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History of German Cabaret

History of German Cabaret

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Alan Lareau

"nervous" metropolitan audience.' But the irony behind Stilpe's dreams is that as a reconciliation of art and entertainment, his "literary variety theater" was a dismal failure: The MomusTheater was a totalfiasco,becauseas a musichall it was "still"too artistic, institution too muchof a musichall. The audiencerejectedthe "little far yet as an artistic bit of literature art"whichwas there,sayingit was alreadytoo much, and the press and with "allthe outrageof polished,elite men"thatthey couldfind no more [.. .] declared literature artin the Momusthan in the Malepartus and DanceHall.2 These words were to be prophetic for the early German cabaret movement. Ernst von Wolzogen opened the first German cabaret, the Buntes Theater or "Colorful Theater" in Berlin in 1901. He envisioned a place for Kleinkunst,miniature, intensive arts which found no place in the "serious" theater. His Uberbrettl, as it was nicknamed (a "Super-Music-Hall," playing on Nietzsche), was no bohemian pub, but rather a stylishly designed theater with regular row seating and a stage with an orchestra pit maintaining distance between the performers and the audience. On the one hand, Wolzogen wanted to be aristocratic and noble; on the other, he tried to be a popular and commercial success, playing for the middle-class who wanted ostentatious but not difficult entertainment. Ultimately, Wolzogen was unable to synthesize his literary authors and classically trained composers with the popular elements. Hanns Heinz Ewers related: Banalities,platitudesof the worst kind, [. . .] and all that nauseatinglysweet candy, which could be made bearableto the more discriminating only by means of the pretty musicandthe slickpresentation, to pleasedtheaudience no end!Butthe audienceignored our finely developedscenes, our intimate,smallworks of art so completelythat it was a distressing.The press demandedartand gave the poor Uberbrettl red markfor every banality;the generalpublic, on the otherhand, demandedfrivolityand was most disgruntledat every little scrapof intimateKleinkunst.3 Wolzogen, fired by his own board of directors during the second season, later called his cabaret a degrading episode of prostitution, "the worst of all his suicides."4 Even a bohemian-styled cabaret like Munich's Elf Scharfrichter ("Eleven Executioners," 1901) saw its mission in very similar terms of uniting the variety theater and serious art, but as the trope became a full-time commercial undertaking, the freshness and quality went out of their performances. Forced to produce material on a regular basis in order to keep the theater afloat, the artists became tired and disillusioned. Many left and were replaced by "mediocre and less-than-mediocre talents who crudified and trivialized the venture's entire image," as a house author

Europe1890-1920. Sketches,Songs, Monologues, Memoirs, ed. Laurence Senelick (New York: PAJ, 1989), 68-69.

'The theoreticalpassage of the novel is availablein translationin Cabaret Volume I: Performance.

2OttoJuliusBierbaum,Stilpe.Ein Roman derFroschperspektive aus (Munich:Knaur,1982), 177-78. 3HannsHeinz Ewers, Das Cabaret (Berlin:Schuster& Loeffler,[1904]),33-34. 4Ernst Wolzogen, WieichmichumsLeben von brachte. und Erinnerungen Erfahrungen (Braunschweig: Westermann,1922),57.




recalled.5There were several bohemian cabarets throughout Germany that were freer and more improvisational than the Elf Scharfrichter(who still maintained a business structure, a troupe, and a monthly program). These were often more like Kiinstleror kneipen "artists'pubs," which are closer to the original French notion of the cabaret as a pub where poets could recite their works to a new public. But we must not forget that even here, commerce was a central element, as artists and restauranteurs sought publicity and income through these podiums. The German word Kabarett cropped up around 1910, used for an entertainmentoriented, somewhat literary, small music hall. Tailoredto the pleasure-seeking public, the wealthy Berliners and the tourists in search of the legendary decadence of the modern Babylon, the cabarets before the First World War stressed two things: conspicuous consumption and eroticism.
A great deal of champagne is consumed and a great number of cigarettes. On the stage stands a black grand piano, at which genuinely lovely music is occasionally produced. tries to emit clever Occasionally. But usually just reheated popular tunes. A conferencier twitters a little song, which, words of introduction between each "number," a chanteuse because the author's name is mentioned, is considered "literature."An elegant gentleman comic tells some jokes and acts out verses of a coupletin a charming way: a daring remark, a juicy punch line-people smile, they laugh, they applaud, they sip a bit of champagne, they flirt with the lady at their table or at another table, and the "real"ladies are delighted that they can sit in the midst of such a "stunningly interesting" mileu for a few hours.6

Kabarett longer signified "artistic"intentions; to most people it more likely meant no "spicy punch lines" and "champagne." The censor hindered much topical humor (though not smut), but it appears unlikely that the general public was even interested in any degree of political or social satire, or any serious literature. Wolzogen had hoped to "improve" his audience's taste with light literature and topical humor. He soon discovered that most of his audience did not want their taste improved; they preferred luxurious music hall fare. Soon most cabaret directors chose to make concessions to their audience's prejudices and narrowmindedness, avoiding anything that was controversial or "difficult."
People wanted to have fun, laugh, watch with food, drink and cigars-you can't do that in the theater. They wanted to be entertained without having to think. And so specialty acts, downright variety theater numbers, gradually drifted into the cabaret. Magicians, jugglers, child prodigies, ventriloquists, professional whistlers, musical clowns, animal voice imitators, acrobatic dancers, dance comics, even somnambulists and hypnotists stage, and the more frequently this was the case, the more stepped onto the Kleinkunst the special character of the cabaret was lost.7

5Hannsvon Gumppennberg,Lebenserinnerungen, quoted in Peter Jelavich,Munichand Theatrical Modernism HarvardUniversity Press, 1985), 183. Jelavich'sstudy contains a detailed (Cambridge: Modernism:Between Political Aggression and history of this cabaret in the chapter "Cabaretic Aesthetic Intimacy,"139-85. 6EdmundEdel, "UberBerlinerKabaretts," Theater 24 (August 1910):542. 1: Das Kabaretts des der nebst Cotta,DerKabarettkiinstler, einem 7Johannes Abrifl Geschichte deutschen (Leipzig: Beyer, [1925]),20-21.



