Cabarets in Berlin, 1901-1944 by Peter [elavich Department of History University of Texas at Austin Working Paper Series #3

This paper was presented to the Culture and Politics Study Group at the Harvard Center for European Studies on November 7, 1986.
















I fAX ('17-495-8509


in Berlin,


By Peter Jelavich

One of the most promising pleasurable) history vicusly developments

(and, for its practitioners, cultural along pre-

in the study of European that by travelling

has been the discovery neglected

lanes and byways of the arts, one can unbut also some rather major of "lesser" dimensions forms of the

cover not only quaint alleyways cultural thoroughfares.

The examination

of the arts can reveal new and important cu~ture and consciousness

of society at large.

"Low" - cul-

t~re was not limited to the "lower" classes: constant interchange period, of elite and popular and twentieth-century appropriation

there was a in the is


early modern


"~axked by a creative arts. Moreover,

of elements

of the popular

the past century has seen the rise of a and exploit the tastes

mass culture

that seeks to integrate

of all social strata. Just as the development liferation, not decline, of modern industry spurred a pro-

of smaller enterprises

in the serensub-

vice and supply sector, couraged orGinate) the appearance cultural

the growth of mass entertainments of affiliated (but not necessarily audiences.

forms aimed at narrower

One of

these was cabaret.



in December


less than a year after the inauguration the Social-Democratic embodied MUnchener

of the German

cabaret movement,

Post noted that the new institutions geschichte" of the time.1Indeed,

a "Nebenkultur-

in one sense at least, one could developments,

say that cabaret inasmuch

stood at the center of cultural

as it was located at the intersection

of elite, popular,

and mass culture. Friedrich composers Hollander, one of the most famous and prolific

of chansons

in the Weimar era, noted that cabaret was passion by theater, vaudeville, parentage defined and the

"engendered political

in dissolute


This threefold Artistically,

cabaret's at the

major characteristics. intersection vaudeville.

it could be situated

of "elite" drama, popular theatrics Thematically, it satirized

and mass-cultural issues developart, and two

current political cultural

and social mores, and it parodied ments. Moreover,


the fact that cabaret was a performing the provocative contexts: mode, placed

one that preferred major institutional

it within

a commercial

one, where it had to to attract an audience; if it became


with other forms of entertainment

and a political too unruly. Cabaret's

one, which could call down censorship

hybrid pedigree familial

and illegitimacy

meant that it

could claim far-flung welcoming

ties, but it rarely found a and political households of the

home among the artistic

day. High art or low theater? Didactic or entertaining?


or pornographic? asked of cabaret,

These were questions

and which cabaret had to asl< of itself. This lack of self-definition



to its instability,

but its protean

life was also and

an expression social satire, essence,

of its very nature. By engaging it pitted realities against against

in political

ideals, surface against by engaging of artistic in parody forms, fad. by



of cultural

trends, it played with a myriad avant-garde

from __he esoteric t Competing censors

to the latest mass-marketed of entertainment, seeking

with other institutions


and self-appointed

moral watchdogs,


to provoke a juggling

and to please its audience, or tightrope act straight


seemed to perform halls what

out of the vaudeville

and circusses makes cabaret refract,

to which it was related. so interesting:

But this is precisely

the fact that it could reflect, and political and occasionally

and sometimes

even reform the cultural


of the day meant that it was a touchstone for more general developments.

a laboratory

The hunt for cabarets and here the problems

implies that one can identify

the beast,

begin. An "ideal-type"

cabaret might consist

of a small stage in a relatively

small hall, where the audience would comprise a number and skits,

would sit around tables. The performance of different genres, usually

songs, monologues,


less frequently

dances, pantomimes,

puppet shows, shadow plays, or singers, actors who

short films. The performers or dancers, regarded

might be professional painters

or they might be writers, as a secondary

or composers



True cabaretists, of their acts

people who considered an inseparable

the composition

and presentation

unity, were something

of a rarity. A conferencier


would attempt

to establish

links among the various


fill in the temporal

gaps, and buoy the spirits of the audience.

