Noted German playwright dies


THE German theatre was in mourning yesterday following the death on Saturday of Heiner Muller, the former East Germany's leading intellectual figure and the most influential German playwright since Bertolt Brecht, writes Denis Staunton from Berlin.

A committed Marxist who rejected ideological rigidity, Miller was a merciless critic both of state socialism and what he saw as the barbarity of capitalism.

The East German authorities condemned him as an "historical pessimist" and banned most of his work for more than two decades, but be was given a half hearted rehabilitation in the mid 1980s when the Honecker government eager to exploit his reputation abroad, acknowledged him as Brecht's true heir.

Born into a social democratic family in Saxony in 1929. Miller was only four when his father was sent to a concentration camp.

He moved to East Berlin in 1951 and, after some years as a clerk and a journalist, joined Brecht at the Berliner Ensemble towards the end of the 1950s. His first play, Der Lohndrucker, was based on the story of Hans Garbe, a heroic East German bricklayer who risked his life repairing a red hot blast furnace in order to keep his factory's output flowing.

Muller, however, undermined the propagandist interpretation of the story by questioning Garbe's motivation and giving sympathetic treatment to the concerns of his fellow workers that Garbe's zeal was helping to keep their wages down.

Der Lohndrucker became the target of a party campaign against politically unreliable drama a year later, and disappeared from the repertoire until 1988.

Although he was allowed to travel freely in the West during the 1980s, Miller continued to live in his untidy, rambling flat overlooking the East Berlin zoo. The linoleum covered floors were always strewn with newspapers and books, and Muller would sit contentedly amid the chaos, peering through thick glasses and puffing on a huge cigar as he worked his way through a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label every day.

He became a passionate defender of East Germany's cultural heritage following German reunification in 1990, but his reputation was dented in 1993 when he admitted to having had contacts with the Stasi secret police in the 1980s.

Miller claimed that he had used his contacts with the Stasi to get a clear picture of what was happening in the country and to influence events for the better.

He insisted that he had not compromised himself in any way and a subsequent investigation confirmed that the bad never caused harm to anyone with his discussions.

The German Social Democrat leader, Mr Oskar Lafontaine, was among those who praised Muller at the weekend declaring that his work had contributed substantially to the intellectual and cultural unity and growing together."

Black ice brought chaos to western German roads overnight causing more than 2,000 accidents and injuring around 150 people, police said yesterday. The North Rhine Westphalia region which includes Cologne. Bonn and Duesseldorf, was worst hit with around 1,100 accidents caused, by the thick film of treacherous ice. But, police, said no one had been seriously injured. Many drivers bad pulled over to the side of the road when they felt surface water turning to ice and waited for gritting vehicles to arrive.