Bertolt Brecht: Biography and a Life Path

Categories: Biography

Bertolt Brecht was born in the city of Augsburg, which is located in Bavaria, to a Protestant mother and Catholic father, who had a job at the local paper mill. So Bertolt lived a nice middle class life. When the first world war broke out Bertolt was very passionate about joining as a soldier in the beginning, but soon he changed his mind upon seeing his classmates “swallowed by the army”. 

Due to an extra medical class he decided to take while attending the university of Munich, where he enrolled during the year of 1917.

Because of this course he was able to discover a way not to get drafted to the front lines at first. While during the year of 1916, Bertolt started writing his newspaper articles under the penname, “Bert Brecht”. Not too long after that happened Bertolt got drafted into the military service during the autumn of 1918. Instead of being able to serve for very long the war happened to end like a month later.

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Bertolt Brecht, whose birth name written on his birth certificate was Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht, was born on February 10th 1898 in the city of Augsburg, Bavaria. Sadly, Bertolt died on august 14th during the year of 1956, while living in East Berlin. He was one of many German poets, but not only was he a poet but a playwright and a theater reformer. Who from the website I have citied at the bottom said “Whose epic theatre strayed from the conventions of theatrical illusion and developed drama as a social and philosophical forum for leftist causes”.

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Bertolt lived in Bavaria Until 1924, he studied the field of medicine and served in an army hospital during 1918. Bertolt made many wonderful pieces during his life such as His first play, Baal (1923), his first success, Trommeln in der Nacht, Drums in the Night, and his first professional production Edward II (1924), just to name a few of them. During his life Bertolt created numerous plays and theatrical productions during his career, including Die Dreigroschenoper (1928) The Threepenny Opera, Der kaukasische Kreidekreis, during the year of 1949, and Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder which was made during the year of 1941; Mother Courage and Her Children. All of these listed above I got from the cite I have listed below were very important to his career and fame. In Berlin from the years of 1924 to 1933, Brecht worked briefly for the directors Max Reinhardt and Erwin Piscator, but mainly with his own group of coworkers. While working with the composer Kurt Weill Bertolt wrote the satirical, successful ballad opera Die Dreigroschenoper, during the year of 1928; he made the opera Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny. the Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. He also wrote what he called “Lehr-stücke” which is basically classical plays for performance outside the orthodox theatre to music by Weill, Hindemith, and Hanns Eisler. During these years he developed his theory which is known as “epic theatre” and a serious form of irregular verse. He also became a Marxist. During 1933 he went into exile in Scandinavia from the years (1933 to 1941), mainly in Denmark, and the United States from (1941 to 1947), where he did some brief film work in Hollywood. During this time in Germany Bertolt Brecht’s books were burned and his citizenship was withdrawn. He was cut off from the German theatre, he basically was like banned from Germany and its theater scene. but between the years of 1937 and 1941 he wrote most of his great plays, his major theoretical essays and dialogues, and a lot of the poems, Svendborger Gedichte during the year of 1939). 

Between the years of 1937 and 1939. Bertolt started writing, but did not finish, his book Die Geschäfte des Herrn Julius Caesar which translates to. It portrays a scholar researching a biography of Caesar many years after he was killed. The plays of Brecht’s exile years became famous in his own production and other productions, significant among them are Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder, a chronicle play of the Thirty Years’ War; Leben des Galilei made during the year of 1943 also known as The Life of Galileo; another one is Der gute Mensch von Sezuan which was also made during the year of 1943 which translates to The Good Woman of Setzuan), a parable play set in pre-war China; Der Aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui made during 1957which translates to The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui), and then another parable play of Hitler’s rise to power set in pre-war Chicago; Herr Puntila und sein Knecht Matti made during 1948, which from what I was able to translate by research is Herr Puntila and His Man Matti). a Volksstück which is a popular play about a Finnish farmer who hesitates between crass sobriety and drunken good humour; and The Caucasian Chalk Circle which was first produced in English during 1948. Der kaukasische Kreidekreis made 1949), which is the story of a struggle for possession of a child between its aristocratic mother, who deserts it, and the servant lady who looks after it. Bertolt left the United States during 1947 after having to give evidence before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He spent one year in Zürich, working mainly on Antigone-Modell, It is adapted from Hölderlin’s conversion of Sophocles; produced during 1948, and on his most important academic work, the Kleines Organon für das Theater which was produced in 1949; which translates to “A Little Organum for the Theatre”). The spirit of his theory of drama, as exposed in this work, is the idea that a truly Marxist drama must avoid the Aristotelian premise that the audience should be made to believe that what they are seeing is happening in the present day at that very moment. Because Bertolt saw that if the audience really felt that the emotions of heroes or legends of the past such as, Oedipus, Lear, or Hamlet could equally have been their own reactions, then the Marxist idea that human nature is not constant but a result of changing historical conditions would automatically be invalidated. Bertolt therefore argued that the theatre should not try to make its audience believe in the characters on the stage or try to identify with them. But should rather follow the method of the epic poet’s art, which is to make the audience realize that what we see on the stage is simply an account of past proceedings that we should watch with critical impartiality. the “epic” theatre is based on detachment, on the Verfremdungseffekt which translates to the alienation effect), achieved through a number of trials that remind the spectator that he is being presented with an example of human behavior in scientific spirit rather than with an illusion of reality. basically stating that the theatre is only a theatre.