He would be aided in the latter endeavor by the spirits captured in the bottles and glasses on the tables. and

This pure type of cabaret was hard to find in reality, when it appeared, were subject it was usually short-lived. All aspects

of cabaret

to change. With



a cabaret

might move to larger quarters: importantly, the auditorium

the stage would expand and, more to be filled no

would be enlarged

longer with tables, but rather with long rows of chairs facing the performers. The intimacy of pure cabaret, an intimacy between themselves, would be

actors and audience

and among the spectators of performances

thereby be lost. The content transformed. numerous

might likewise

It might become more literary

and dramatic:



actors were involved, when there was a dearth or when the audience forms, one-act preferred more con-

of good cabaret material, ventional narrative

and dramatic

skits would come to drama theater.

to dominate

the program,

and eventually

a total conversion

would be made. The cabaret would, In contrast, non-literary: satire, a cabaret might if censorship

in short, become

a regular decidedly

become less literary, prohibited

all forms of parody and

or if an audience

wanted more show and less tell, then

one would be left with variety
another vaudeville to appeal taste, hall.

acts, and the cabaret would become
felt commercially compelled

If a cabaret

to the absolutely

lowest common denominator joint, which themselves

of public

it could become a strip-tease of stages calling

is precisely are today.

what the majority



A further,

often promising


was possible,

namely the of visually

revue. Performed impressive something

on a large stage with an


and often gaudy production vaguely resembling elements


held together by

a plot-line,

the revue might retain a smattering nature.

some truly cabaretic

insofar as it comprised and parodistic

of songs and dialogues

of a satirical

The hunt for cabarets vaudeville ensuing between cabaret halls,

thus leads one through


revue palaces,

and strip joints as well. The in Berlin

pages will trace a rapid tour of such places January 1901 and August

1944, from the opening of the first of the last survivors

to the closing,

by order of Goebbels,

of that breed. The aim of this excursion encyclopedic overview

is not to provide an

of names, dates and places, but rather to of the forms taken by cabaret, to which it was subjected, developments. and political factors contributed 1901. Commercial taste and the commercial

give some indications and political relationships Various


and its dynamic

with other cultural commercial, artistic

to the launching considerations expectations century,

of the cabaret movement

in January


around the shift of audience

that occured

in the last decades of the nineteenth in Central Europe brought

when the rapid growth of cities

the rise of mass cultural The most prominent concatenation theater, walking, Lieder

forms of entertainment

in its wake. a

of these was vaudeville, numbers derived

which comprised

of various

from the circus, popular juggling, tightrope

and even "high" art (acrobatics, magic stunts,

songs, comic monologues,

short skits, even risque

and opera arias). Nationalistic

and erotically


Jugendstil, contended

the Central European


of art nouveau,


that the arts should be brought,

if not to "the people"

in general, Cabarets "refined" lyrics"

then at least to larger sectors of the bourgeoisie. formed as intimate theaters presenting

were consequently

(veredelt) vaudeville

shows, which would bring "applied to a in


Lyrik) and other forms of Kleinkunst and diversion absent

public that sought both the vitality drama and the higher artistic Although determinants also affected commercial



in vaudeville.

and artistic

factors were the major political considerations of

of the cabaret movement,

its genesis and development.

The naturalists

the 1880s and 1890s had politicized they criticized classes. bourgeois morality

the arts to the extent that and the plight of the working but

The ensuing Jugendstil

was less overly political, and sensuality,

insofar as it called for a new vitality Christian asceticism, middle-class

it opposed


and the state that Jugendstil stood

upheld such mores. Moreover, artistically and thematic cabaretists censorship potential

like naturalism,

opposed to the historistic, bombast


pseudo-realism art. Many

of much "official" Wilhelmine

shared these views, but the system of preemptive for the stage lessened in the prewar era. artistic and political considerations thus cabaret's satirical and critical

Commercial, triangulated

a rather large area in which cabaret Uberbrettl,

could take form. which premiered in modernist was the first

The first form it took was Wolzogen's in Berlin theatrical on 18 January ventures

1901. Having been active

in Munich

and Berlin, Wolzogen


combination Uberbrettl

of chiding and pandering, as a "Kitschbude"

was privately



and "Kitschinstitut."

