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.

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