The Burgtheater in Vienna






by Katharina Mölk

October 15, 1955: the Burgtheater in Vienna is ceremoniously reopened after the turmoil of war and occupation with its first performance.

The Burgtheater in Vienna has become an institution: it is one of the most famous theater venues in the German-speaking world. But in this article, the history of the house will be briefly highlighted.

Now that a magnificent boulevard was to be built around Vienna’s city center in the form of the Ringstrasse, the imperial Burgtheater was also to be transplanted to this prominent street. Originally, the Burgtheater was located in the Hofburg complex in the direction of Michaelerplatz.

The last performance was held there on October 12, 1888. This venue was then demolished and the ensemble moved to the new building on the Ring. This was opened on October 14, 1888 with Grillparzer’s “Esther” and Schiller’s “Wallenstein’s Camp”.

The new k.k. Hofburgtheater was built by the architects Gottfried Semper and Karl von Hasenauer. The building was inspired by the Italian High Renaissance. The facade is decorated with various allegories, as well as busts of famous theater poets. The interior was magnificently decorated. Responsible for the ceiling paintings in the two staircases of the theater was the artist company: Franz Matsch, Gustav and Ernst Klimt – the three even immortalized themselves in the ceiling painting above the entrance to the auditorium. Emperor Franz Joseph awarded them the Golden Cross of Merit for their work.

During the 14-year construction period, a dispute arose between the two architects: Karl Hasenauer wanted to build a pure logentheater, while Gottfried Semper was in favor of a rank theater. Conflicts also arose in the other joint building project of the two: the Kaiserforum with the twin museums. Finally, Semper left Vienna in 1876 to recover from health problems in Rome and Hasenauer was able to realize his idea of the Logentheater.

Fassade am Burgtheater in Wien, ©miroslav110

But already in 1897 the auditorium had to be rebuilt because the acoustics were not good enough.


After the collapse of the monarchy, the Burgtheater was transferred to the Republic.

In 1922, another venue was added: the Akademietheater.

On May 8, 1925, an unbelievable thing happened during a performance at the Burgtheater: during a performance of “Peer Gynt” an audience member was shot. The audience thought the shooting was part of the play, but it was actually a murder committed in the auditorium. Macedonian Mencia Carniciu had hidden a pistol in her undergarment, which she used to shoot the Bulgarian-Macedonian freedom fighter Todor Panitsa, who was sitting in front of her. More information can be found here: A Real Murder at the Burgtheater.

During the Nazi period, members of the ensemble with a Jewish background were dismissed or arrested; ; one actor, Fritz Strassny, was murdered in a concentration camp. Adolf Hitler visited the theater in 1938, and the playbill was heavily censored, but it continued to operate until 1944, when it was closed as part of the general theater lockdown.

The theater was severely damaged by a bomb hit on April 12, 1945. Only the steel structure of the auditorium and stage survived, and the ceiling paintings and parts of the foyer remained almost undamaged.

Burgtheater in Wien, ©sikaraha

The Soviet occupying power wanted to get Vienna’s cultural life going again as soon as possible. For this reason, four theaters resumed operations as early as the end of April 1945. The Burgtheater ensemble performed temporarily at the Ronacher, the Akademietheater and the Hofburg. The first performance after World War II showed Franz Grillparzer’s “Sappho” on April 30, 1945.

In 1948 the competition for the reconstruction was announced: Michel Engelhart was awarded the contract. The character of the Logentheater was largely taken into account and retained, but the central courtyard box was replaced by two tiers, and a new, sloping ceiling construction in the auditorium improved the acoustics.

The building reopened on October 14, and the first performance took place on October 15: Grillparzer’s “König Ottokars Glück du Ende” staged by the new director Adolf Rott.

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