“Herrnburger Bericht“ revisited

Anecdotes about the reception of Bertolt Brecht with contemporary extensions, or:

Art and Politics Changing Place


This also is a kind of self-incrimination. But juvenile errors usually are forgiven. And in politics public admissions of guilt are a way to absolution.

The Brecht who nobody wanted (except me)

In 1976 I wrote an article about Bertolt Brecht’s „Herrnburger Bericht“ which was published in the magazine „Kämpfende Kunst“ of the German „Congregation of socialist cultural workers“ under the title „The Brecht who nobody wants“1. The article tried to re-evaluate Brecht’s and Dessau’s cantata from the point of view of the neo-communist party, whose student organisation I belonged to at that time. Since the publication of this article, I could no longer enter the GDR (as usual, reasons were not given, but it is likely that the article played a role in making me an undesirable alien to the GDR). After cleaning them of some of the most offensive communist jargon, I quote some sentences of this old text:

One of the most obvious proofs that Brecht cannot be absorbed by either East- or West-Germany, in spite of all the adulteration he is subjected to, is „Herrnburger Bericht“. By now you can read in print Brecht’s complete student poetry, in which he was still under the spell of Whileminian ideology and heralded Germany’s imperialist war and praised Wilhelm II. as the „king of the land / of Immanuel Kant“. The „Herrnburger Bericht“, however, with which Brecht supported the FDJ, has until today not been reprinted since its first publication in the SED-newspaper „Neues Deutschland“ and as a brochure of FDJ. He can neither be absorbed by the FRG nor the GDR. They have to discard it either as „pure communist propaganda“ or at least as „artistically worthless“ or have to ignore it completely.

In order to explain what my obliterated text about an obliterated work of propaganda has to do with the present situation of German theatre, I must go some lengths.

A short survey of a special case of how Brecht was received in Germany

After World War II the Cold War began. Brecht had to justify himself in front of the „House Un-American Activities Committee“ and hastily left his country of exile and settled in Switzerland. From there he returned to Berlin in 1949, to East-Berlin, capital of the just founded German Democratic Republik (DDR). As a fellow traveller of the German Communist Party (KPD) at the end of the Weimar Republic, he was highly welcome there, but was not part of the ruling group of functionaries. Following the instructions of Stalin’s Soviet Union, the government of the GDR pursued the course of blaming the Western Allies for the partition of Germany and presenting itself as the angel of peace campaigning for a neutral, unified Germany, disconnected from the Western Allies. For these aims, the FDJ (Free Democratic Youth), the youth organization of the GDR, was also employed.

In 1950 the FDJ organised a „German Meeting of Youth for Peace and Friendship Among the Peoples“ in East-Berlin. The FDJ had quite a large number of members also in the FDR. It was de facto the youth organisation of the Communist Party in the West. The West-German authorities tried to keep young people from taking part in the event. About 10,000 nevertheless travelled to East-Berlin. On the journey back they were arrested in the border-village of Herrnburg near Lübeck by West-German police who wanted to verify their identities. Officially, a health check was said to be the reason. The FDJ youngsters refused to obey and camped in front of the border between the two parts of Germany on GDR ground for two days, before they were released and were allowed to enter West-Germany without their identities being verified.

In 1951 the „3rd World Festival of Youth and Students for Peace“ was organised in East-Berlin. Paul Dessau, whose opera „The Interrogation of Lukullus“ with a libretto by Brecht, had just been condemned by the cultural officials of the GDR as a „failed experiment“, asked Brecht on this occasion to write a libretto for a scenic cantata which was to be staged several times during the festival. Brecht and Dessau chose the Herrnburg event of the previous year as its subject. Brecht wrote some simple, rhyming poems which told the story. Dessau composed easy, choral music which could be sung by non-professionals. But the work was performed only twice during the festival2.

Herrnburger Bericht Musikausgabe Titelseite.png

Initially it was assumed that the leadership of the ruling communist party SED, which had to approve the work in advance, had artistic or political objections and therefore decided to suppress the play quickly3. Only in 2013 it turned out that completely personal resentments were the reason. Werner Hecht, longterm director of the Brecht-Archive, was then able to demonstrate that Erich Honecker, then president of the leading body of the FDJ, had objected that in one of Brecht’s children’s songs the popular communist singer Ernst Busch was mentioned4. Honecker, the apparatchik, and Busch, the workers’ singer, actor and icon of revolutionary song, were intimate enemies5. Brecht offered delaying resistance, but could not prevent that in the advance publication in “Neues Deutschland” the poem “Einladung”, which contained the offensive lines, was omitted completely and that the following FDJ brochure contained the poem, but without these two lines. His friend Busch was subjected to a party control procedure, left the SED and the “Herrnburger Bericht” disappeared6.

In West-Germany and West-Berlin the FDJ was banned and dissolved in 1951 (even before the Communist Party), its leaders were sentenced to prison. In 1952, Philipp Müller, member of the FDJ was shot by a policeman during an unauthorized demonstration in front of Grugahalle in Essen: the first death during a political demonstration in the history of the Federal Republic. This whole affair would not be worth mentioning if it had not led to further reverberations. In 1982 another, a Bavarian, neo-communist group of sectarians (officially the „Federation of German Scouts“ BDP, but at that time steered by the „Workers federation for the rebuilding of the KPD“ usually called „Arbeiterbund“), supported by Brecht’s daughter Hanne Hiob, tried to stage the „Herrnburger Bericht“ in Essen, in the communal festival hall, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Philipp Müller’s death. The city of Essen denied the use of the venue for political reasons7. The first production in West-Germany could only be staged one year later as an open-air production in Essen8.

