Steffin, Margarete

Steffin, Margarete Image 1

© Bertolt-Brecht-Archiv

Margarete Steffin, born in Berlin in 1908, died in Moscow in 1941. She finished elementary school in 1922, whereafter she began a two-year apprenticeship as a clerk and bookkeeper at Globus publishing house. Even at school, she had attracted attention with her artistic and linguistic talents. Steffin continued her education independently, attending evening classes and taking Russian lessons privately.
From the end of the 1920s, she was involved in the workers' education movement, especially in the chorus of the communist workers' sports club "Fichte," where she soon became a solo speaker. As an amateur actress with the Junge Volksbühne, she appeared on stage alongside Ernst Busch, Helene Weigel and Blandine Ebinger in the agit-prop revue Wir sind ja sooo zufrieden, which premiered in 1932. One of the lyricists was Bertolt Brecht, who offered her the next role in his play Die Mutter. Steffin played the maid - alongside Helene Weigel in the title role. Since then, Brecht and Steffin had a love and work relationship, that lasted until her early death.
Steffin's main activity can be described as her work for Brecht; this included research for various projects of Brecht's, the management of his entire correspondence, the organization of his manuscripts, and the preparatory translation of (source) texts. Translating other texts was purely a sideline for Steffin.
It was only with the publication of her Nachgelassene Texte (Literary Remains, 1991) and Briefe (Letters, 1999) that she emerged from Brecht's shadow: as a writer in her own right, and also as a translator. Steffin's translational work was limited to the period of exile together with Brecht's from 1933 to 1941 (Paris, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Russia on their way to the US).