For almost 70 years the Augsburger Puppenkiste (Marionette Theatre) has been delighting young and old from all over the world with its marionettes. Theatre Director Klaus Marschall told us more about it
Augsburger Puppenkiste (Marionette Theatre)
The lid opens, the curtain goes up: A woman shakes up her bed and it starts to snow. Every child in the audience knows her name: When will “Frau Holle” shower the hard-working sister with gold and punish the lazy sister with bad luck? The children are utterly enthralled by the spectacle.
World famous then and now
“The name ‘Puppenkiste’, or ‘puppet chest’, came from my grandfather, because he wanted to create a transportable theatre – a chest, from which you could put on a play anywhere,” explains Klaus Marschall, who is the third generation of his family to run the business after his grandfather, Walter Oehmichen, and his mother.
The origins of the Augsburger Puppenkiste go back to the year 1943. During the Second World War, the Augsburg actor and puppet fan Walter Oehmichen built his first puppet theatre, the so-called “Puppenschrein”. This consisted of a simple door frame, with a table as a stage. After the “Puppenschrein” was destroyed by a bombing raid one year later, Oehmichen began to dream of a larger, more extensive playhouse.
In February 1948 this became a reality: He founded the Augsburger Puppenkiste – perhaps the best known marionette theatre in the world. It has been an intrinsic part of the city of Augsburg for almost 70 years. For locals and visitors alike the Augsburger Puppenkiste is a genuine city temptation – and a long-standing part of Bavaria’s cultural heritage.
Open the curtains
"Every puppeteer is also an actor"
From “Jim Knopf” and “Das Urmel aus dem Eis” to “Kater Mikesch”: The popular characters from the marionette theatre appeared on German television screens in the 60s, 70s and 80s, winning over the hearts of their young viewers.
In the real-life marionette theatre in Heilig-Geist-Spital in Augsburg, in contrast, the afternoon programme features figures from well-known fairy tales and stories – such as Rumpelstiltskin or the Little Prince. The puppets are skilfully moved around the stage under the arched roof of the former chapel until the lid of the puppet chest finally closes again – the trademark end to the Augsburger Puppenkiste show.
In addition to children’s performances in the afternoon, there is also an evening programme for adults. The marionette theatre puts on around 400 to 420 performances each year. A further 100 to 120 appearances are made on tour. Any new production requires a lead time of at least a year. From the author to the director, and from the stage builder to the puppet creator: The artistic ensemble of the marionette theatre consists of 16 highly creative people, who coordinate every precise movement.
An art in itself
Once a piece makes it onto the stage, it is time for the puppeteers to shine: “Every puppeteer is also an actor to some extent – just with different media: Instead of using their own mimes and gestures, all they have is a wooden cross with ten strings, which they use to give their figure its character and to express emotions,” says Klaus Marschall. According to the 56-year-old, when dealing with puppets you need not only manual dexterity but also years of practice.
The stars of the Augsburger Puppenkiste are famous well beyond state borders. In a permanent exhibition in the building’s own museum, “Die Kiste”, guests can still see them at close quarters today and indulge in happy reminiscences.
Find out more about the Augsburger Puppenkiste