Flugblatt Herrnburger Bericht 1982 Essen.png

With this prohibition and postponing of the production, various activities of actors taking part in the production and supporters advertising the production were connected: publication of posters for the forbidden production in Munich 1982, a solemn vigil at the anniversary of Philipp Müller’s death in Essen 1983. In both cases participants were sentenced because of the law which forbids the public showing of signs of prohibited organizations (§86a StGB). The emblem of the FDJ was displayed on the poster in Munich, and the woman in Essen wore the uniform of FDJ. All this would be only quarrels of the past without much importance today, if these court proceedings had not ended up in front of the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht, BVerfG), the highest German court. And this court passed a leading decision on the freedom of art which is in effect until today9.

Freedom of art in the decisions of the German Federal Constitutional Court

Freedom of art is guaranteed in the German Basic Law (Grundgesetz, GG) as a fundamental right without the possibility to curtail it by specific laws (GG §5 Abs 3). The experience of the persecution and instrumentalisation of art by the Nazi-regime is often mentioned as justification of this unrestrictable status of art10.

Since the decision on Klaus Mann’s novel „Mephisto“ of 1971, in which the ban on the publication of this roman a clef, portraying Gustav Gründgens in little disguise, was lifted, the Constitutional Court distinguishes between the „work produced“ (creation of a work of art) and the „effect produced“ (the distribution of a work of art). An earlier decision had also been passed on the occasion of a performance of a text by Brecht, the „Anachronistischer Zug“ (based on Shelley’s „The Masque of Anarchy“), which was also used for a political propaganda event by the „Arbeiterbund“ with the help of Hanne Hiob. In this decision there had already been some clarifications of the range of freedom of art: „The area of ‚committed art‘ is not exempt of this guarantee of freedom.“ The tendency of art to evade any definition of itself is acknowledged: „The aim of the ‚avantgarde‘ is to expand the borders of art (…) In addition, it must be taken into account that the visible preparation of a performance can belong to the overall artistic concept of modern theatre.“11

The decision on „Herrnburger Bericht“ is of importance because it states clearly that advertising for a work of art belongs to the „effect produced“ (Wirkbereich) of art and thereby is protected by the freedom of art, and to the same degree as the work of art itself. The media are included explicitly12.

But the decision on „Herrnburger Bericht“ also confirms that the freedom of art is not only limited in a state in which the function of art is predefined by politics and law13, but  also in a state in which its freedom is defined as a fundamental right. It cannot be restricted by political preferences of any kind or specific laws, but there can be conflicts with other fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution. Today, conflicts between freedom of art and the ban on the public use of symbols of anti-constitutional organisations usually are resolved in favour of art (e.g. Jonathan Messe presenting the Hitler salute14. But what if now the Hell’s Angels would start doing street theatre?). In most cases conflicts arise between freedom of art and the right of personality. This was the case in the prominent law suits centered on Klaus Mann’s novel „Mephisto“ and Maxim Biller’s novel „Esra“15.

The freedom of „Artivism“

With maximum judicial sensitivity, the Constitutional Court recognised that art has the tendency to „expand the borders of art“16. At the same time freedom of art is considered to be a „fundamental right of communication“ (Kommunikationsgrundrecht). These two characteristics of art are used by activist theatre or „artivism“. The neat judicial separation of „work produced“ and „effect produced“ is eliminated. The effect is the work of the artist. That is, the media response is the actual work of art17. Formerly advertising for a work of art, an exhibition or a theatre performance (the use of media to attract attention to the work) was an auxiliary means for the work. Now in activist theatre, the response of the media (the resulting attention in a medialised public) becomes the relevant work of art18.

The most prominent examples of this kind of procedure are the activities of the „Centre for Political Beauty“19. Its strategy seems to be: some kind of public attack attracting maximum attention in the media, and public repeal and legal retreat afterwards. The actual work of art, the object or performance, remains secondary. As soon as the conflict with the rights of personality of those attacked becomes serious, they retreat. This happened in the case of the action against the owners of the tank-factory Krauss-Maffei20 and also in the recent action against the politician Bernd Höcke of „Alternative for Germany“ (AfD)21. Any court action which would encompass a legal defense of freedom of art is avoided. The border between art and reality should remain blurred22. Art is expanded into all areas of society. An indication fo this expansion is the frequent use of the concept of „beauty“ in the area of politics.

The Beauty of Politics

Philipp Ruch, the founder of the „Centre for Political Beauty“ published a political manifesto entitled „If not us, who then?“ (Wenn nicht wir, wer dann?)23. There, the words „beautiful“ oder „beauty“ can be found on every page, but never a theory of the relation between art and politics is developed. Their identity is simply claimed. „There is no division between politics and art which could be maintained.“24 Ruch’s concept of beauty is purely moral25. His obtrusive use of the word „beautiful“ mirrors the ancient use of the concept “καλός” in antiquity26. Artists are only mentioned as examples of geniuses, of people who shine because of moral greatness. That is astonishing in view of the „Centre’s“ claim that its activities are political art (or even political theatre)27. For Ruch, only the beauty of actions matters. The claim that art should be beautiful would probably seem tautological for him. Politics has to be beautiful because politics means action28. Art can only be beautiful for him as beautiful action. Consequently the idea of freedom of art is irrelevant to him. The label „activism“ therefore is appropriate. In general, political movements name themselves according to their aims (as liberalism, socialism, communism). Ruch’s „movement“, however, is only concerned with activation. Eliminating the passivity of the citizens of our democracies is its aim. What they should  fight for then is the self-evident: humanity as proclaimed by the Constitution. This „movement“ does not really have a political aim, no new plan for the organisation of our commonwealth. In Cologne an initiative against xenophobic right-wing politics called itself „Arsch huh!“ (Get your ass in gear! Get off your duff! Move your blooming arse!)- that’s pure activism . But no direction for art.

