Heiner Müller

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Heiner Müller
Heiner Müller speaking at the Alexanderplatz demonstration in East Berlin (4 November 1989).
Heiner Müller speaking at
the Alexanderplatz demonstration
in East Berlin (4 November 1989).
Born(1929-01-09)9 January 1929
Eppendorf, Saxony, Germany
Died30 December 1995(1995-12-30) (aged 66)
Berlin, Germany
Theatre director
Short story writer
GenrePostdramatic theatre
Non-Aristotelian drama
Dialectical theatre
Short stories
Literary movementPostmodern
Postdramatic theatre
Notable worksHamletmachine
The Mission
SpouseRosemarie Fritzsche
(1951–1953, 1953–1954)
Inge Müller (1954–1966)
Ginka Tscholakowa
Brigitte Maria Mayer [de]

Heiner Müller (German: [haɪnɐ mʏlɐ]; 9 January 1929 – 30 December 1995) was a German (formerly East German) dramatist, poet, writer, essayist and theatre director. His "enigmatic, fragmentary pieces" are a significant contribution to postmodern drama and postdramatic theatre.[1]


Müller was born in Eppendorf, Saxony. He joined the Social Democratic Party of Germany in 1946 which was in the course of the forced merger of the KPD and SPD subsumed into the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands, SED). He was soon expelled for lacking enthusiasm and failing to pay dues. In 1954 he became member of the German Writers' Association (Deutscher Schriftstellerverband). Müller became one of the most important dramatists of the German Democratic Republic and won the Heinrich Mann Prize in 1959 and the Kleist Prize in 1990.

His relationship with the East German state began to deteriorate, however, with his drama Die Umsiedlerin [de] (The Resettler Woman) which was censored in 1961 after only one performance. Müller was expelled from the Writers' Association in the same year. The East German government remained wary of Müller in subsequent years, preventing the premiere of Der Bau (Construction Site) in 1965 and censoring his Mauser [de] in the early 1970s. Yet despite these hardships, Müller's work began to gain popularity both in West Germany and internationally at this time. Many of his best-known plays from this period were premiered in the West: this includes Germania Death in Berlin, which was first performed in 1978 at the Munich Kammerspiele. Heiner Müller himself directed a production of The Mission (Der Auftrag) in Bochum in 1982. In Paris, Jean Jourdheuil [fr] directed the world premiere of Die Hamletmaschine (The Hamletmachine) in 1979. English translations, first by Helen Fehervary and Marc Silberman, then by Carl Weber, introduced Müller to the English speaking world in the mid- and late 1970s; Müller's controversial play Mauser was first performed in 1975 in Austin, Texas.[2]

On 17 November 1976, Müller signed together with eleven other writers and artists the petition against the expatriation of Wolf Biermann. Like several others of the signatories, Müller withdrew his signature on 25 November,[3] according to Biermann on the condition that the Stasi would keep it secret.[4]

Due to his growing worldwide fame, Müller was able to regain acceptance in East Germany. He was admitted to the DDR Academy of Arts, Berlin in 1984 – only two years before he became a member of parallel West Berlin academy. Despite earlier honors, Müller was not readmitted to the East German Writers' Association until 1988, shortly before the end of the GDR. After the fall of the Wall, Müller became final president of the DDR Academy of the Arts from 1990 until its 1993 merger with the western academy.

In 1993 it was alleged that Müller worked from 1979 to 1990 as unofficial collaborator (an informant) under the code name "Heiner" for the East-German Stasi.[5] Müller, who at the time was not a member of the East German Communist Party or the East German Deutscher Schriftstellerverband, admitted that he had contact with Stasi officials, but never provided any material.[5][6][7]

In 1992, he was invited to join the directorate of the Berliner Ensemble, Brecht's former company at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, as one of its five members along with Peter Zadek, Peter Palitzsch, Fritz Marquardt [de] and Matthias Langhoff [de]. In 1995, shortly before his death, Müller was appointed as the theatre's sole artistic director.[8]

Heiner Müller's grave in Berlin

During the last five years of his life, Müller continued to live in Berlin and work all over Germany and Europe, mostly directing productions of his own works. He wrote few new dramatic texts in this time, though, like Brecht, he did produce much poetry in his final years. In the last half-decade of his life, Müller also worked towards transforming the interview into a literary genre.

Among his better known works, other than those already mentioned, are Der Lohndrücker (The Scab), Wolokolamsker Chaussee (Volokolamsk Highway) Parts I–V, Verkommenes Ufer Medeamaterial Landschaft mit Argonauten (Despoiled Shore Medea Material Landscape with Argonauts), Philoktet (Philoctetes), Zement (Cement), Bildbeschreibung (Description of a Picture aka Explosion of a memory) and Quartett.

In 1994, he was awarded the IV Europe Theatre Prize.[9]

Müller died of throat cancer at the age of 66 in a hospital in Berlin on December 30, 1995.[10] He is buried at Berlin's Dorotheenstadt Cemetery. Müller's grave was designed by his last stage designer Mark Lammert.


