Heiner Müller

Heiner Müller
Heiner Müller speaking at the Alexanderplatz demonstration in East Berlin (4 November 1989).
Heiner Müller speaking at
the Alexanderplatz demonstration
in East Berlin (4 November 1989).
Born(1929-01-09)9 January 1929
Eppendorf, Saxony
East Germany
Died30 December 1995(1995-12-30) (aged 66)
Berlin, Germany
Theatre director
Short story writer
GenrePostdramatic theatre
Non-Aristotelian drama
Dialectical theatre
Short stories
Literary movementPostmodern
Postdramatic theatre
Notable worksHamletmachine
The Mission
SpouseRosemarie Fritzsche
(1951–1953, 1953–1954)
Inge Müller (1954–1966)
Ginka Tscholakowa
Brigitte Maria Mayer

Heiner Müller (German: [haɪnɐ mʏlɐ]; 9 January 1929 – 30 December 1995) was a German (formerly East German) dramatist, poet, writer, essayist and theatre director. His "enigmatic, fragmentary pieces" are a significant contribution to postmodern drama and postdramatic theatre.[1]


Müller was born in Eppendorf, Saxony. He joined the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands, SED) in 1947 and began serving for the German Writers' Association (Deutscher Schriftsteller-Verband, DSV) in 1954. Müller became one of the most important dramatists of the German Democratic Republic and won the Heinrich Mann Prize in 1959 and the Kleist Prize in 1990.

His relationship with the East German state began to deteriorate, however, with his drama Die Umsiedlerin (The Resettler Woman) which was censored in 1961 after only one performance. Müller was banned from the Writers' Association in the same year. The East German government remained wary of Müller in subsequent years, preventing the premiere of Der Bau (Construction Site) in 1965 and censoring his Mauser in the early 1970s. Yet despite these hardships, Müller's work began to gain popularity both in West Germany and internationally at this time. Many of his best-known plays from this period were premiered in the West: this includes Germania Death in Berlin, which was first performed in 1978 at the Munich Kammerspiele. Heiner Müller himself directed a production of The Mission (Der Auftrag) in Bochum in 1982. In Paris, Jean Jourdheuil directed the world premiere of Hamletmachine (Die Hamletmaschine) in 1979. English translations, first by Helen Fehervary and Marc Silberman, then by Carl Weber, introduced Müller to the English speaking world in the mid- and late 1970s; Müller's controversial play Mauser was first performed in 1975 in Austin, Texas.[2]

Due to his growing worldwide fame, Müller was able to regain acceptance in East Germany. He was admitted to the DDR Academy of Arts, Berlin in 1984 – only two years before he became a member of parallel West Berlin academy. Despite earlier honors, Müller was not readmitted to the East German Writers' Association until 1988, shortly before the end of the GDR. After the fall of the Wall, Müller became final president of the DDR Academy of the Arts from 1990 until its 1993 merger with the western academy.

In 1992, he was invited to join the directorate of the Berliner Ensemble, Brecht's former company at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, as one of its five members along with Peter Zadek, Peter Palitzsch, Fritz Marquardt and Matthias Langhoff. In 1995, shortly before his death, Müller was appointed as the theatre's sole artistic director.[3]

Heiner Müller's grave in Berlin

During the last five years of his life, Müller continued to live in Berlin and work all over Germany and Europe, mostly directing productions of his own works. He wrote few new dramatic texts in this time, though, like Brecht, he did produce much poetry in his final years. In the last half-decade of his life, Müller also worked towards transforming the interview into a literary genre. Müller died in Berlin of throat cancer in 1995. Müller is buried at Berlin's Dorotheenstadt cemetery. Müller's grave was designed by his last stage designer Mark Lammert.

Among his better known works, other than those already mentioned, are Der Lohndrücker (The Scab), Wolokolamsker Chaussee (Volokolamsk Highway) Parts I–V, Verkommenes Ufer Medeamaterial Landschaft mit Argonauten (Despoiled Shore Medea Material Landscape with Argonauts), Philoktet (Philoctetes), Zement (Cement), Bildbeschreibung (Description of a Picture aka Explosion of a memory) and Quartett.


Over a decade after his death, Müller continues to have an enormous influence on European playwriting, dramaturgy, and performance. In 1998, the journal New German Critique devoted a special issue to his work. He is the only playwright to have ever received such an honor.[4] In 2009, one of Europe’s leading intellectual publishing houses, Suhrkamp, issued the final three volumes in a twelve-volume edition of Müller's collected works.

Müller has also paved the way for a new generation of directors, playwrights, and dramaturgs who regard themselves as "samplers."[5] Müller adopted Brecht's notion of Kopien (German for "copying"), the practice of regarding texts by others as material to be used, imitated, and rewritten. In regards to Brecht's own oeuvre, Müller stated "To use Brecht without criticizing him is treason."[4] For Müller, the work of other writers and artists was not seen as private property; it was to be used as raw material for his own work. Thus, Müller's work in the theater marks the beginning of a tradition of densely poetic dramaturgy based in the logic of association, rather than linear "dramatic" narrative.