This tendency

toward Verkitschung that cabaret's with erotic and risque.

had already been noted by some critics on of songs dealt sentimental

opening night. By far the majority

themes, in a manner In this respect,

that was alternately

the Uberbrettl

was hardly different

from vaudevilles.

A police observer

noted not only that Wolzogen's was negated by the sexual was not the

claim to present a "refined" vaudeville crassness socially

of some songs, but also that his audience exclusive and educated

public that he had anticipated.

Some reviewers to Morgenstern's


that the audience had failed to respond because they were unfamiliar

parody of d'Annunzio

with the Italian playwright's of the spectators' the premiere charming

works. Perhaps the best indication

taste was the fact that the absolute hit of "Der lustige Ehemann," an insipidly

was Bierbaum's

love duet with music by Oscar Straus, sung and danced in Biedermeier costume. If the opening lines established / Ich the

by a couple

the poetic quality of the work


tanz mit meiner Frau" etc.), the final stanza indicated apolitical, asocial escapism

of both author and audience:

Die Welt, die ist da draussen wo, Mag auf dem Kopf sie stehn! Sie intressiert uns gar nicht sehr, war'

Und wenn sie nicht vorhanden

WUrd's auch noch weiter geh'n. Wolzogen was quick to sense what his audience wanted, performances of the Uberbrettl and the


came to be dominated


in tone, full of gestural were geared in drawing forms. Although cultural

and visual vitality, and diversion,



toward entertainment numerous patrons

and succeeded dramatic

away from more conventional

critics pointed and materialism

to vaudeville of commercial outcome

as one more society, others

sign of the decadence

noted that it was a logical and inevitable the hustle traffic, and bustle of the modern variation

of urban life:

city, with its crowds and fragmented

its constant

of sights and sounds,


and shattered

all sense of stability

and continuity. first

Ernst von Wolzogen, cabaret, nervous,

the founder of Berlin's popularity

(and Germany's)

noted that vaudeville's precipitate

was "a sign of our for long and prolix of us, attuned to

age, which finds no repose

entertainments. aphoristic,

We are all, each and everyone

terse and catchy tones." Audiences dramas, and few playwrights

were no longer able were even able to

to follow five-act write them anymore. multiform streets,

Stage presentations

thus had to become as of everyday life in the

and disjunct

as the presentation

the shops and the offices popularity

of the modern metropolis.2 presented playwrights

The increasing and performers an artistic seeking

of vaudeville necessity

with a commercial

that some turned into and artists, their careers in

virtue. A younger


of writers

to establish attacked

their reputations the excessively

and further

novel ways,



and dialogic and of

nature of drama and lauded instead the gestural, visual vitality of vaudeville.


In keeping with the precepts


Next to such artistic included political satires


Schall und Rauch also successful

in the form of the highly

"Serenissimus" potentate

scenes. Jokes about this fictional in Germany,


had a long tradition

and recently had been the running

resurrected Munich

in the pages of Jugend and Simplicissimus, journals. In the cabaret,


Serenjssimus' portrayed

commentaries conceited servative sentiments

on the show from him stage-box cultural

him as a con-

and narrow-minded newspapers





that anti-monarchist felt powerless

could be read into the figure, the police since the anonymity and historical to reigning

to intervene, character

garb of the members of the


direct reference 6

. German prIncely


The success of Schall und Rauch induced Reinhardt nightly in a new theater in October

to perform performances

1901. My multiplying

and thus expanding

his audience,

he no longer could address a parodies were

small circle of connoisseurs, phased out of the repertory. their place, and by September to a dramatic however, theater, renamed

so the theatrical More conventional

one-act skits took

1902 the cabaret had been converted the Kleines Theater. This did not mean,

that the cabaret was dead: rather, theatrical productions.

