Gisela May

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Gisela May (1979)
Gisela May (2008)
Gisela May's autograph

Gisela May (born May 31, 1924 in Wetzlar ; † December 2, 2016 in Berlin ) was a German actress and diseuse who made a name for herself primarily as a Brecht interpreter .


Gisela May was born in Wetzlar as the daughter of the writer Ferdinand May and the actress Käte May. She attended a girls' high school and household school. From 1942 to 1944 she graduated from the Leipzig drama school . Her brother died in World War II , and her first piano teacher, Alfred Schmidt-Sas , was executed by the Nazis in Plötzensee .

From 1963 she was a member of the Presidium of the German-Italian Society of the GDR under the President Professor Gerhard Reintanz , from 1972 a member of the Academy of the Arts (East) and from 1993 of the new Academy of the Arts (Berlin) .

From 1983 to 1989 she presented her own entertainment show Pfundgrube on GDR television .

In 1999, at the suggestion of Artistic Director Prof. Dr. Hans Pischner and opera singer Heiko Reissig appointed full honorary member of the European Cultural Workshop (EKW) in Berlin and Vienna.

May was seen and heard on the stage of the Komische Oper Berlin on January 24, 2013 as part of the Kurt Weill Week . On January 12, 2014, the almost 90-year-old May took part in the start of the year for the European Left in the Volksbühne Berlin . On June 10, 2014, the Ernst Busch Society held a homage in front of a sold out house in the Babylon cinema on Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz on the occasion of her 90th birthday; there she was made an honorary member of the Kurt Weill Society.

On June 3, 2014 May recorded a radio feature by Jean Claude Kuner entitled Express Beirut - The Writer Ethel Adnan for RBB ; this was also her last artistic work.

From 1956 to 1965 she was married to the journalist and documentarist Georg Honigmann , the father of the writer Barbara Honigmann . After the divorce, she lived with Wolfgang Harich . May last lived in a senior citizen residence in Berlin. Her urn grave (CU 3-2-5) is in the cemetery of the Dorotheenstadt and Friedrichswerder communities in Berlin-Mitte , where she was buried on January 13, 2017.

Career as an actress

Gisela May rehearsing Mother Courage in the Berliner Ensemble with Manfred Wekwerth , 1978

May had first engagements in Danzig , Dresden , Görlitz , Leipzig , Halle and Schwerin . Since 1951 she worked in Berlin , first at the Deutsches Theater , from 1962 at the Berliner Ensemble , of which she was a member for over 30 years. From 1978 until she left in 1992, she played Brecht's mother Courage , to whom she gave her own interpretation - before her, “ die Weigel ” played the role at the Berliner Ensemble. In addition to Brecht's Die Tage der Commune and Brecht / Weill's The Seven Deadly Sins of the Petty Bourgeois , she played the title roles in Lessing's Minna von Barnhelm , Stewart / Herman Hallo, Dolly! , Shaw's wife Warren's trade , mother Wolfen in Hauptmann's beaver pelt .

She became known to a broad audience in western Germany through her participation in the television series Adelheid and Her Murderers (“Don't always say Muddi to me!”).

Chanson singer

In 1957 Hanns Eisler recognized May's special talent for chanson and the possibilities of her voice, their power, versatility, sensitivity, cleverness, virtuosity, elegance and simplicity, which Gisela May perfected in the following years. As a chanson interpreter, she made a name for herself internationally during the GDR era by releasing a number of albums. For her record recording The Seven Deadly Sins of the Petty Bourgeois (Brecht / Weill), Maurice Chevalier presented her with the Grand Prix du Disque in Paris in 1968 .

She performed chansons, political songs and poems in her own programs . She has made guest appearances in many European countries, in the USA and Australia: From four seasons (Bertolt Brecht), Kurt Tucholsky hates - loves , Oops we live ( Hollaender , Mehring , Wedekind ), Jacques-Brel-Evening , Erich Kästner , Hanns-Eisler -Evening . Besides Henry Krtschil, her artistic partner was the composer and pianist Manfred Schmitz for many years .

Prizes and awards

Filmography (selection)


Radio plays and features

Discography (selection)



  • Bernd-Rainer BarthMay, Gisela . In: Who was who in the GDR? 5th edition. Volume 2. Ch. Links, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-86153-561-4 .
  • Gabriele Baumgartner, Dieter Hebig (Hrsg.): Biographisches Handbuch der SBZ / DDR. 1945–1990. Volume 2: Maassen - Zylla. KG Saur, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-598-11177-0 .
  • Günter Gaus : About the person . Vol. 5: Gisela May, including edition ost published by Das Neue Berlin, Berlin 2001.
  • Rosemarie Killius: Shut up, child! Adolf speaks. Conversations with contemporary witnesses . Militzke, Leipzig 2000.
  • Dieter Kranz : Gisela May. Actress and Diseuse. The path to becoming a character actress. Picture biography . Henschel, Berlin 1973.
  • Joachim Reichow, Michael Hanisch: actor A-Z . Henschel, Berlin 1989.
  • Renate Seydel : ... lived for all time. Actors about themselves and others . 5th edition. Henschel, Berlin 1986.
  • Wolfgang Bittner , Mark vom Hofe: It also took luck. Gisela May . In: I have become a public person. Personalities from film and television . Horlemann Verlag, Bad Honnef 2009, ISBN 978-3-89502-277-7 .

Web links

Commons : Gisela May  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Brecht interpreter Gisela May is dead , In:, December 2, 2016, accessed on December 2, 2016
  2. Hans-Dieter Schütt : Brecht, you old barriers. Neues Deutschland , December 3, 2016, p. 10 and Volker Hoffmann: The longest-serving employee from Plötzensee. The torn life of the music educator Alfred Schmidt-Sas (1895–1943). Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-89626-089-8 , u. a. P. 11ff. and 142ff.
  3. ^ GDR information asked. Five years of the German-Italian Society . In newspaper: Neue Zeit , January 11, 1968, p. 1.
  4. ^ Internet Movie Database
  5. The grave of Gisela May
  6. ^ GDR Art Prize , In: Berliner Zeitung , April 23, 1959, p. 3.
  7. (Merit Medal ...) In: Berliner Zeitung of October 16, 1960, p. 12.
  8. ^ Academy of the Arts: Gisela May - Awards and Prizes