Bertolt Brecht

Bertolt Brecht. He is among the most important authors of the 20th century . He is the prototype of a revolutionary intellectual who has tried to decipher reality through art . The truth is that theatrical work and the numerous theoretical writings have exerted an enormous influence on contemporary and subsequent writers.


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  • 1 Biographical synthesis
    • 1 Beginnings
    • 2 Exile
    • 3 Style
  • 2 Curiosities
  • 3 Works
  • 4 Source

Biographical synthesis

He was born into a bourgeois family in Augsburg , the city of Bavaria . The Catholic father was a wealthy manager of a small paper factory, and the Protestant mother was the daughter of an official.

Young Brecht was a rebel who played chess and played the lute . He was attracted to the different, the extravagant, and he insists on living outside the norms of time, modesty and a sense of discipline. From a young age he showed that he was full of ideas to build a different, better society.

At school he stood out for his intellectual precocity and finished the special baccalaureate (Notabitur), when he was involved in a scandal. Initially influenced by the euphoria of war, Brecht criticized it with the essay on the poet Horacio (65 BC – 8 BC) “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” (“Sweet and honorable is to die for the country “), in which it is considered honorable to die for the country and which Brecht considers as” directed propaganda “in which only” fools “fall. For this he was punished with expulsion from school. Only the intervention of the father and the religion teacher prevented him from carrying out the punishment.

the beginning

He started writing pornographic poetry from a young age, and published the first sexual experiences turned into poems about prostitutes and homeless people in 1914 . He also wrote stories, and songs that he sang himself accompanying himself on the guitar.

In 1917 he began his medical career at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich , but had to interrupt his studies to do military service as a doctor at a military hospital in Augsburg, in the framework of the First World War .

In 1918 , at just twenty years old, he wrote the first play, Baal, whose main character is a bisexual poet and murderer. During this time he met Paula Banholzer, who in 1919 gave birth to his son, Frank, who would die on the Soviet front during World War II in 1943 .

Then, between 1918 and 1920, he wrote a piece about the German revolution, which was led by the Spartacists, with the title Drums at Night. The end of this play shakes the audience: “All this is nothing more than pure theater. Simple tables and a cardboard moon. But the slaughterhouses behind it, those are real.” The morality of the play supplants traditional theater, which aims to be impartial. Also around that time, the Bavarian revolutionary upheaval of 1918 led Brecht to join the Independent Social Democratic Party in 1919 .

Starting in 1920 , Brecht often traveled to Berlin , where he established relationships with people from the theater and the literary scene.

In 1922 he married stage actress and opera singer Marianne Zoff. From that moment on, the young artist had roles in Münchner Kammerspiele and in the Deutsches Theater in Berlin. A year later they had a daughter, Hanne; Soon after, he met what would be the second wife, Helene Weigel.

In 1924 he left Augsburg and moved to Munich; from there he would later move to Berlin, the capital, where an effervescent cultural life reigned, and where he met the expressionist poet Arnolt Bronnen with whom he founded a production company they would call Arnolt and Bertolt. That same year he began working as a playwright with Carl Zuckmayer at the Max Reinhardt Deutsches Theater and had his second son, Stefan, although three years later he would divorce Marianne Zoff.

From 1926 he had frequent contacts with socialist artists who would influence his thinking and in 1927 , he began to study Marx’s Capital. In 1929 he joined the Communist Party.

That same year he married Helene Weigel, a marriage of which they had a daughter, Barbara.
Between 1929 and 1934 he wrote a series of works among which stand out: Line of conduct, Agreement and perhaps the most important and beautiful of the works of this time: The exception and the rule ( 1930 ).

At the age of 29 he published the first collection of poems Domestic Devotional and a year later he achieved the greatest theatrical success of the Weimar Republic with The Four-Quarter Opera, with music by Kurt Weill , a crazy work in which he criticizes the bourgeois order representing it as a society of criminals, prostitutes, livers and beggars.