its soul had transmigrated

into Reinhardt's

The former naturalist and modern he

actor began to direct German classics PlaY~ith enlivened

and Shakespearean

a wholly new degree of vitality the scripts with elements and first utilized

and theatricality;

of popular

theater that he had -- song, dance, music,


in his cabaret

pantomime, acrobatics. Reinhardt's fusion of elite drama with


person towards

to realize

the call for cabarets

that had been voiced Otto Julius venturesomeness to pander to

the end of the 1890s by Oskar Panizza, Frank Wedekind repeatedly


and others. His theatrical crippled by his willingness and anti-Semitic promising

was, however, his audience, The opening

and by his monarchist

disposition. of

night was nevertheless The Uberbrettl's

in the variety

its presentations. experimentalism a pantomime, Schnitzler's parodying


to the theatrical by a shadow play, from Arthur

of the fin de si~cle was evidenced of the short "Episode"

a performance Anatol,

and a sketch by Christian The majority

Morgenstern were songs.


of presentations

The most political abkommandiert,"

of them was Ludwig Thoma's official

"Zur Dichtkunst of militaristic

which satirized


forms of art. In particular, whose play Der Adlerflug

it parodied

the work of Josef Lauff, that same evening

was being premiered in commemoration

in the royal opera house of the Hohenzollern's anniversary attacks

of the 200th anniversary and the thirtieth beyond such


to kingship

of the founding

of the Reich. However, the Uberbrettl Wolzogen

on Wilhelmine


would not go. Prior

to the opening

of his venture, couplets"

remarked "would transcend

that the "political party-politics

in his cabaret

and strike a pose that stands above it all"; and

a week after the premiere,

he published

a poem addressed


II, which essentially

said that the mark of a wise monarch jOke.3 toward

was the ability

to laugh at a good-natured

By the end of the year, Ludwig Thoma, whose attitude the Kaiser was considerably more aggressive

than Wolzogen's



officers songs.

and nobility.

Even Wilhelm

II was an enthusiast

of Nelson's


with sparser

incomes could attend the annual revues in 1903. Inspired both such as the Folies of topical issues all

that the Metropoltheater by local cabarets Bergere,

began to present precedents, a variety


and Parisian

these revues addressed

(headline news, cultural points on the national good-naturedly Democrats, England,

fads, social trends).


and international


spectrum were


the conservatives

as well as the Social

the foreign policy of Germany

as well as that of France, were

and the three empires

to the east. Imperial ministers the

occasionally monarch;

the butt of jokes, as was, very indirectly,

the first revue even had a Serenissimus though,

figure in the

stage loge. In general, patriotic

the tone of the revues was numbers and finales, lavishly

and monarchist.


staged and costumed,

might depict great moments The political

in Prussian history, of the

to the delight of the audience. revues-a combination


of chiding

and pandering

~ la Wolzogen-revues, the

was best expressed

in the all-time

hit of the Metropol -- tadellos!"

title song of the show "Donnerwetter in a uniform

(1908). Dressed the

of the Imperial guard and sporting his disdain

a monocle,

singer expressed to his alcoholic aristocratic

for the middle classes Ostensibly

and alluded of

and sexual escapades. the fetching

a caricature



(by Joseph Giampietro)

and the catchy music sympathetic,

(by Viktor Holl~nder)

made the figure very to the "feudal"

and constituted

an indirect compliment

class portrayed. Wilhelm II forbade officers from attending the


by sentimental detractors

and erotic chansons.


he replied to him from engaging of the police eroticism

by claiming

that censorship


in political archives

and social criticism,

an examination


that it was mainly

the excessive

of the cabaret's

songs that was problematic Berlin's

for the censor. A daily, was taste was social and

critic for Vorw~rts, essentially

Social Democratic

correct when he contended than police scissors

that public in excising

more instrumental political

themes from Wolzogen's


The fact that one could run a different different premiere opening public was demonstrated on 23 January

cabaret with a

by Schall und Rauch, whose

1901 came less than a week after the Although it initially performed at

of the Uberbrettl. intervals,


Schall und Rauch soon acquired and satirical

the reputation second only

of being Berlin's to Munich's

most literary


Elf Scharfrichter

in the Reich as a whole. The guiding a Viennese actor who of Otto

spirit behind had become Brahm's

the venture was Max Reinhardt,


with the untheatrical




of which he was a member.

Schall und

Rauch addressed in parodies worlds,

an "artsy" audience,

inasmuch as it specialized and theatrical public.

of fads and fashions

in the literary

the very genre that had dumbfounded included four mini-presentations


The premiere Don Carlos, a naturalist Subsequent

of Schiller's theater, act.


in the styles of a provincial play, and a vaudeville of Aeschylus

drama, a symbolist presented



(the actors

IIDiarrhoesteialllnd sendups of well-known and directors.S




and the Metropol's

revues thus became the primary heirs which lasted in its pure form a

of Berlin's

first cabaret movement,

for only a year. As in so many other ways, World War I marked watershed, postwar and gave birth to a second wave of cabarets in the

period. The war itself, after a temporary the initial weeks of hostilities, business as civilians and soldiers

closing of all

stages during entertainment diversion

saw a boom in the on leave sought cabarets

from the realities

of wartime

life. Berlin's

and revues were flooded with nationalistic glorifying the crudest

songs and skits in even

the boys in the field and damning the enemy powers of terms. Otto Reutter, a very popular


wrote a song saying that it was time to suspend of Prussian officers

ironic portrayals -- tadellos!",

in the style of "Donnerwetter

now that they actually were With the passage

laying down their lives at the front~l of domestic criticism crept

of time, some elements

into the shows in the form of satires on war profiteering, and the like, but public opinion and censorship, supervision, kept such comments to a minimum.


now under military

It was not until events of 1918/1919 cabarets could be

after Germany's

defeat and the revolutionary in the history of Berlin's

that a new chapter written. On 8 December

1919, over a year after the fall of the monarchy, cabaret opened in Berlin, and its sponsor

the first major postwar (but not director)

was again Max Reinhardt.

Since the transformation Reinhardt

of the first Schall und Rauch into the Kleines Theater, had experimented ductions with novel theatrical Beginni~g

forms to bring his proin 1910, he staged classical

to a mass audience.




in the wake of the cabaret movement dramatic performances,

helped a

revive and popularize model for successful

and established

art theaters

that has lasted to this day. initial cabaret movement and Reinhardt's in ven-

Not all of the effects were as laudable.

of Berlin's

The success

of Wolzogen's

tures led to the founding the capital

of over forty other "cabarets" a handful

by the summer of 1901. Although merit,

of them

had some artistic restaurants

most were little more than entertainment. Such establishments

with late-night to oversee,

proved difficult numbers

and the police began to cut their over seventy. license, by halls,


in 1904, when they totalled

Since most of these nightspots

lacked an entertainment

the pOlice were aided and even spurred on in their crackdown denunciations theaters and from members circusses, of licensed cabarets, vaudeville

who considered



hurt by "illegitimate" and entertainment Thereafter, War mainly


that evaded the censorship

taxes implied by licensing.7 the cabaret movement survived until the Great or as revues.

in the form of expensive Rudolph

urbane cabarets,

In 1904 the composer Duncker cabaret opened

Nelson and the actor Paul Schneider(ISO-seat)

the Roland von Berlin, an intimate a socially exclusive

that maintained

public by charging


high admission

fees. Three years later, Nelson left to
of erotic, in

found his own venture, these cabarets teasing,

the Chat noire The social ambience

and the style of chanson presented in theme, neither literary

-- mildly


nor satirical bourgeois and

tone -- attracted

an audience

of middle-to-upper



were Friedrich

Ebert, ReichsprMsident

and leader of and

the SPD, and Gustav Noske, the Minister "bloodhound of the revolution"

of Defense

who repeatedly

called on army or

and Freikorps insurgent

units to shoot at striking,


workers. of discontent in the early

The major artistic manifestation years of Weimar was dada. Launched national group of avant-yarde

in Zurich in 1916 by an interartists, the movement

and pacifist

spread to the German capital within a year. The Berlin variant of dada marked society attitude the most radical rejection of bourgeois culture, Its "I am not

and politics

that the city had ever witnessed. who wrote:

was summed up by Raoul Hausmann,

only against

the spirit of Potsdam -- I am above all against Weimar." implied not only the German but also the ostensibly of Ebert and Noske.12

