The captain of Köpenick (Zuckmayer)

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The captain of Koepenick. A German fairy tale in three acts is a drama by Carl Zuckmayer from 1931. The play relates to the Köpenickiade by Friedrich Wilhelm Voigt . In 1906 he had seized the city treasury of Köpenick in a strange uniform , at that time a town near Berlin.

The socially critical play follows Voigt's presentation that he actually didn't want to get rich, but only wanted to get a passport. The play criticizes the authority, the militarism and the respect for uniforms - attitudes that have made it possible for the town hall to follow the instructions of the modern “ Eulenspiegel ”.


In 1930 Carl Zuckmayer, who had been made aware of the material by his friend Fritz Kortner , had his publisher send him material on the events from 1906 and was enthusiastic. He retired to his Austrian domicile in Henndorf am Wallersee and wrote the three-act tragic comedy Der Hauptmann von Köpenick from the beginning of September to November 1930 . A German fairy tale . The play was premiered on March 5, 1931 at the Deutsches Theater Berlin , directed by Heinz Hilpert, with Werner Krauss in the title role.

The play was adopted by many theaters and played in front of sold-out houses across Germany for almost two years until the National Socialists' takeover in January 1933 put an end to its success. The performance of Zuckmayer's pieces was banned.


In 1900, the Guard Captain von Schlettow had a uniform skirt measured for himself in the Potsdam uniform shop of the tailor Adolf Wormser, when convict Wilhelm Voigt, who had just been released from prison, came in. The emaciated man wants to ask for work, but is thrown out. Voigt applies for a residence permit in a police office in Potsdam, but the sergeant does not want to issue one without proof of a job. But since you need a residence permit in order to get a job, Voigt finds himself in a vicious circle. Voigt wants to leave the German Reich, but for that you need a passport, which the officer cannot issue to him because he is not responsible for it. Voigt spends the night as a homeless person in a waiting room.

In the third scene Voigt meets his former friend Paul Kallenberg, called Kalle, who is also homeless in a Berlin café. Kalle wants to make money through a crime, but Voigt intends to start an honest life and refuses to participate in the planned coup. While the two former convicts are talking about it, Captain von Schlettow in civilian clothes enters the taproom. When Kalle and a drunken guard grenadier get into an argument about a prostitute, von Schlettow tries to call the grenadier to order, but he fails because he is not wearing a uniform. There is a fight. Finally the grenadier and von Schlettow are taken away by the police. Because of the dishonorable incident, von Schlettow has to bid farewell and let go of the new uniform skirt. The Köpenick city councilor Dr. Obermüller, who has just been promoted to reserve lieutenant and needs an officer's uniform for the occasion.

The trained shoemaker Voigt tries again to find work and applies to a shoe factory, but is rejected by the authorized signatory because he cannot show a residence permit, was in prison and has never served. Voigt persuades Kalle to break into the Potsdam police station with him, where he wants to steal a passport form. Kalle comes along because he is interested in the money from the supposedly well-filled cash register. The coup fails, the two perpetrators are caught and Voigt has to go back to prison. He is due to be released ten years later. The day before, the warden commits with the inmates the Sedan Day to celebrate the victory in the Franco-German War . Due to his autodidactically acquired knowledge, Voigt can correctly answer all the director's questions about the Prussian military system and can give instructions in the aftermath of the decisive battle. After his release, Voigt found accommodation with his sister Marie and her husband Friedrich Hoprecht, a minor civil servant and non-commissioned officer , in Rixdorf . His problems are the same as ten years ago: he gets neither work nor papers.

In the 10th scene, Dr. Obermüller, who was promoted to lieutenant in the reserve and is now mayor of Koepenick, move into the imperial maneuver, but the tailor Wormser has not yet delivered the new uniform. Furious, Obermüller orders the maid to bring his old uniform. When he tries to button his uniform skirt, the garment that is now much too tight tears. But Obermüller is lucky, the cutter Wabschke arrives with the new uniform just in time. Obermüller puts it on and gives the tailor the old one. In the 13th scene, Wormser's daughter Auguste Victoria wears the repaired uniform as a costume at a lavish imperial maneuver ball and sings a festive couplet in front of the guests.

