• Germany edition
 
Happy birthday Heiner Müller
Photo: DPA

Happy birthday Heiner Müller

Published: 09 Jan 2009 16:23 GMT+01:00
Updated: 09 Jan 2009 16:23 GMT+01:00

“Who is the corpse in the hearse about whom there's such a hue and cry?” asks a character in Heiner Müller's most famous play Hamletmachine.

The answer in this case is Heiner Müller himself.

Eighty years after his birth, Germany on Friday celebrates the deceased dramatist's life and legacy. In Berlin, the Arts Academy is holding two days of commemorations featuring cultural luminaries like Peter Weibel, Austrian Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek, and leftist politician Gregor Gysi.

Across the town, the Brecht Literature Forum will be hosting their own, smaller-scale reading in Brecht's former residence. Meanwhile in Hesse, the Schauspiel Frankfurt has programmed a three-day series of lectures and discussions, entitled “Experience with Heiner Müller,” in cooperation with the city's Johann Wolfgang Goethe University.

Müller himself would probably have felt ambivalent about all this festivity. “I owe the world a dead person,” Müller mused late in life to Alexander Kluge. “The state takes possession of the dead.” He would turn out to be more right than he realized.

In Müller's lifetime, the author achieved the rare feat of winning all the major literary prizes of both East and West Germany, picking up both the Mülheim and Büchner prizes of the democratic west, as well as the Heinrich Mann and National prizes of the communist east.

Thirteen years after his death from cancer, his reputation remains enormous. In 1998, the journal New German Critique devoted a special issue to his work. He is still the only playwright to have ever received such an honour. More recently, the powerhouse intellectual Frankfurt publishing house Suhrkamp last month issued a twelve-volume, doorstopper edition of Mueller's collected works.

The only twentieth century German dramatist who holds the same status is Bertolt Brecht. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Müller had a complicated relationship with the man he succeeded as director of the Berliner Ensemble.

Both authors were poets, theorists and public intellectuals, as well as men of the theatre. Both shared a commitment to socialism, and a taste for cigars. Both lived through tumultuous periods of German history, and both treated historical themes at length in their work.

Yet Müller was his own man artistically, and he remained consistently wary of Brecht's powerful influence. “To use Brecht without criticizing him,” he once wrote, “is treason.”

Based on this understanding, Müller developed a remarkably different style of theatre to his great predecessor. His was a free-wheeling, densely poetic strategy which upheld a logic of associations, rather than a logic of linear plot.

In Hamletmachine, this strategy drove Müller to borrow interchangeably from Shakespeare, T.S, Eliot, Jean-Luc Godard, and Manson Family member Susan Atkins. A terrorist quotation from Atkins, spoken by an updated Ophelia modelled after Ulrike Meinhof, closes the play: “When she walks through your bedroom with butcher knives, then you'll know the truth.”

“Theatre,” claimed Müller, “is a laboratory for the social imagination.” But the playwright ultimately ended up disappointed with the course that the German social imagination took.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Müller abrasively opposed reunification, accusing West Germany of “moral complacency.” He warned in the New York Times of a “resurgence of nationalism, racism and anti-Semitism” and that “a reunited Germany will make life unpleasant for its neighbours.”

Such as a stance was typical of Müller, who divided his time in the 1990s between writing poetry and appearing on talk shows, swirling ice cubes around in drained glasses of whiskey while offering dark, nihilistic pronouncements. But this abrasive aspect of his personality was tended to be downplayed in recent years, as his canonization has gathered pace.