Alan Lareau

"Artless, without poetry, castrated, the cabaret continues to vegetate in Berlin," the anarchist poet Erich Muhsam lamented.8 The dilemma of mediating between the public taste and the ideals of artistic style was to plague the cabaret of the Weimar Republic. II. Cabaret During the Era of Inflation (1918-1923) The economic situation in Germany after the war was bleak and ripe with tension. As the result of government loans to pay for the war and the high reparations demanded by the allied victors, the new German government was forced to devalue its currency by printing new money. By late 1923, money was no longer worth the paper it was printed on. The middle-class lost everything; those who had property or were in a position to manipulate financially (especially through the black market) became incredibly rich. As their cash lost value from one day to the next, the best these wealthy profiteers and speculators could do was to spend it-on anything. This made the times ripe for an unheard of luxury industry catering to the new rich. Exclusive bars, restaurants, and night clubs filled Berlin after the war; in 1922, there were 38 cabarets in the city.9 More often than not, the cabaret was a thinly-veiled excuse for rip-off, as it was called in the vernacular, Nepp. Attention focused on the glittering surface: opulent interiors, pompously overrated performers, and a great deal of nudity for the wealthy men who wanted to consume their day's earnings as conspicuously as possible in their tuxedos with overpriced champagne and bejewelled ladies of shady repute. One might not expect a time of such political and economic chaos to be favorable to entertainment, but cabarets and amusement flourished, as a means of escape on one hand, but on the other and perhaps more importantly, as a means of coming to grips with the strange new environment. Although popular culture often contains topical elements, social conditions and contemporary topics are unusually well represented in popular songs directly after the war. Using everyday themes such as inflation, bankruptcy, apartment shortages, fashions, bars, dance trends, these Schlager conjure up and often irreverently mock the changing morality, the petty hypocrisies and lunacy of the times, counselling optimism and pleasure. Laughter, alcohol, and dancing are the recipes ironically offered to distract from the grey misery of dayto-day existence. Though not political or critical (politicians and current events are notably absent), this was a new type of brash and topical popular song, reflecting how ripe the atmosphere was for satiricalcabaretentertainment. Small, topical revues abounded, playing on contemporary conditions in Berlin. That is not to say that these songs and revues were necessarily progressive, for many of these numbers were vague and politically confused. Nonetheless, they signal a strengthened attempt by entertainers and audience alike to deal with their environment through popular culture.

8ErichMiihsam, AusgewdhlteWerke,ed. Christlieb Hirte, vol. 2 (Berlin [GDR]: Volk und Welt, 1978), 25. 9RainerOtto and Walter R6sler, Kabarettgeschichte. des Kabaretts (Berlin [GDR]: Abrif3 deutschsprachigen Henschelverlag, 1981), 78.




The end of censorship after the fall of the monarchy in 1918 promised to pave the way to a new openness on the stage, as performers would finally be able to take a stand on contemporary issues and address the daily concerns of the audience. The result, however, was disappointing. For the lifting of restrictions did not bring about a wave of political entertainment, but rather a flood of obscenity and nudity worse than before. "The gates to intellectual freedom had been opened, but at the same time the door was cast wide for all the parasites of art, who, in their businesslike fashion, speculated on the most lowly instincts of the mass and were not ashamed to prostitute art."'0Critics in the field cried themselves hoarse damning the explicitness of the dirty jokes in the repertoires, which no longer even tried to offer witty double entendre, let alone use eroticism as a means of political satire. These songs and focused solely on "the organs of reproduction digestionas well as their functions," as another cabaret author wrote.11One commentator offered an example of this now forgotten fare:
Wie's erstmal, vom Automat, Zigarren und Bier holt', wie fatal, Da sagt ein Madchen zu mir keck, Sie hatt's reinstecken besser weg. (The first time I went to buy cigars and beer from a machine-how embarrasing!-a brash girl told me she was better at sticking it in.)12

"Sure, people were dirty before, too," admitted a critic. "But they were witty. [. . .] Today they're just crude."'3 The humorist Charlie Roellinghoff sarcastically described another typical routine:
The conf6rencier's contact to the audience often consists of witty jests about the hygienic needs of temporarily disappearing guests. When the ladies or gentlemen return to their tables, he releases the long-saved but easily available punch line: "Don't worry, I don't have a ... (stressing the following) stool either!" (A small pause, then:) "I have to stand up here!!!" (Pause for laughter.) And more such imbecilities.l4

The audience (mostly profiteers and the new rich, for they were the only ones who could afford the exorbitant prices in these establishments) was not interested in hearing about current events and problems; they came to the cabaret to forget that. "Everything is just done out of the secure conviction that the audience doesn't want to get upset, be shocked, and by no means be forced to think in the cabaret."'5 And so what passed as a political couplet was when
the well-fed tuxedo-owner curses the expensive and poor quality food, clothes, the exchange rate, the profiteers, and other themes easily overheard on street corners, and I0W. 581 Rath-Rex,"Ohne Zensur,"Das Organder Varietewelt (10 January1920):2. "Dr.Allos, "'Gemachte'Kabarett-Literatur," 1921, (Diisseldorf: Kabarett-Jahrbuch ed. Miiller-Miiller Druck & ReklameGmbH, 1921),22. "2Paul Schneider,"Allerhanddurcheinand,"quoted in WillyBinger, "Das politischeCoupletund 569 die Zote!"Das OrganderVarite'welt (18 October1919):3. Berliner 25:6:2. Leben 3Vigo,"Kabarett," Filmund Brettl5: 21/22 (late December1923):8. '4C.K. Roellinghoff,"NamenloseBrettltypen," 2 der des '5Manfred Schaffer,"Kritik Kabarettes," Spectactulum Retorte (October1922):99.



Alan Lareau

reminds us with a wet eye how cheap everything was earlier. [. . .] Or: He flashes his eyes, puffs out his starched shirt, curses like a dog about the ententeand the League of Nations, screams: "We're unvanquished, we were raped, our brave soldiers, stabbed in
the back [. .]."16

Any politics which went beyond clihces and prejudices did not make money-smut did. In vain writers called out to the performers and artists to practice self-restraint, to maintain a level of moral integrity.17 The effect of this fare, they feared, was "to strengthen the apathetic audience in its intellectual laziness."'8 In opposition to this brand of commercial night club, a new movement sprang up hoping to reform the cabaret and offer the art which the others had lost sight of. "LiterarischesKabarett"or "literary cabaret" was a term which became popular in these years, as once the nickname "Uberbrettl"had signified a revolution of culture and taste.19Therefore several authors, including Tucholsky and Mehring, insisted on using the original French word "Cabaret"instead of popular "Kabarett,"which had come to signify only entertainment and vulgar consumption.20Artists who saw their work as more than just a way to make money founded small and modest locales, without the notorious public dancing and barmaids, shifting the emphasis from the restaurant to the stage performance. In these small, less commercial cabarets, new attention was paid to delivering a repertoire of intellectual quality, recruited from the works of modern authors of repute, with poetry, social and political chansons, ballads, parodies, and often a special attention to sketches and one-acts-as well as popular songs, dancers, and traditional humorist fare. Performersalso read and sang their own works. One of the most famous literary cabarets of the era was Schall und Rauch (Sound and Smoke, 1919), a revival of Max Reinhardt's 1901 parody theater. Director Rudolf Kurtz explained the aims of the new stage:
A cabaret, that was clear to me, a cabaret must havean idea. Not something journalistic, nothing the theater can also do-but it has to want something

or other.

