The enlightenment era in German literature in the 18th century, spearheaded by the dramatists Lessing, Schiller and Goethe, entailed the creation of the German dramatic theatre. It followed the Greek idea of drama as a means of education and – by arousing empathy and fear – morally uplifting the audience. Especially Friedrich von Schiller’s plays “Die Räuber (The Robbers, 1781) and “Kabale und Liebe” (Cabal and Love, 1782) created intense emotions and filled the contemporaries with enthusiasm for the ideas of freedom and justice. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s famous play “Faust” – published in 1808 – explored the never-ending human struggle for ultimate knowledge and power.
Still the Expressionist theatre at the beginning of the 20th century – under such famous directors as Erwin Piscator and Max Reinhard – aimed at unmasking the social reality and enabling the spectators to become critical of it.
The Marxist poet and playwright Berthold Brecht directly aimed at revolutionising the audience by teaching them the mechanisms of political power and suppression. Some of his most famous works were the “Leben des Galileo” (Life of Galileo, 1926) and the “Dreigroschenoper” (Threepenny Opera, 1928) which he created in cooperation with the composer Kurt Weill. and which proved to be Brecht’s greatest work and was very popular with the middle-class public. In 1934, the Nazis banned Brecht’s works and books and burnt them together with all the other works of art which they quilified as “entartete Kunst”, meaning “degenerated art”, not in tune with the Germanic race. Brecht went into exile, first to Finland, later to the United States. In 1947, the Committee on Un-American Activities accused him of being an unwanted communist. Brecht then moved to East Berlin where he founded his own Socialist theater “Berliner Ensemble”.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the so-called “Jungen Wilden” (Young Wilds) – with famous directors Peter Zadek or Peter Stein – led to an innovative movement in German theatre which reinterpreted classic plays in a provocative and irreverential manner. Thanks to the freshness and chuzpe of the Young Wilds, German theatre is still of interest also to the young generation of theatre-goers. In fact, the German theatre scene is one of the most progressive in the world.