Meanwhile, Voigt receives a notification with his expulsion. After a dispute with his brother-in-law about the right one, i. H. just order, he seeks out a Jewish junk dealer. There he bought a battered captain's uniform. It is the one originally made for von Schlettow, then by Dr. Uniform worn by Obermüller and Wormser's daughter. Voigt has a missing star replaced and purchases additional equipment. He plans to acquire a command in this disguise and to get a passport for his departure from the authorities. Voigt changes in a train station toilet. With some soldiers whom he had placed under his orders on the street, the fake captain penetrated the town hall of Köpenick, arrested the mayor and the city treasurer and instructed the city policeman Kilian to bring them to the guard in Berlin. When Voigt asks about the town hall's passport office, he is disappointed: Köpenick does not have its own passport office. With the money from the city treasury, the “captain” makes off. A few days later Wilhelm Voigt went to the police and offered to bring the wanted person for a passport. When he is promised the longed-for passport, he reveals himself to be the wrong "captain". As proof that it really is him, he reveals where he has hidden the uniform. After they have been brought in, Wilhelm Voigt is persuaded by the detective director to slip in again, to the general amusement. Voigt looks at himself in the mirror, sees himself in this elevator for the first time and breaks out into roaring laughter.


The play is based on the true historical story of Captain von Köpenick from 1906 and mocks an uncritical obedience to the military in imperial Germany. However, Zuckmayer wanted to transfer the play into his presence and thereby alluded to the brown uniforms of Nazi followers, which had been omnipresent since the NSDAP's first election successes .

Zuckmayer's play comprises three acts, each with seven scenes. In the second and third act he deals with the time around the spectacular attack and in the first act the prehistory that takes place ten years earlier. In addition to minor changes (for example, Voigt's place of birth is relocated near the Wuhlheide so that Voigt speaks Berlin dialect), the main difference between the piece and reality is probably the stylization of Voigt as a “noble robber”. Zuckmayer, for example, adopts Voigt's (hardly credible) self-portrayal, according to which the motive for his attack was exclusively the acquisition of a passport that he urgently needed in order to be able to start a normal life again. Since the office in Köpenick did not have a passport department, however, the culprit - with the almost complete contents of the city treasury - in Zuckmayer's play voluntarily surrenders to the police after he was promised a passport for the period after his release from prison.

Because Voigt, unlike in reality, buys the uniform completely from a dealer - a rather banal change in itself - the 'blue skirt' gets its own story. By introducing the previous owners one after the other, Zuckmayer took the opportunity to review the history of some minor characters (the mayor of Köpenick, for example) against the background of a critical, sometimes even caricature, description of the conditions in the imperial army and the militaristic society of the former Time to tell, with the omnipresence of the military being staged again and again.

Individual episodes deal with the effects of the officer's code of honor on the personal life and with the social position of the reserve officer or address the unconditional piety of a 'down-to-earth' Berlin official, personified in the form of Voigt's brother-in-law, a staid sergeant, towards the army and state. Everyday phenomena such as the stereotypical question when looking for a job "Where do you have everybody?" And the automatic 'standing at attention' in front of people wearing uniforms are shown as well as grotesque military role-plays that the prison director plays with his convicts, including Voigt, who is very prominent here Celebration of the anniversary of the Battle of Sedan .

Zuckmayer (who was an avowed opponent of the emerging National Socialism at the time the play was written and whose mother came from an assimilated Jewish family) also takes up anti-Semitic clichés, as they were already widespread in the imperial era, in a caricaturing manner, for example in the figure of enterprising Jewish shopkeeper Krakauer or in the portrayal of the Jewish uniform tailor Wormser and his son, to whom he ascribes certain degrees of "Jewish racial characteristics" in the stage directions. Other Jews like the shoe manufacturer Wonkrowitz, for whom Voigt once worked, are marked positively.