1Dr. Allos, "'Gemachte'Kabarett-Literatur," 24. Das Organ 7WillyBunger, "Das politische Couplet und die Zote," 1-3; Fox-Trot,"Selbstzucht," derVarietewelt (17 May 1919):9. 547 "ErichSchoch, "Erotik Kabarett," Kiinstlerbrettl 2 (September1921), 14. im Das 3: Germancabarethistoriestend to distinguishbetween "literarisches '9Postwar Kabarett' turn of as the centurycabaret Kabarett" the satirical as cabaret (especiallythe Uberbrettl), "politisch-literarisches of the WeimarRepublic,and "politisch-satirisches Kabarett" afterthe Second WorldWar.See Klaus Budzinski, Das Kabarett. bis Zeitkritik-gesprochen, gesungen,gespielt-von derJahrhundertwende heute it ECON,1985),120-121.Thissystematization, (Dusseldorf: however, is not only artificial, contradicts the historicaluse of the term "literarisches which only surfacedand becamepopularafter Kabarett," the First World War, replacing the worn and discredited name "Uberbrettl." The label "politicalfor literary" the cabaretof this era only evolved after 1945. 20Later poles shifted when, around 1924,Max Hermann-NeiiBe the the appropriated term Kabarett in a positive sense to mean satiricaland intellectualcabaret.This meaning has stuck with the word in Germanytoday, whereas Cabaret signifies merely amusement or even a strip joint.




You understand: the task is to supplement a dinner, a glass of wine, with a dose of intellect, without disturbing you.21 This cabaret was an artistic failure, however, largely due to the huge cellar in which it was located, seating 1100 people. There was no possibility of intimacy here, and the artists were disappointed by the management's constant accommodation to popular taste. "It's all too sad," author Kurt Tucholsky wrote, "here too the concessions to the consumers, id est audience, who are generally awful. A genuine literary cabaret wouldn't work anyways. It's a real shame."22 Other artists, such as author-composer Friedrich Hollaender or the poet Joachim Ringelnatz, left the theater in frustration and bitterness. During the second season, the cabaret was leased to a large entertainment firm, which announced "that in conscious divergence from its previous literary direction, they would run it against literature" and reopened it as a beer hall with entertainment.23 The actress and singer Trude Hesterberg used a different strategy to develop the literary cabaret in her Wilde Biihne (Wild Stage, 1921). Hesterberg tried to educate her listeners to appreciate modem literature, carefully combining text, music, costume, and staging to make the meaning "comprehensible to the audience."24 Kurt Pinthus wrote of his surprise discovery that something of quality was actually happening in the cabaret: Every year I go to cabarets about three times, only to discover that this is still the most boring and run-down art form of our degenerate epoch. [ . .] I'd rather to go a suburban movie theater and see a worn-out copy of "Memoirs of a Chamber-Pot"! But I enjoyed the Wilde Biihne, for it seems to be [. . .] the best type of Berlin cabaret imaginable at the moment. At least it's on its way there. And even if it accomplished no more than making people perk up their ears, eyes, and nerves for a few hours and recognize the possibilities of the cabaret-that would be enough of an accomplishment.25 Many contemporaries considered Hesterberg's stage (which closed in 1924) the peak of the cabaret movement between the wars. "A German cabaret is beginning to grow," wrote Franz Schulz in the Neue Schaubiihne in 1921.26 But despite its idealistic character, even the "literary" cabaret movement was plagued by the fundamental weaknesses evident in the cabaret of the day. What sounded so noble in theory often emerged very differently in practice. This was most visibly evidenced in the fashion of Dirnenlieder, the notorious whores' songs which dominated the cabaret repertoire around 1920. These formulaic role-song lyrics in-

2'RudolfKurtz, "CaptatioBenevolentiae,"SchallundRauch1 (December1919):1. 2KurtTucholskyto Hans ErichBlaich,6 March1920, in KurtTucholsky,Ausgewahlte 1913Briefe and 1935, ed. Mary Gerold-Tucholsky FritzJ. Raddatz(Reinbek:Rowohlt, 1962), 76. Zukunft von Schall und Rauch,"Berliner 23"Die 2 Birsen-Courier, March 1921, quoted in Walter im Kabarett 1901-1933(Berlin[GDR]:Henschelverlag,1980), 362. Rosler,Das Chanson deutschen 24Friedrich Ein Victor, " 'Angewandte Cabarettkunst.' Interview mit Trude Hesterberg,"Charlottenburger Zeitung(NeueZeit),4 November 1922. 2Kurt Pinthus, "Kabarett. 17 Beispiel:Wilde Biihne,"AchtUhrAbendblatt, October1923. 2Franz Schulz, "Les Gaillardsdu Cabaret,"Die Neue Schaubiihne 7 (October1921):156. 3:




evitably began with the pronouncement "Ich bin eine Dime" ("I'm a whore") or other openings of the "I am a . .."variety. Author Charlie Roellinghoff complained sarcasticallythat they were "obliged to contain the words 'pimp,' 'whore,' 'bordello,' and 'throw up' at least three times each."27 Cabarethumorist Paul Morgan described such a routine: The momentshe appears,red light flashes on-that means sensualityand lust. Things like that are always done with electriclight. And she begins: "I'ma whore .. ." She and says it rightout with musicalaccompaniment red light. It's a whore'ssong and has at least twenty verses. The audienceis well-versed.She tells her listenersthat she is forcedto walkthe streetsat night, to addressmen, in orderto get money.Butshe doesn't

"mammon"-namelyvile mammon.I've spoken with women of this profession,but I don't thinkthatthey use the expression"vilemammon" too frequently. the most But all upsettingthing is the last verse. Greenlight is turnedon, for the sensualityis done for, and the girl sobs: "I'vehad enough of this existence,I'm drawinga thickline through
my life- .. ." and she walks this line off of the stage.28

say "money." The word "money" would be too prosaic. She always sings that she gets

These songs were featured on the lowest and finest stages, including Hesterberg's Wilde Buhne, and they were for many the epitome of the lack of character in even the most literary cabaret. For despite their ostensible tone of social disaffection, we must remember that these pieces were written for an audience of stylish pleasureseekers. The dirty, vulgar milieu of the underworld held a romantic attraction for the bourgeois viewer, who was not shocked, but instead perversely titillated by the misery displayed for his money. Soon cabarets started to call themselves "literary"just to appear a bit more upscale and fashionable. More and more negative voices surfaced in condemnation of this self-proclaimed "literary cabaret." Poet Walter Mehring called it romanticism and shallow escapism.29Another accused it of offering underhanded pornography in the doubted it would be a fruitful guise of art.30A writer for Das Organ der Variteewelt experiment: The questionis: will it be possiblenow to realizethe conceptof a literary cabaret,after it failedtwo decadesago?I don'tbelieveso. Because morethanany other,literary cabaret is dependenton a limitedspace.It needs unusuallyfirst-class colleagues.In the resulting admissionand refreshments climbto incredible heights. The audiencewhich can afford such pricescouldn'tcareless aboutliterature-moreso today than ever before.No establishment live from the circleswhich appreciate Kleinkunst, a stress on can with real the second syllable["art"]. Those people can hardlyaffordto go with free tickets.The new rich are victoriouslytakingover the field. Once in a while, as an exception,they
conflict of necessary income and possibleincome, necessity prevails. And so the prices for

