Theater am Schiffbauerdamm

   Situated directly across the "Shipbuilder's Canal" (whence the theater's name derives) from the Friedrich Strasse train station, the Schiffbauerdamm Theater in Berlin has housed as many significant productions and important ensembles as any other in the city, with the possible exception of the Deutsches Theater. It was built in 1890 as the Neues Theater am Schiffbauerdamm with a seating capacity of 684 persons; at the time, many considered it the most ornately decorated house in the city. It was intended solely as a speculative real estate development, and it remained a facility to lease for decades. Among its more well-known leaseholders were Max Reinhardt, the Volksbühne organization, and Ernst Josef Aufricht. Reinhardt staged the first of his many A Midsummer Night's Dream productions there, and Carl Zuckmayer's Der fröhliche Weinberg (The Merry Vineyard) premiered there in late 1925. Its most famous premiere took place in 1928 under Aufricht: Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera). Their Happy End followed in 1929, though with far less success. Under National Socialism, the theater returned to its "boulevard" beginnings, as producers leased it for a year or two in the hope of attracting audiences for the worthwhile purpose of entertaining them.
   The structure somehow survived serious damage in World War II and reopened in 1946 under the direction of Fritz Wisten. Its years of glory began in 1954, however, when the East German government assigned the Schiffbauerdamm to Brecht and his Berliner Ensemble. There, Brecht took particular pleasure in presenting his plays within the ornate, even ostentatious, environment of the Schiffbauerdamm; he staged Der kaukasische Kreidekreis (The Caucasian Chalk Circle) and Das Leben des Galilei (The Life of Galileo) with Ernst Busch in the title role and restaged Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder (Mother Courage and Her Children). By the 1970s the company had become moribund, though the structure itself and its splendid interior remained intact. Today the building retains the name "Berliner Ensemble" atop its roof, though the company residing there operates under an organizational structure created in 1999.

Historical dictionary of German Theatre. . 2006.

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