Germany′s Flourishing Theater Scene Has Roots in the Past | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 05.02.2009
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Germany's Flourishing Theater Scene Has Roots in the Past

"I believe in the immortality of the theater," the famous German stage director Max Reinhard once said. Germany is known as Europe's theater paradise, and with good reason.

A performance of Woyzeck at the Thalia theater in Hamburg

Plays like "Woyzeck" excite audiences with social commentary

“Theater is a blessed hiding place for those who secretly tucked their childhood into their pockets and ran away with it, in order to play until the end of their lives,” the Reinhard quote continues.

No country has as many publicly-funded theaters as Germany. Some 150 of them receive government funding of some sort. A third are classic “three discipline” theaters, showcasing music, dance and plays all in the same place.

Scene from The Crucible by Arthur Miller at Hamburg's Thalia Theater

Thalia Theater productions are known for their staging

In addition, Germany has some 280 private theaters of varying size that show different types of work, with different history and traditions. Some 35 million theater-goers attend an annual total of around 110,000 theater performances, as well as some 7,000 concerts each year.

Germany’s tiniest theater is the Theader in Freinsheim in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. The stage has room for just four actors; the house can hold up to 20 audience members. In contrast, one of the country’s biggest theaters is the Deutsche Theater in Berlin, with 1,600 seats and more than 300 shows per year. The Bavarian State Opera is enormous, too.

Historical explanation

Germany has some 40 festivals, around 150 theaters and other stages that have no ensemble attached to them, and about 100 touring troupes without a fixed stage. On top of that, there are countless unaffiliated theater troupes.

As in so many cases, Germany can look to its own history for an explanation of the proliferation of theaters. Long ago, when the country was divided among many royal houses, each court had a theater as a status symbol. The educated middle-class elite identified with it as well.

Plays like Goethe’s "Faust " and Buechner’s "Woyzeck " put theater smack dab in the middle of people’s intellectual lives. In the beginning of the 20th century, there were only 16 state theaters, but 360 privately-run theaters.

A scene from a play at the Theater an der Ruhr

A scene from a play at the Theater an der Ruhr

The Nazi era had a powerful effect on German theater. Many directors, dramaturgs and actors -- including Max Reinhard and Bertholt Brecht -- had to flee the Nazis.

Nazis era and its effects

German reunification poses another challenge. Berlin, especially, is feeling the effects, because many theaters -- particularly those in the east -- are having to fight to survive.

In 2007, the German theater scene got its own version of the Tony awards, America’s prize for achievement in theater. The “Faust” is given in nine categories, including best actor, best actress and best director.

The “Best Theater of the Year” award is another important barometer of German theater life. The coveted award is given by the influential theater magazine Theaterheute ( Theatertoday).

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