Heiner Mueller, the enfant terrible of the stage under Communism in East Germany and one of Europe’s best-known playwrights, died Saturday of cancer. He was 66.
Mueller’s death at a Berlin hospital was announced by the Berliner Ensemble, a theater founded by Bertolt Brecht in East Berlin after World War II. Mueller took over as its artistic director in 1992.
Familiar to talk-show audiences as a bespectacled cigar-smoker dressed entirely in black, Mueller had been ailing since cancer forced doctors to remove most of his esophagus last year.
A lifelong Marxist whose father was jailed in a Nazi concentration camp, he was a tolerated critic of an East German regime that awarded him top drama prizes. He was allowed to travel to the West from the late 1970s onwards but always returned to East Berlin.
His drama career took off in the late 1950s with plays that celebrated the building of socialism in East Germany, but his vision soon turned dark.
Starting in the 1960s, he ran afoul of the East Berlin rulers with works that suggested oppression, violence and anguish as hallmarks of Communism.
Meuller was banned from theater for a time, but his experimental works drew big audiences in West Germany and elsewhere.
Among the most popular was “Germania Death in Berlin,” which dealt with the building of the Berlin Wall and a failed 1953 workers’ uprising in East Germany. “Hamlet Machine,” a brooding experimental-theater take on Shakespeare, appeared in 1977.
With the Cold War thawing, by the mid-1980s Mueller was again lionized by an East German regime that regarded him as Brecht’s heir. But the fall of Communism and German unification in 1990 left Mueller at loose ends.
He turned to directing, staging an eight-hour version of “Hamlet Machine” in Berlin and Richard Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” at the 1993 Bayreuth Festival.