K. 27C. Roellinghoff,"NamenloseBrettltypen," 9. 28Paul Das Kabarett," Kabarett-Jahrbuch ed. Miller-Muller(Dusseldorf: 1922, Morgan,"Literarisches 1922),46. Industrie-Verlag, 29Walter Berliner 31 Merhing, "Conferencezum utopischen Kabarett," Tageblatt, December 1920 (morningedition). R. 30M. Jiihemann,"Die zehnte Muse," Germania, October1921(morningedition). 16



will allow something"literary" be served to them, too. But then they screamfor the to usual fareagainwhich they can digest withoutintellectual effort.31 Those who meant the literary and artistic reform of the cabaret stage found it almost impossible to assert themselves without becoming commercial and catering to the broad public's taste. III. Cabaret in the Period of Economic Stabilization (1924-1929) By the mid 1920s, the cabaret had virtually lost its vanguard impetus. This was partly due to the degeneration and commercialization shortly before and especially during the war. Despite attempts to revive the cabaret during the years after the war, on the whole it was unable to compete, swamped by the entertainment industry and lacking the educated audience it hoped for, which could no longer afford such luxuries. Few people still believed that this was the form with which to revolutionize art and literature, as Bierbaum and Wolzogen had once hoped. When we read the critiques and essays of the day, which appeared mostly in specialist journals, we find them empty and removed. They no longer have the sense of purpose, the polemic strength, and the conviction we find in the old manifestoes. Actually, these are not manifestoes at all; they are just articles by insiders for insiders, struggling to maintain the legitimation of a long since discredited art. The cabaret is absent from the hot literarydiscussions which surrounded the revolution and the re-orientation of literary life. A few people had tried to hold on to the goal of uniting art and entertainment in small locales, and there was a new, albeit limited attempt to politicize entertainment. But in the end it did not pay. Other forms were starting to attract the attention of those intellectuals who hoped to find a new function for art and literature and reach broader audiences. The new medium of film diverted much of the energies and interest. Like the variety theater it was a "low" art, which had itself started in the variety theaters. Some early manifestoes call for the use of film to bring together art and literature for a mass audience, recalling the ideas of the old movement for a literary variety theater and "applied art." The popular entertainment form which distracted most of the interest from the cabaret, however, was the revue, which became a new aesthetic phenomenon in itself, debated with as much ferocity as the Uberbrettl had been. Once the variety theater represented the rebellion against the serious theater; now the revue, which seemed even more innovative and anti-intellectual, took its place as "the polar extreme to classical drama": Ostentation,color,nudity, the newest jokes, excitingmusic, tempo, clowning,tension, fashion, blasphemy,patheticintoxication, somethingfor the heart, smut, irony-these areits props.That'swhat today'sman wants, who, worn down and tired,no longerhas the energy to solve problemsin the evening.32

Das 618 3E. K., "Literarische Kabaretts," OrganderVarietewelt (25 September1920):7. 3H. H. Stuckenschmidt,"Lobder Revue,"Tanzin dieser Zeit, ed. Paul Stefan (Vienna:Universal, 1926),63.



Alan Lareau

The huge revues of Hermann Haller, James Klein, and EricCharell were both praised as a technically and thematically up-to-date form and condemned as brainless "events of well-dressed rabble, in order to kill time."33Other notions of art which came to Germany from Russia, such as constructivism or the growing workers' culture movement, on the other hand, indicated that the culinary, consumer-oriented art of cabaret was outmoded. For cabaret, caught between the extremes, was still an intimate bourgeois enclave for an economic if not intellectual elite. The "masses," which were the new audience on everybody's mind, could not be reached by this form. Nor was it, with its call to simplicity and individual personality, open to the kind of technological advances of other arts. The cabaret simply no longer appeared "modern." Later came yet another form which seemed to open new horizons to artists: the radio. By the mid twenties, it was clear that the cabaret was no longer the form for an avant-garde, and there were no artists of repute who continued to work with the form or express an interest in it. Tucholsky, Mehring, Herrmann-Neifie, and others had more or less turned their backs on it. The cabaret authors of the second half of the Republic are names which we know only as humorists and journalists, if at all: Max Kolpe, Hanns Christof Schulz, Julian Arendt, Frank Gtinther, or Karl Schnog.34 After the tensions of inflation ended abruptly with restabilization of currency at the end of 1923 and the institution of the Dawes plan, a new period of stagnation began for the cabaret. The gaudy entertainments of the new rich retreated, but what bits of literary, topical, satirical,experimental cabaretthere were also faded. In January 1926, critic Max Herrmann-NeiBfewrote: The attitudeof the cabaretscorrespondsto the general currentsituation:great risks, are discoveries not to be expectedany more,peopleare shockingupheavals,sensational which developedafterall the blossoming tryingto solidifythe conditionof compromise and wilting of genuinelyaggressive,experimental, cabarets.35 artistically revolutionary This had economic reasons, of course, for there was now a broad, middle-class audience; the result was an entertainment industry where amusement became consumption of mass-produced distractions. The change in characterwas also, however, due in part to a new feeling of satisfaction and complacency. Without the social, economic, and intellectual unrest of the inflation years, general interest in current events, satire, and the more criticalbrand of cabaret seems to have died down. This is most evident in popular songs. Where the inflation tunes were marked by topicality, the new songs, strongly influenced by the American entertainment industry, were

33Walter 6: Harlan, quoted in "Zeitgenossen iiber die Revue," Der Querschnitt 1 (1926):86. On Berlinrevues of the WeimarRepublic,see WolfgangJansen, Glanzrevuen zwanziger der Jahre (Berlin Funktionen Heinrichschofen,1977).The chorus girls of these shows (Wilhelmshaven: Typen,Inhalte, became a much-discussedaesthetic phenomenon. 3Although Erich Kastnerwrote a few pieces for cabarets, and his poems were popular in the cabaret,he was not really a cabaretauthor in the 1920s, as is often believed. Kastneronly started writing extensively for cabaretsafter 1945.
35MaxHerrmann-Neife, Revue in Berlin und Wien 1900-1938. [West]: Hentrich, 1987) and Franz-Peter Kothes, Die theatralische

Zweitausendeins, 1988), 191-92. (Frankfurt/M:

Kabarett.Schriftenzum Kabarettund zur bildendenKunst, ed. Klaus Volker




sentimental love songs and silly nonsense tunes ("novelty songs"). The period from 1924 to 1929 was an age of Americanism, capitalism, and an icy "objectivity" with often appeared as apathy.
cabaret seems to me to be dying out."36 What flourished, he wrote, was just "sur-

