‘It is not known whether Don Juan was ever a real person. All we do know is that the Don Juan type did exist once and as a result it is clear that he also exists today and always will. I have therefore allowed myself to describe a Don Juan of our time because our own time is always closer to us. It would appear that this Don Juan already belongs to the past as he died during the great inflation of 1919–23, in a time when in the most banal sense of the word, all values have shifted. It is, however, as I have said, a time which only appears to be past, as, viewed from a rather loftier perspective, we always live in inflationary times and there is no prospect of them ending. It is typical of our times how each individual changes in his innermost being as a result of the disasters which affect everyone. So Don Juan comes back from the war and imagines he is a different person. Yet he remains who he is. He cannot be any different. He will not escape from the ladies. […]
So what drives the women towards Don Juan? It is not only male sexuality, whose strongest representative he doubtless is, but it is the especially heartfelt and entirely distinct metaphysical bond of this sexuality, whose effects women cannot evade. Don Juan is always searching for completion, for something which does not exist on earth. And the women want to prove to him and to themselves over and over again that he can find everything he’s looking for on earth. The women’s misfortune is that they have an earthly horizon – only when they sense to their horror that he is not looking for life but longing for something beyond death, do they recoil from him. Don Juan’s tragic guilt is that he repeatedly forgets or even despises his own desire and he therefore becomes the cynical victim of its effects, but not without mourning.’ (Ödön von Horváth, foreword to Don Juan Comes Back From the War)
Ödön von Horváth was born on 9th December 1901 in Fiume, now known as Rijeka in Croatia. Regarding his origins he wrote:
‘You ask about my homeland, my answer is: I was born in Fiume, grew up in Belgrade, Budapest, Pressburg (Bratislava), Vienna and Munich and have a Hungarian passport – but I don’t know a “homeland?” I’m a typical old Austro-Hungarian mixture: Magyar, Croatian, German, Czech – my name is Magyar, my mother tongue is German. I speak German far better than anything else, only write in German now, so I am a part of German culture, the German people. Although: the concept of a “fatherland”, a nationalist fake, is foreign to me. My fatherland is the people’.
In 1919 Horváth studied German language and theatre in Munich. In 1920 he began to write. In 1924 his father bought a house in Murnau, where Horváth lives in between his visits to Berlin. The Bellevue appeared in 1926. With The Mountain Railway he experienced his first success in Berlin. This was followed by Sladek in 1929 where Horváth turned against the growing tide of National Socialism and his first novel Thirty-six Hours. The novel The Eternal Bourgeois appeared in 1930. In 1931 Horváth was awarded the Kleist Prize and Tales From the Vienna Woods was premiered. Following a bar fight at the Gasthof Kirchmeir in Murnau between members of the social democratic Reichsbanner and the Nazis, he testified as a witness against the National Socialists. In 1932 he wrote Faith, Hope and Charity and Casimir and Caroline. In 1933 there were altercations with the Nazis at the Hotel Post in Murnau. After the SA searched his parents’ house in Murnau, he emigrated from Germany first to Austria and his plays were banned. In 1934 he returned to Berlin and applied successfully to join the Nazi’s Association of German Writers. In 1935 Horváth was reported by Murnau police to be a ‘nationally seditious fugitive’. He moved to Vienna. While visiting his parents in 1936 he was ordered to leave Germany within 24 hours. He returned to Austria. In 1938, after the Germans marched into Austria, Horváth escaped to Budapest and following stays in Fiume, Teplice, Prague, Milan, Zurich, Brussels and Amsterdam he went to Paris in May 1938, where he was killed on 1st June 1938 during a storm by the branch of a falling tree opposite the Théâtre Marigny on the Champs-Élysées.
His most important plays after 1932 were: A Stranger From the Seine, Don Juan Comes Back From the War, Figaro’s Divorce, Judgement Day. In 1937 and 1938 he wrote the novels Youth Without God and A Child of our Time and worked on an unfinished novel Adieu Europa.
The director and stage designer Andreas Kriegenburg is a true theatrical visionary, an artist who creates drama out of remarkable and original images. Yet there is no single identifiable Kriegenburg style – his output his highly diverse, with the visual vocabulary for each production being chosen to fit the material. His theatrical origins are modest and practical; he began working in the theatre as a stage hand and carpenter before becoming a director and then designing his own productions. Nevertheless he achieved success very early, first coming to prominence at the age of 27 when his production of Woyzeck for the Volksbühne Berlin, was invited to the 1991 Theatertreffen. He was responsible for one of the earliest and most influential adaptations of a film script for the German stage in the 90s, I Hired a Contract Killer by Aki Kaurismäki for the Staatstheater Hannover. At around the same time he began a longterm collaboration with the playwright Dea Loher, staging twelve world premieres in Hannover, Munich, Hamburg and Berlin. He has won both the Bavarian Theatre prize and the 3sat Prize for theatrical innovation from the Berliner Theatertreffen, to which several of his productions have been invited, most recently Kafka’s The Trial (Münchner Kammerspiele) and Dea Loher’s Thieves (Deutsches Theater, Berlin). He recently directed Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen for the Bayerische Staatsoper.
Translated by David Tushingham