Opened in 1900 in the center of Bavaria’s capital city, the Munich Marionette Theater is the oldest dedicated puppet theater in the world and is still going strong.
The Munich Marionette Theater’s history dates back to 1858, when Munich resident Josef Leonhard Schmid asked the city to review his plans to establish a dedicated children’s puppet theater. He wanted to stage puppet shows that were “based on propriety, religion and morals,” and not like the common clown acts popular at street fairs.
Establishment of the First Marionette Theater Building
Schmid enlisted the help of Count Franz Pocci, a Munich children’s book author, aristocrat and artist. Pocci supported the theater throughout his life and wrote 45 plays for the project.
In November 1958, Schmid received authorization from the city of Munich to move ahead with his project. The theater was housed in various locations until 1900 when the city agreed to build a dedicated theater. It selected a former city grave site on Blumenstrasse, near Sendlinger Tor in Munich city center, and constructed the charming theater building. The theatre opened to the public in November 1900.
The structure remains to this day largely unchanged: a rectangular masonry building with a hipped roof. The seven-step staircase leads up to an entrance framed by Doric columns and a woodwork-decorated gable.
Between 1986 and 1988, the theater underwent a complete renovation and modernization. The theater had sustained damage in World War II bombings and, later, as a result of the construction of a nearby subway station. The building also needed to be updated to reflect the new technical requirements of a first-class, modern theater.
Theater Directions and Changes
Schmid directed the Munich Marionette Theater until handing over the reins to his daughter, Babette Klinger-Schmid, in 1911. She ran the theater, along with Karl Winkler, until her death in 1930. After Winkler’s retirement in 1933, the married couple Hilmar and Aera Binter directed it until 1957.
The city of Munich selected Franz Leonhard Schadt to take over management of the Munich Marionette Theater in 1957. Schadt introduced new ideas to the theater, including filming puppet shows to produce a puppet theater series for television.
He also expanded the theater’s repertoire to include not just traditional fairy tales but also well-known Christmas stories and operas and operettas offered as part of a new evening program. Since 2000, the theater has been under the direction of puppeteer and set builder Siegfried Boehmke.
The Munich Marionette Theater Today
The theater now offers day and evening programs throughout the year. Four afternoons per week, the program includes performances for young children age 4 and up. Shows include classics such as Thumbelina, by Hans-Christian Andersen, and Ottfried Preussler’s The Little Witch, as well as new productions.
Evening performances are offered on Saturdays for older children and young adults. Marionette productions of Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Don Giovanni, and Astutuli by Carl Orff, are popular regulars.
The theater continues to offer special Christmas shows, such as a puppet-show version of The Nutcracker and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.