Already in March 1924, Herrmann-NeiBe observed: "The intellectual, aggressive

rogate" and imitation, without originality and character-"just entertainment spots of about the same niveau, each with its own special way of catering to the audience's taste."37"Even the elegant cabaret which cultivated well-bred eroticism is only a historical memory; the cultured, sophisticated audience is missing."38A November 1925 critique of the current cabaret scene opened:
Is there a real cabaret left in Berlin? The establishments which call themselves such seem to forfeit any serious evaluation and to reject outright the cultivation of an independent cabaret art (as a fully emancipated genre with its own tasks, possibilities, and limits). They prefer to call themselves Kleinkunststages, dance cabarets, Kiinstlerspiele; they promise "variety theater sensations" and revues. The stubborn defender of the ideal cabaret who refuses to believe the cabaret of niveau is done for at the moment goes searching once more. And in November he is even more disappointed; this case, too, seems to be sinking rapidly into hopelessness. Worse than in all the other arts, sloth rules here: over and over one encounters the same people with exactly the same rattled-off repertoire which has had to serve since Olim's days. Without reason, a similarly disgraceful situation prevails in Berlin cabarets today as in the variety theater and cabarets of the war years, where the seclusion and isolation forced them to restrict themselves to the constant repetition of the same homebred numbers. The variety theater has long since found its way back to the free, international competition; the tour through the Berlin cabarets, however, is a circular train ride through the same stations over and over, more horrible than before.39

After 1924, the German cabaret suffered from a lack of development which shocked in the press condemning the cabaret;the circus and variety theater journal Der Artist complained of the "persecution" under which the cabaret suffered and reprinted a nasty article it had received:
What is cabaret?The podium of original brainlessness. The boards which are not just crooked, but also slippery. At best a stage for margin notes. The number of cabarets is in inverse proportion to a city's intellectual niveau. Like a card game, visiting a cabaret serves to fill out empty hours. That is why mostly mankind, who is always bored, makes use of both. Schopenhauer called playing cards the surrogate for thoughts. Cabaretis also a surrogate for taste. [. . .] I recommend to the cabarets that they slowly die out. Then the poets will begin to love them and sing their praises like the dying carnivals today.40 even its most committed supporters. Nobody seemed happy. Bitter articles surfaced

3Ibid., 140. 149, 177. 37Ibid., 174. 38Ibid., 182-83. 39Ibid., 40Zack,"Ein Verleumdungsfeldzuggegen die Kleinkunst,"Der Artist 2184 (28 October 1927): 1-2.



Alan Lareau

Repeatedly, critics diagnosed a "crisis" in the art, and there was even recurrent talk of its "death." "Why can the cabaret, that adorable Kleinkunst,neither live nor die? It is a very strange state of agony in which one finds it, and in which it lives," wrote one in 1926.41 Another said that cabaret was "in a crisis and looking for new forms," and after a talent search, director Kurt Robitschek announced: "This art form has died out, there are only dance palaces where mediocre Kleinkunstis served between charleston and cheese, soup and foxtrot."42 an article on the "Low Point In of the Cabaret" Paul Nikolaus, one of the best and most critical conferenciers the of era, blamed all involved parties for the failure. The cabaret fromthe uncritical ails attitudeof the audience,fromthe lackof discipline andapathyof theperforming fromthe "consumption" whichthe directors artists, industry have made out of it. It cannotbe saved with some financial economicexperiments. can only be saved or It when someone with an artisticconscience,with a resolutesense of direction,founds a cabaret with a program consistingof artistswho are seriousenough not to considerthe cabaret supplemental a income.43 This meant, however, that people had to take it seriously as "art"--and that was even less the case than ever before. The same old call was still going out: "Cabaret and variety theater are arts, too-hear that, you self-important literary men."44The appeal was still in vain. Nobody was willing to believe it. The representative stage of the era, the Kabarettder Komiker (Comedians' Cabaret) harbored what survived of the reform-minded literary cabaret of the inflation years, but it also reflected the change in the mentality and market of the new times. Founded in 1924, the "KadeKo"abandoned the ensemble format and booked performers on a monthly basis. With totally changing programs and no sense of artistic unity or focus, this establishment is well characterized as a "warehouse" of light entertainment.45 The KadeKo offered a two-part program, combining a cabaret section of and a one-act musical, operetta, parody, songs and specialty acts (with conference) or play in the second (ranging from Robert Stolz to Chekhov and Heinrich Mann, as well as many products of directors Paul Morgan and Kurt Robitschek). In format then, it was more like the variety theater than the intimate literarycabarets, especially after moving into its own large theater seating 950 (with tables)-the first theater with smoking in Berlin. The focus was clearly on humor and entertainment (the programme journal Die Frechheit,"Impudence," bore the subtitle "A Magazine of Humor"), but stars of the literary cabaret also appeared. Politically, the programs were non-committal; a 1926 program essay rejected politics outright: "no matter what the viewpoint, it's not interesting!"46
41T. L. Witthuhn, "A propos Cabaretund Sonstiges!"Der Kritiker (July 1926):108. G. 8 9: 4Wolfgang Bardach,"Kleinkunst,"Der Kritiker 3 (25 March 1927):39; Kurt Robitschek,"Ich entdecke!"Die Frechheit (September1926):1-2. 10 43Paul NeueSchaubiihne 2 (1925):87. 5: Nikolaus, "Tiefstanddes Kabaretts," 40. "WolfgangBardach,"Kleinkunst," wir Kabarett gewissen einer Ktihn, ed. Hoppla, beben. 45Volker (Weinheim:Quadriga,1988), Republik 211. 5 4Kurt Robitschek,"Schreium Hilfe," Die Frechheit (January1926):1-3.



Director Kurt Robitschek led an ongoing battle against the press and against his audience, upbraiding them for their bad behavior and their bad taste and pleading with them to give his theater its artistic due. In bitter programmatic articles opening each monthly program booklet, he accused critics and writers of being unfairly prejudiced against the cabaret and idealizing the "legitimate" theater, of not taking his brand of art seriously. Through eight years of Die Frechheit,Robitschek moans and groans that everybody is unfair to him, that everyone else is to blame for the problems of his theater: the public, the critics, the bureaucrats, the performers, the authors, the architects. He said himself that he had made enemies of nearly everybody. For him, as Kurt Tucholsky once wrote, the cabaret was a most unhappy love. A few other cabarets undertook more or less ill-fated experiments hoping to make the form more modern and relevant. Often they tended to be merely technical devices, not fundamental innovations, such as the suggestion of Film und Brettl as early as 1919 that film be incorporated into cabaret performances-but only as a set or background technique to increase the believability and comic effect.47The cabaret Der krumme Spiegel (The Crooked Mirror)sported a formal invention with its conference through loudspeakers, but this was merely technology for its own sake, and actually it defeated the very purpose of the cabaretby abolishing the personal contact between the stage and the audience.48Another Berlin establishment interrupted its entertainment program with an academic lecture about marriage and sexuality, but again it was a dubious innovation: The lectureitself is nothingnew. Whatis new is that it is held for this audiencein this place.And if a few of the audiencememberswere shakenup out of the usual two-faced a tragedywas nippedin the bud, then morality little,if here and therea growingmarital the wise words are useful in a place like this, too. But if you watched the listeners throughoutthe evening, you could wonderif they were still thinkingaboutthe theory which was present;in here. They were more concernedwith the "reality" proclaimed interorderto enliventheirsense of beautythey boughtsome of the nude photographs untilat the end they couldtakethe view offeredforsale and waitedimpatiently mittently of the some of the usual "livingstatues"with them into theirdreams.49 To broaden their appeal, cabarets made increasing use of theater stars and variety theater specialty acts, with the result that the unique character of the cabaret was lost. Several establishments turned into one-act theaters and abandoned the cabaret format entirely. One of the more scandalous experiments in the history of the German cabaret was the Berlin troupe Kabarettder Namenlosen (Cabaretof the Nameless Ones), founded by Elow (ErichLowinsky) in 1926. Few realize that the acid cabaret episode in Erich is Kastner's 1931 novel Fabian based on this authentic model. Here a man invites the to this new sensation: "An inventive fellow has gathered up half-crazies protagonist and lets them sing and dance. He pays them a few marks, and they let the audience

