose to create a socialist state in the ruins of the Third Reich, the project did not command the support of the majority of its citizens. In the years that followed, Brecht struggled with the challenge of defending and improving a socialism that was ordained from above and implemented by politicians who did not necessarily view him as an ally. The question of the compromises that he may have made, both politically...

  5. I. Brecht in the GDR

    • Undogmatic Marxism: Brecht Rehearses at the Berliner Ensemble
      (pp. 25-44)
      David Barnett

      The foundation of the Berliner Ensemble (BE) on 1 September 1949 in East Berlin gave Brecht the resources he needed to develop approaches to making theater: approaches that, for the most part, it had only been possible to theorize during his fifteen years in exile. According to the contract between the Soviet occupying authorities and Brecht’s wife Helene Weigel, the BE was to receive just over one and a quarter million marks in its first year, despite the fact that the BE was a theater company that did not have its own theater building.¹ Initially, the BE was only a...

    • Lateness and Late Style in Brecht’s Last Poetry
      (pp. 45-64)
      Karen Leeder

      The work written by Brecht in the last decade of his life has often been classified in the secondary literature as “late” work or the work of the “late Brecht.” Walter Hinck’s volume of 1959 Die Dramaturgie des späten Brecht (The Dramaturgy of the Late Brecht) set the tone; many standard critical works then followed in pinpointing the end of the Second World War as the caesura marking the beginning of a discrete period in Brecht’s aesthetic thinking and practice, a period that they label “late.”¹ This understanding has come to dominate the reception of Brecht’s work in the GDR...

    • A Life’s Work Curtailed? The Ailing Brecht’s Struggle with the SED Leadership over GDR Cultural Policy
      (pp. 65-82)
      Stephen Parker

      Securing the presence in East Berlin of such an iconic socialist artist as Bertolt Brecht was both a major coup for the leaders of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) in 1949 and a major headache. Given the same opportunity just two years later, they would probably have declined. Brecht was the most prominent of the German artists who returned to the GDR from exile to participate in the construction of a first German socialist state. However, during the later years of the Weimar Republic and his subsequent exile from Nazi Germany, Brecht already had major differences in his...

    • Brecht and 17 June 1953: A Reassessment
      (pp. 83-100)
      Patrick Harkin

      The uprising of 17 June in the German Democratic Republic was inevitably instrumentalized on different fronts in the Cold War. In the GDR, it was portrayed as a Western plot to undermine the first Workers’ and Peasants’ State on German soil. In the West, it was commonly held that the people of the GDR had risen up against a repressive communist regime, only to be bloodily crushed by Soviet tanks. Each side in this ideological standoff flatly rejected the other’s interpretation, or indeed any interpretation that did not concur with its own.

      Bertolt Brecht’s views did not fit neatly into...

  6. II. The Management of Brecht’s Legacy

    • Private or Public? The Bertolt Brecht Archive as an Object of Desire
      (pp. 103-124)
      Erdmut Wizisla

      In the story “Die Freiherren von Gemperlein” (The Barons of Gemperlein, 1879), one of Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach’s characters asks “Wo sind die Schlüssel des Archivs?” (Where are the keys to the archive?).¹ Figuratively, these keys stand for access to the archive, which is determined by archivists, heirs, rights-holders, owners, administrative institutions, and also by states. The relations between the parties involved are usually regulated by contracts, and infringements of these contracts and differences over their interpretation are by no means the exception. For a start, there is the question as to who is actually to be granted access to an...

    • Remembering Brecht: Anniversaries at the Berliner Ensemble
      (pp. 125-144)
      Laura Bradley

      In the GDR, a dense network of anniversaries was central to the construction of a German socialist culture rooted in the humanist heritage of Goethe and Schiller and connected to socialist commemorations across the Eastern bloc. Anniversaries provided an opportunity for the young state and its institutions to remember their origins, review their achievements, and set out their goals for the future. But as Geoffrey Cubitt argues, anniversaries also allow the different constituencies within a community to stake their claims to a share in the past, and in its present and future uses.¹ This fact was evident each year from...

    • Brecht’s Dependable Disciple in the GDR: Elisabeth Hauptmann
      (pp. 145-160)
      Paula Hanssen

      The role of Brecht’s collaborators has been discussed in many scholarly works and biographies, and his female collaborators have received particular attention.¹ During each phase of his career, Brecht had colleagues who helped to write and edit plays and short stories — such as Elisabeth Hauptmann in the Weimar Republic and then in the GDR, Margarete Steffin and Ruth Berlau during the years traveling and writing in exile, and Benno Besson and Käthe Rülicke-Weiler in the GDR. This essay focuses on Hauptmann, whose role was in some ways typical of Brecht’s other collaborators, but who merits particular importance because of...

  7. III. Creative Responses to Brecht’s Work

    • Musical Threnodies for Brecht
      (pp. 163-182)
      Joy H. Calico

      Kurt weill may be the most famous of Brecht’s musical collaborators, but Hanns Eisler and Paul Dessau were the two composers with whom Brecht enjoyed his most enduring and most prolific artistic relationships. This essay focuses on their literary and musical responses to his death on 14 August 1956. At that time Eisler was perhaps Brecht’s oldest close friend; their partnership had been forged in Weimar-era Berlin, had weathered European and American exile, and continued in East Germany. When Eisler’s Johann Faustus libretto drew fire from the SED in 1953 Brecht was his staunchest defender, and Eisler is said to...

    • The Legacy of Brecht in East German Political Song
      (pp. 183-200)
      David Robb

      The SED’s instant appropriation of Brecht as a revolutionary cultural icon after his death in 1956 was always too easy and one-sided. It ignored the thematic and formal contradictoriness in Brecht’s work as well as the writer’s problematic reception in the GDR in the 1950s, when his perceived formalistic tendencies sat uneasily with the tenets of Socialist Realism. In the field of political song this one-sided perception was cemented by the reception of the Brecht and Eisler Kampflied (battle song) tradition from the late 1940s onward, notably by Ernst Busch and the choirs of the Free German Youth movement (FDJ),...

    • Fatzer’s Footprints: Brecht’s Fatzer and the GDR Theater
      (pp. 201-222)
      Moray McGowan

      On 4 November 1989, at the historic demonstration on the Alexanderplatz in East Berlin, the text that playwright Heiner Müller initially planned to read from the podium was an extract from Bertolt Brecht’s Fatzer that calls on the statesmen and their henchmen to release the state that no longer wants them.¹ Müller’s view of the GDR as a failed experiment and his view of Brecht coalesce in his extended critical engagement with Fatzer, and both Fatzer itself and its simultaneous presence and near-absence in GDR theater are important elements in an understanding of Brecht in the GDR. Accordingly, this essay...

    • Reviving Saint Joan of the Stockyards: Speculation and Solidarity in the Era of Capitalism Resurgent
      (pp. 223-242)
      Loren Kruger

      Celebrated on 10 February 1998, the centenary of Bertolt Brecht’s birth anticipated the hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of the Communist Manifesto, which appeared in late February 1848. The coincidence of Brecht’s centenary and the anniversary of the Manifesto provided a timely opportunity to re-evaluate not only Brecht’s legacy in the Berlin Republic and beyond but also his debt to Marx in his critique of capitalism.¹ Most explicitly, the Berliner Ensemble (BE) revived the rarely performed Die Maßnahme (The Measures Taken, 1930) and printed an annotated Communist Manifesto in the program in lieu of the play. Even where Marx was not mentioned, his...

  8. Back Matter
    (pp. 243-243)