History of the National Theatre

Completed in 1755, the Cuvilliès Theatre was soon too small for Munich’s rapidly growing population. This is why, in 1792, Elector Karl Theodor commissioned Court Architect Maximilian von Verschaffelt to plan a new opera house. The all too elaborate project was, however, not realized, and so the new Elector, Max IV Joseph, finally instituted a competition. Whoever took an interest in this construction project felt he had to enter his ideas for the building of the century. The project particularly appealed to a man barely twenty years of age, born on September 19, 1782 in Mannheim – Karl von Fischer. He had designed an open-balconied theatre, in keeping with the new principle of the French Revolution not to divide social classes between balconies and boxes.

Court Theatre Manager Josef Marius von Babo organized a shareholder's venture to finance the building of the National Theatre; the realization of these plans, however, was postponed by the Napoleonic Wars. In 1806, Elector Max Joseph became the first King of Bavaria; Karl von Fischer was his leading architect. On a trip to Paris, the King was so taken with the Théâtre de l'Odéon that on his return to Munich he set up a Theatre Commission to determine whether or not the Paris model could be used in Munich. On the 6th of March, 1811, the plans, revised by Fischer, were approved by the King, and on October 26th, Prince Ludwig laid the cornerstone.

To carry out the plans proved as difficult as it had been to develop them. Funds for the project had been exhausted after only a year of building. The hard winter of 1813 and the Russian campaign forced the suspension of construction work. As no one seemed willing to buy new shares, the King bought back all the stock and continued the building at the expense of the State. On October 12th, 1818, the theatre could finally be opened. Karl von Fischer, however, hardly survived the opening of his ingenious building, being criticized already during its construction: he died on february 12th, 1820, not yet 40 years old.

During a performance on January 14th, 1823, a piece of the scenery caught fire. The theatre burned down to its enclosing wall. The King was inconsolable, and the whole country showed concern. The city of Munich assumed the entire rebuilding costs, a sum of 800,000 guilders. With Leo von Klenze overseeing construction, the theatre was rebuilt in only two years; Klenze also made a few small changes. On January 2nd, 1825, the National Theatre was reopened.

In the second World War, the theatre was destroyed for the second time: On the night of October 3rd, 1943, the house was hit by numerous high-explosive and fire bombs. Even the iron framework of the stage was melted by the heat. the rebuilding of the Residence Theatre in 1951 had already exhausted the financial resources to hand, so that the Parliament was against the reconstruction of the National Theatre. City planners wanted to make more room in the city center for traffic, and therefore hoped to clear away the ruins of the theatre altogether. Fearing this, citizens under their own initiative formed the group "Friends of the National Theatre, Inc." in 1952; they finally managed to gain popular support and to raise the necessary funds.

Finally, in 1954, a competition was held to design a new building; one initially did not even think of reconstructing the original National Theatre. In the end, however, the Ministry of Culture opted to develop a design by Gerhard Graubner. Working together with the governmental Building Director, Karl Fischer, he came up with variations on the plans which, ultimately, made a reconstruction of the original building seem possible.

One then envisioned a reconstruction of Karl von Fischer's original theatre, purified of the alterations introduced during Leo von Klenze's reconstruction and of other changes made in the 19th century. the rebuilding of the theatre took five years and cost, in the end, 62 million marks. On november 21st, 1963, the ensemble, having preformed in the meantime at the Prinzregententheater, could resettle in their old house.