Ruch, Wenn nicht wir Titelbild.jpg

Because Ruch does not in fact have any political vision, but declares his consent to the existing social order of western democracies without any ado, he can invoke conservative thinkers like Leo Strauss29, one of the intellectual grand-fathers of US-American Republicans, (and somewhat ashamedly even Oswald Spengler30 and Carl Schmitt31). Consequently there are sentences in which democracy and humanism (of the kind legitimised by natural law as postulated by Leo Strauss) are presented as contradictory32. Completely ambiguous is his relation to Kierkegaard, who he employs on the one hand for separating ethical life from aesthetic life33, and on the other hand for the confirmation of the view that moral action is beautiful, which amounts to the equation of ethical and aesthetic life34. But it is probably inappropriate to expect consistency of thought from a treatise like Philipp Ruch’s. The reproduction of the unusual disfiguration of Thomas Hobbes’s theory, the biased denunciation of Sigmund Freund’s theory and practice, the complete ignorance of John Locke, all these show the soteriological or pastoral character of this scripture. It is no scientific work of Philipp Ruch, the professional historian of ideas.

At first sight Ruch seems to belong to that sort of moral extremists who Larissa MacFarquahr portrays so sensitively and with critical distance at the same time35. But for them, morality is basically a duty of the individual to help strangers. For Ruch different things are important, he would like to found a new religion in which faith in humanity and the effectiveness of the action of individuals are the articles of faith36. He describes the result of the event called „The dead are coming“ (which the „Centre for Political Beauty“ staged in Berlin under Ruch’s direction, in which refugees who drowned in the Mediterranean were supposedly exhumed and buried at the Berlin Wall) as „wonder“37. He sees himself as the „chief negotiator of political beauty“, as its „messenger“38. Here, political beauty is personified as deity and Ruch as its prophet. An argumentum ad hominem cannot refute the statements of the person attacked, but someone who exposes his own person in a political treatise in such a way, cannot avoid being judged as a person.

Byung-Chul Hand, Errettung des Schönen Titelbild.jpg

What Ruch does not deliver, an explanation of the concept of beauty that would justify applying it to politics, is attempted by Buying-Chul Han39. Similar to Ruch he goes back to the connection of the ideas of „good“ and „beautiful“ in ancient Greece40. His focus, however, is not the justification of activism such as Ruch’s, but the resistance to the aestheticisation of everyday life, to the „neoliberal kalokratia“41 and the salvation of beauty as being of authoritative power. Ruch’s and Han’s conclusions for art, especially theatre, are contradictory to the extend that their conclusions for politics are similar42. Han polemicises with Botho Strauß against „affect theatre“, defends dialogue and compassion as basic elements of theatre from antiquity to modernism, scolds against the „pornographic nudism of souls“ of the „theatre of revelations“. And demands in Botho Strauß’s words a „nemological self-transcendency“ of the actor43.

From the politicisation of art to the aestheticisation of politics

Initially, the 1968 movement criticized art as a mechanism of power and commodity of the cultural industry. Beauty was a means of the power to be fought against. Then, an emancipatory, anti-capitalist kind of art should be developed44, finally the primacy of political activity over any artistic activity was postulated. Consequently in the seventies the debate was about safeguarding art against politics, art had to be justified as an activity of social significance. This justification was its politicisation. Today, the wind blows from the opposite direction. After politicisation, now the aestheticisation of politics is on the agenda.

This is part of an extensive social development. All parts of everyday life are aestheticised, everything is art and aesthetic stimuli are employed everywhere. In ethics and self-help literature good life is explained as beautiful life. You are supposed to sculpture your life like a work of art45. Against this aestheticisation of our living environment, which is being criticized by sociologists since the nineties46, Myung-Chul Han pits the seriousness and truth of art, and readily expands the claim that art conveys truth into the area of politics.

Since Walter Benjamin „aestheticisation of politics“ is a feature of fascism47. Criticising the aestheticisation of our living environment belongs to this tradition of skepticism against the expansion of the aesthetic. What Han and Ruch try to achieve is something else. It is an abstract moralisation of politics, without confronting the actual moral questions which have to be put to politics. There are enough attempts to think through the problems of worldwide migration and global injustice in the context of political philosophy and ethics and to make suggestions for solutions. Nothing of that kind is mentioned by either Ruch or Han – nothing of Thomas Pogge’s suggestions for international licensing rights of vital medicines or to the international legal regulations of the mining rights of rare metals48, nothing of David Miller’s ideas for the increase of participatory structures in democracies49, nothing of Martha Nussbaum’s attempt, inspired by Aristotle, of defining the essence of a good life across cultures50 – none of the attempts of contemporary philosophy to meddle with ugly politics is acknowledged. We only hear the thin voice of a slogan: „Ideal politics is politics of beauty“51.

From politicisation of art to aestheticisation of the living environment to politics of beauty, the realms of art and politics seem to have changed places. But the politicisation of art since 1968 was a process actually taking place in society, connected to the reform of many other parts of society. Today the cry for the politics of beauty comes from artists and art critics alone, it does not reflect any real social development. What actually is taking place is the purgation of art of its traditional elements of fiction and mimesis.

Anticriticsm of criticism of aestheticisation

Aestheticisation of politics (which is no „politics of beauty“) is a real phenomenon as is the aestheticisation of the environment of life – for reasons quite different and with effects quite different from a kind of politics of „goodness, truth and beauty“52 that Byung-Chul Han seems to imagine. In a broadly conceived study Juliane Rebentisch53 has tried so show how aestheticisation of politics is a necessary phenomenon of a modern democracy. Democracy as a form of government which is open to change and to its own perfection. It does not conceal that a people, δῆμος, as a unity does not exist without representation i.e. without governance. But it surrenders this governance to the judgement of the unknowing populace. This corresponds to the individual conception of oneself, Rebentisch explains. We as persons cannot understand ourselves without assuming roles and imitating others. Platon’s mocking phrase of „theatrokratia“54 is used by her and she turns it against the criticism of aestheticisation. Democracy is theatre because both rest on representation56. In this vein, as recognition of the alien in one’s own, theatriclisation is a necessary antidote against all tendencies towards totalitarian and identitarian politics56, 57, .

