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PAX, LUX ET VERITAS SINCE 1965
Post Is Brecht Still Popular In Germany?
Created by John Eipper on 06/26/18 3:42 PM

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Is Brecht Still Popular In Germany? (Patrick Mears, Germany, 06/26/18 3:42 pm)

In response to Nigel Jones's post, I can say that Bertolt Brecht is still very popular here in Germany.

Since moving here in 2014, my wife (who is an admirer of the writer) and I have attended performances in Heidelberg of St. Joan of the Stockyards and The Good Person of Szechuan and also a performance of the Brecht/Weill musical, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. His plays are often performed on a regular basis by the Berliner Ensemble, which Brecht and his wife, Helene Weigel, founded in East Berlin in 1949.

I have also visited since moving here the Brecht-Haus on the Chausseestraße in Berlin, which served as his residence from 1953 to 1956. This structure contains his archives and a small museum containing his furniture, books, etc. Brecht is buried close to the rear of his former East Berlin home in a small cemetery. His birth house in Augsburg is also a museum. By all accounts and my observations since coming here, Brecht is still very popular in Germany notwithstanding his embrace of the DDR and its institutions after World War II and after he left the United States in October, 1947, which occurred shortly after he was interrogated by the House Committee on Un-American Activities („HUAC") in Washington, D.C. . Here is a link to the transcript of his testimony before that committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Brecht_HUAC_hearing_(1947-10-30)_transcript">

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Brecht_HUAC_hearing_(1947-10-30)_transcript"> https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Brecht_HUAC_hearing_(1947-10-30)_transcript .

My first exposure to Brecht, however, was when I maybe 10 years old and would watch The Ernie Kovacs Show. For those of you who remember this variety and comic program, it was very eccentric with witty humor that was not always conveyed in words but often by "dumb show." One sketch, a favorite of mine, that often appeared on the show was a recording of "Mack the Knife" from the 1931 film of Three Penny Opera directed by G.W. Pabst. This work, first performed on the Berlin stage in 1928, qualifies as the work that made Brecht and Weill famous. The song, as sung in the film by a beggar showman in the London slums, was tracked by an oscilloscope on the television screen and in the background would be a series of comic dumb shows performed by Kovacs and his cast, which included the singer and his wife, Edie Adams.

After graduating from Michigan Law School and moving to New York City, I considered myself very fortunate to attend performances of Three Penny Opera, which opened in 1976 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater and was produced by Joseph Papp, and Happy End, another Brecht-Weill musical, which was performed the following year at the Martin Beck Theatre and featured the then-newcomer to the theater, Meryl Streep.

An informative book about Brecht and his exile in the United States from 1941 to 1947 is titled Bertolt Brecht in America by James K. Lyon and published in 1980 by Princeton University Press, which I found by burrowing through the stacks at King's Books in downtown Detroit.

JE comments:  So much wisdom in one massive bookstore!  (I think I have shared with WAISworld that John King-Detroit is indirectly responsible for my coming to WAIS.)

Pat Mears is clearly an expert on Brecht.  Many thanks, Pat.


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  • New Bertolt Brecht Film (Patrick Mears, Germany 08/22/18 7:05 AM)
    Just a short postscript to our fairly wide-ranging WAIS discussion a month or two ago about Bertolt Brecht.

    I just noticed that a German film, entitled Mackie Messer-Brechts Dreigroschenfilm, will be released in Germany on September 13th and will open here in Heidelberg on that day. The film, directed by Joachim A. Lang and starring Lars Eidinger as Brecht, is the story of the success of his play, The Threepenny Opera, on the Berlin stage and the subsequent making of a film of the play.


    Here is a link to some clips from the film (in German) and the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5hPQyMjUd4


    Here is a link to the performance of the song, "Mackie Messer" (Mack the Knife) in the 1931 G.W. Pabst film. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxVcDPtDnjM


    I hope that this film is eventually released in the US with English subtitles.


    JE comments:  That performance (second link) is a rare gem.  The song sounds much more modern than 1931, or 1928, when Weill and Brecht wrote it. Thank Bobby Darin and The Doors, I suppose.

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