Birthplace of Bertolt Brecht

The German dramatist and poet Bertolt Brecht was born in Augsburg on February 10, 1898. The house where he was born is now a museum with exhibits on his childhood and youth in Augsburg, and on his later life and works.

He only actually lived at this address for about half a year, because the house was very small and crowded, and on the ground floor there was a file-cutter’s shop with a loud mechanical hammer that was driven by water power from the stream right in front of the house.

So as soon as Brecht’s father could afford it they moved to a larger and quieter house. Two years later, in 1900, they moved again, this time to a house in the street which is now called Bert-Brecht-Straße. It was given this name in 1966 after years of controversy — Brecht was a Communist, and for this reason numerous people in Augsburg were against naming a street after him, even if he was a famous author.

Among many other works, Brecht wrote the words to The Threepenny Opera and The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, as well as The Seven Deadly Sins, all with music by Kurt Weill (1900-1950).

Stairs and photo in the Brecht House

In the stairwell of the Brecht House there is a large photo showing Augsburg as in was in Brecht’s youth, before and during the First World War. The tower in the middle is the Perlach Tower, which is still a prominent Augsburg landmark next door to city hall. Brecht, who was sixteen when the First World War began, had to spend nights up on this tower watching for any signs of air raids.

Brecht against the Nazis

Bertolt Brecht’s original reason for joining the Communist party in 1928 was that he was very much anti-Nazi, and he thought the Communists were the only ones who stood the slightest chance of preventing the Nazis from coming to power.

In the Brecht House museum there are a number of exhibits showing Brecht’s consistent anti-Nazi activities. One of the books in this display case is an American edition, published during the Second World War, called “Six Anti-Nazi One Act Plays” which includes a play by Brecht.

Geld macht sinnlich

On the red sign in this museum exhibit is one of the many quotable quotes from Bertolt Brecht’s writings: Geld macht sinnlich (Money makes a person sensuous).

This quotation is actually from a parable called “The round heads and the pointed heads,” which was first performed in Copenhagen in 1936. But there is also a similar passage in “The rise and fall of the city of Mahagonny” (1927).

Goldener Saal

This large “Golden Hall” is on the third floor of the Augsburg city hall in the center of the city. It is open to the public on most days, and is sometimes used as a venue for concerts and other public events.

One of Bertolt Brecht’s anti-war stories, Der Augsburger Kreidekreis (“The Augsburg Chalk Circle”), takes place in this Golden Hall. He wrote it in 1940, while he was living in exile in Finland.

Bust of Bertolt Brecht in Augsburg

One of Brecht’s most famous plays is The Life of Galileo. I missed it by a few days in Augsburg, but later saw it in an impressive production in Frankfurt.

In this play the Italian astronomer, mathematician and physicist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) is threatened with torture and death by the inquisition if he doesn’t renounce the idea that the earth goes around the sun. He finally renounces, to save his life, but feels guilty about it for the rest of his life, and his students consider him a cop-out.

Brecht wrote the first version of The Life of Galileo in 1938 when he was living in exile in Denmark after fleeing from the Nazis. At that time he had not yet moved to the United States, and of course had no idea that in 1947 he would be subpoenaed, interrogated and publicly humiliated by the “Committee on Un-American Activities” in Washington. He left the United States the next day, and never returned.

My photos in this post are from 2004. I revised the text in 2018.

8 thoughts on “Birthplace of Bertolt Brecht”

  1. I first adored the banister in the picture of the staircase … even at age 67, I could picture myself sliding down it! But the Golden Hall … simply stole my breath! So beautiful. And thank you so much for the added bonus of learning some new history!!! Your blog is a delight and I’m sorry I am not able to get over here more often!

  2. Fascinating reading and interesting images, Don. I must admit I know Brecht only through his association with Kurt Weill, which I really enjoy.

  3. Very nice piece. Brecht is such an interesting character. I read Mutter Courage in college, in German ( which may account for my rather weak memory of the play) and I believe it was in Vienna that i saw his Galileo play. This was while Germany was still divided and it seemed a bit naughty for an American to go see a play written by a Communist.

    Of course his Dreigrosschenoper is most famous here through the popularization of the song “Mack The Knife”in English. Stunning, how poorly we treated him, after the war. We should be ashamed to have accepted the role of Inquisitor, especially when that role was modeled after his Nazi experience.

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