Born in East Berlin in 1954, Katharina Thalbach practically “grew up in the theatre”: her mother was an actress and her father was a stage director. Her mother died when she was only twelve, and Helene Weigel, the widow of Bertolt Brecht, took Katharina under her wing and provided her with a training contract as a master pupil in drama. At age thirteen, Katharina gave her theatrical début as “Betty, the Whore” in Erich Engels’ staging of Brecht’s Threepenny Opera; from the age of fifteen she also alternatively took up Polly, one of the main roles.
After finishing secondary school and obtaining her theatre diploma, Katharina Thalbach started performing at the Berliner Ensemble and at the Volksbühne (of which her father, Benno Besson, was the director). After her first TV appearance at the age of four in the movie Begegnung im Dunkel, Katharina played further child roles for television, occasionally alongside her mother. In 1973 she gave birth to Anna, who likewise became an actress: in recent years, mother and daughter have frequently been featured together in joint roles.
Katharina Thalbach performed in stagings by Siegfried Kühn, Egon Günther, Charlotte Buff, Konrad Wolf, Peter Hacks, and Karge-Langhoff.
In December 1976, one month after the expatriation of renowned East German singer-songwriter Wolf Biermann from the GDR, Katharina Thalbach moved to West Berlin along with her partner Thomas Brasch, a critical author who had fallen out of favor with the East German regime. She gave her West German acting début upon the Schiller Theatre Workshop Stage in 1978. Directors of the likes of Hans Lietzau, Jürgen Flimm, Ernst Wendt, Benno Besson, and Hans Neuenfels have chosen her to play major roles. In 1995, at the Théâtre de Chaillot in Paris she played the main role in Brecht’s Mutter Courage in a staging by Jérome Savary. Katharina Thalbach has played main roles in films directed by Margarethe von Trotta, Volker Schlöndorff, Hans W. Geisendörfer, Thomas Brasch, and Doris Dörrie. In the late 1980s she also started to direct plays herself (Macbeth, Mann ist Mann, Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It, Threepenny Opera, Der Hauptmann von Köpenick). Her latest staging was Brecht’s Arturo Ui at the Comédie Française in 2017. She has continued to perform roles for film and television: the latest in David Fritz’s 2018 film 100 Dinge.
Katharina Thalbach is a member of the German Film Academy, of the Hamburg Free Academy of the Arts, and of the Berlin Academy of the Arts. She has been awarded a number of outstanding German prizes including the Grimme Television Prize and the Berliner Zeitung Drama Critics’ Prize; in 2015 she received the German Federal Cross of Merit, and in 2018 she was knighted Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in Paris.