This work was taken to the cinema in 1931 under the direction of Georg Wilhelm Pabst.
With his actions, Brecht always sought to make the viewer aware and make him think, trying to distance him from the anecdotal element; For this, he looked at the incipient mass media that the newborn Sociology began to use for political purposes: radio, theater and even cinema, through which it could reach the public it intended to educate. His goal was to achieve social change that would achieve the liberation of the means of production. That purpose was addressed both through the intellectual and aesthetic spheres.

A year later, Brecht took his communist ideas to the cinema with Kuhle Wampe (or Who Owns the World?), Directed by Slatan Dudow and with music by Hanns Eisler , showing what Communism could offer to a whipped German people by the crisis of the Weimar Republic .

Until 1933 , Brecht worked in Berlin as an author and theater director. But in that year, Hitler seizes power. At the beginning of 1933 the performance of the play The taking of measures was interrupted by the police and the organizers were accused of high treason. On February 28, a day after the Reichstag Brecht fire, Helene Weigel with her family and friends left Berlin and fled through Prague , Vienna and Zurich to Skovsbostrand , near Svendborg in Denmark , where the author spent five years. In May 1933all his books were burned by the National Socialists. Although to this day there is doubt as to whether all of his books were burned.


Brecht’s exile was possibly the hardest time of his life, despite which in this period he wrote some of his greatest plays and reached his full maturity with his four great dramas written between 1937 and 1944 .

Finding himself in a difficult economic situation, he had to travel first to Austria , then to Sweden , where he lived for a year on a farm near Stockholm and, in April 1940 , to Helsinki .

During this time he wrote his work The Life of Galileo . This theatrical piece very freely recreates the scientist’s biography, describing the character’s self-condemnation to give up his heliocentric theory before the Inquisition. Brecht always spoke out against authority, the state and society with just criticism so as not to become a martyr for his own ideas. In Sweden he wrote the powerful anti-war allegation Mother Courage and her children, in an attempt to demonstrate that greedy small businessmen do not hesitate to wage devastating wars to earn money. Galileo’s life was released on September 9 , 1943 in the Zurich theater .

Sichuan’s Good Soul ( 1938 – 1940 ) examines the dilemma of how to be virtuous and survive at the same time in a capitalist world.

In The Caucasian Chalk Circle, he tells the story of a struggle for the possession of a child between a high society mother who abandons him and a maid who looks after him in the Solomonic way. The judge must decide which is the true mother.
In the summer of 1941 , he traveled from Moscow on the express

In early 1949 he moved with a Czech passport through Prague to East Berlin . He lived in the “House of Brecht” in Weissensee , began working on the Antigone of Sophocles, Friedrich Hölderlin’s version , and in another important work, the Small Organum for the theater, being general director of the Deutsches Theater. In autumn he founded the Berliner Ensemble together with Helene Weigel.

He then worked in a very committed way for the theater. These are years of spectacular performances and publications in which he would become famous and in which he had some performances by invitation in European capitals, which caused tension with the leadership of the SED (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands: Unified Socialist Party of Germany) as well as with representatives of the cultural bureaucracy and theater life. Various works were rejected, such as Santa Juana de los Mataderos and the movie Kuhle Wampe.


All of Brecht’s works are absolutely tied to political and historical reasons and have an outstanding aesthetic development. In reality, in Brecht, substance and form, aesthetics and ideals are always united.

From its beginnings it was characterized by a radical opposition to the way of life and the world view of the bourgeoisie and, naturally, to the bourgeois theater, maintaining that it was only intended to entertain the spectator without exerting the slightest influence on him. Brecht developed a new form of theater that lent itself to representing the reality of modern times, and was in charge of bringing to the stage all the forces that condition human life.

In addition to moving feelings, it forced the public to think; in theatrical performances nothing was taken for granted and compelled the viewer to draw his own conclusions. Until the end of his life he maintained the thesis that the theater could contribute to changing the world.