Rebentisch, Kunst der Freiheit Titelbild.jpg

Rebentisch carries her anti-criticism of the criticism of aestheticisation right through the main line of the history of philosophy, discussing prominent critics of aestheticisation like Platon, Rousseau, Hegel, Kierkegaard and Carl Schmitt before she comes to the author who has put criticism of aesthetics to the most succinct formula: Walter Benjamin. And this deviation will lead us back to Brecht (at last). First Rebentisch dispatches with Benjamin’s thesis of the aestheticisation of politics as a characteristic of fascism by simply exchanging words. What Benjamin calls „aestheticisation“ is labelled „anaestheticisation“ by Rebentisch. A demagogue using artistic means is an anaesthetist, not somebody who intensifies perception, but somebody who makes it sensationless, who switches off consciousness. In order to demonstrate that this is exactly what Benjamin in fact has in mind when writing about „aestheticisation“, Rebentisch resorts to his understanding of Brecht’s theatre58. According to Benjamin, Brecht’s theatre tries to transform the audience to an „assembly of interested people“, in which the individual’s judgement is given space61. The „false, veiling totality of audience“60 should be decomposed. „The prerequisite of a truly political theatre therefore lies with a practice of theatre which is able to free spectators from the passive position of an audience and put them in an intellectually interested, if you want, philosophical relation to what is presented.“61  Using three current examples, theatre productions by Christoph Marthaler, Christoph Schlingensief, and René Pollesch, she shows that today, theatre recognises the „political potential of its own aestheticity“ and explicitly emphasizes is own theatricality62.

Back to the Brecht who nobody wants (still)

After this review of some discussions of the relation of politics and art, how can the „Herrnburger Bericht“ be understood today? Brecht follows the given political course. The „Bericht“ is an occasional work for a clearly defined target audience at a specific event. It is „theatre of the real“, documentary theatre. (Egon Monk’s first and only production of 1951 integrated film material of the events of the previous year.) In an essay on the relation between simulation and reality in contemporary theatre Carol Martin mentions Brecht and Piscator63 as forefathers of a theatre that makes the examination of the relation between fiction and reality its theme: „theatre about real events; narratives that are in accord with reality that articulate fidelity to an ideal in ways that invite consideration of what was heretofore thought of as usual but are, in fact, strange.”64 The „Herrnburger Bericht“ belongs to this tradition.

It works with irony, parody and scorn. Even the infamous lines „And greetings from Josef Stalin/ And greetings from Mao-Tse-tung!“ sound playful rather than solemn65. That is unusual for theatre which is used only for the propagation of one particular political view. It is also uncommon in theatre for children or youngsters.

Martin Brady understands the simplicity of words and music not only as an adaption to the non-professional singers and the young audience for which they were intended, but also as a kind of intentionally „blunt way of thinking“ („plumpes Denken“). In this understanding, Brady relies on Walter Benjamin’s exegesis of Brecht’s theatre, just like Rebentisch. In Brecht’s „Dreigroschenroman“ Benjamin discovered the justification of this „blunt way of thinking“. Dialectics produces it as its counterpart, includes it and has need of it66. Brady uses the expressions of „experimental blatancy“ and „stählerne Einfalt“ („steely simplemindedness“) for the characterization of the style of „Herrnburger Bericht“. For him this style is no regression, but a further development of the style of Brecht’s learning plays (Lehrstücke) from the twenties. Paul Dessau’s music also uses „false“ baselines, alienation of harmonic functions, stylistic parodies and makes high demands on the audience in decoding the musical intentions67. Music also only pretends to adapt to the popular style demanded by the functionaries of the GDR in the debate on formalism which rattled the culture scene of the GDR in 1951.

That the „Herrnburger Bericht“ has disappeared from stages and concert halls completely is due to several factors:

  • the genre, a semi-scenic cantata for children and teenagers. Hardly any work of this kind is still performed today.
  • the political content. After the building of the Berlin Wall, the firing order for GDR border troops, dissolution of the GDR and reunification of Germany, a play in which the German border is closed by west-German policemen for young people returning from the GDR is an absurdity.
  • the relation of art and the state. Today „Herrnburger Bericht” is considered to be a work commissioned by a totalitarian state. That discredits it from the outset. It can only serve as a memorial for the evil of affirmative art. Art has to be critical to any existing social conditions or at least subversive.
  • the history of its reception. The comparison to Nazi panegyrics sticks. Even Brecht himself has contributed to devaluating his own work, with the remarks on his own insecurity of judging it in his „Arbeitsjournal“ and by not integrating it in his series of publications called „Versuche“. Even to him it seems to have appeared to be a questionable minor work68.

Now, what does the case of „Herrnburger Bericht“ show us? Only what we knew in advance: Freedom of art is necessary. And freedom is an art the GDR could not master. Historical distances sometimes cannot be bridged. Political art is tied to its historical time more for reasons of content than for reasons of style. Political theatre for children with non-professionals is an invidious task (except for those directly involved in the performance).

Still, nobody wants it. Now, we know why.


