Springtime for Hitler 

The Berliner Ensemble folds up its tent at UCLA

Wednesday, Jun 30 1999
Photo by Brigitte M. Mayer
AFTER A HISTORIC FIRST U.S. ENGAGEMENT (at UCLA) that will also, somewhat ironically, be its last, the famed Berliner Ensemble is packing it in. The 50-year-old company, established by Bertolt Brecht when he returned to East Berlin rather than testify before HUAC, will disband and reconstitute itself under the direction of Claus Peymann, who's currently the director of the Vienna Burgtheater. The company will retain the Berliner Ensemble name, but will break with tradition and produce playwrights other than Brecht. (The Berliner Ensemble has always maintained strong -- one might say doctrinaire -- ties to tradition. Until now, only the Catholic Church was perceived as more resistant to change.)

The play on view is Arturo Ui, Brecht's political satire about Nazism written specifically for an American audience. Begun while Brecht was living in exile in Finland but completed in L.A., the allegory retells the ascent of Hitler, but sets the story in 1920s Chicago, focusing on a greengrocer protection racket. (Think of a play setting the Balkan conflict in Las Vegas to get some idea of the sheer headiness of Brecht's conceit.)

But will Brecht's 1941 triangulation of fascism, crime and capitalism seem dated? Through an interpreter, Stephan Suschke, co-director of the Berliner Ensemble, says, "Of course parallels are very obvious when we look to the Balkans." (A widely held view through much of Eastern Europe is that in the Balkans, America is simply using a moral imperative as a front to expand its empire.) "In American history, there have been many cases where the U.S. has embraced dictators. Pinochet and Noriega come to mind. We don't have to talk about German history -- it's so obvious."

What's less obvious is the place of the Berliner Ensemble in reunified Germany. Once a beacon of artistic and political freedom in the East, the ensemble has struggled with its identity since the Berlin Wall fell. "Theater in East Berlin had previously had an important function, since there was no press freedom," Suschke says. "It was only in theater where you could actually say things. It's different now, because we can express opinions outside of theater."

Related Stories

  • Soccer Streaming

    In perhaps a sign of the growing popularity of soccer in the United States, the L.A. Department of Water and Power recorded a modest spike in water usage at halftime of Thursday's World Cup game between the U.S. and Germany. Water usage then dropped sharply during the second half. It...
  • A New Berlin Currywurst

    Grand Central Market downtown is adding new dining options at breakneck pace. In just the last ten months, we've seen the additions of Sticky Rice, Valerie at Grand Central Market, G&B Coffee, Horse Thief, DTLA Cheese and Eggslut. In the coming weeks Olio Pizzeria, Wexler's Deli and The Oyster Gourmet are also set to open. And today comes the announcement that Berlin...
  • Stations of the Cross Leading at the 2014 Berlin Film Festival

    Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, both of which publish special daily issues at the major international festivals, may be the most famous movie trade magazines. But every morning at any of these festivals, including Berlin, most critics I know - and probably plenty of industry people, too - turn to...
  • Aesthetic Perfection Returns to L.A.

    'Til Death is industrial act Aesthetic Perfection's crossover album, the one intended as much for the kids wearing neon as much as the kids wearing black PVC. It has strains of Depeche Mode, and Nine Inch Nails' early work. It hits the streets on February 11 through Metropolis Records.  Daniel...
  • Henry Rollins: The West Berlin Cold Darkness 3

    Do you ever get the feeling, while living out your time in the Los Angeles area during January, where temperatures spike into the 80s and UPS personnel wear shorts, that you have struck a kind of Faustian bargain with the god of weather karma? That someday, you shall be plunged...

When queried about the relevance of a company devoted to producing works exclusively by one playwright -- a Marxist playwright to boot -- Suschke remarks cryptically, "We are living now so much in the present, theater is a way of connecting with the past and with the intellectual energies of the future.

"Arturo Ui is about a charismatic figure who can lead the masses into destruction. We in Germany are [no longer] as inclined to vote for politicians who must then become entertainers," insists Suschke.

Our own propensity to elect entertainers who want to be politicians, however, gives Brecht's theme another twist.


Berliner Ensemble at UCLA, Freud Playhouse, Westwood; Fri.-Sat., July 9-10, 8 p.m.; Sun., July 11, 4 p.m. (310) 825-2101.

Related Content

Now Trending


  • A Day in Griffith Park
    Pack a picnic basket and escape the hustle and bustle of L.A. by spending the day in beautiful Griffith Park.Stop and grab a cold drink at Trails, then go hike. Stroll around the Observatory. Cruise past The Greek Theater to the Bird Sanctuary, or practice golf and grab a snack at the Roosevelt Cafe. Just remember, you don't need to be a tourist to enjoy what Griffith Park has to offer. All photos by Michele McManmon.
  • FANFARE-LA: Fine Art Nude, Fetish, and Risque Exhibition (NSFW)
    FANFARE-LA, the Fine Art Nude, Fetish, and Risque Exhibition was held Jan. 31st to Feb. 2nd at the Hamilton Galleries in Santa Monica. Here is a peek of the sexually-charged, fetish-fine art that is featured in the show. More info at fanfare-la.com.
  • Gloryhole 2013 @ The Pleasure Chest
    The Pleasure Chest's annual anniversary party, Gloryhole, took place Thursday night, transforming the popular West Hollywood sex shop into a pleasure den filled opportunities to get spanked, tied up and dominated. For those of a more voyeuristic nature, the live XXX Gloryhole installation offered a glimpse of erotic play and sexuality. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.