Monday, December 7, 2020



During the summer of 1926, Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) convinced Marieluise Fleisser (1901-74) to return to her hometown of Ingolstadt, Bavaria. He went with her to observe the impact a company of Pioneers (the German term for military engineers) had on her hometown of Ingolstadt. Brecht was particularly interested in observing the effect the young engineers had on the local teenage females.  The Pioneers were in Ingolstadt to build a wooden bridge over the Danube River. Brecht’s goal was to direct Fleisser’s play, however, he envisioned the story could lend itself to an evolving style of theatre that would later become known as Epic Theatre.    


The plot of this play focuses on two separate groups of individuals and what happens when they are placed together in the small walled city of Ingolstadt—population of about 27,000. Each group has its own rules and regulations as well as desires. One group consists primarily of the citizens of Ingolstadt, mainly teenagers both males and females.  The second group is the Pioneers who are there to build a wooden bridge over the Danube River. The adolescents desire to break out of their normal routines and taste life, while the Pioneers want to enjoy life through sexual adventures, alcoholic consumption and forgetting the tensions created by their overly strict Sergeant. This play also demonstrates life in a small German city after World War One. It illustrates the absence of adult guidance as well as the lack of opportunities for the youth.  The peace treaties following World War One war had abolished Germany’s ability to have trained military units. However, the strict military style of management continued to exist for Pioneer units.

The play is described as “A Comedy in 14 scenes.” This play is a very dark comedy. Several of the scenes are composed of a variation on the idea of a French Scene.  In “Pioneers” these scenes have a single location, but a different set of characters enter after the previous ones have exited.

Scene One is “Near A City Gate.” (This is one of the scenes described above.) Each segment of this scene is designated in the script by a Roman numeral:  

I.                The Pioneers march on stage to music and drill while they parade. Eventually they begin to set up a camp kitchen. Berta and Alma, two teenagers, who are maids in local homes, watch them with interest.  They talk about the Pioneers and want to meet them. Then Berta and Alma walk off.

II.               Zeck and Fabian are talking about meeting girls and how to get to know them. 

III.            Berta and Alma are sitting on a park bench, singing a kitchen-girl song.   When the Pioneers start to enter Alma stands-up. Berta stops her for a moment, but then each girl goes in the opposite direction.  Two of the Pioneers stop—Munsterer and Rosskopt. They are interested in meeting girls when Alma returns.  Munsterer and Alma interact a bit before he leaves with Rosskopt. Jager arrives pushing his bicycle and he talks with Alma. She gets on the bike behind him and they exit.  The Sergeant enters and proclaims: “The town isn’t friendly.” He exits. 

IV.              Korl, a Pioneer, and Berta enter and sit on bench. They talk, but she is not ready for his advances.  He leaves.

Scene Two. Unertl’s household. “A covered balcony, with wash hanging from it.” Unertl is sitting in a rocking chair and Fabian, his teenage son, is looking at the rooftops. Berta is Unertl’s teenage maid.  He is angry that she is gone from the house without his permission. Unertl talks about the kind of woman he would marry.

Scene Three. Swimming Pool in a Men’s Sports Club. Fabian and Zeck are talking about females. They are eventually joined by Bibrich.

Scene Four. A Beer Tent. This is one of the longer scenes that shows the interaction between the local males and the Pioneers. Berta and Alma arrive at the tent and the tension increases. There is also a developing situation since some of the wood needed to build the bridge is missing.

Scene Five is set in the same local as Scene Three.  The local police come to the club and ask Zeck and Bibrich about the missing wood.

Scene Six is at the Building Site.  It is night, just before last post. The skeleton of the bridge is visible. Korl, a Pioneer, is upset with his Sergeant who has given him extra marching duty as punishment.  He is loosening some of the bolts on the bridge as his revenge.

Scene Seven is Unertl’s household. Berta who has finished the housework for the day desires to leave the house.

Scene Eight is the “Building site of the Bridge.” Morning mist and the Pioneers are working. The Sergeant tells them that they will also start working a night shift.  When he finds bolts loosened on the bridge, the Sergeant makes the Pioneers march with heavy wooden beams as punishment.

Scene Nine is an empty stage with a bed swaying in the air.  Pioneers voices are heard swearing an oath of truth.

Scene Ten is in the Park on a Sunday. This scene has seven segments that illustrate the developing relationships between the various Pioneers and local teenage females as well as several local males.

Scene Eleven is a street near the Danube.  It is getting dark. Two of the Pioneers are slightly drunk and are rolling a barrel in front of them.  Rosskopf wants to have fun with a “civvy.” Both Pioneers decide to engage the civvy who is walking behind them--Fabian. They trick him into climbing into the barrel and put on the lid.  When they leave, Fabian emerges from the barrel.