Over a decade after his death, Müller continues to have an enormous influence on European playwriting, dramaturgy, and performance. In 1998, the journal New German Critique devoted a special issue to his work. He is the only playwright to have ever received such an honor.[11] In 2009, one of Europe’s leading intellectual publishing houses, Suhrkamp, issued the final three volumes in a twelve-volume edition of Müller's collected works.

Müller has also paved the way for a new generation of directors, playwrights, and dramaturgs who regard themselves as "samplers".[12] Müller adopted Brecht's notion of Kopien (German for "copying"), the practice of regarding texts by others as material to be used, imitated, and rewritten. In regards to Brecht's own oeuvre, Müller stated "To use Brecht without criticizing him is treason."[11] For Müller, the work of other writers and artists was not seen as private property; it was to be used as raw material for his own work. Thus, Müller's work in the theater marks the beginning of a tradition of densely poetic dramaturgy based in the logic of association, rather than linear "dramatic" narrative.

Jonathan Kalb, theater critic for The New York Times, describes Müller's legacy on theatre as replacing the "closed" didactical form of the Brechtian parable with "open" dramatic forms offering multiple meanings based, in Hans-Thies Lehmann's words, on a surreal "montage dramaturg ... in which the reality-level of characters and events vacillates hazily between life and dream and the stage becomes a hotbed of spirits and quotes outside any homogeneous notion of space and time."[13] In reference to Müller, Tony Kushner declared, "Write into the void, learn to embrace isolation, in which we may commence undistractedly our dreadful but all-important dialogue with the dead. Forget about love and turn your face to history."[14] With Müller's work, theater is a forum for examining history; it is "a dialogue with the dead".

Awards and honors[edit]

Major works[edit]

(Where two dates are offered below, the first gives the date of composition, the second gives the date of the first theatrical production.)[16]

Title in German Title in English Dates Details
Zehn Tage, die die Welt erschütterten Ten Days that Shook the World (1957) Co-authored with Hagen Mueller-Stahl [de], after John Reed's book of that name
Der Lohndrücker The Scab (1958) with Inge Müller|
Die Korrektur The Correction (1958) with Inge Müller
Die Umsiedlerin [de] The Resettled Woman (1961)
Der Bau The Construction Site (1965/1980)
Sophokles: Oedipus Tyrann Sophocles: Oedipus the King (1967) Adaptation of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex
Philoktet Philoctetes (1968) Adaptation of Sophocles' tragedy of that name as a Lehrstuck
Lanzelot Lancelot (1969) Libretto with Ginka Tsholakova for opera by Paul Dessau
Prometheus Prometheus (1969) translation of tragedy ascribed to Aeschylus
Macbeth Macbeth (1971) adaptation of Shakespeare's play
Zement [de] Cement (1972/1973) adaptation of Feodor Gladkov's 1925 novel
Der Horatier The Horatian (1968/1973) Lehrstuck based on the same Roman legend that Brecht used for his The Horatians and the Curiatians
Mauser [de] Mauser (1970/1975) Lehrstuck that 'answers' Brecht's The Decision
Traktor Tractor (1974/1975) revision of text first written between 1955 and 1961
The Battle [de] The Battle: Scenes from Germany (1974/1975) revision of text first written in early 1950s; an 'answer' to Brecht's Fear and Misery of the Third Reich
Germania Tod in Berlin Germania Death in Berlin (1971/1978) utilizes 'synthetic fragment' structure
Leben Gundlings Friedrich von Preußen Lessings Schlaf Traum Schrei Gundling's Life Frederick of Prussia Lessing's Sleep Dream Scream: A Horror Story (1976/1979)
Die Hamletmaschine The Hamletmachine (1977/1979)
Der Auftrag The Mission (1979/1980)
Quartett Quartet (1981/1982) based on Laclos's Dangerous Liaisons
Verkommenes Ufer Medeamaterial Landschaft mit Argonauten Despoiled Shore Medea Material Landscape with Argonauts (1982/1983) utilizes 'synthetic fragment' structure in version of story of Medea
[in English] the CIVIL warS a tree is best measured when it is down (1984) contribution to Robert Wilson's libretto for Philip Glass's opera
Bildbeschreibung Explosion of a Memory / Description of a Picture (1984/1985) dream narrative utilizing automatic writing in portions of composition
Anatomie Titus Fall of Rome Ein Shakespearekommentar Anatomy Titus Fall of Rome A Shakespeare Commentary (1985) adaptation of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus
[in English] Description of a Picture or Explosion of a Memory (1986) Prologue to Robert Wilson's version of Alcestis
[in English] Death Destruction & Detroit II (1987) contribution to libretto of Robert Wilson's opera
Wolokolamsker Chaussee Volokolomsk Highway (1984–1987 / 1988) cycle of plays also known as The Road of Tanks
Hamlet/Maschine Hamlet/Machine (1989 / 1990) combination of translation of Shakespeare's Hamlet and Müller's own Die Hamletmaschine
Mommsen's Block [de] Mommsen's Block (1992/1994) a "poem / performance text"
Germania 3 Gespenster am toten Mann Germania 3 Ghosts at Dead Man (1995/1996) produced posthumously