47Viktor,"Wege zum Film-Brettl," Film und Brettl 8 (Late July 1919): 1-2. 4Max Hermann-Neifie, Kabarett,310-11. 49Geno Ohlischlaeger, "Ehegliickskurse im Kabarett," Der Querschnitt 1928: 807.




insult them and ridicule them."50 Ostensibly founded with the purpose of discovering and supporting fresh talent, the enterprise turned into shallow, sadistic entertainment in the style of the recent American television hit "The Gong Show." Director and Elow ran a newspaper ad inviting new talents to perform in his Monday conferencier shows. The ambitious would-be stars unwittingly made fools of themselves night before an audience racked with laughter. A young man with flyingmaneand somberbrowappeared.He held one hand on his manner,and declaredto back,like Napoleon,tossed his head backwith a domineering the shudderingaudiencethat he would now recitea seriouspoem. He shouldn'thave done that, for what he recitedwas one of the best parodiesof a seriouspoem. But the young man didn't notice that, he rolledhis eyes and baredhis teeth. Thepoem was abouta young fellow'slove fora girl.Butthe storyended tragically, very tragically. it was applauseand just thunderedmoreloudly. Then the finalverse came, which ran
approximately: "And with wild desire the knife he thrust The more tragic it became, the more the audience laughed. The young man thought

Deep in maiden'sbuddingbreast!" The young man wiped the sweat fromhis forehead.But the moved audiencealmost fell undertheirchairslaughing.51 The Kabarett der Namenlosen caused a stir in the press, which was filled with articles pro and con. Some insisted that there really were occasional talents here and that its was "the first new idea in German cabaret in years."52One even called it a "new path to the Kleinkunst stage."53But most were shocked by the brutality of the audience, which even threw things at the performers. It was "the cleverest exploitation of stagefright and the longings of adolescent and grown-up dilettantes, for the sake of better consumption in an otherwise unprofitable bar."54 Peter Sachse, director of a number of Berlin cabarets, wrote of the performers: "One ought to exterminate them by selling hand grenades in machines in the men's bathroom. [. . .] But what can you do? The audience demands this outrageous garbage. It surges in every evening in huge crowds."55When Elow tried to improve his programs and get "literary,"he discovered the audience was not interested. "No matter how much effort he put into it, it didn't help; he could recite the most beautiful and best things-

seldorferMittag, 11 June 1929.

5Erich Kastner, Gesammelte vol. Schriften Erwachsene, 2 (Zurich:Atrium, 1969), 57-58. The fir seventh chapterof Kistner's novel is based on his own review, "Kabarett Namenlosen," Diisder

5H. P., "Talentean die Kabarett-Front!" unattributedclipping in the MartaMierendorffExile Collection(File5, Folder7: "Kritken/Artikel ELOW"), MaxKadeInstituteof Austrian-Germaniiber Swiss Studies, Universityof SouthernCalifornia. unattributed 52Jo Tordy,"DieKonigeder nachtlichtenFriedrichstralge," clippingin M. Mierendorff Collection,File 5, Folder7. 53K. "Einneuer Weg zur Kleinkunstbuhne. Namenlosen auf dem Brettl,"Deutsche Die S., Zeitung, 8 June 1926(M. MierendorffCollection). 5Heinz Pol, "Die Namenlosen. Bajazzides Podiums," Vossische Zeitung,27 July 1926 (M. Mierendorff Collection). 1982),288.
erzdhlen,ed. Frauke Deifiner-Jenssen (Berlin [GDR]: Henschelverlag, 55DiezehnteMuse. Kabarettisten



the people screamed for his invention, there was nothing to be done. At first he suffered a bit; in the meanwhile he's probably gotten used to it."56 Another form to build on the cabaret-this time more successfully-were the small "cabaret revues" of composers Rudolf Nelson, Mischa Spoliansky, and Friedrich Hollaender. These shows returned to regular theater seating like the Uberbrettl had used, without food and drink or smoking, as cabaret purists of the old school, such as Johannes Cotta, demanded.57Though more formal than the old cabaret, they were on a much smaller scale than the famous production-style revues, sporting a small stage with the band (or just two pianos) on stage. With a motif or even a slight semblance of plot, strengthened by an ensemble character, these programs had a sense of unity and focus unlike the disjointed "number" format of cabarets or the star system of the revues. Marcellus Schiffer and Mischa Spoliansky's 1928 revue Es liegt in der Luft (It's in the Air) was one of the year's sensations. Both had worked in the literary cabaret of Trude Hesterberg; now they tried to reach a new audience by building on theater and revue elements. Their show portrayed life as a department store, going through the specialties-toys, novelties, perfume, bridal shop, art, sporting goods, music, theater tickets, sales tables, remnants, lost and found, and information-and ending in the customer service office, where everybody wants to exchange their unsatisfying lives. Reviewers lauded the synthesis of the cabaret's wit and satire with the energy and broad appeal of the revue. "The best summer entertainment for well-dressed asked why the revue was people," wrote Herbert Ihering.58But the BerlinerTageblatt so "shallow and trite" in political matters when there were critical parliamentary elections coming up. "Why? Because like in the department store which forms the backdrop for this revue, they want to be neutral, for God's sake, so that no customer leaves without buying and paying."59 IV. Cabaret in the Period of Depression and Political Polarization (1929-1933) If one believes the cabaret histories, German cabaret after the economic crisis of 1929 came back to its senses, breaking free of the entertainment industry and, fully aware of its political responsibility, practiced radical social criticism, often working closely with the workers' movement. On the whole, however, this transformation did not take place. The radicalization that is evident in literature and the arts of the late Republic is only partially reflected in the cabaret. There is a popular saying that cabaretprospers in times of economic and political unrest, for then it has controversy and the public concerns on which to build. This would seem to be evidenced by the

1111 (15 March1930) (M. MierElow," Das Organder Varietewelt 6Jan Jiirgen, "Nachwuchs/XVI. endorff Collection). 62-63. Cotta, Der Kabarettkiinstler, 57Johannes und Theater Film, vol. 2 (Berlin[GDR]: bis 58Herbert Ihering, VonReinhardt Brecht.VierJahrzehnte Aufbau, 1959),338. 16 59"'Es liegt in der Luft.' Revue in der 'Komodie,'" Berliner Tageblatt, May 1928.