In 1949 Brecht went to Berlin to help stage Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder with his second wife, Helene Weigel. in the title part at Reinhardt’s old Deutsches Theater in the Soviet sector. (He married Weigel in 1930 and together they had 4 kids (Stefan Brecht, Hanne Hiob, Frank Banholzer, Barbara Brecht-Schall .) This eventually led to the formation of the Brechts’ own company, the Berliner Ensemble, and to the permanent return to Berlin for Bertolt and his family. the Ensemble and the staging of his own plays had first claim on Brecht’s time. Often doubtful in eastern Europe because of his unorthodox aesthetic theories and boycotted in the West for his Communist opinions. He had a great triumph at the Paris Théâtre des Nations in 1955. and during that same year in Moscow he received a Stalin Peace Prize. Bertolt tragically died of a heart attack in East Berlin during the following year. Brecht was first a superior poet, with a knowledge of many styles and moods. As a playwright he was an intensive worker, a restless idea creator if you will not always his own. (The Threepenny Opera is based on John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera, and Edward II on Marlowe), a sarcastic humorist, and a man of rare musical and visual awareness. But Bertolt sadly was often bad at creating living characters or at giving his plays tension and shape. 

As a producer he liked light, clarity, and firmly secured narrative sequence; as a perfectionist, he forced the German theatre, against its nature, to understate. As a scholar he made principles out of his favorites and even out of his faults. Epic theatre, (which in German is episches Theater) a form of moralizing drama presenting a series of lightly connected scenes that avoid illusion and often interrupt the story line to address the audience directly with analysis, argument, or credentials. Its dramatic experiences include the episodic structure and moralistic nature of the pre-Expressionist drama of the German playwright Frank Wedekind and the Expressionist theatre of the German directors Erwin Piscator (with whom Brecht collaborated in 1927 and Leopold Jessner.) He believed that the 'suspension of disbelief' created by realistic drama was a shallow display, with manipulative plots and heightened emotion. This theatre is a form of 'escapism' and did not challenge the audience at all. In the year of 1921, Brecht took a small part in the political burlesque of the Munich comedian Karl Valentin, whom Brecht compared to Chaplin for his “virtually complete rejection of mimicry and cheap psychology “. In the very same year, Brecht took a trip to Berlin and attended the rehearsals of Max Reinhardt, Erwin Piscator, and other major directors. In the year of 1922, his play Drums in the night opened in Munich at the Kammerspiele and later at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin. He received the prestigious Kleist prize for young dramatists as a result. In 1923, his two plays jungle of cities and Baal were performed. 

After moving to Berlin in 1924, he met a communist Viennese actress, Helene Weigel, whom he married after the divorce from his first wife Marianne Zoff in 1929. Hollywood sadly never opened its doors to Bertolt, who sketched notes for more than fifty films... In the West as well as in the East Germany Brecht became the most popular contemporary poet, outdistanced only by such classics as Shakespeare, Schiller, and Goethe. In 1955 Brecht received the Stalin Peace Prize. His acceptance speech, delivered in Moscow, was translated into Russian by Boris Pasternak. In East Berlin Brecht’s work was very popular in the 50s, 60s and 70s, but he is slightly less fashionable today. However, his influence is still present in much of theatre and many would argue that Brecht changed the face of modern theatre.

Works cited

  1. Willett, J. (1964). The Theatre of Bertolt Brecht: A Study from Eight Aspects. Methuen.
  2. James-Chakraborty, K. (2016). Architecture, Politics and Identity in Divided Berlin. University of Pittsburgh Press.
  3. Brecht, B. (2018). Mother Courage and Her Children. Bloomsbury Publishing.
  4. Kesting, M. (2005). Brecht on Art and Politics. University of Michigan Press.
  5. Brecht, B., & Willett, J. (1992). Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic. Hill and Wang.
  6. Parker, S. (2012). The Cambridge Introduction to Bertolt Brecht. Cambridge University Press.
  7. Esslin, M. (2003). Brecht: The Man and His Work. Da Capo Press.
  8. Willett, J. (1977). The Brechtian Aspect of Radical Cinema. Screen, 18(1), 27-44.
  9. Gemünden, G., & Seiler, H. J. (Eds.). (2018). The Oxford Handbook of Communist Visual Cultures. Oxford University Press.
  10. Halsey, A. (2016). Bertolt Brecht's Me-ti: Book of Interventions in the Flow of Things. Seagull Books.
Updated: Feb 13, 2024
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Bertolt Brecht: Biography and a Life Path. (2024, Feb 13). Retrieved from

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