Excursion to Brecht Weigel House

23 Jan

By Rhea H. Boyden
In the early hours
The fir trees are copper
That’s how I saw them
Half a century ago
Two world wars ago
With young eyes.
-Bertolt Brecht
Buckower Elegies, 1953

The third weekend in January is generally deemed to be one of the most depressing weekends of the year with motivation and energy levels at an all time low. Your couch is the most comfortable place to wallow with a bag of sweets or a cup of hot chocolate, and you may also be feeling guilty that you have, within 3 weeks of making all those wonderful new year’s resolutions, forgotten and broken them all. I have spent many a third January weekend in this state, but this year was different. The magazine I am writing for had sent me on an assignment to write a page for a new Berlin guidebook, so I cheerily got out of bed early on Saturday morning to go culture chasing.
The assignment was to take a two-hour train and bus ride to the Spa town of Buckow  to go visit the summer home of the German poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht and his Austrian actor wife Helene Weigel. ‘The garden obviously won’t be looking the best this time of year’ said the guy I am writing for, ‘but I am sure it will be worth the trip anyway’ he assured.
I packed a nice breakfast of fruit and a sandwich, grabbed a hot cup of coffee and hopped on the subway, happy and proud to be chosen for this assignment. Two hours later, after a subway, regional  train, and then a bus ride through the snowy woods, a few other brave souls and I arrived at the deserted marketplace of Buckow which has a scant population of 1,500, none of whom were showing their  faces on this cold January day.
Buckow  is located on the fabulous Schermuetzel Lake and is the seat of the municipal association of the beautiful, hilly and forested region not far from the Polish border known as Maerkische Schweiz. Since 1990, the entire region has been protected as a nature park. It is a popular Spa town in summer and its spa resort follows the philosophy of the Bavarian priest Sebastian Kneipp born in 1821, who was a proponent of hydrotherapy and herbalism.  Kneipp used his ‘Water Cure’ to treat all kinds of ailments. He promoted good nutrition, exercise and spirituality as the basis of a good life. Buckow is the home of a Kneipp day-care centre where children are raised and educated according to his principals, eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and very little meat. There is also a Kneipp herb garden in the centre of the town.
After stopping to look at an ice-encrusted waterwheel that was still turning in the semi-frozen brook, I followed the signs to the Brecht-Weigel House.  After a brisk 20 minute walk past the beautiful villas that overlook the Schermuetzel Lake, I arrived at the gates of the Brecht Weigel House which looked very much deserted. I entered the house and a cheerful lady at reception greeted me and said she had been expecting me. I did not have to probe her much for information as she was extremely knowledgeable and immediately launched into anecdotes and historical facts about the house. We were alone, so happily she could devote all her time to me.  ‘Helene Weigel was a fabulous cook’ she informed me, ‘and she loved to treat her guests to her delicacies here. ‘Look, here is a fabulous cook book containing her recipes’. She opened the wonderful  cookbook so we could peruse the fabulous dishes. My stomach was now rumbling and I remembered my half
eaten sandwich in my bag that I then pulled out and munched on as the lady filled me with stories.
The house had been built by the sculptor Georg Roch in 1910-11 and the front room is a fabulous bright, 5 metre high studio with a front wall of windows that overlook the garden, a boat dock and the lake. Helene Weigel’s collection of old German furniture from the 18th and 19th century fill the huge room, which she furnished as a salon to entertain guests in summer between 1952 and 1956 when she and Brecht leased the house from the town of Buckow.
Many of Georg Roch’s scultures adorn the walls of the house both inside and out, and there are also more of his ivy-covered sculptures in the garden in the shade of the silver poplar and fir trees.
The salon in the main house was primarily the working space of Weigel, while Brecht withdrew  to his simply furnished garden house to work on his plays and poetry. During the summer of 1953 he wrote ‘The Buckower Elegies’ which was his artistic and poetic reaction to the GDR worker’s uprising of June 17th 1953.
Today, the garden house has an exhibit of Helene Weigel’s costumes, and some of the props from the staging of Brecht’s play ‘Mutter Courage’ which was Weigel’s most triumphant role in acting. Weigel was the artistic director of the Berliner Ensemble until her death in 1971 and after Brecht’s death of a heart attack in 1956 she continued to entertain guests from the theatre at the couple’s house in Buckow. The garden house also has much of Brecht’s poetry on its walls.
After purchasing my own copy of ‘The Buckower Elegies’ and saying goodbye to the wonderfully helpful woman, I set off on a walk through the woods and around the lake myself deep in contemplation. After about half an hour, I came across a large elegant restaurant and hotel. I entered and took a seat near the fireplace overlooking the semi-frozen lake upon which the setting January sun was now shining its weak rays. I ordered a coffee and a piece of hot apple strudel with vanilla ice-cream. ‘The apple strudel is made according to Helene Weigel’s recipe’ the waiter claimed proudly as he placed it in front of me. ‘Oh fantastic!’ I responded. I savoured every bite while reading Brecht’s poetry.
Eventually it was time to trek back to the marketplace to get back on the bus and then train back to Berlin. I took a quick walk through the Schlosspark and then had a glance in the doors of the town’s small church. I again encountered the same small group of people who had braved the January weather for a weekend excursion and we all happily boarded the bus together exchanging smiles.
On the journey home, I perused the literature that the cheerful lady had provided me, happy in the knowledge that I was now heading back to Berlin where there was an abundance of Brecht and Weigel’s, work, history, plays and poetry still awaiting me on the stages and in the cultural centres of this fine capital city.

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