Alan Lareau

fall of the literary cabaret in 1924. Yet in 1931, Kurt Robitschek wrote: "The political insecurity has particularlyhurt the cabaretartisticallyand economically."'6Now, when the situation became serious again, the cabaret was caught "sitting between the chairs." The political ferment made it even more unstable than it was, unable to get its bearings between the worlds of its authors, its audience, and the entrepreneurs. "The cabaret was still alive," a critic wrote. "Was it that strong? No, but it was one of the characteristicsof the times that, no matter what genre, death outlives itself."61 Supporters of the cabaret were most concerned about the lack of Nachwuchs,or new talent. The classical authors of the cabaret, such as Tucholsky or Mehring, had lost interest in the form, and Hollaender and Schiffer were writing revues; nobody had taken their places. Young authors like Colpet and Arendt failed to achieve the a resonance and reputation of their predecessors. In the journal Die Literatur, critic wrote that by 1930, cabaret still left its mark on satirical literature, but the wind had gone out of the cabaret's sails: The roles are reversed.Cabaret literature in the satirical is weeklies and even in the the of bourgeoisnewspapers.[. . .] Butin the cabaret spontaneous-topical societypages the offersnumberswith moreor element,the singability, sparkis missing. The cabaret less backboneby decent chanson authors.But there's no cabaretthat chastisesevery politicalstupidity,every eroticperversion,every literaryvanity in one evening in an improvisational, persuasivemanner.It's becauseof the "business." cabarets. And so we have literary We have cabaret-style literature. in Butwe don't have literature the cabaret.62 The cabaret, said another, had become "terriblyuninteresting and boring" and desperately needed "fresh blood."63The old guard of performers (Hesterberg, Ebinger, Graetz, Valetti) were involved in other projects such as revues and theater but still appeared occasionally; the new stars never surfaced to carry on their torch. Critics feared the cabaret would die of anemia and mediocrity. Willy Schaeffers tried to foster young artists in his cabaret studio, but the BerlinerBorsen-Courier complained that the performers were not only untrained but delivered stale old fare which nobody wanted to hear any more.64After thirty such matinees in the Kabarettder Komiker, Robitschek reported sadly that it merely showed that there was no new talent in the field.65 Under the economic pressure to keep his theater going, Robitschek insisted ever more vehemently that politics were out of place in the cabaret. The audience was tired of politics, they disliked being upset with current affairs when they came to relax and be entertained.

Neue 61Heinz Grohmann,"DerLamberts-Paulsen-Ring," Revue2: 3/4 (LateJune/July1931):159. im 62L. "Literatur Kabarett," Literatur (1929/30): Die 32 7. W., 63p. durch Chanson. Repertoirenot?" Berliner M., "Brettlrenaissance Herold,14 April 1929. 64P. B., "WillySchaffersstelt vor. Kabarett-Nachwuchs," Berliner 16 J. Borsen-Courier, September 1930 (morningedition). 6[KurtRobitschek],"Das siebente Jahr,"2.

7: 60[KurtRobitschek],"Das siebente Jahr,"Die Frechheit 6 (June 1931):1.



timeshave had otherconsequences . .]: the publicprincipally Thesharplypoliticized [. rejectsall politicsin the cabaret,be they left or right.The audiencealso rejectsany art which tries to act serious. Only laughterinterestspeople [. . .]. The lighterand more the shallowthe entertainment, more audienceit finds.66 Afraid of becoming involved, people were even afraid to go out for entertainment; the result was a "great death of cabarets," for, as he wrote in 1931, "most of the Berlin Kleinkunst stages have passed away."67 Yet the struggles of the commercial cabarets for survival did produce a welcome side effect. A few informal troupes that started well before the economic crisis of 1929 initiated a wave of small outsider troupes around 1929-30. After the stagnation of the mid-20s, these troupes promised a revival of the Kleinkunstform. This is evidenced by the enthusiastic reception of the young Katakombe(Catacombs)troupe, founded in October 1929. A critic hailed the new cabaret: "The big cabarets soon took on an impersonal character. One gradually sensed it: feeding the masses. But here everything is a family where everyone offers their best-the players their talent and the audience their good will."68New groups sprung up not in the fashionable bars and restaurants, but in cellars or without any home base at all, as wandering troupes. They did away with the insincere packaging of the show and cultivated simplicity, improvisation, and personality. Groups such as Anti (November 1929), Ping-Pong (around 1932), or Kohlkopp (Cabbage Head, 1932) were short-lived but offered a chance for new talents outside of the routine, commercialized cabarets.69 The Katakombe lasted longer, from 1929 to 1935, and provided a haven for many of these young artists. (After 1933, it was an enclave for liberal artists who remained in Germany, until it was closed down by the Gestapo). More than any other, the troupe Die Wespen (The Wasps) was a successful realization of the literary and political cabaret, in a style which went far beyond the literary cabarets of the inflation years. The history of this group is still sketchy and contradictory, but Wolfgang U. Schtitte's recent book gives us the first study of a cabaret troupe in the Weimar Republic.70Leon Hirsch, who ran a small avant-garde publishing house in the early twenties, also presented evenings of literary entertainment and poetry readings as early as 1921. Out of these evenings grew the cabaret troupe, which began in 1929. Karl Schnog announced the group with a manifesto of cabaret reform: "We'rea cabaret troupe with honest intentions. [. . .] We want to lead the cabaret out of the sphere of dance bars or Austro-Hungarian restaurants with entertainment." He added a fresh, avant-garde tone, however, when he explained that the name meant they intended to "sting" their enemies, making themselves "unpopular" among the fashionable society of the Kurfurstendamm, where

7: zum Jahre1930,"Die Frechheit 1 (January1931):2. 6Kurt Robitschek,"Randbemerkungen 7: 67Kurt zum letzten Monat,"Die Frechheit 5 (May 1931):2. Robitschek,"Randbemerkungen Berliner 29 6n.d., "Katakombe," Birsen-Zeitung, March1930 (moring edition). von 69See RudolfHosch, Kabarett gestern.Band1:1900-1937.Nachzeitgenossischen Kritiken Berichten, und Erinnerungen (Berlin[GDR]:Henschelverlag,1967),279-91. und der U. zur Brettl.. 70Wolfgang Schiitte, "MitStacheln mit Stichen ." Beitrdge Geschichte Berliner "DieWespen" (1929-1933)(Leipzig:Peters, 1987). Truppe



