Cast, Miscellaneous
Leipzig Berlin (Ost)


Hertha Thiele was born in Leipzig on 8 May 1908. After graduating from high school, she briefly trained in theatre and made her debut at the Leipzig Schauspielhaus in 1928 in Bruckner's "Krankheit der Jugend". Her breakthrough came two years later in the world premiere of Christa Winsloe's "Ritter Nérestan": in it she played an aristocrat's daughter and sensitive pupil of a Prussian boarding school who falls in love with her teacher and perishes from this 'forbidden' love. The play was a great success and Thiele played the same role a little later at the Barnowsky stages in Berlin, directed by Leontine Sagan, with the new title "Gestern und Heute" ("Yesterday and Today"). 

When Sagan filmed the story in 1931 under the title "Mädchen in Uniform" ("Girls in Uniform"), Thiele was also signed on for the leading role - and as on stage, the part immediately helped her to break through as a film star. The critic Herbert Ihering wrote in the Berliner Börsen-Courier: "Hertha Thiele is perhaps a real sound film talent. She can also change her blonde type in acting. The danger for her lies in the close-up. Here she emphasizes the expression too much. A talent for fresh, not sentimental roles." In contrast to the theatrical version, the homosexual theme in the filmed version was strongly de-emphasized in favor of criticizing the rigid Prussian educational system. Nevertheless, the critic Lotte H. Eisner wrote in the Film-Kurier: "The almost unbelievable, here it becomes an event: a film in which only women act is thrilling, because this film concerns everyone, because it uses a human theme socially, unsentimentally, beyond private concerns."

The success of "Mädchen in Uniform" brought Thiele to the attention of Prometheus Film. She received a one-year contract, but only one of the three planned films came to fruition: "Kuhle Wampe oder Wem gehört die Welt?" ("To Whom Does the World Belong?", 1932). Directed by Slatan Dudow, she played the daughter of a poor working-class family who shows initiative and personality; her character thus stood, at least in part for a new female self-confidence. "I played my personal state at the time," Thiele said in a 1983 interview, "I was not in the party, I was left-wing, but I was not educated." Today, the almost documentary-like film, co-written by Bertolt Brecht, is considered a classic of class-struggle proletarian cinema. In 2004, the film historian Ralf Schenk wrote about Thiele's performance: "Hertha Thiele [distanced herself] from the habitus and glamour of a conventional cinema star and advanced to become an icon of cinematic modernism".

Until 1933, Thiele appeared in a number of very different films, among them the comedy "Frau Lehmanns Töchter" (1932), the Prussian heroic saga "Die elf Schill'schen Offiziere" (1932), the abortion drama "Das erste Recht des Kindes" (1932) and the mystical miracle legend "Anna und Elisabeth" (1933) by Frank Wisbar. In 1932 she married the actor Heinz Klingenberg, her partner in "Frau Lehmanns Töchter". She was always praised by the critics for her intense presence which reminded some observers of Greta Garbo. In addition to her film work, Hertha Thiele continued to act in theater, but she preferred film: "For me (...) the camera has always been a magnet that attracts me". 

After the Nazis came to power, Joseph Goebbels tried to capitalize on Thiele's popularity: "With your popularity among the workers, you could have a great career in our films after all," he flattered her at a reception in 1933. But when she was offered the role of Horst Wessel's mistress in the Nazi propaganda film "Hans Westmar" a short time later, Thiele turned it down. She also left her husband Heinz Klingenberg after he accepted the title role in the propaganda film "S.A. Mann Brand" (1933). The couple's official divorce followed in 1936. Asked in a Dutch radio interview what she thought of the Nazi takeover, she replied: "Nothing at all, it's a mistake of the German people."

This was the end of her career. In 1933/34, Thiele appeared in the romantic schoolgirl-teacher love story "Reifende Jugend", the Fallada adaptation "Kleiner Mann - was nun?" and the mountain drama "Die Weiße Majestät" (FR/CH/DE). Her last film in Nazi Germany was Thea von Harbou's melodrama "Elisabeth und der Narr" (1934). In 1936 she was expelled from the Reich Theatre and Film Chamber. The reasons given were "racial defilement", the possession of Ernst Busch's records and her participation in "Kuhle Wampe".

Hertha Thiele emigrated to Switzerland on January 30, 1937. There she worked in a laboratory for film technology, then as a domestic servant. It wasn't until 1942 that she got a contract at the Stadttheater Bern, where she first appeared on stage as an actress (in Hauptmann's "Fuhrmann Henschel" and the European premiere of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town"), but then only as a prompter.

In 1949, Hertha Thiele moved to the GDR with her second husband, the Swiss Wolfgang Wohlgemuth, out of political conviction. She worked for Berlin Radio, but her attempt to build a theater together with her exiled colleague Robert Trösch failed. In 1951 she returned to Switzerland. There she got an engagement at a private theater in Bern in 1952, but was cast in only two productions before she left in 1955. Through a friend, Thiele began working as an auxiliary nurse in psychiatry. She continued to practice this profession in France as well, when she tried in vain to gain a foothold in the film industry there in 1957.

It was only through a "stroke of luck" that Thiele was able to work as an actress again years later: during a visit to her sister in the GDR in 1965, she suffered a fracture of her upper arm, which initially prevented her from returning to Switzerland. During her convalescence, she was noticed by GDR television, which dedicated the portrait film "Wiedersehen mit Hertha Thiele" to her. This in turn brought her the title role in Brecht's "Die Mutter" at the Magdeburger Bühnen, followed by an engagement at the Städtisches Theater Leipzig. Thiele remained in the GDR. From 1968-79 she was a permanent member of the German television ensemble. However, she was only given small roles, mostly as workers' wives and mothers.

She rarely appeared in DEFA cinema productions. One of her most important roles in her old age was in Lothar Warneke's "Die unverbesserliche Barbara" (GDR 1976), as a mother who sides with her strong, emancipated daughter-in-law in the divorce of her son. In Siegfried Kühn's "Don Juan, Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 78" (GDR 1980), she played an old opera singer who ridicules the film's protagonist, a self-absorbed director, in a night bar - Thiele only had this one scene, but it is one of the most striking in the film. 

With students from the Babelsberg film academy, she shot the highly acclaimed short film "Insel im See" in 1980. In it, she embodied an old woman who hid a prisoner of war on an island during the Nazi era, was imprisoned for it and now, decades after the end of the war, still rows food and cigarettes to the island. It was Thiele's last appearance in front of the camera. 

In 1983, the Berlinale organized the retrospective "Exile - Six Actors from Germany", which was also dedicated to Hertha Thiele - an actress who, due to historical circumstances, was never really able to make the most of her great talent.

Hertha Thiele died in East Berlin on 5 August 1984.