Scene Twelve is on the bank of the Danube. Fabian is standing on the bank. Noise of oars from the Pioneers’ rowboat is heard as well as voices including the Sergeant’s. When the anchor is heard being unwound, there is a scream.  Fabian hears the conversation from the boat about cutting the anchor’s cable. Fabian confronts the Pioneers when they land without the Sergeant, but they ignore him.

Scene Thirteen is in the Park. Alma wants to know if the Pioneers really attacked Fabian. This short scene concludes with Alma agreeing to have sex with Fabian and they go “into the bushes.”

Scene Fourteen is the bridge building site. Spotlights light the night sky so the finishing touches can be made to the bridge. The Pioneers are to leave Ingolstadt by dawn. They are scheduled to have completed this bridge project. The Pioneers are working when Berta arrives.  She wants to talk with Korl, who she thinks loves her and will take her with him. He flings “himself with her into a bush.” When he emerges, the Pioneers jeer and whistle. A photographer comes to take a photo of the Pioneers who built the bridge and then they line-up to leave this city. Korl arranges for Berta to get a copy of the photo. The Pioneers start to sing as they begin to march away.

When Fleisser attended a dress rehearsal of the play, she became upset with Brecht’s changes to the script and she left the theatre.  She never returned to see the play and did not retain a script.  Brecht’s production of Pioneers in Ingolstadt premiered in 1929 at Berlin’s Schiffbauerdamm Theatre. He had cast a young actor named Peter Lorre (1904-1964) to play the role of Fabian. In a 1942 syndicated newspaper article titled “M.‘M’ Moves Up” by Dee Lowrance that appeared in newspapers across the United States, Lorre claimed that “the very day after it opened I was a star.


Fleisser’s story is different.  The play created a scandal involving her reputation since Brecht made the play provocative. Many of the people in her hometown of Ingolstadt were enraged and supposedly her father’s home was stoned.  The Observer in London ran a story on October 23, 1929 that the Mayor of Ingolstadt had written to editors of several leading German newspapers and his letters were printed. Fleisser sued the Mayor, but the court upheld the view that the mayor was justified and even doing his duty to defend local reputations and the “good name of the city.” This ended Fleisser’s career in theatre for four decades.

However, Pioneers in Ingolstadt was the vehicle that allowed Brecht to develop some of his early ideas relating to Epic Theater. The cinematic effect of the scenes where the location remains the same, but the characters change was an innovation. Scene nine is a bit expressionistic in style, but it does have its own nuanced manner. The two scenes where a girl was pulled into the bushes for sex had to be shocking and executed in a manner Brecht was developing. Since the script I read was revised from Brecht’s version, there is no way to know exactly how his version read.

It was in 1967-8 when a copy of Brecht’s version of Pioneers in Ingolstadt was found by Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945-1982). Fassbinder a young film director wanted to stage a production of the play.  Fleisser was against his project, but eventually she was won over to his production concept and she revised Brecht’s script. She had a different insight into the script four decades after it was conceived and left some of Brecht’s revisions. On March 1,1970 Fleisser’s new version of Pioneers in Ingolstadt opened in Munich at the Residenztheater.

Fassbinder adapted the play into a film that was made in November,1970 and it was commissioned for television. His film premiered on May 19, 1971 on German television and it was also shown at the 24th Cannes Film Festival and later at the New York Film Festival.

Fleisser’s revised version of Pioneers in Ingolstadt was published in Germany in 1971 with her other five plays. Twenty years later, this play was translated into English by Elizabeth Bond-Pable and Tinch Minter.  Pioneers in Ingolstadt was presented in London at the Gate Theatre opening on February 22, 1991. The play was also presented on British Radio (BBC) and it was aired in both Ireland and England as the “Sunday Play.” Pioneers in Ingolstadt was aired on BBC radio periodically from 1991-1995.


1.  Marieluise Fleisser: photo was in numerous sources including MARIELUISE FLEISSER SOCIETY INGOLSTADT eV.

2. Peter Lorre: 1929 Vintage pro ullstein bild saved by Winnie Cappucci.

Saturday, October 31, 2020



Marieluise Fleisser (1901-74) was born in the Barvarian (German) city of Ingolstadt situated on the banks of the Danube river. This is the city that she frequently left to seek the next stage of her life, but to which she always returned. Ingolstadt is a walled city with a long history. It was also known for having a military base that served as a basic training facility and maintained a stockade.  Following World War One, the military training center and prison were closed as required of Germany by the peace treaties signed during 1919 and 1920.

