Stage and Screen
The battle of the stages had also been gathering pace in Berlin, an occupied city divided into four sectors of rubble and hunger, but still allowing free passage between them—the audience for a play by Sartre or a concert by Menuhin would include the uniforms of all four Powers.
In the American zone New Deal culture remained in the ascendant immediately after the war. Anti-fascism still outweighed anti-Communism. For their part, the Russians were in a handshaking mood, anxious to embrace fellow-travellers or friends wherever they could be found. Radical American plays of the 1930s soon arrived on Berlin’s surviving stages.1 But there were early skirmishes: on 8 August 1945 the Herald Tribune reported that the Russians had closed the Deutsches Theater in East Berlin after a two-day run of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Our Town, because of its ‘defeatist’ theme—and this despite the fact that the newly installed manager of the theatre, Gustav von Wangenheim, had fled Nazi Germany and become a Soviet citizen.2 The official reason given was that the German actors had failed to obtain the proper licence from the Soviet Cultural Bureau, but no one believed this version. Set in the years 1899–1913, the epitome of magical realism, and first produced in the United States in 1938, Wilder’s fictional town, Grover’s Corner, is a humanistic democracy in microcosm, with a complacent, pastoral, and somewhat uncultured view of the world, and much inclined to folksy rhetoric. The play returned to the Berlin stage in a production by Max Kruger at the Schonberg Stadt Theater in March 1946. By 1948 295,000 Germans had seen it.
In September 1945 the Soviet Propaganda and Censorship Department took direct control of East Berlin’s four leading theatres. At the Deutsches Theater the last act of a play by the Hungarian Communist Julius Hay was rewritten, with Soviet officers taking an active part in the final two rehearsals.