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The Berliner Ensemble


In 1947 Bertolt Brecht returned to Berlin from America, following an unsuccessful career both in Hollywood and on Broadway. He settled in the Russian sector because of his Communist connections, which he had successfully hidden from the House Un-American Activities Committee just before leaving the US forever. At first he and his wife, the actress Helene Weigel, worked at the venerable Deutsches Theater, but in 1954 their company, the Berliner Ensemble, moved to the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm location. The stage had been completely destroyed by American bombs, but the fire curtain was in place to protect the beautiful auditorium, exactly as it was designed to do. A raked stage was put in, complete with a large turntable revolving on steel wheels salvaged from German Panzer tanks. It would become famous when Weigel, playing the lead in Brecht's Mother Courage, would plod endlessly on it with her canteen wagon, a visual symbol of the futility of Capitalism. Here, Hornby talks about Berliner Ensemble and Berlins lively theater scene.

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