                                                                 MARIELUISE FLEISSER

Purgatory in Ingolstadt (Fegefeuer in Ingolstadt) was Fleisser’s first play written in 1924 and it reflects teenage angst and relationships in Ingolstadt several years after World War One concluded. The play illustrates the lack of adult authority during this period with the two families in the play having only one parent each. The childhood of these teenagers was perverted by World War One and they gain their strength by banning together to be either against anyone that is different or any situation they do not comprehend.

Purgatory in Ingolstadt is a play written in six scenes. The characters in the first scene are the Berotter family members: three teenage children (Olga, the older daughter, Clementine, and Christian) and their father, Berotter. The other characters in this scene include Roelle, a teenage boy in love with both Olga and religion, Roelle’s Mother and Peps, Olga’s boyfriend who is the father of her unborn child.

Scene One takes place in the living room of Berotter’s home. Berotter is with his daughters Olga and Clementine. Soon Christian arrives home and joins the disputatious family discussion. The scene is less about story and more about revealing dysfunctional relationships between members of the family as well as among several of their teenage companions.

Scene Two is later the same day.  Olga, Peps, Hermione and Roelle are heard talking from backstage. Within two short speeches Peps forcefully drags Roelle on stage and he is followed by the two girls.  They appear to be just out and about since no specific location is indicated. The city of Ingolstadt also had a long tradition of being devoutly Catholic. The characters in the play have been educated by nuns and priests. Roelle is exceedingly influenced by the religious teachings.  This scene reflects these characters various levels of religious beliefs. Despite Peps education, he orders Olga to have an abortion. He declares “a child’s no use to me.” This scene as well as others in the play feature the unfiltered emotions and desires of teenage characters who are without plans for their future.

Scene Three takes place on “an avenue.” Protasius, a teenage boy who Olga fears, is pestering her and she is afraid. He wants her to be his contact with Roelle since Protasius has been ordered not to contact him. A Doctor Hahne wants to observe Roelle’s religiosity. Olga will not carry Protasius’s message to Roelle.

Scene Four is in a side alley at a fair. Roelle and Two Altar Servers are behind a gypsy’s caravan. Roelle is trying to prepare himself to appear before an audience at the fair. He is to demonstrate hearing the voices of angels.  When a frightened Roelle fails to communicate with the angels, stones are thrown at him until he collapses.

Scene Five is on a balcony between roofs at Berotter’s house. Roelle’s head is bandaged with blood seeping through. Olga, Clementine, Christian, Peps and Hermione are also in the scene and they are drinking wine.  Christian continuously goads Roelle. Eventually Olga starts to defend him. The bickering among the character subsides when Berotter arrives. Olga tells him she is having a child and he collapses. The teenagers leave.

Scene Six is a meadow on the bank of the Danube River. The scene starts with Protasius telling another boy that Olga has thrown herself into the river, but Roelle pulled her out. Protasius plans to go to a newspaper reporter and give him the story. After he leaves the scene, the other boys arrive including Olga and Roelle. The boys hassle both Olga and Roelle until Roelle’s Mother arrives and blames Olga for her son’s problems. Olga leaves and Roelle’s Mother fails to help her son who then turns against her.

This play clearly illustrates the dysfunctional family structure with neither any sense of parental authority nor idea of how to cope with the occurring radical social changes. There is antagonism between the generations and no structure to help the teenagers build a better future. It clearly illustrates that there is little or no hope for them to have a prosperous future.

Lion Feuchtwanger (1884-1958) a significant literary person in Germany during the 1920s, introduced Marieluise Fleisser to Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956). Brecht was three year older than Fleisser and gaining recognition for his early plays. Fleisser had read Brecht’s plays had been impressed. She was pleased when Brecht asked to produce “Purgatory.”  He asked Moriz Seeler (1896-1942) who had founded the Junge Buhne (Young Stage) to direct this production for a single, showcase performance in his Berlin theatre. The play was premiered on April 25, 1926. Seeler changed the title of the play from “The Washing of the Feet” to Purgatory in Ingolstadt.  

Fleisser’s plays were banned in 1935 by the Nazis, but Fleisser had already retired from being a playwright and was a housewife living in Ingolstadt. “Purgatory” and several other of her plays were rediscovered in Germany during the early 1970’s. Prominent German directors began to stage these newly discovered works and they were favorably received. However, Fleisser’s plays were not available in English until 1990, when “Purgatory” was produced in London at the Gate Theatre. It premiered on March 1, 1990 to critical acclaim.