Berliner Ensemble

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Berliner Ensemble


German (GDR) theater company founded in 1949 in Berlin by the writer B. Brecht and his wife, the actress H. Weigel. Included in the company were actors from the Berlin German Theater and the Zurich Drama Theater. Brecht was head of the Berliner Ensemble until 1956.

Following his theory of “epic theater,” Brecht strove to create a theater of the “epoch of science and social revolutions,” which would address itself to the thought and intellect of the spectator through its art. The productions of the Berliner Ensemble are profoundly social and are characterized by the sharpness and expressiveness of their direction. The Berliner Ensemble is a theater company with an antifascist and antimilitarist tendency (its emblem is P. Picasso’s Dove of Peace).

Almost all of Brecht’s plays are included in the repertoire of the Berliner Ensemble. The theater opened with a production of Mother Courage and Her Children (National Prize of the GDR). Subsequently, the following were presented: Mr. Puntila and His Man Matti (1949), Mother (1951, based on motifs from Gorky’s novel of that name), The Caucasian Chalk Circle (1954), The Life of Galileo (1956), Fear and Despair in the Third Reich (1957), The Good Woman of Setzuan (1957), The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (1959), The Threepenny Opera (1960), Buying Up the Copper Coin (1964), Coriolanus (1965, based on Shakespeare’s work of that name), Now This Soldier, Now That One (1967), The Bakery Shop, (1968), and Saint Joan of the Stockyards (1968). The Berliner Ensemble presents contemporary and classical plays—for example, Gorky’s Vassa Zheleznova (1949), Hauptmann’s The Beaver Coat (1951), Kleist’s The Broken Pitcher (1951), Pogodin’s The Kremlin Chimes (1952), Urfaust, based on Goethe’s work (1952), Moliè re’s Don Juan (1953), Ostrovskii’s The Ward (1955), Vishnevskii’s Optimistic Tragedy (1958), Kipphardt’s In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer (1967), O’Casey’s Purple Dust (1967), and Weiss’ Vietnam Investigation (1968). The theater company has gone on tour in the GDR, the FRG, Austria, and Poland and has taken part in the first and second International Festivals of Theatrical Art and in the first and fourth seasons of the Theater of Nations in Paris. It has also been to Great Britain, the USSR (1957 and 1968), Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, Sweden, Finland, and Italy. The Berliner Ensemble has had an important influence on contemporary theater.

During the 1950’s and 1960’s the following actors worked with the Beliner Ensemble: E. Busch, E. Geschonneck, A. Hurwicz, and W. Kayser. From 1949 to 1967 the leading director was E. Engel. In 1968 the theater company included the following actors: H. Weigel (also the theater’s artistic director), E. Schall, G. May, H. Thate, N. Christian, E. Hausmann, F. Rietsch, and B. Berg. The Berliner Ensemble has been directed by M. Wekwerth, J. Tenschert, and others.


Brecht, B. O teatre: Sb. statei. Moscow, 1960.
Etkind, E. “Teatr Bertol’da Brekhta.” Neva, 1957, no. 8.
Zakhava, E. “Sila i slabost’ teatra Brekhta.” Znamia, 1957, no. 8.
Zingerman, B. “O teatre Brekhta.” In his bookZhan Vilar i drugie. Moscow, 1964.
Zingerman, B. “O teatre Brekhta.” Teatr, 1961, nos. 1–2.
Brecht, B. Aufbau einer Rolle. Berlin, 1956–58.
Theaterarbeit: 6 Aufführungen des Berliner Ensembles. Dresden, [1952].
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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