“On stage,” Müller claimed, “you need an enemy. German history is my enemy, and I want to stare into the white of its eye.” But Müller has now become part of German history, leaving his legacy in a strange position indeed.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Don't miss...X
Left Right
Today's headlines
German squad leaves out one-legged long jumper
Markus Rehm. Photo: DPA

German squad leaves out one-legged long jumper

German athletics officials said on Wednesday they would not nominate the country's long jump champion Markus Rehm for the European championships because of fears his prosthetic leg gives him an unfair advantage. READ  

Second man arrested after synagogue attack
The synagogue on Tuesday after the attack. Photo: DPA

Second man arrested after synagogue attack

Police arrested a second suspect on Wednesday in connection with an attempted arson attack in which Molotov cocktails were thrown at a synagogue in western Germany. Another man who said he was Palestinian has denied involvement. READ  

German women fall short of equality
Still a man's world: women in Germany find it hard to rise as high as Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen. Photo: DPA

German women fall short of equality

Women in Germany are still underrepresented in leadership jobs and among professors, a new government report said on Wednesday. They are also paid less and remain unlikely to study science, technology, engineering or mathematics. READ  

The Local List
Five reasons to visit (and to avoid) Oktoberfest
Photo: DPA

Five reasons to visit (and to avoid) Oktoberfest

With just over 50 days to go until Munich's Oktoberfest starts, it is time to book your train/plane/horse to the world’s biggest beer festival. Or is it? The Local List looks at five reasons you should be making that trip, and five why you'd better steer clear. READ  

Visa chaos hits Bayern Munich's USA tour
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Photo: DPA

Visa chaos hits Bayern Munich's USA tour

Bayern Munich boss Karl-Heinz Rummenigge is among the club's staff and players who could not join a week-long tour to the USA on Wednesday because of visa problems. READ  

Dead TV star replies to SPD party invite
German actress Renater Küster with a statue of her late husband Dieter Hildebrandt. Photo: DPA

Dead TV star replies to SPD party invite

The Social Democrats (SPD) accidentally invited a dead TV star to attend its summer party. It got a shock when the veteran presenter replied saying, "I can't make it". READ  

Father killed in 'Cold Water Challenge'
The digger tipped over. Photo: DPA

Father killed in 'Cold Water Challenge'

A father died and five of his friends were injured on Tuesday night in western Germany when a digger fell on top of them during a so-called Cold Water Challenge. READ  

Huge Bavarian crop circle puzzles crowds
Raisting crop circle. Photo: DPA

Huge Bavarian crop circle puzzles crowds

A mysterious crop circle in Bavaria has attracted thousands of visitors since it was spotted in a wheat field last week. READ  

German siblings killed by drunk driver in Austria
Photo: DPA

German siblings killed by drunk driver in Austria

A ten-year-old girl and her 21-year-old brother were killed overnight in a road accident on the A1 motorway in Upper Austria, caused by a drunk driver who was driving on the wrong side of the road. READ  

Merkel: Russia sanctions were 'inevitable'
Merkel warned further sanctions could be imposed against Russia. Photo: DPA

Merkel: Russia sanctions were 'inevitable'

Strong sanctions imposed by the EU against Russia over its role in the Ukraine crisis were “inevitable”, Chancellor Angela Merkel claimed on Tuesday night, despite Germany's initial reluctance to get tough on President Vladimir Putin. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: DPA
Analysis & Opinion
Have Your Say: Should Germany legalize cannabis?
Photo: DPA
Education
Germany's students fail to graduate in time
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Hamburg harbour lit up in blue
Business & Money
JobTalk: 'Application process is failing'
Photo: Bundesarchiv/Bild 183-S45825
Culture
Germany puts 700,000 WWI docs online
Photo: DPA
Society
This man wants to give all of us €12,000 a year
Photo: DPA
Education
Top university switches master's courses to English
instagram.com/gotzemario
Gallery
Germany's World Cup stars share their holiday photos
Travel
Plans unveiled for bike trail along former Iron Curtain
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The Local List: 12 best words in German
Photo: DPA
Gallery
German Bucket List: How many of these can you tick off?
Photo: Europeana.de 1914 - 1918
Gallery
A German soldier's life behind WWI lines
Education
Raising the bar for law & business in Germany
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
Photo: DPA
Features
The Local List Archive - Your guide to all things German
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Sponsored Article
Bilingual school turning education on its head
Sponsored Article
CurrencyFair: Why it pays when making overseas transfers
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,254
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd