Vienna, Austria | C.1741

Photo Credit: Ryan Adams

Considered the most important German language theater in the world, the Burgtheater is a highly influential cultural institution with a complicated past. Originally built in 1741, the Burgtheater, which translates to “Castle Theater”, would go on to be shaped by the region’s imperial rulers, and has since emerged as a cornerstone of Viennese culture.

When Empress Maria Theresa called for a theater next to her palace, a nearby building was transformed into a stage. However, the theater didn’t find success until 1776 when her son Emperor Joseph II turned it into the official court, naming it the German National Theater. The theater premiered three Mozart operas and Beethoven’s 1st Symphony. Joseph was a regular at performances and patrons often bought tickets just to see him.

In 1888, the theater was moved to a new building on Vienna’s Ringstrasse boulevard to meet the demands of modern productions. Within three decades, the theater became the K.K. Hofburgtheater and passed into ownership of the state. The Burgtheater continued to thrive until war on the world’s stage brought a more decidedly detrimental impact.

In the 1930s, the arrival of the Nazis in Vienna saw Jewish members of theater company “removed”. Works by Jewish playwrights were deemed “inappropriate” and the Nazi salute was included at the begining of performances. This troubling reality continued until 1945, when in the thick of War, the Burgtheater was bombed by American forces and later caught fire when the Soviet army liberated the city.

Years later, Vienna rebuilt itself — and so too did the Burgtheater. In 1955, the theater reopened in all its former architectural glory. Emerging from the ashes, the Burgtheater remains a renowned facet of Viennese history, and a reminder of the enduring power of the arts in the face of oppression.

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