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"HE COULD CHARM THE BIRDS DOWN FROM THE TREES."

Bertolt Brecht, described by Marcel Reich-Ranicki as "the greatest dramatist of the 20th century", was a real go-getter. He was the early 20th-century equivalent of today's networkers. His network of acquaintances, some close, some less so, stretched over the entire globe. He corresponded in numerous languages. 1,600 letters to Bertolt Brecht in exile have now appeared in a collected edition. They cast light on the tangle of his relationships.

Brecht Briefe

Brecht was a ladies' man. He was married twice and had a number of children, both legitimate and illegitimate. The women in his life were not merely his muses, however, but also share credit for his work. "The brute has talent," said Thomas Mann of Brecht, but without the feminine organization provided by his lovers, Brecht's talent might frequently never have got off the starting-blocks.

In the years of Brecht's exile, Margarete Steffin assumed the lion's share of this work. When she entered the world of Brecht's work and relationships, she was welcomed by his wife, Helene Weigel, with the words: "My dear child, I feel sorry for you."

The suffering she shared with all Brecht's women is evident from her numerous letters to Bidi, as she called him:

"Please Bidi, treat me well again. I so look forward to your letters, and if I could I would write to you every day. Denmark is terribly far away, but I want you to know that I am still the same."

Steffin, an actress and writer, played such an immensely important role in Brecht's creative life that following her death in 1941, he was unfit for work for a whole year. Although he had long found other lovers by the time she died, she nevertheless had a key role in his activities, for example as co-author of works such as Mother Courage and her Children and the Life of Galileo.

Margarete Steffin is however only one of Brecht's correspondents. The Briefe an Bertolt Brecht im Exil (Letters to Bertolt Brecht in exile), around 1,600 in total, chart Brecht's literary activity and the work of German intellectuals in exile. The edition contains correspondence from Lion Feuchtwanger and Walter Benjamin, Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Arnold Zweig and Ernst Bloch, and many other well known names of the time. It is therefore a treasure-trove for researchers into the life and works of Brecht, and offers far more than we can describe behind an advent calendar door.

ADK LesungCurious?
Coming Sunday, 7 December 2014, at 11.30 am in the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, Corinna Harfouch and Hermann Beyer will be reading from Briefe an Bertolt Brecht im Exil. Admission is €5, with a reduced rate of €3.