Alan Lareau

most other cabarets were, as well as to fly from one place to another, touring to reach a new, working-class audience.
We want to "go among the people," as the Russians used to say around 1905 [...], because it's worthwhile to speak in front of people who may not have ties, but who have ideas. People who want to hear from us what they otherwise read by us. We want to show that it can be done without dirty jokes [. . .] and without dwelling on "sophisticated" problems. We want to give the strongest cabaret performers [. . .] the chance to act in front of an audience which can't otherwise see them.71

In practice it was probably not as radical as it sounded. Many of its performers were also regulars in conventional cabarets, and to call it a "worker's cabaret" or a "red cabaret" as Schiitte does is overstating the case. But it was a new style on the cabaret scene, satirical and nonconformist-"without admission fees and without concessions."72In light of the failure of previous cabaret troupes, critics found it "all the more amazing that someone has managed to interest and enthuse an audience A which is not yet accustomed to Kleinkunst."73 specialty of this troupe was the feature "Ten Minutes for the Author," in which modern, leftist-oriented poets could present their works. Even the revues of Friedrich Hollaender were probably not as political as they are portrayed. Though songs such as "Miinchhausen" (1931) and "Die Trommlerin" ("The Drummer-Girl," 1928) are excellent pieces of political satire, they are hardly representative for the content of these shows. A surviving script of the revue Hichste Eisenbahn (1932, performed in English as High Timein 1934) reveals that there were three numbers with varying degrees of political content, and they could hardly be called radical. The title song contains a strong moral appeal to take a stand, to be active and defend your ideals (especially pacifism), yet this idea does not form a framework or motif for the show, which is made up of scenes about trains and train stations as metaphors for modern life. "Der enge Gang" ("The Narrow Corridor") shows how each time a man gets to the important point of his story, travellers push past him and block what he is trying to say: the punch line of a dirty joke, a way to make money, the political future of Germany, his opinion of the military. Any political critique remains unspoken and at best implied; the song is more of a formal game. The strongest number is the popular "Chanson vom falschen Zug" ("The Wrong Train"), in which a man tells how he always gets in the wrong train or falls in love with the wrong woman; in the third verse, he complains that the train of the Republic is going in the wrong direction, travelling to "Nazidonia" instead of the "Pacific."74 this time, though, such routines had become so formulaic that they By had little surprise value. Even in 1928, a critic complained that the "three-verse

der 71Karl 1929, Schnog, "Waswollen wir Wespen?"Das Stachelschwein No. 1, reprintedin Signale Zeit. Streifzug durchsatirische der ed. Zeitschriften Weimarer Republik, Wolfgang U. Schiitte (Berlin [West]:Guhl, n.d.), 100-101. 72Peter und 59. Sachse, 1929, quoted in Schiitte, "MitStachein mit Stichen," 73Unidentified und 61. critique,quoted in Schiitte, "MitStacheln mit Stichen," 74The Eisenbahn in the archivesof the BMGUfa Musikverlage,Munich. is manuscriptof Hdchste



pattern" (a general verse, an erotic verse, and a political verse) was so predictable that it was expendable.75Rather than being the purpose, the political elements were just another element on the "colorful platter" of the cabaret. Those artists who wanted to practice a fundamental critique of society did not stay in the cabarets;they turned to new outlets. As more and more actors found themselves without work, many turned farther to the left and sympathized with the communist movement. In the cabarets they could only be witty clowns; in the agitprop troupes which sprang up at the end of the Republic (especially after the visit of the "Blue Blouses" troupe from Russia in 1927), they could speak to a mass audience without buying into the commercialism of popular culture. These groups, often made up of dilettantes and unemployed artists, performed for free at workers' events, such as party rallies, in city courtyards, and at factories. As the name suggests, the purpose of the shows was to combine agitation and propaganda for the workers' or communist cause. There are similarities between agitprop and cabaret: the use of a disjointed number format, an improvisational character,and satiricalsongs. But agitprop is not, strictly speaking, a radical form of cabaret. Based on the political revues of Erwin Piscatorand the Soviet "living newspaper" and "BlueBlouses" troupes, it is essentially a rejectionof the consumption-oriented cabaret form. The communist actor Ernst Busch and composer Hanns Eisler did appear in cabarets for the progressive bourgeoisie around 1930, but their sympathies lay clearly with the working class, and when push came to shove in 1930, the enraged singer Busch walked out on the cabaret Katakombe. Erich Weinert stopped writing for cabarets in the early twenties, though he later found a niche among the Wespen. To the artists involved, there was a world of difference between the literary cabaret and agitprop, which provided not a colorful variety of cultured entertainment, but political, didactic theater with a clear partisan stand. In 1931, the Viennese journalist Anton Kuh wrote a status report on the cabaret which read more like an obituary. Cabaret-to him that meant torture, artificiality, self-delusion, pointlessness. The bohemian art of cabaret once had a function as an outsider culture, challenging cultural preconceptions and shocking the bourgeoisie. Now it had turned into an industry of its own. "The salesman of negation, the routine master of bashfulness, the mass-producer of alertness is blossoming now." As the petit-bourgeois and middle-class tourists filled his locale, "he only needs to lightly tap at the vocabulary of the day to give them the feeling that they are downright oppositional, unusually sublime beings who stand in the same avant-garde of intellect as himself." And so the audience was "more concerned with their high opinions of themselves than their merriment." Cabaret was hypocrisy for sale, performers and audience acting self-important merely because they were so marginal and out of touch with the times. "When one day the history of the cabaret is written, one will be unable to ignore its accomplishment of having elevated a superfluous profession

12 75FritzWalter, "Es kommt jeder dran! Deutsches Kunstlertheater," BerlinerBdrsen-Courier, December 1928.




to the heights of moral seriousness."76Tucholsky noted that "the cabarets are seized by the odd ambition of being aggressive without offending anyone."77 While resisting the artistic establishment, the cabaret had also hoped to subvert the commodification of the entertainment industry, but often it merely toyed with it-and sometimes succumbed to it. There was some important artistic freedom in this sphere, most notably in so-called "literary"locales with less of an eye to profit. But these intimate Kleinkunststages did not have the resonance achieved by mass culture, either. Though born out of cultural resistance, the cabaret's oppositional stance was constantly undercut, be it by isolation or concessions and self-censorship. Unable to find a niche between cultural spheres, it was one big compromise, an attempted synthesis of high and low which did not add up. It wanted to break out without becoming an outsider, to revolt without paying the consequences. The German cabaret of the early twentieth century was at heart always aware of the ambivalence and co-optation of its own rebellion against modern culture.

11: 76Anton Kuh, "Unfug des Kabaretts,Der Querschnitt 7 (LateJuly 1931):461-62. in vol. 7, ed. Mary Werke 10 Banden, 7KurtTucholsky,"Auf dem Nachttisch"(1929),Gesammelte and Gerold-Tucholsky FritzJ. Raddatz(Reinbek:Rowohlt, 1975), 102.

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