Joseph Goebbels reviewed the play on March 12, 1931, in the magazine “ The Attack ”. He insulted Zuckmayer as "[...] one of those asphalt writers who are wrongly passed off as a poet in this democracy ", but praised the main actor Werner Krauss. Goebbels rejects Zuckmayer's criticism of the “ old Prussian regime ”, the “wicked absolutism ”, the “ cadaver obedience ” of the East Elbe state and the “ bloodstained militarism ”, as Prussianism still remains for him is better than the Weimar Republic he hated. For the critic Willy Haas, the political content of the play did not go far enough. In the magazine “ Die literäre Welt ” he criticized that the play only scratched the surface of the political dimension of the Voigt case.

In a letter to Zuckmayer, Thomas Mann described the play after a visit to the theater as "the best comedy in world literature since Gogol's Revisor".

An English adaptation of Zuckmayer's drama was created in 1971 under the title The Captain of Koepenick (translator was the English playwright John Mortimer ) and was premiered in London in the same year with the well-known Shakespeare interpreter Paul Scofield in the title role.

Biographical note

The figure of the city treasurer Rosencrantz tells the false captain that he served as "Lieutenant of the reserve in the 1st Nassau Field Artillery Regiment No. 27 Orange". Carl Zuckmayer served in the same rank and in the same unit (with the peace location Mainz) during the First World War.

Film adaptations

In the same year of the premiere of the play, the first film adaptation for the cinema followed, directed by Richard Oswald , in which Max Adalbert , who has now also played the role on stage, took on the title role. Albert Bassermann played the role in a remake of Oswald's film made in 1941 in American exile for the first time in English . Helmut Käutner , later the scriptwriter and initiator of the Rühmann film , recorded a very successful radio play based on the drama in 1945 . Further film adaptations followed, all based on Zuckmayer's play, some with well-known actors such as Heinz Rühmann (1956), Rudolf Platte (1960) and Harald Juhnke (1997).

The most important films at a glance:

Radio plays

All of the radio plays listed here were based on the play by Carl Zuckmayer.

vinyl record

Drafi Deutscher praised the process on a recording in 1968.


Text output

  • Carl Zuckmayer: The Captain von Köpenick: A German fairy tale in three acts. Fischer, ISBN 3-596-27002-2

Secondary literature

  • Walter Dimter: Carl Zuckmayer: The captain of Koepenick . Reclam, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-15-950030-0
  • Werner Frizen: Carl Zuckmayer. The captain of Köpenick (Oldenbourg interpretations 29). 3. revised u. supplementary edition, Oldenbourg, Munich 2000, ISBN 978-3-637-88605-6
  • Wilhelm Große: Explanations on Carl Zuckmayer: The captain von Köpenick , text analysis and interpretation (vol. 150). C. Bange Verlag , Hollfeld 2012, ISBN 978-3-8044-1956-8
  • Marc Jeck: At the highest order. Not a German fairy tale. The true life. In: Die Zeit , No. 42 of October 12, 2006, p. 104 (available online here )
  • Andreas Lienkamp : uprising for life . 'Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten' and 'Der Hauptmann von Köpenick' - for the 200th birthday of Grimm's and 90th birthday of Zuckmayer's fairy tale . Tectum, Baden-Baden 2019, ISBN 978-3-8288-4383-7
  • Hartmut Scheible: Explanations and documents. Carl Zuckmayer: The captain of Koepenick . Reclam, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 978-3-15-008138-9

Individual evidence

  1. a b c Walburga Freund-Spork: The captain of Koepenick. Reading key . Reclam, Stuttgart 2009
  2. Joseph Goebbels: Der Hauptmann von Köpenick , in: the attack. The German evening paper in Berlin No. 51 of March 12, 1931, 1–2 ^.
  3. Film posters and basic data of the film from 1931 from the West German sound film archive ( Memento from December 26, 2007 in the Internet Archive )
  4. Film posters and basic data of the film from 1956 from the West German sound film archive ( Memento from December 26, 2007 in the Internet Archive )