Jonathan Kalb, theater critic for The New York Times, describes Müller's legacy on theatre as replacing the "closed" didactical form of the Brechtian parable with "open" dramatic forms offering multiple meanings based, in Hans-Thies Lehmann's words, on a surreal "montage dramaturg . . . in which the reality-level of characters and events vacillates hazily between life and dream and the stage becomes a hotbed of spirits and quotes outside any homogeneous notion of space and time."[6] Based on Müller's breakthrough work "Hamletmachine," Giannina Braschi, a leading force of the Nuyorican poetry movement, wrote "United States of Banana".[7] In reference to Müller, Tony Kushner declares, "Write into the void, learn to embrace isolation, in which we may commence undistractedly our dreadful but all-important dialogue with the dead. Forget about love and turn your face to history."[8] With Müller's work, theater is a forum for examining history; it is "a dialogue with the dead."

Awards and honors

  • 1959: Heinrich-Mann-Preis gemeinsam mit Inge Müller für Lohndrücker/Korrektur
  • 1964: Erich-Weinert-Medaille
  • 1975: Lessing-Preis der DDR
  • 1979: Mülheimer Dramatikerpreis
  • 1984: Karl-Sczuka-Preis zusammen mit Heiner Goebbels für Verkommenes Ufer
  • 1985: Georg Büchner Prize
  • 1985: Hörspielpreis der Kriegsblinden zusammen mit Heiner Goebbels für Die Befreiung des Prometheus
  • 1986: Nationalpreis erster Klasse für Kunst und Kultur
  • 1989: Hörspielpreis der Akademie der Künste zusammen mit Heiner Goebbels für Wolokolamsker Chaussee I–V
  • 1990: Kleist-Preis
  • 1994: Europe Theatre Prize[9]
  • 1996: Theaterpreis Berlin (postum)

Major works

(Where two dates are offered below, the first gives the date of composition, the second gives the date of the first theatrical production.)[10]

Title in German Title in English Dates Details
Zehn Tage, die die Welt erschütterten Ten Days that Shook the World (1957) [co-authored with Hagen Müller-Stahl, after John Reed's book]
Der Lohndrücker The Scab (1958) [with Inge Müller]|
Die Korrektur The Correction (1958) [with Inge Müller]
Die Umsiedlerin The Resettled Woman (1961)
Der Bau The Construction Site (1965 / 1980)
Sophokles: Oedipus Tyrann Sophocles: Oedipus the King (1967) [adaptation of Sophocles' tragedy]
Philoktet Philoctetes (1968) [an adaptation of Sophocles' tragedy as a Lehrstuck]
Lanzelot Lancelot (1969) [a libretto with Ginka Tsholakova for opera by Paul Dessau]
Prometheus Prometheus (1969) [translation of tragedy ascribed to Aeschylus]
Macbeth Macbeth (1971) [adaptation of Shakespeare's play]
Zement Cement (1972 / 1973) [adaptation of Feodor Gladkov's 1925 Novel]
Der Horatier The Horatian (1968 / 1973) [a Lehrstuck based on the same Roman legend that Brecht used for his The Horatians and the Curiatians]
Mauser Mauser (1970 / 1975) [a Lehrstuck that 'answers' Brecht's The Decision]
Traktor Tractor (1974 / 1975) [revision of text first written between 1955–1961]
Die Schlacht The Battle: Scenes from Germany (1974 / 1975) [revision of text first written in early 1950s; an 'answer' to Brecht's Fear and Misery of the Third Reich]
Germania Tod in Berlin Germania Death in Berlin (1971 / 1978) [utilizes 'synthetic fragment' structure]
Leben Gundlings Friedrich von Preußen Lessings Schlaf Traum Schrei Gundling's Life Frederick of Prussia Lessing's Sleep Dream Scream: A Horror Story (1976 / 1979)
Die Hamletmaschine Hamletmachine (1977 / 1979)
Der Auftrag The Mission (1979 / 1980)
Quartett Quartet (1981 / 1982) [based on Laclos's Dangerous Liaisons]
Verkommenes Ufer Medeamaterial Landschaft mit Argonauten Despoiled Shore Medea Material Landscape with Argonauts (1982 / 1983) [utilizes 'synthetic fragment' structure in version of story of Medea]
[in English] the CIVIL warS a tree is best measured when it is down (1984) [contribution to libretto of Robert Wilson's opera]
Bildbeschreibung Explosion of a Memory / Description of a Picture (1984 / 1985) [dream narrative utilizing automatic writing in portions of composition]
Anatomie Titus Fall of Rome Ein Shakespearekommentar Anatomy Titus Fall of Rome A Shakespeare Commentary (1985) [adaptation of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus]
[in English] Description of a Picture or Explosion of a Memory (1986) [Prologue to Robert Wilson's Alcestis]
[in English] Death Destruction & Detroit II (1987) [contribution to libretto of Robert Wilson's opera]
Wolokolamsker Chaussee Volokolomsk Highway (1984–1987 / 1988) [cycle of plays also known as The Road of Tanks]
Hamlet/Maschine Hamlet/Machine (1989 / 1990) [combination of translation of Shakespeare's Hamlet and Müller's own Hamletmachine]
Mommsens Block Mommsen's Block (1992 / 1994) [a "poem / performance text"]
Germania 3 Gespenster am toten Mann Germania 3 Ghosts at Dead Man (1995 / 1996) [produced posthumously]