  1. Gerhard Preußer, „Der Brecht, den niemand haben will. Zu dem Chorwerk Bertolt Brechts und Paul Dessaus ‚Herrnburger Bericht’“ Kämpfende Kunst. Zeitschrift der Vereinigung sozialistischer Kulturschaffender, 2. Jahrgang Nr. 7/8 August/September 1976, pp. 6-11, reprinted in KSP Mainz 1976 ↩︎
  2. The information about the number of performances is varying. Hennenberg (Fritz Hennenberg, Dessau-Brecht. Musikalische Arbeiten. Berlin: Henschelverlag, 1963, p.128-131) gives a detailed account of the production on the basis of a report filed in Brecht-Archiv (Ms. He 2). The review of “Neues Deutschland”, the central organ of the ruling party SED, was critical but generally friendly (Reprinted in: Monika Wyss (ed.), Brecht in der Kritik, München: Kindler, 1977, p.302-304). In the West-German press the „Herrnburger Bericht“ was discarded as a botched piece similar to the adulations of the Nazi-poet Anacker ( W.N., „Herrnburger Bericht“, Die Zeit, 11.1953). Sabina Lietzmanns review in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung works with more subtle signals of irony. (Wyss (ed.), op.cit., pp. 304-5). In literary criticism the devaluation of the work persisted as well. Martin Esslin, at that time Head of BBC Radio Drama in London, wrote in 1959 with haughty irony: „(Brecht) war ein viel zu guter Dichter, um auftragsgemäß Propagandaverse schreiben zu können.“ (Martin Esslin, Brecht. Das Paradox des politischen Dichters. München: dtv, 1966 (orig. Brecht. A Choice of Evils, 1959), p. 233). Klaus Völker, biographer and one of the leading Brecht specialists in West-Germany, later to become head of the Ernst-Busch-School of actors, was the first to rehabilitate the „Herrnburger Bericht“. It was „voller Witz, satirischer Schärfe“ and had „die „Leichtigkeit von Kinderreimen“, he wrote (Klaus Völker, Bertolt Brecht. Eine Biographie. München: Hanser, 1976, p.377). And then Albrecht Dümling tried to find a balanced judgement in view of the circumstances. „Auf beiden Seiten galt ein Künstler, der die Höhe des Olymps verläßt, um sich in aktuelle Fragen einzumischen, als nicht geheuer.“ (Albrecht Dümling, Laßt euch nicht verführen. Brecht und die Musik. München: Kindler, 1985, p. 590). But even Brecht‘s official GDR-biographer, Werner Mittenzwei, took up the devaluation of the work: „Über die politische Wirkung der von ihm gewählten Form täuschte sich Brecht.“ (Werner Mittenzwei, Das Leben des Bertolt Brecht. Oder der Umgang mit den Welträtseln. Bd. 2 Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1987 (orig. Berlin und Weimar 1986) p. 439). ↩︎
  3. So does the entry in the first edition of Jan Knopf‘s Brecht-Handbuch: Knopf conjectures „zu viel kämpferischer ‚Selbstausdruck‘ (…) zu viel spontane Selbstorganisation“ were the reasons for the ban (Jan Knopf, Brecht-Handbuch. II Lyrik, Prosa, Schriften. Stuttgart: J.B. Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1986, p. 182). In the second edition of this Brecht-Handbuch, Lars Fischer summarises the different speculations of West-German authors about the aesthetic objections of the SED-government in detail. He also hints at the conflict between Brecht, Honecker and Ernst Busch. Lars Fischer, “Herrnburger Bericht“, in: Jan Knopf (ed.), Brecht-Handbuch, Bd 2 Gedichte. Berlin: Springer, 2001, pp. 434-439 ↩︎
  4. The poem has the title „Einladung“ (Invitation). The incriminated lines are: „Und wenn Ernst Busch singt -/Wärt ihr nur dabei!“ (Werner Hecht, Die Mühen der Ebenen: Brecht und die DDR. Berlin: Aufbau, 2013. pp. 46-61) ↩︎
  5. Werner Hecht indicates the probable reason of the animosities: It is believed that in a dispute about the production of a record Busch said: “The central council can lick my arse” (equivalent to „Screw you!“). President of the Central Council of the FDJ was Honecker. Honecker is said to have then denounced Busch to the president of the GDR, Wilhelm Pieck, claiming Busch had directed his invective at the Central Comittee of the SED. (Hecht op.cit, p. 320) ↩︎
  6. It was still missing in the „Werkausgabe“ of Brecht’s publisher Suhrkamp of 1967. Only in the volume with children‘s poems, two songs from “Herrnburger Bericht” had been included. The complete text was published again only in 1982 in the supplementary volume IV of this „Werkausgabe“ (Bertolt Brecht, Gesammelte Werke. Supplement-Band IV. Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp 1982, pp. 424-428). In the Großen kommentierte Berliner und Frankfurter Ausgabe (BFA), which now has become the standard edition of Brecht’s works, “Herrnburger Bericht” is printed according to the FDJ brochure, i.e. without the lines on Ernst Busch. The annotations explain the different changes in the text that were enforced by the FDJ, but do not refer to the personal enmity of Honecker and Brecht that was revealed by Hecht later. (Bertolt Brecht, Große kommentierte Berliner und Frankfurter Ausgabe. Gedichte 5. Gedichte und Gedichtfragmente 1940-1956. Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1993, pp.246-253 and 455-462) — The supplementary volume IV of 1982 offered the opportunity of decrying one of my other crimes. In 1978 Klaus Völker read out some unpublished poems, which he had discovered in the Brecht-Archiv in East-Berlin and were critical of the GDR, but was not allowed to publish in print. I had taken them down by ear (with inaccurate line breaks and without Völker’s knowledge) and published one of them (“Die neue Mundart”) in the newspaper of which I was editor at that time. (Rote Fahne 1978, Nr.25). In the GDR magazine Sinn und Form (1980 Heft 5, p. 1088) Gerhard Seidel then mocked the „mutilating illegal print“, and felt obliged to publish the poem, now with correct line breaks. Following this crooked path, Brecht’s poems criticising the GDR found their way into the Supplement IV „Werkausgabe“ of Suhrkamp (op. cit. p. 428) and in die BFA Bd. 12 (op.cit. p.311). The annotations in BFA (p.449) explain that a note has been added to the manuscript saying that Brecht did not want these two poems to be published. This note is not from Brecht’s hand. Brecht’s intention was only corroborated orally by his assistant Elisabeth Hauptmann. ↩︎
  7. Brochure: Die Herrnburger in Essen: Erlebnisbuch zur westdeutschen Erstaufführung des ‚Herrnburger Bericht‘ von Bertolt Brecht und Paul Dessau. München: Kämpfende Jugend, 1983 ↩︎
  8. Sound recording of the first choral song, probably from the performance in Essen 1983 ↩︎
  9. Herrnburger Bericht, Urteil vom 3.11.1987, BVerfGE 77, 240 ↩︎
  10. “Zu berücksichtigen ist ferner, daß für den Verfassunggeber auf Grund der Erfahrungen aus der Zeit des NS-Regimes, das Kunst und Künstler in die völlige Abhängigkeit politisch-ideologischer Zielsetzungen versetzt oder zum Verstummen gebracht hatte, begründeter Anlaß bestand, die Eigenständigkeit und Eigengesetzlichkeit des Sachbereichs Kunst besonders zu garantieren.“ Mephisto-Urteil, BVerfGE 30, 173 vom 24.2.1971 ↩︎
  11. Anachronistischer Zug, Urteil vom 17. Juli 1984, BVerfGE 67, 213 ↩︎
  12. “Zu diesem Wirkbereich zählen auch die Medien, die durch Vervielfältigung, Verbreitung und Veröffentlichung eine unentbehrliche Mittlerfunktion zwischen Künstler und Publikum ausüben. Die Werbung für ein Kunstwerk ist zwar kein Medium, welches das Kunstwerk selber oder seinen Inhalt transportiert. Sie bildet aber ein Kommunikationsmittel, das ebenfalls zum Wirkbereich künstlerischen Schaffens gehört; denn die Kunst ist wie die Schutzgüter der anderen ‚Kommunikationsgrundrechte’ öffentlichkeitsbezogen und daher auf öffentliche Wahrnehmung angewiesen. Aus diesem Grund fällt auch die Werbung für ein Kunstwerk unter den Schutz dieses Grundrechts.“ BVerfGE 77,240 op.cit. ↩︎
  13. Verfassung der DDR, Art. 18 ↩︎
  14. preliminary proceedings Meese ↩︎
  15. BVerfG 119,1 vom 13.062007. The dispute about the ban on public display of the symbols of the FDJ, which even today is illegal in West-Germany (but not in East-Germany), is still continued in the present. Cf. a case in Berlin and one in Munich. ↩︎
  16. Anachronistischer Zug, Urteil vom 17. Juli 1984 ↩︎
  17. Florian Malzacher mentions the Croat theatre director Oliver Frljić as an example of a „neo-scandalist approach“ (F.M., „No organon to follow. Possibilities of political theatre today“ In: F.M. (ed.), Not just a mirror. Looking for the political theatre of today. Berlin: Alexander Verlag, 2015, p.27) ↩︎
  18. “Der Artivismus braucht Rückhall, er braucht die Medien. Oft genug definieren sich Künstler, die ein politisches Anliegen verfolgen, über das mediale Echo; das Echo ist ihr Werk.“ Hanno Rautenberg, „In den Fallen der Freiheit“, Die Zeit, 18.7.2015. Cf. also the somewhat milder judgement of Sophie Diesselhorst on Nachtkritik: „Und was ist mit den Artivisten? Die gewitzten, sophisticated durchdesignten Kampagnen von Peng, ZPS & Co. mögen weniger konkrete Veränderung bringen als sie möchten – aber für die Theater sind sie trotzdem wichtig, allerdings in ganz anderer Hinsicht: nämlich als spielerische Analysen unserer Multimedia-Gesellschaft und damit als Ideengeber für das alte Medium, das sein Publikum verliert, wenn es sich im analogen Raum abschottet.“ ↩︎
  19. See its Website ↩︎
  20. ZfpS gegen Krauss-Maffei ↩︎
  21. ZfpS gegen Höcke also Franz Wille‘s comment „Innige Umarmung“ in: Theater heute Nr. 1 (January 2018), p. 1 ↩︎
  22. Florian Malzacher mentions the US-American group „Yes Men“ as an example of „manipulating mass media with the aim of disseminating a message as widely as possible … Their strategy is first to make it into the news headlines with a false but disarming announcement, and then they make the news again by uncovering the prank.“ op.cit. p. 27. See also the website of Yes Men. This was also the strategy of ZfpS in the case of the leopard baby of Dortmund.↩︎
  23. Philipp Ruch, Wenn nicht wir, wer dann? Ein politisches Manifest. München: Ludwig, 2015. Cf. Dirk Pilz’ review on „Nachtkritik“ ↩︎
  24. Ruch, op.cit p. 23 ↩︎
  25. “Schönheit ist … in einer Welt ohne Wunder zutiefst ethisch.“ Ruch, op.cit. p. 189 ↩︎
  26. e.g. the Delphic saying „καλλιστόν τὸ δικαιότατον“ („The most beautiful is most just“) quoted by Aristotle, Eth. Nicom. 1099a27 and Eudemian Ethics 1214a5↩︎
  27. That it is inappropriate to bring the activities of the „Centre for political beauty“ to the theatre was shown at Schauspiel Dortmund, when the „Centre“ staged its production „2099“ there (19.9.2015).↩︎
  28. “Gute Politik sollte künstlerisch sein.“ Ruch, op.cit. p. 22 ↩︎
