Carl Sternheim

Carl Sternheim (born William Adolph Carl Francke; 1 April 1878 – 3 November 1942) was a German playwright and short story writer. One of the major exponents of German Expressionism, he especially satirized the moral sensibilities of the emerging German middle class during the Wilhelmine period.

Life and career

Sternheim was born in Leipzig, the son of Rosa Marie Flora (née Francke) {1856-1908} and Carl Julius Sternheim {1852-1918}, a banker.[1][2] His parents married two years after he was born.[3] His father was Jewish and his mother was a Lutheran from a working-class family.[4] Sternheim grew up in Hannover and Berlin. Between 1897 and 1902, he studied philosophy, psychology, and jurisprudence intermittently at the Universities of Munich, Göttingen, and Leipzig, but never graduated. In 1900, he began working as a freelance writer in Weimar, where he met and married his first wife Eugenie Hauth the same year. Their union ended in 1906 and he married the writer Thea Löwenstein (née Bauer) in 1907, with whom he had two children. Their daughter Dorothea ("Mopsa") was a resistance fighter during the Second World War and was detained by the Nazi's in Ravensbrück concentration camp.

The wealth brought by Thea from her rich manufacturing family enabled the couple to build the Schloss Bellemaison in Munich. Here, Sternheim worked in the company of fellow artists such as Mechtilde Lichnowsky, Max Reinhardt, and Frank Wedekind, and assembled his own art collection. In 1908, he collaborated with Franz Blei to launch the Expressionist literary journal Hyperion, which published the first eight prose works by Franz Kafka. He also contributed occasionally to the Expressionist journal Die Aktion. In 1912, he relocated with his family to Belgium and in 1918, they fled the fighting of World War I and temporarily moved to St. Moritz and Uttwil in Switzerland. Sternheim and Thea divorced in 1927. His next marriage, to actress and singer Pamela Wedekind, took place in 1930 and lasted until 1934, after which he lived with Henriette Carbonara. Sternheim died in Ixelles (Brussels)[5] during World War II and was buried in the Ixelles Cemetery. A friend of his, Marcel Hastir (1906–2011), was buried in the same tomb.

Sternheim's circle of prominent friends included Gottfried Benn, Carl Einstein, Franz Pfemfert, Walther Rathenau, Ernst Stadler, Hugo von Tschudi, Fritz von Unruh, and Otto Vrieslander. In 1915, he presented the prize money for the Fontane Prize to the then largely unknown Kafka. The Nazi authorities banned Sternheim's work not only because of his partial Jewish descent but also because of his savage comedic assaults on the perceived moral corruption of the German bourgeoisie.


Sternheim's works remain popular in Germany, but English language productions of them are rare. This is in part due to the large number of English comedies already in existence, bypassing the need for translations of German comedies. Academics have also argued that Sternheim's works are sometimes hard to sell to the market in foreign languages due to the difficulty in categorising his style as belonging to any one specific movement.[6]

As a result, Sternheim's plays have rarely been produced in a major venue. One notable exception occurred when Simon Callow made his West End debut in a version of Bürger Schippel (re-titled as The Plumber's Progress) alongside Harry Secombe in the 1970s.[7] However, in August 2011, both Paul Schippel Esq. (an alternative title often given to Bürger Schippel) and The Fossil, another of Sternheim's comedies, were performed as a double-bill at the Charing Cross Theatre, London, with Kieran E. Sims and Alex Corbet Burcher in the respective title roles.[8] In December 2018, a new adaptation of three of the short plays from Aus dem bürgerlichen Heldenleben by David Ives premiered at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C.[9] The Panties, The Partner, and The Profit were adapted from Die Hose, Der Snob and 1913, and produced with the subtitle Scenes From the Heroic Life of the Middle Class.


  • Aus dem bürgerlichen Heldenleben (From the Heroic Life of the Bourgeois), play cycle (1911–22):
  • Schuhlin, Eine Erzahlung (Schuhlin, A Narrative), (1915)
  • Kampf der Metapher (Struggle of Metaphor), essay (1917)
  • Chronik von des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts Beginn (Chronicle of the Beginning of the Twentieth Century), short stories, 1918
  • Die Marquise von Arcis (The Mask of Virtue), drama (1918)
  • Europa, novel, 2 vol. (1919/1920)
  • Manon Lescaut, drama (1921)
  • Oscar Wilde: His Drama, drama (1925)
  • Vorkriegseuropa im Gleichnis meines Lebens (Prewar Europe in the Parable of My Life), memoir (1936)


  1. "(William) (Adolf) Carl Sternheim Biography".
  2. "Marbacher magazin". Deutsche Schillergesellschaft. 9 September 1980 via Google Books.
  3. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-01-11. Retrieved 2012-09-01.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. Desk, BWW News. "North Coast Rep Presents San Diego Premiere of Steve Martin's Adaptation of THE UNDERPANTS, 9/5-10/7".
  5. Archives of the Ixelles Cemetery, Yearbook 1942, last address: Rue Emmanuel Van Driessche 52, Ixelles
  6. Cody, Gabrielle H.; Sprinchorn, Evert (9 September 2018). "The Columbia Encyclopedia of Modern Drama". Columbia University Press via Google Books.
  7. "20 Questions with Simon Callow". What's On Stage. 12 September 2005. Retrieved 2011-07-15.
  8. Latest UK production of Sternheim's "Paul Schippel Esq."Archived 2013-08-18 at the Wayback Machine
  9. "Shakespeare Theatre Company | The Panties, The Partner and the Profit: Scenes from the Heroic Life of the Middle Class 18-19 - Shakespeare Theatre Company". Retrieved 2018-12-19.
  10. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-10-09. Retrieved 2007-03-10.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) Steve Martin's The Underpants, production study guide for an adaptation of Sternheim's play at the Capital Repertory Theatre (November 3 – December 2, 2006), "About the Original Playwright", p. 8.
  • Steve Martin's The Underpants, production study guide for an adaptation of Sternheim's play at the Capital Repertory Theatre (November 3 – December 2, 2006), "About the Original Playwright", p. 8.

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