Stage productions directed by Heiner Müller


  • Müller, Heiner. 1984. Hamletmachine and Other Texts for the Stage. Ed. and trans. Carl Weber. New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications. ISBN 0-933826-45-1.
  • Müller, Heiner. 1989a. Explosion of a Memory: Writings by Heiner Müller. Ed. and trans. Carl Weber. New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications. ISBN 1-55554-041-4.
  • Müller, Heiner. 1989b. The Battle: Plays, Prose, Poems by Heiner Müller. Ed. and trans. Carl Weber. New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications. ISBN 1-55554-049-X.
  • Müller, Heiner. 1990. Germania. Trans. Bernard Schütze and Caroline Schütze. Ed. Sylvère Lotringer. Semiotext(e) Foreign Agents Ser. New York: Semiotext(e). ISBN 0-936756-63-2.
  • Müller, Heiner. 1995. Theatremachine. Ed. and trans. Marc von Henning. London and Boston: Faber. ISBN 0-571-17528-7.
  • Müller, Heiner. 2001. A Heiner Müller Reader: Plays | Poetry | Prose. Ed. and trans. Carl Weber. PAJ Books Ser. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-6578-6.
  • Müller, Heiner. 2011. Three Plays: Philoctetes, The Horatian, Mauser. Trans. Nathaniel McBride. London: Seagull Books. ISBN 1-906497-82-6.
  • Müller, Heiner. 2012. Heiner Müller after Shakespeare. Trans. Carl Weber and Paul David Young. New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications. ISBN 978-1-55554-152-1.


  1. ^ "With Beckett's death Müller becomes the theatre's greatest living poet." The Village Voice, quoted on the backcover of Müller's Theatremachine (1995). The phrase "enigmatic and fragmentary pieces" comes from the article on Müller in The Cambridge Guide to Theatre (Banham 1995, 765). Among others, Elizabeth Wright assesses Müller's contribution to a postmodern drama in Postmodern Brecht (1989).
  2. ^ The history of Müller's plays in production can be found in the Heiner Müller Handbuch, edited by Hans-Thies Lehmann.
  3. ^ Weber (2001, 243–244).
  4. ^ a b "Happy birthday Heiner Müller – The Local". Thelocal.de. Retrieved February 11, 2014.
  5. ^ [1] Archived April 22, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Jonathan Kalb's The Theater of Heiner Müller, p. 19
  7. ^ Giannina Braschi. ""What to Read Now: Mixed-Genre Literature," Giannina Braschi". World Literature Today. Retrieved February 11, 2014.
  8. ^ Tony Kushner's foreword to A Heiner Müller Reader"
  9. ^ "Europe Theatre Prize – IV Edition – Reasons". Premio-europa.org. Retrieved February 11, 2014.
  10. ^ Weber (2001).
  11. ^ Stephan, Suschke. Müller Macht Theater: Zehn Inszenierungen und ein Epilog. Theater der Zeit, 2003.

Further reading

  • Banham, Martin. 1995. The Cambridge Guide to World Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43437-8.
  • Friedman, Dan, ed. 2003. Müller in America: American Productions of Works by Heiner Müller Vol.1. New York: Castillo. ISBN 0-9662471-1-6.
  • Kalb, Jonathan. 1998. The Theater of Heiner Müller. 2nd rev. ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-87910-965-3.
  • Kushner, Tony. 2001. Foreword. In A Heiner Müller Reader: Plays | Poetry | Prose. by Heiner Müller. PAJ Books Ser. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-6578-6. p. xi–xvii.
  • Weber, Carl. 2001. Chronology. In A Heiner Müller Reader: Plays | Poetry | Prose by Heiner Müller. PAJ Books Ser. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-6578-6. p. 239–244.
  • Wood, Michael. 2017. Heiner Müller's Democratic Theater: The Politics of Making the Audience Work. Rochester, NY: Camden House. ISBN 978-1-57113-998-6.
  • Wright, Elizabeth. 1989. Postmodern Brecht: A Re-Presentation. Critics of the Twentieth Century Ser. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-02330-0.

External links

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