I grew up in Vienna and came to Berlin in 1929. I worked with Erwin Piscator. I was reciting at that time, and I said I want to work with Wolpe on music. I had never learned singing, and he said, "You don't know a thing." I first worked with Wolpe as a couple [duo]. There were many couples [like] the famous Eisler-Busch who worked there. At Liebknechthaus we worked in certain meetings. I stood in front, and he stood seven meters behind me. He was so fanatic in music, and he never listened to what I said. He was [snorting]. Sometimes I had to break up and say, "Pass auf [shut up] Stefan, you must a bit listen to me too!" He was no accompanist. He even composed everything which was already composed, always changing. We were a funny couple. We did this for about a year from one meeting to another. Once, sometimes twice a week at political meetings. There were speakers at the meetings, I remember Arthur Pieck, Heinz Neumann. I think it was quite a success. Very good reception always. The people were much impressed by his kind of bravura on the piano, because workers had not much connection with this music. They valued that, they saw how he worked. It was a kind of storm of sounds that impressed them. That is their workers' experience. Their experience is hard work, you have to be quick in work, and something come out. And that was always with Wolpe too.
At that time it was still Stalinism. And once I was with him in a train, and he said, "You know, I am writing abstract music and the Party doesn't understand it." It wasn't abstract music, it was quite unusual music, but of course the workers were very interested.
We rehearsed in his studio in Dahlem. This woman had a cellar and in one [room] was a piano. And there we rehearsed. It lasted until we started the Rote Revue, and out of the Rote Revue followed the Truppe 1931. Wolpe wrote the music, about ten pieces, for the Rote Revue for choir. We played it on the First of May , then we repeated it. The text was created mainly by [Felix] Gasbarra, the first dramaturge of Piscator, and the producer was the famous regisseur [Leopold] Lindtberg. The choir was [those who became] Truppe 1931. And this was very successful, and then somebody said why don't we stay together and get to run a theater. We played for Reinhardt, and Reinhardt is a quite different type of regisseur, and he said, "Ah, that's one of those documentary plays." We thought we may play there, which was quite stupid, because it was absolute opposing. And then we found a theater that Reinhardt recommended, Kleines Theater Unter den Linden. Reinhardt started there with the [cabaret] Schall und Rauch. The Theater is for 200 people, but not more. And then we started the Mausefalle. I didn't have work from the Red Revue to the Mausefalle, which was more than three-quarters of a year. We had no money, not a mark.
There was a myth going around, organized by us, that for the first time professional actors play agitprop, and for the first time a collective of people is writing a play. But not one of us wrote. All the writing was by Wangenheim. But it was just to mobilize people, for at that time bürgerlich, also non-proletarian, people never saw agitprop. It was a sensation for the people. And there were quite a lot of songs of Wolpe.
We rehearsed nearly three-quarters of a year. The play was always changed, and Wolpe changed too the music. We played it first for the Party, and then we went to the Café König, a big restaurant-café at the corner of Unter den Linden and Friedrichstrasse. And in the cellar we had a very big room. The play was based partly on the Bata Shoe [Company]. And the biggest shoe producer of Germany was Leiser. And we asked people from Leiser, and about 150 people came and we played for them and asked, "What is your opinion?" And they said no and yes, and Wangenheim rewrote the play again. So we had big agreement already with a lot of views. Once the curtain went up and we saw in the first row Krupp and Thyssen, friends of Hitler, who were in Berlin and wanted to see the anti-capitalistic play, how looks revolution. The pay depended on how many people in the evening came to listen.
Wolpe was an extremely nice chap. He looked a bit fragile, a bit thin, but full of energy. I always wondered that in this small, fragile body were such a power. He mixed in [political] discussions, but you had always the feeling that is not his job. He had a definite opinion about the political aim, but everything else went in and out. A good sense of humor, ja, not too much. He had this ability to listen to other people. I think the whole Communists did not listen to other people. Couldn't listen. Rather talk. He gave his whole life to composing. I don't think he was very much in political meetings, but he was connected with people, and we had discussions, we had arguments about the main things. And in a lot of main things he was as stupid as I was, and as others were. We found out much later. But I am still a Communist. He read carefully the paper, we talked about it, but he was no fanatic. He was fanatic in music, because he was so intensive. He had a center, and the center was music. I had a center in the Party.
Wolpe and Eisler had to do with each other, because it was the same Party, and sometimes they met, but not much. They had quite a different kind of music. Eisler is a Schoenberg students, but he wrote quite new kind of worker songs, Kampflieder. Eisler was in the inner circle of the Party, and whenever some play was performed, he wrote the music. He was much more known, because he was always there. Wolpe was for the Party, but not in the Party. In is being a member. He was very much impressed by Marx. I don't think he read Hegel, and Engels he always cited, talking about the historical parts, the origin of the family.
Franz Boensch (1907-1986), born in Vienna, was an actor and author. For a time he was a member of the agitprop troupe Sturmtrupp Alarm. He was a member of Truppe 1931. He was imprisoned for Communist activities and emigrated to London in 1937. After the war he returned to Vienna. Interview: AC, Vienna, December 30, 1983.