The body of work, letters, and journals produced by Bertolt Brecht after he settled in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) is strangely silent about freedom of expression in the arts. Officially, censorship did not exist in the GDR, but Brecht already had trouble with institutional approvals before his exile years. For example, his film Kuhle Wampe, or Who Owns the World? (Kuhle Wampe oder Wem gehört die Welt?) (1932), co-authored with director Slatan Dudow, was initially prohibited upon completion. With few exceptions, Brecht’s primary texts rarely mention censorship explicitly. However, Brecht’s own work often deals with sociopolitical structures similar to those that challenge characters like Galileo, who live under conditions that make it difficult to do simple things. Brecht’s texts untiringly demonstrate that the prevailing ideological conditions that elicit certain responses need to be transformed before people will be able to correspondingly change. I suggest here that even without revolutionizing the system, Brecht and his wife Helene Weigel, who was theatre manager of the Berlin Ensemble, were often able to maneuver quite skillfully within the GDR’s political circumstances in what I call the “blind spots of censorship,” where the spaces of official and personal relationships overlapped.
Until the Ministry of Culture was established in 1954, the function of overseeing the arts was carried out by a number of early cultural authorities. By the time these various organizations were subsumed into the ministry, Brecht and Weigel had developed relationships within these institutions. One of these associations was with Kurt Bork, a high-ranking functionary who had a long career advising on the arts in many official organizations with authority over the theatre. Another relationship was with Bork’s wife Elfriede, who worked for Weigel. To illustrate the wide-ranging significance of the ties between Brecht, Weigel, and the Borks, I examine two productions that span the years of the Berliner Ensemble under Weigel’s theatre management. The Trial of Lucullus (Das Verhör des Lukullus) (1951), by librettist Brecht and composer Paul Dessau, premiered with modifications and a new title, The Condemnation of Lucullus (Die Verurteilung des Lukullus), at the Berlin State Opera under manager Ernst Legal. Toward the end of Weigel’s career, Seven against Thebes (Sieben gegen Theben) (1969) was produced at the Berlin Ensemble, directed by Manfred Karge and Matthias Langhoff. Both works are marked by correspondence from 1951 to 1969 between the ensemble and Kurt Bork, who acted as a sympathetic liaison for Brecht’s communication with the Socialist Unity Party of Germany even before Brecht settled in Berlin. I suggest here that much effective discussion concerning these two productions took place in the blind spots of censorship.