1st Edition

Archaeology of the Political Unconscious Theater and Opera in East Berlin, 1967–1977

By Jennifer Williams Copyright 2025
    202 Pages 22 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book investigates the aesthetic and political dialectics of East Berlin to argue how its theater and opera stages incited artists to act out, fuel, and resist the troubled construction of political legitimacy.

    This volume investigates three case studies of how leading East Berlin stages excavated fragmentary materials from Weimar dramatist Bertolt Brecht’s oeuvre and repurposed them for their post‑fascist society: Uta Birnbaum’s 1967 Man Equals Man at the Berliner Ensemble, Joachim Herz’s 1977 Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny at the Komische Oper, and Heiner Muller’s own productions of his trailblazing plays. In each instance, reused theatrical artifacts dialectically expressed the contradictions inherent in East German political legitimacy, at once amplifying and critiquing it. Illuminated by original archival research and translations of letters and artistic ephemera published in English for the first time, and engaging with alternative East German feminist epistemologies, this book’s critical investigation of culture and political legitimacy in the shadow of Germany’s fascist past resonates beyond the Iron Curtain into the twenty‑first century. Its final chapter examines how performative artifacts influence the process of political legitimation in more recent history, ranging from Checkpoint Charlie tourism to the January 6, 2021 US insurrection.

    This study will be of great interest to students and scholars in theater and performance studies, art history, musicology, German studies, anthropology, and political science.

    1. Unsettled Ruins: Political Legitimation and the Aesthetics of Reuse in East Berlin  2. Broken Artifacts: Man Equals Man at the Berliner Ensemble  3. Ruins and Their Shadows: Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny at the Komische Oper  4. Disruptive Excavations: The Theater of Heiner Müller and the Legacy of Bertolt Brecht



    Jennifer Williams is a Fulbright Scholar and opera director. She holds a PhD in theater and performance studies from Cornell University and an AB from the University of Chicago.