GDR theatre censorship: A system in denial

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Abstract / Description of output

This article outlines the historical, ideological and political reasons why the SED denied that censorship existed in the GDR, and investigates how this denial affected the language, practice, and effectiveness of East German theatre censorship. The supporting evidence is drawn from case-studies ranging across the GDR's history.

The euphemistic language of GDR censorship presented officials as cultural facilitators and pedagogues, not as censors. By thus denying that pre-performance censorship was routinely practised, the regime was able to hold theatre practitioners fully accountable for their productions, even though they had been filtered through unofficial controls. Like the lack of clear, reliable guidelines, this apparent devolution of responsibility exposed the practitioners to considerable risks: even licensed scripts could encounter fierce criticism when premiered, so that essentially loyal practitioners like Wolfgang Langhoff unexpectedly found themselves treated as dissidents. Whilst directors and dramatists found ways of turning the regime's denial of censorship to their advantage, Helmut Baierl, Peter Hacks, and Heiner Müller argued that they would fare better if decisions were made openly and could be challenged. As a first step towards the abolition of de facto theatre censorship, they therefore called for its legalisation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-62
Number of pages12
JournalGerman Life and Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2006


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