  29. Ruch op.cit. p. 127, 175 ↩︎
  30. Ruch op.cit. p. 126 ↩︎
  31. Ruch op.cit. p. 202 ↩︎
  32. “Demokraten muss es um politische Kompromisse gehen. Aggressiven Humanisten geht es um Gerechtigkeit.“ Ruch op.cit. p. 201 ↩︎
  33. “Der gestalterische Impuls der ästhetischen Lebensweise ist die Ungebundenheit. Ethisch zu leben bedeutet hingegen, sich zu verpflichten. Die Fähigkeit, eine Entscheidung zu treffen und sie zu verantworten. Darin lag für Kierkegaard die Hoffnung, dem Leben Tiefe zu geben.“ Ruch op.cit p. 139 ↩︎
  34. “Schönheit ist, wie Kierkegaard erkannte, in einer Welt ohne Wunder zutiefst ethisch.“ Ruch op.cit. p. 189 ↩︎
  35. Larissa MacFarquhar, Strangers drowning. Grappling with impossible idealism, drastic choice, and the overpowering urge to help. New York: Penguin, 2015 ↩︎
  36. Ruch op.cit. p. 170 ↩︎
  37. Ruch op.cit. p. 196 ↩︎
  38. Ruch op.cit p. 104 ↩︎
  39. Byung-Chul Han, Die Errettung des Schönen. Frankfurt/M: S. Fischer, 2nd 2015. In his speech „Die Wiederkehr der Schönheit. Über einige unangenehme Begegnungen“ Wolfgang Ullrich has pointed out the intellectual connections between Byung-Chul Han, Philipp Ruch and the right-wing movement of „identitarians“.↩︎
  40. Thereby the ancient aristocratic ideal of „καλοκἀγαθία”, the “beautifulandgood”, and its interpretation in Aristotle’s Eudemian Ethics are ripped out of context. If Han maintains „Here [Eudemian Ethics], the good is subordinated to the beautiful.“ („Das Gute wird hier dem Schönen untergeordnet oder nachgeordnet.“ (Han op.cit p.74), this is in contradiction to Aristotle’s own explanations in the same text: „πολλαχῶς τὸ ἀγαθόν, καὶ ἔστι τι αὐτοῦ καλόν“ (1218b4) „Manifold is the good and something of it is the beautiful.“ (transl. G.P.) ↩︎
  41. Han op.cit., 97) ↩︎
  42. “Die Politiker als freie Menschen müssen schöne Taten hervorbringen …“ Han op.cit., p. 73 ↩︎
  43. Han op.cit. p. 81 ↩︎
  44. On the one hand the ruling class beautify their office with art, on the other hand art should become a means for the production of consciousness. (SDS Gruppe ‚Kultur und Revolution‘, „Kunst als Ware der Bewusstseinsindustrie“, in: Die Zeit Nov. 1968). Or the debate about the alledged „death of literature“ in Kursbuch 15 (1968) ed. Hans Magnus Enzensberger, and in particular Peter Schneider`s essay „Phantasie im Spätkapitalismus“ in Kursbuch 16 (1969). See also in this context F.C.Delius’ amusing retrospective speech at the opening of the exhibition „Protest!Literatur um 1968“ in Literaturhaus Berlin in 1999. The debates of the late sixties about the politicization of theatre and the related activities are presented and analysed in detail in Dorothea Kraus, Theater-Proteste. Zur Politisierung von Straße und Bühne in den 1960er Jahren. Frankfurt/M: Campus, 2007 ↩︎
  45. e.g. Wilhelm Schmidt following Foucault: „Die Ästhetik der Existenz (lässt sich) als Arbeit an der kunstvollen Gestaltung der Existenz bezeichnen, durch die das Leben selbst zum Kunstwerk wird.“ in: Wilhelm Schmid, Schönes Leben? Einführung in die Lebenskunst. Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 2000, p. 174f ↩︎
  46. e.g. „Die vermisste Totalität des Sinns soll wenigstens in Form des Scheins präsent bleiben und deshalb wird den Künstlern Lebenshilfe aufgebürdet. Womit die Menschen auf der konkreten Handlungsebene nicht fertig werden, verliert im ästhetischen Medium alle Widerstände. Umgekehrt leiht es den ehedem unter üblem politischen Leumund leidenden Künstlern eine überraschende Würde, wenn sie auf eine Weise ernst genommen werden, die das Fiktive ausschließt.“ Rüdiger Bubner, „Ästhetisierung der Lebenswelt“, in: R.B., Ästhetische Erfahrung. Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1989, p. 155 ↩︎
  47. “Der Faschismus versucht, die neu entstandenen proletarisierten Massen zu organisieren, ohne die Eigentumsverhältnisse auf deren Beseitigung sie hindrängen, anzutasten. Er sieht sein Heil darin, die Massen zum ihrem Ausdruck (beileibe nicht zu ihrem Recht) kommen zu lassen. Die Massen haben ein Recht auf Veränderung der Eigentumsverhältnisse, der Faschismus sucht ihnen einen Ausdruck in deren Konservierung zu geben. Der Faschismus läuft folgerecht auf eine Ästhetisierung des politischen Lebens hinaus. … So steht es um die Ästhetisierung der Politik, welche der Faschismus betreibt. Der Kommunismus antwortet im mit der Politisierung der Kunst.“ Walter Benjamin, Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit. Drei Studien zur Kunstsoziologie. Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1977 pp. 42, 44 ↩︎
  48. Thomas Pogge, „Anerkannt und doch verletzt durch internationales Recht: Die Menschenrechte der Armen“, in: Barbara Fleisch, Peter Schaber (ed.), Weltarmut und Ethik. Paderborn: mentis, 2nd 2009, pp. 95-138 or David Miller, „Are they my poor: the problem of altruism in a world of strangers“, in: D.M, Justice for Earthlings. Essays in political philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2013, pp. 183-205, cf. also: David Miller, Strangers in our midst. The political philosophy of Immigration. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 2016 ↩︎
  49. David Miller, „Democracy“, in: D.M., Political Philosophy. A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003, pp.37-54 ↩︎
