The Iffland-Ring is a diamond-studded ring with the picture of August Wilhelm Iffland, a prominent German actor, dramatist and theatre director of the late 18th and early 19th century. The holder of the Iffland-Ring is considered to be the "most significant and most worthy actor of the German-speaking theatre", in the opinion of the previous holder who has passed it to him by will.
One exception to this rule came in 1954, when Werner Krauß was not determined by the previous holder Albert Bassermann but by a committee of German-speaking actors. On three occasions Bassermann had chosen a successor, and on each occasion the actor died shortly thereafter. Bassermann considered the ring cursed, and declined to choose a fourth successor. Since his death, the Iffland-Ring has been earmarked as the state property of the Republic of Austria, although the holder of the time disposes of it until his death.
The origins of the ring are shrouded in some mystery. The apocryphal story is that it was indeed worn by August Wilhelm Iffland, but its established history only begins a century later with its supposed fifth holder, Friedrich Haase, who has been suspected of commissioning it for himself and inventing the story.
The current bearer of the Iffland-Ring has been Swiss actor Bruno Ganz since 1996.
The ring has had a female equivalent since 1977, the Alma-Seidler-Ring, named after actress Alma Seidler; she had been considered as a successor by Werner Krauß, the holder of the ring between 1954 and 1959, but by tradition the Iffland-Ring was to be passed to a male actor.
The origins of the ring are shrouded in some mystery and the current Iffland-Ring was most likely the most precious of a set of seven. Of those, only two rings appear to have survived: the current one and a less valuable one which was in the private possession of Wilhelm Burckhardsberg until the 1950s, but which may now be lost, too.
Iffland, a leading actor in his time in Germany, was inspired by the Romanticism, and commissioned the ring, to be carried by the leading German-speaking actor of his time. Iffland's inspiration to have the ring created was most likely the play Nathan the Wise by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing.
The circumstances of where and when Iffland passed on the ring to Ludwig Devrient are uncertain; according to Albert Bassermann, Iffland handed the ring to Devrient in 1814, after his last performance in Breslau. Shortly after, in September 1814, Iffland died in Berlin.
Devrient, a close friend of E.T.A. Hoffmann, whose death in 1822 he never got over, was one of the most gifted actors Germany ever produced, but also a drunkard. He collapsed while performing King Lear and died on 29 December 1832. His choice as his successor to the ring fell on his nephew Emil Devrient.
Much of the history of the ring during this period remains lost. Emil Devrient, and after him Theodor Döring, were gifted but not outstanding actors in Berlin.
From Friedrich Haase onwards, the history of the ring is much better known.
Haase was born in Berlin, as the son of the personal servant of the then crown prince of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm IV. Rumor had it that he was the illegitimate son of a member of the house of Hohenzollern, something Haase used to his advantage.
After early performances in Potsdam and Weimar, Haase moved to Prague, where he had considerable success. His career took him to Karlsruhe, Munich, Frankfurt, St. Petersburg and New York, and he became one of the most successful German actors.
Interestingly, neither Haase nor Döring were ever actually seen with the ring, despite both being known to have been rather vain, and one theory concerning the ring's origins has it that Haase himself had the ring made and invented its history. The now-known history of the ring in any case begins with Haase. Certain discrepancies in the wording of a note found in the case the ring was kept in point in this direction, but can also be quite easily explained otherwise. In particular, the date Haase gives for his receipt of the ring from Döring's widow, 1875, appears wrong as Döring died in 1878.
He left the ring to Albert Bassermann upon his death in 1911. Together with the ring, Haase left a note for Bassermann, dated Berlin, Christmas 1908, in which he declares his regret at their not having known each other much better. He also gives the history of the ring, and that letter became the prime source for future research into its history.
Bassermann never wore the ring himself and named three successors during his lifetime, all of whom he survived.
He outlived his first two choices, Alexander Girardi and Max Pallenberg and upon the death of his third choice, Alexander Moissi, Bassermann placed the ring on top of Moissi's coffin, to cremate the ring alongside his last choice. The director of the Burgtheater, Hermann Röbbeling, saved the ring by taking it off the coffin, declaring that it belonged to a living actor, not a dead one. Bassermann considered the ring cursed after all three actors died shortly after he named them as his successors.
After this incident, Bassermann gave the ring to the Austrian National Library in Vienna, where it remained almost forgotten. In 1946, when Bassermann visited Vienna, Egon Hilbert, director of the Austrian theatre administration, had two meetings with the actor. Bassermann refused to take the ring back and, at the second meeting, declared that Hilbert could do with the ring as he pleased.
Hilbert asked Werner Krauss to take the ring after Bassermann died in 1952 but Krauss refused.
In October 1954, after an extraordinary meeting of the actors' guild, the ring was awarded to Werner Krauss and this time he accepted. Despite protests, especially from the Swiss actors' guild and the fact that the ring was now in private possession of Egon Hilbert, Krauss eventually received the ring. To prevent a repeat of the interregnum, laws were passed, requiring the ring bearer to always nominate a successor.
Krauss received the ring on 28 November 1954 and handed a sealed envelope to the Austrian theatre administration on 12 December, stating his choice of succession.
Like Ludwig Devrient, Krauss collapsed while performing King Lear and died on 20 October 1959, passing the ring to Josef Meinrad, his original choice in 1954. However, his widow later declared that Krauss would have liked to leave the ring to Alma Seidler, but was prevented from doing so by the fact that the ring could only be passed to a male. A female equivalent of the Iffland-Ring, the Alma-Seidler-Ring, was created upon Seidler’s death in 1977.
Meinrad's original choice of successor is not known, but in 1984, he changed his will. Upon his death in 1996, rumors were rife as to which Austrian actor would receive the ring. To the disappointment of many actors at the Burgtheater, the ring was awarded to Switzerland; Meinrad had chosen Bruno Ganz.
The current holder of the Iffland-Ring is Swiss actor Bruno Ganz.
Ganz’s original choice of successor was Gert Voss, who died in July 2014 from leukemia aged 72.Note: Until 1871, Germany did not exist as a country but instead was sub-divided into a number of countries, citizenship before 1871 shown as applicable.
1 Albert Bassermann was considered to be the bearer of the ring until his death in 1952 but did not have the ring in his possession after 1935.
In 1954, three basic laws were enacted concerning the possession of the ring, these being:.The holder of the ring has to determine a successor within three months of receiving the ring.
Should no successor have been appointed or the documents regarding succession be lost, the federal Austrian theatre administration will form a committee to decide on a successor.
The ring is the property of the Republic of Austria, but its future holder is determined by personal decision of the current holder.