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Margarete Steffin

Margarete Steffin

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Margarete Emilie Charlotte Steffin (21 March 1908, Rummelsburg
Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

, now part of Berlin
Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

 - 4 June 1941, Moscow
Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

) was a German actress and writer, one of Bertold Brecht's closest collaborators, as well as a prolific translator from Russian and Scandinavian languages.

Born to a proletarian family, at the age of fourteen she went to work for the phone company but her interest in Social Democratic politics got her fired. She worked in publishing and agitprop theatre, and became secretary of the party's Lehreverband (1930) and worked at the Rote Revue. In 1931, she took a diction class from Brecht's wife Helene Weigel
Helene Weigel
Helene Weigel was a distinguished German actress. She was the second wife of Bertolt Brecht, and together they had a son Stefan Brecht and daughter Barbara Brecht-Schall .The daughter of a Jewish lawyer, she became a Communist Party member from 1930 and Artistic Director of the...

 and became his lover. She was introduced to the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm
Theater am Schiffbauerdamm
The Theater am Schiffbauerdamm is a theatre building at the Schiffbauerdamm riverside in the Mitte district of Berlin, Germany, opened on November 19, 1892. Since 1954 it is home to the Berliner Ensemble theatre company, founded in 1949 by Helene Weigel and Bertolt Brecht.The original name of the...

, playing a maid in Die Mutter
The Mother (play)
The Mother is a play by the German modernist playwright Bertolt Brecht. It is based on Maxim Gorky’s 1906 novel of the same name.It was written in collaboration with Hanns Eisler, Slatan Dudow and Günter Weisenborn from 1930–31 in prose dialogue with unrhymed irregular free verse and ten initial...

(1932).

In 1933 Brecht and Weigel went into exile in Denmark. Though soon replaced as Brecht's lover by Ruth Berlau
Ruth Berlau
Ruth Berlau was a Danish actress, director, photographer and writer, known for her collaboration with Bertolt Brecht and for founding the Bertolt-Brecht-Archiv in Berlin....

, Steffin entered an arranged marriage to a Danish citizen to stay as Brecht's secretary and followed the Brechts to Finland and Moscow when war broke out. She died from tuberculosis
Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body...

 (diagnosed already in 1931) while awaiting an American visa. Brecht wrote six short poems on hearing of her death, eventually published together as Nach dem Tod meiner Mitarbeiterin M. S. The second reads:

My general is fallen

My soldier is fallen

My pupil has left

My teacher has left

My nurse is gone

My nursling is gone.

Brecht's 1955 Collected Works names Steffin as the collaborator on Roundheads and Peakheads
Round Heads and Pointed Heads
Round Heads and Pointed Heads is an epic parable play written by the German dramatist Bertolt Brecht, in collaboration with Margarete Steffin, Emil Burri, Elisabeth Hauptmann, and the composer Hanns Eisler...

, Señora Carrar's Rifles
Señora Carrar's Rifles
Señora Carrar's Rifles is a one-act play by the twentieth-century German dramatist Bertolt Brecht, written in collaboration with Margerete Steffin. It is a modern version of the Irish dramatist John Millington Synge's play Riders to the Sea . The play's setting is re-located to Spain during the...

and The Horatians and the Curiatians
The Horatians and the Curiatians
The Horatians and the Curiatians is a Lehrstück by the German dramatist Bertolt Brecht written in collaboration with Margerete Steffin in 1933–34. It is a retelling of the story of the Horatii and Curiaces, a subject treated by Corneille and subsequently by many opera composers...

. In addition Brecht acknowledged her role in Fear and Misery in the Third Reich, Life of Galileo
Life of Galileo
Life of Galileo , also known as Galileo, is a play by the twentieth-century German dramatist Bertolt Brecht. The first version of the play was written between 1937 and 1939; the second version was written between 1945–1947, in collaboration with Charles Laughton...

and Mother Courage
Mother Courage
Mother Courage is a character from a Grimmelshausen novel Lebensbeschreibung der Ertzbetrügerin und Landstörtzerin Courasche dating from around 1670...

. She is also thought to have had a large hand in Mr Puntila and his Man Matti
Mr Puntila and his Man Matti
Mr Puntila and his Man Matti is an epic comedy by the German modernist playwright Bertolt Brecht. It was written in 1940 and first performed in 1948....

, The Good Person of Szechwan
The Good Person of Szechwan
The Good Person of Szechwan is a play written by the German theatre practitioner Bertolt Brecht, in collaboration with Margarete Steffin and Ruth Berlau. The play was begun in 1938 but not completed until 1943, while the author was in exile in the United States...

, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui
The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui
The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is a play by the German dramatist Bertolt Brecht, originally written in 1941...

, and The Caucasian Chalk Circle
The Caucasian Chalk Circle
The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a play by the German modernist playwright Bertolt Brecht. An example of Brecht's epic theatre, the play is a parable about a peasant girl who rescues a baby and becomes a better mother than its natural parents....

.

Steffin also corresponded with Walter Benjamin
Walter Benjamin
Walter Bendix Schönflies Benjamin was a German-Jewish intellectual, who functioned variously as a literary critic, philosopher, sociologist, translator, radio broadcaster and essayist...

 and Arnold Zweig
Arnold Zweig
Arnold Zweig was a German writer and anti-war activist.He is best known for his World War I tetralogy.-Life and work:Zweig was born in Glogau, Silesia son of a Jewish saddler...

.

Works

  • Zwillinge, 1932
  • Heute träumt ich, dass ich bei dir läge, 1933
  • Von der Liebe und dem Krieg, 1933, Europäische Verlags-Anstalt, Hamburg 2001, ISBN 3-434-50461-3
  • So wurde ich Laufmädchen, 1933
  • Die große Sache, 1933
  • Briefe an berühmte Männer, Europäische Verlags-Anstalt, Hamburg 1999, ISBN 3-434-50437-0
  • Konfutse
    Confucius
    Confucius , literally "Master Kong", was a Chinese thinker and social philosopher of the Spring and Autumn Period....

    versteht nichts von Frauen
    , Rowohlt, Berlin 1991 ISBN 3-87134-032-4

See also

  • John Fuegi: Brecht and Company: Sex, Politics, and the Making of the Modern Drama
  • Sabine Kebir (Ed.): Ich wohne fast so hoch wie er: Margarete Steffin und Bertolt Brecht. Theater der Zeit, Berlin, 15 December 2008, 200 p. ISBN 3940737291

External links