In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Bernhard Minetti as Bernhard’s Minetti
  • Gitta Honegger (bio)


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Figure 1.

Minetti as Faust at the Freie Volksbühne, Berlin, 1982. Photo: Ruth Walz.

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Figure 2.

Minetti and Caroline Eichhorn in Marina Zwetajewa’s Phoenix at the Schaubühne, 1990. Photo: Ruth Walz.

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Figure 3.

Minetti as Lear at the Schaubühne, 1985. Photo: Ruth Walz.

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Figure 4.

Bernhard Minetti as Faust at the Freie Volksbühne, Berlin, 1982. Photo: Ruth Walz.

Thomas Bernhard’s Minetti is not “about” Bernhard Minetti, although it is about an actor who has much in common with him. It is not biography that interests Bernhard but the actions and situations, the drive—or mechanism, as he would have perceived it—that constitutes an actor. What distinguishes the actor who performs for the public from the actor who withdraws to his sister’s attic in the hinterland where he rehearses passages from Lear, alternating in English and in German, in front of the mirror? Eight years after writing the play, in his prose work Wittgenstein’s Nephew Bernhard applied the same question to the philosopher’s existence: “It is far from certain that a philosopher can qualify as such only by writing down and publishing his philosophy, as Ludwig did: he remains a philosopher even if he does not publish his philosophizing, even if he writes nothing and publishes nothing.” 1 In contrast to Ludwig, whose writing validated him as a philosopher, his mad nephew’s life amounted to performed philosophy. What was of foremost interest to Bernhard, a trained actor and consummate self-dramatizer, was performance—in “real life,” on stage, and in his prose texts—as it applies to the act of writing or performing or to any other obsessive pursuit. In this regard he was way ahead of contemporary theorists of performativity.

Minetti’s life almost spans a century. His acting career began in Weimar Berlin, continued in Hitler’s capital until the allied bombings forced the theaters to close in 1944, and picked up again in 1945 in his native city Kiel, where he served for two seasons as artistic director of the new municipal theater. He was the student and protégé of legendary directors Leopold Jessner and Jürgen Fehling, and he performed with the greatest. His repertory of roles included countless classics until in 1957 he was cast as Hamm in the German-language premiere of Endgame, and he became hooked on Beckett. He played Krapp twice in very different productions. He played Pozzo in a production overseen by Beckett himself. (Beckett respected him but didn’t think he was right for his plays.) Minetti was well aware of his sometimes overpowering energy and controlled it [End Page 49] with his equally strong intellect. The result was powerful, masterfully chiseled performances that later also defined Genet and Pinter for German-language audiences.

Unlike his colleagues, whose prestige was associated with a specific company, Minetti was restless, driven to search out new challenges. He left the Schauspielhaus Hamburg after two seasons (1947 to 1949) and performed in Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Duisburg, Recklinghausen, Hannover, and Wuppertal (where he played his first Lear under Claus Peymann’s direction in 1972).

He returned to his beloved Berlin in 1957, where the Schillertheater became his home base until its demise in 1995. After that, Heiner Müller invited him to join the Berliner Ensemble. Minetti was eager to perform in a Brecht play, which he hadn’t done since his beginnings in the provinces. (In 1927, during his first engagement as a member of the Gera theater, he played Mortimer in The Life of Edward II.) His last performances at the BE were in two plays by Brecht. No longer able to walk on stage, he played the old actor who instructs a young Hitler in body language in Heiner Müller’s production of Brecht’s Arturo Ui. He also was the nearly disembodied voice of an ancient speaker, seated in one of the gilded boxes of the BE’s theater on Schiffbauerdamm...

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pp. 49-55
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2005
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