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Bertolt Brecht Biography | Poet

Photo of Bertolt Brecht

Eugen Bertolt Brecht, born on February 10, 1898 in Augsberg, Germany to Sophie and Bertold Fredreich Brecht and died on August 14, 1956 in East Berlin was a poet, playwright and theater director. Eugen was brought up in a mixed religious home, Catholic/Protestant and his father was a factory worker bringing home a middle class salary. His mother was a strong inspirational figure that appears in many of his works. She taught him the Bible as well and this influenced his writing throughout his life. He was married twice and had three children over the years.

"Don't be afraid of death so much as an inadequate life."

He was a radical thinker and transformer of the status quo of the theater during his life and had a strong leftist political viewpoint. Some of his work includes Drums in the Night, 1922, A Manual of Piety, 1927 as well as the theater productions of Baal, 1923 and Edward II in 1924. Before his career as a writer he studied medicine and served in an army hospital in Bavaria. This no doubt colored his politics, and he became pained seeing his peers getting so destroyed by the military.

Brecht's Politics

In Germany at the time of the end of World War I, a politically charged group of artists and actors, writers and musicians, the Dadaists formed and Brecht was a member of this. He held onto Marxist theories and belief systems that were popular at that time that many artists were a part of or accused of being involved in. He was interested in destroying the old ideas of the bourgeoisie and developing new artistic forms, which brought a suspicious aura around him. He was also a Marxist and was brought into his work these ideals which he was schooled through Karl Korsch in the late 1920's.


Between 1924 and 1933 he spent time working in Berlin, Germany under the directors for the directors Max Reinhardt and Erwin Piscator. He also worked strongly with the Dadaists at this time. He wrote "The Three Penny Opera" in 1928 with composer Kurt Weill. He also became interested in setting verse to musical scores by Weill, Hindemith, and Eisler. It is reminiscent of the beatnik musical pieces happening in the States simultaneously. This he named "epic theater."

Exiled Years

In Germany during World War II he decided to flee from a probably difficult life as Hitler rose to leadership. He was concerned for his safety and with the reports that his works were burned he knew he had made the right choice.

From 1933-1941 he lived in exile in Scandanavia, specifically Denmark and then in the United States from 1941-1947. Between 1937-1941 he wrote his best work including the dramatic pieces of Mother Courage and her Children, 1941 and The Life of Galileo in 1943. He worked on many other poetic works and dramatic plays.


In 1947, Brecht had to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee and deny that he had ever been a member of the Communist Party. Along with 19 other actors and actresses who had been accused of the anti-American ideals, he was blacklisted and left for Zurich. He stayed there for a year working on two main pieces, Antigonne-Model and A Little Organum for the Theatre. His hope when producing his plays were that they would be watched from an emotionally distanced place to be able to focus on the historical aspects of the work.

The Stalin Peace Prize

In 1949 he returned to Berlin, formed his own company the Berliner Ensemble and continued to work on dramatic theater pieces. He was not well received at all times due to his artistic and political ideals but was accepted in Paris in the Théâtre des Nations in 1955. He also received a Stalin Peace Prize in 1955 as well which was an incredible accomplishment for him.

His work always received mixed reviews but he was always seen as an exceptional poet before a playwrite. He was known for his dark humor and strong opinions and symbolism. He broke many artistic ideals and followed his instinct in his work. He spent the rest of his life in in Berlin and died in 1956 of a heart attack. He had a history of heart disease which affected his personality and physical body. His colleagues remembered his oddities but also his strengths of the written word. 

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Book: Reflection on the Important Things