Stealing Büchner’s characters? Leonce und Lena in East Berlin

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At East Berlin’s Volksbühne in 1978, a groundbreaking production of Leonce und Lena ridiculed Erich Honecker’s government and alluded to the Stasi, censorship, and travel restrictions. Its audacity shocked the authorities, yet they still allowed it to escape uncensored. This restraint contrasted with their responses to earlier, less provocative productions and with their refusal to publish Volker Braun’s essay ‘Büchners Briefe’, which made similarly bold criticisms, in 1977. The outcomes of these cases point to differences in censorship practice: between print and performance, explicit and implicit criticism, and pre-publication and post-performance controls. In particular, the production’s survival shows how the authorities were beginning to conceive of censorship in terms of damage limitation, how they were attending more closely to the reception of productions, and how theatre was starting to provide a forum for critical – but strictly limited – public discussion. Whilst GDR theatre critics argued that the director Jürgen Gosch had abused the Kulturerbe and stolen Büchner’s characters, his creative and topical interpretation actually brought out many of the key features and themes of the text. In the longer term, the production served as the public catalyst for other writers and theatres to explore Büchner’s relevance for the GDR. The locks on Büchner’s legacy had been broken.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-78
Number of pages13
JournalOxford German Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2006


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