Helene Weigel


Helene Weigel was born on May 12, 1900, to an upper-middle-class Jewish family in Vienna. She attended an art-oriented school and, against her parents’ will, began taking acting lessons at the age of seventeen. Eventually, she obtained engagements with Das Neue Theater in Frankfurt am Main (1919–1921) and with the Frankfurt Schauspielhaus (1921–1922). In 1922, Weigel moved to Berlin, where she spent the next decade acting in numerous plays at the Renaissance Theater and Volksbühne. Critics highlighted her expressive, spirited performances and her deep voice.


In 1933, when the Nazis came to power, Helene Weigel and Bertolt Brecht (whom she married in 1929) decided to leave Germany with their two children. After stops in Europe, they finally settled in California in 1941. Weigel was not able to find work as an actress —the only exception was her silent role in the Hollywood adaption of The Seventh Cross (1944, dir. Fred Zinnemann)—and focused on taking care of her family.


In late 1947, Weigel and Brecht moved back to Europe. Before they settled in East Germany for good, they lived in Switzerland, where Weigel again had a chance to play a leading role in Brecht’s Die Antigone des Sophokles (Antigone of Sophocles, dir. Caspar Neher) at the Stadttheater Chur.


Weigel and Brecht came to Berlin and met with representatives of the post-war cultural scene in 1948. That same year, rehearsals for Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder (Mother Courage and Her Children, dirs. Bertolt Brecht and Erich Engel) with Helene Weigel in the title role began at the Deutsches Theater and it premiered on January 11, 1949. Simultaneously, Weigel and Brecht worked on a Berliner theater project. In the spring of 1949, Weigel received the official document asking her to establish the Berliner Ensemble. She immediately began looking for personnel, and on November 12, 1949, Weigel and Brecht opened the Berliner Ensemble (BE).


In the following years, Weigel played many outstanding leading roles, mainly in Brecht’s productions, and became known as one of the best German actresses. From 1949 to 1961, Weigel performed as Mother Courage over 400 times, including in the 1960 adaptation for screen by Peter Palitzsch and Manfred Wekwerth.


Weigel also continued working as administrative director of the BE and helped the theater rise to international fame. After Brecht’s death in 1956, she began promoting and publishing her late husband’s work. She died on May 6, 1971, in Berlin.


1971 Nach meinem letzten Umzug… (After My Last Move, doc.)
1968 Die Geschichte der Simone Marchard (The Story of Simone Marchard, TV recording of BE production)
1967 Helene Weigel (doc.)

Die Ermittlung (The Investigation, TV recording of BE production)

1961 Frau Flinz (Madame Flinz, TV recording of BE production)

Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder (Mother Courage and Her Children)

1958 Die Mutter (The Mother, archival recording of BE production)
1957 Katzgraben (TV recording of BE production)
1953 Die Gewehre der Frau Carrar (Señora Carrar’s Rifles, TV recording of BE production)
1944 The Seventh Cross
1932 Kuhle Wampe oder Wem gehört die Welt? (Kuhle Wampe, or Who Owns the World?, singer)
1926 Metropolis

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