Maria Furtwängler-Burda is a daughter of architect Bernhard Furtwängler and actress Kathrin Ackermann, great-niece and step-granddaughter of conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, and granddaughter of politician Katharina von Kardorff-Oheimb. She has two older brothers, David and Felix. She was given her first movie role, for which she earned a bike, at the age of seven in Zum Abschied Chrysanthemen, produced by her uncle Florian Furtwängler. Her mother taught her acting and she later took acting classes in Germany and other countries.
After leaving secondary school, Furtwängler studied medicine at the University of Montpellier, France, and graduated from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany. Afterwards she trained and worked as a medical doctor.
Furtwängler began her acting career in the mid-1990s. Since then, she has acted in German television series and productions such as the Tatort series, as Hanover-based police detective Charlotte Lindholm since 2002, the successful television movies March of Millions, and Die Schicksalsjahre and cinema production The Weather Inside [de] (Das Wetter in geschlossenen Räumen).
For her work in Tatort and March of Millions, Furtwängler was honored with Germany’s most important award in the field of acting. With the movie The Weather Inside she won best actress at the 2morrow festival in Moscow; she was shortlisted in the Deutscher Filmpreis (German film prize). The film opened at the 2016 German Film Festival in New York City.
In 2022, Furtwängler chaired an independent jury that selected Edward Berger’s All Quiet on the Western Front in the race for the 95th Academy Awards in the Best International Feature Film category.
Since its inception in 2005, Furtwängler has been involved in the Burda-sponsored Digital Life Design (DLD) conference series. She annually hosts a joint Burda/DLD networking reception at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos.
In 2010 Furtwängler founded the MALISAhome in the Philippines. For the ONE Campaign, she became a goodwill ambassador for Women, Girls and Child Health. In 2015 she co-signed the ONE Campaign’s open letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, urging them to focus on women. Also in 2015, she interviewed Merkel on development policy issues for the Chancellor’s weekly podcast.
In 2013, after a meeting with Eve Ensler in Berlin, Furtwängler became more involved campaigning to end violence against women and girls in Germany. She is particularly interested in the role of the media in perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes. She has been inspired by the Geena Davis Institute and by the Women’s Media Center in the US.
On International Women’s Day 2016, Furtwängler supported the call of UN Women‘s German National Committee for a reform of the German legislation on sexual violence, based around the No Means No consent principle, which is currently not recognised in Germany. Also on International Women’s Day 2016, she co-authored an op-ed with Manuela Schwesig, the German Minister for family, older people, women, and youth, highlighting the need for a stronger sexual violence law and for an end to stereotyping of women and men, particularly in the media.