Stage productions directed by Heiner Müller[edit]


  • Müller, Heiner. 1984. Hamletmachine and Other Texts for the Stage. Ed. and trans. Carl Weber. New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications. ISBN 0-933826-45-1.
  • Müller, Heiner. 1989a. Explosion of a Memory: Writings by Heiner Müller. Ed. and trans. Carl Weber. New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications. ISBN 1-55554-041-4.
  • Müller, Heiner. 1989b. The Battle: Plays, Prose, Poems by Heiner Müller. Ed. and trans. Carl Weber. New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications. ISBN 1-55554-049-X.
  • Müller, Heiner. 1990. Germania. Trans. Bernard Schütze and Caroline Schütze. Ed. Sylvère Lotringer. Semiotext(e) Foreign Agents Ser. New York: Semiotext(e). ISBN 0-936756-63-2.
  • Müller, Heiner. 1995. Theatremachine. Ed. and trans. Marc von Henning. London and Boston: Faber. ISBN 0-571-17528-7.
  • Müller, Heiner. 2001. A Heiner Müller Reader: Plays | Poetry | Prose. Ed. and trans. Carl Weber. PAJ Books Ser. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-6578-6.
  • Müller, Heiner. 2011. Three Plays: Philoctetes, The Horatian, Mauser. Trans. Nathaniel McBride. London: Seagull Books. ISBN 1-906497-82-6.
  • Müller, Heiner. 2012. Heiner Müller after Shakespeare. Trans. Carl Weber and Paul David Young. New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications. ISBN 978-1-55554-152-1.


  1. ^ "With Beckett's death Müller becomes the theatre's greatest living poet." The Village Voice, quoted on the backcover of Müller's Theatremachine (1995). The phrase "enigmatic and fragmentary pieces" comes from the article on Müller in The Cambridge Guide to Theatre (Banham 1995, 765). Among others, Elizabeth Wright assesses Müller's contribution to a postmodern drama in Postmodern Brecht (1989).
  2. ^ The history of Müller's plays in production can be found in the Heiner Müller Handbuch, edited by Hans-Thies Lehmann [de].
  3. ^ "Die Ausbürgerung" by Wolf Biermann, Der Spiegel, No. 45, 4 November 2001. pp. 60–78, Müller's withdrawal on p. 68
  4. ^ Axel Brüggemann (November 11, 2001). ""Wolf, du fährst im Stasi-Stil" (2)". Die Welt. Retrieved April 4, 2021.
  5. ^ a b ES (January 15, 1993). "Neue schwere Vorwürfe gegen Heiner Müller". Die Tageszeitung (in German). p. 2. Retrieved April 4, 2021.
  6. ^ "Vieles ist möglich", Der Spiegel, 17 January 1993
  7. ^ "Heiner Müller 1929–1995", Lebendiges Museum Online [de] (in German)
  8. ^ Weber 2001, pp. 243–244.
  9. ^ "IV EDIZIONE". Premio Europa per il Teatro (in Italian). Retrieved December 19, 2022.
  10. ^ Eric Pace (January 3, 1996). "Heiner Muller, the Playwright And Social Critic, Dies at 66". The New York Times.
  11. ^ a b "Happy birthday Heiner Müller – The Local". Thelocal.de. Retrieved February 11, 2014.
  12. ^ "80 Years of Heiner Müller: No Drama on Earth" by Jürgen Berger, translated by Eileen Flügel, Goethe-Institut, 2009. "Goethe-Institut - Topics - Under Discussion". Archived from the original on April 22, 2009. Retrieved March 30, 2009.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  13. ^ Kalb 2001, p. 19.
  14. ^ Tony Kushner's foreword to A Heiner Müller Reader"
  15. ^ "Europe Theatre Prize - IV Edition - Reasons". October 19, 2021. Archived from the original on October 19, 2021. Retrieved December 19, 2022.
  16. ^ Weber 2001.
  17. ^ Stephan, Suschke. Müller Macht Theater: Zehn Inszenierungen und ein Epilog. Theater der Zeit, 2003.


Further reading[edit]

  • Banham, Martin. 1995. The Cambridge Guide to World Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43437-8.
  • Friedman, Dan, ed. 2003. Müller in America: American Productions of Works by Heiner Müller Vol.1. New York: Castillo. ISBN 0-9662471-1-6.
  • Kushner, Tony. 2001. Foreword. In A Heiner Müller Reader: Plays | Poetry | Prose. by Heiner Müller. PAJ Books Ser. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-6578-6. p. xi–xvii.
  • Wood, Michael. 2017. Heiner Müller's Democratic Theater: The Politics of Making the Audience Work. Rochester, New York: Camden House. ISBN 978-1-57113-998-6.
  • Wright, Elizabeth. 1989. Postmodern Brecht: A Re-Presentation. Critics of the Twentieth Century Series. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-02330-0.

External links[edit]