Traditional German puppet theatre. Located in Köln (Cologne, Germany), the theatre is named after one of its main characters, Hänneschen (Little Hannes or Jack), the “hero” of most of the plays. The Hänneschen-Theater was founded in 1802 by the German cabinetmaker Johann Christoph Winter (or Winters). It was a rod puppet theatre, a type of theatre in which the characters were controlled from underneath the stage.
By putting together the under-stage control of the crib-shows and the vigorous arm movements of the Antwerp over-head rods, Winter apparently conceived a type of puppet which combined both techniques. It has been difficult to find an earlier puppet of this type at this period in Western Europe. Most of the puppets are carried on a rod connected to the puppeteer by a special belt which allows the movements of the player to be transferred to the puppet. A second rod is attached to one of its arms to give it more movement. Some of the puppets, e.g. a snake, are manipulated using several rods. The figures were initially about 35 centimetres high but they soon doubled in size.
The theatre staged productions such as Faust, but Winter also produced a wide range of plays that seem to have been written by him in order to introduce a cast of characters typical of the Rhineland. They were led by Hänneschen, a jolly farmer in a red waistcoat, who lent his name to the theatre. The Hänneschen-Theater was copied in theatres all over the German-speaking area.
Winter’s direction of the theatre ended in 1862, with his death at the age of 91, but it was carried on by others, and the theatre and the cast of characters grew in size. By 1980, the theatre had fallen on hard times but was taken over by Heribert Malchers in 1988 who initiated the writing of a fresh repertory introducing the familiar characters in plays relevant to contemporary life in Cologne. A musical accompaniment by four musicians plays a big part in what have become very elaborate scenic spectacles, while still preserving the simplicity of the original concept.
By 2007, the Hänneschen–Theater, located at the Eisenmarkt in Cologne, had 30 full-time employees, an inventory of 800 puppets and 1,800 costumes, and could seat 280 spectators. The Hänneschen-Theater is officially known as Hänneschen – Puppenspiele der Stadt Köln.
- Das Alte Kölner Hänneschen-Theater. Eine neue Gabe für Freunde rheinischer Volkskunst mit 6 Bildern [The Old Cologne Hänneschen-Theater. A New Gift for Rhenish Friends Folk Art with 6 Pictures]. Köln: P. Gehly Verlag, 1919.
- Niessen, Carl. Das Rheinische Puppenspiel. Ein theatergeschichtlicher Beitrag zur Volkskunde [The Rhenish Puppet Theatre. A Contribution to the Study of Folklore in Terms of Puppetry]. Bonn: Klopp, 1928.
- Schuster, Isabella. Das Kölner Hänneschen-Theater im 19. Jahrhundert [The Cologne Hänneschen Theatre in the 19th Century]. Masterarbeit [Master of Arts Thesis]. Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz, Institut für Germanistik, 2012.
- Winters, Johann Christoph. “Henneschen kömt wieder” [Hänneschen comes back]. Das Rheinische Puppenspiel. Ein theatergeschichtlicher Beitrag zur Volkskunde. Ed. Carl Niessen. Bonn: Klopp, 1928.