To do this, he created a new idea of ​​art as a total and active understanding of history: the distancing effect, the non-lyrical contemplation of things and also not a subtle retreat on subjectivity, but rather human and moral choices, verification of traditional values ​​and elaboration of a new presence of poetry in society.

His so-called epic, narrative theater continues to aim in today’s stagings to provoke the critical awareness of viewers and actors. You have to break the text down, not feel it, examine it from afar, distance yourself. No sentimentality that causes tears on stage.

Brecht displayed anti-sentimentality, as well as his sympathy for the poor and their suffering, while attacking the false respectability of the bourgeois.

The famous distancing effect created by Brecht is a weapon against romanticism and sentimentality. Social criticism, compassion for human beings and the consequent change in society had to play the essential role. Thus, the songs interrupt the parliaments, the curtain deprives the stage of theatrical magic, and a poster raises the demand.

The actors of Brecht are his students: he lets them act on stage and in this way they build the piece, while the director destroys it. Genius and naivety keep a balance. This combination is the secret to Brecht’s success.
Brecht is among the most important authors of the 20th century. He is the prototype of a revolutionary intellectual who has tried to decipher reality through art.
The truth is that his theatrical work and his numerous theoretical writings have exerted enormous influence on the contemporary writers to him.


  • The film “Iron Cross” by Sam Packinpah, 1977 , ends with a quote from Bertolt Brecht:

“Do not rejoice in their defeat, you, man. Because although the world rises up and stops the bastards, the mother who gave birth to them is again close to the heat.”

  • The famous quote:

Imagine there is a war and no one is going …

it has been wrongly attributed to Brecht. Nor is Brecht the poem that begins:

“First they took the communists away, but I didn’t care, because I wasn’t a communist …”

It is not a poem, but a phrase by the German Protestant pastor Martin Niemöller .

  • Famous quote:

“There are men who fight one day and are good, others fight a year and are better, there are those who fight for many years and are very good, but there are those who fight all their lives, and those are essential”


This quote was taken by the Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez as an introduction to one of his songs ( Sueño con Serpientes ) and was also taken by the Mexican singer-songwriter Alejandro Filio at the closing of one of his songs ( El Hombre ). It is also written on a plaque at the entrance of the department of geographic engineering and graphic expression techniques of the ETS of Engineers of Roads, Channels and Ports of Santander ( Cantabria , Spain ).

  • Like almost all German intellectuals exiled because of the Nazis, he showed his support for the Second Spanish Republic. Several military songs for the International Brigades are based on, or counted on, their texts, such as Einheitsfrontlied (The song of the united front).
  • Peruvian rock musician Rafo Raezmusicalized a Brecht poem called “The Plum.”
  • The Basque group Negu Gorriakmusicalized a poem by Bertolt Brecht translating it into Basque in the song “Hiltzeko era ugari” (“Many ways to kill” or “many ways to die”).
  • The Chilean group Hombres a Tierra madea free adaptation of a Brecht poem called Canción de San Jamás.
  • Basque singer-songwriter Mikel Laboa mademany of Bertolt Brecht’s poems musical, translating them into Basque in several songs, among others: “Gaberako Aterbea”, “Liluraren kontra”.
  • The emblematic Spanish-language rock group of Mexican origin Botellita de Jerez, made a parody of the emblematic phrase: “There are men who fight one day and are good …”, satirizing the sentence to talk about the famous Mexican fighter El Santo. The complete sentence is:

“There are men who fight one day and they are good, there are men who fight for one year and they are better, there are those who fight for many years and are very good, but there are those who fight every Sunday, those are the cool ones: Santo, the masked man silver”


  • Mother Courage and her children
  • Galileo’s life
  • The Caucasian Chalk Circle
  • Inquisition
  • Santa Juana de los Mataderos
  • Domestic devotional (poems)


by Abdullah Sam
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