  50. Martha C. Nussbaum, „Der aristotelische Sozialdemokratismus“, in: M.N., Gerechtigkeit oder Das gute Leben. Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1999 (orig. Engl. 1990) pp. 24-85 ↩︎
  51. Han op.cit., p. 74 ↩︎
  52. Inscription on the porch of “Alte Oper” in Frankfurt am Main ↩︎
  53. Juliane Rebentisch, Die Kunst der Freiheit. Zur Dialektik demokratischer Existenz. Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2012 ↩︎
  54. θεατροκρατία, Platon, Leges, 701a. ↩︎
  55. „Die Demokratie ist (…) von der differentiellen Repräsentationslogik des Theaters geprägt: Die demokratische Souveränität ist darin relativ, dass sie ihre Setzungen als solche markiert oder ausstellt und damit an die Anerkennung durch ein nicht homogenes Publikum aussetzt.“ Rebentisch op.cit, p. 368 ↩︎
  56. “Eine Demokratie, die sich gegen die ästhetisierende Transformation ihres ethisch-politischen Selbstverständnisses immunisiert hätte, wäre keine mehr.“ p. 374. This refers to the defence against the danger of a decline of democracy to totalitarianism. Less convincing is Rebentisch’s argumentation for the defence against postdemocratic tendencies.. pp. 369-374 ↩︎
  57. Digression: It is astonishing how much Alan Badiou, the confesssing Platonic and despiser of parliamentary democracy, and Juliane Rebentisch, the anti-Platonic and and apologetic of an aestheticised democracy, agree if it comes to the relation between theatre and politics. Badiou also assumes „theatre-politics isomorphism“. (p. 9). Badiou distinguishes politics from the “monotonous administration of the State“ – Rebentisch would call that post-democray. For Badiou, politics comes into existence with a combination of three elements: „The masses who all of a sudden are gathered in an unexpected consistency (events); The points of view incarnated in organic and enumberable actors (subject-effects); a reference in thought that authorizes the elaboration of discourse“ (p. 7). For Badiou, these three elements are also elements of theatre and therefore they are the basis for a structural concord between theatre and politics. Like Rebentisch, Badiou thinks that the claim of the state to incorporate the common good (volonté généreal) is always contingent and revisable. „Some element of the symbolic is struck here, because it becomes manifest that its universality is purely contingent“ (p. 9) But Badiou’s ideas of how mass movements can change the state are much more radical than Rebentisch’s ideas of how theatricalized election campaigns are necessary for political change in parliamentary democracies. Alain Badiou, Rhapsody for the theatre. (ed.) Bruno Bosteels. London/New York: Verso, 2013 ↩︎
  58. Walter Benjamin, „Was ist das epische Theater (1) Eine Studie zu Brecht“ (1931), in: W.B., Versuche über Brecht. Rolf Tiedemann. Frankfurt/M: 1978. p. 17-29 ↩︎
  59. Rebentisch, op. cit. p. 348f ↩︎
  60. Benjamin cit. Rebentisch op.cit. p. 349 ↩︎
  61. Rebentisch op.cit, p. 354 ↩︎
  62. Rebentisch op.cit., p. 367 ↩︎
  63. It is astonishing in such regressions into the history of theatre which serve the legitimisation of contemporary experiments in theatre, that the particular political contexts in which these ancestors of political theatre developed their innovations are ignored. As often, there is a kind of anticapitalism which keeps silent about its Marxist origin. Piscator‘s Revue „Trotz alledem!“, which Carol Martin mentions, was staged only for the opening of the party conference of the communist party KPD in 1925 (cf. the detailed description in Jürgen Rühle, Theater und Revolution. München: dtv, 1963, p. 136f and two contradictory reviews of „Rote Fahne“ and „Berliner Tageblatt“ in: Günther Rühle, Theater für die Republik 1917-1933. Im Spiegel der Kritik. Frankfurt/M: S. Fischer, 1967, p. 645-650) ↩︎
  64. Carol Martin, „History and politics on stage. The theatre of the real“, in: Malzacher (ed.) op.cit., p. 43. ↩︎
  65. Bertolt Brecht, Gesammelte Werke. Supplementband IV. Gedichte aus dem Nachlass 2. Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1982, p. 421 ↩︎
  66. Benjamin, „Brechts Dreigroschenroman“, in: W.B., op.cit. p. 60 ↩︎
  67. see the musical analyses in: Hennenberg op.cit.., pp. 234-236, 249 ↩︎
  68. “interessant, wie man sich ein kunstwerk anhört, das irgendwie verurteilt worden ist. (…) überhaupt wirkt nichts mehr auf den, der die wirkung abschätzt“ 17.8.51. Bertolt Brecht, Arbeitsjournal Zweiter Band 1942 bis 1955. Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1974, p.579. A more affirmative self-evaluation can be found in one of Brecht’s notes, which was published only in the annotations of BFA 1993: „Das ist eine Gelegenheitsarbeit über ein Thema in verschiedenen Variationen. Kunstmäßig, mit einem kleinen Zaun herum. Das ist nicht nachgefühlt oder abgelauscht, sondern bewusst künstlerisch abgesetzt. – Das hatten früher alle großen Stücke. Wallenstein und Wilhelm Tell waren zwar abgelauscht, aber doch mit Distanz gestaltet. Heute wird das Publikum aber ganz böse, wenn man davon spricht.“ (BFA Bd.15 p.456)


Thanks to Victoria for correcting my translation.↩︎

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