For him and his dadaist cohort, Weimar classical tradition

of Goethe and Schiller, republicanism


Social Democratic

The dadaists

played a commanding

role in the first performance began on

of the new Schall und Rauch. To be sure, the program traditional cabaretic notes: there were literary


Pierrot-songs, Serenissimus

even a now outdated

(and soon to be dropped) with a cartoon with

number. The show became more political

film lampooning additional

Ebert and Noske, and a song by Kurt Tucholsky of Defense.

slices against the Minister

The cUlmination

of the evening was a politically klassisch! product


puppet play, Einfach This was the the text by George

Eine Orestie mit glUcklichem


of a joint effort by leading Berlin dadaists: while the puppets were designed

was by Walter Mehring,


show -- after all, "Donnerwetter one of the Kaiser's

-- tadellos!"

was known to be

favored compliments from banning

-- but the censors were

wise enough to refrain

the song outright.9 of evenings before

The revues, which played large audiences, represented

for hundreds

a model accommodation

to the expectathe

tions of the public as well as the state. They integrated diversity, musicality and showiness of vaudeville

with a modicum patriotic

of political

satire that did not offend the basically sentiments of its lower-to-upper

and monarchist public.

middle class chancellors and

The attenuated

barbs at political gave the audience

parties, a

the Pruss ian aristocracy liberality, reinforced

taste of and production numbers the

while the nationalistic their fundamental


loyalty to the system. Berlin,

Reichshauptstadt, that flocked

was well served by such shows. The many tourists for German

to the revues, which became de rigueur to the capital, were treated

and foreign visitors

to an image of self-

the city that was lively, lavish, assured, metropolitan, mond~n.



That was a bait that most visitors that imperial officials von Bethmann

were happy to swallow, were also anxious Hollweg,

and it was a picture

to project.

In July 1905 Theobald of the Interior,

then with the Ministry

wrote to Berlin's on cabarets might

chief of police that although

some restrictions

be necessary,
or prudish

"I would not be able to approve of a narrow-minded
of those forms of culture, social life of the


or entertainment metropolis

that derive from the special character ,,10 classics, Nelson's






at Weimar proclaimed bitter

by scattering


from a balcony,

in which he

himself Oberdada

and president

of the world. There was the Assembly while

irony in the fact that Baader


it was passing censorship. the precise

the article of the constitution

that abolished at

Baader thus mocked bourgeois


moment when it was guaranteeing previously,

artists more freedom

than they ever had possessed

were to enjoy in the not-too-distant While attacking all parties

and much more than they 14 future. to the far whose The com-

from Social Democracy for the communists, they admired.

right, some dadaists had sympathy radicalism munists

and seeming lack of hypocrisy responded


by saying that less talk, fewer jokes

and more constructive

action would be of more use to the workers' for many dadaists,

cause. This assault from the left posed a dilemma including became those involved in Einfach klassisch.

John Heartfield the



to radical causes and pioneered George Grosz regularly militarists

art of political biting


contributed judges


of capitalists, however,

and rightist

to communist


a disheartening complaints

trip to the Soviet that he failed to

Union in 1922 and repeated glorify workers depoliticization


and the Party in a positive and voluntary emigration

sense led to his in 1932. It of Heartfield

to America

was Erwin Piscator, and Grosz, communist who

a close friend and fellow-dadaist in adapting cabaretic


forms for Communist Party

ends. He was commissioned

by the German

to stage an agitational elections of December

revue in anticipation

of the Reichstag the Red Revel

1924. Piscator

thus created

1h .


and medieval



(or imitations


before thousands

of spectators

in circus halls.

In November Schauspielhaus

1919 he opened his newest acquisition, (formerly the Zirkus Schumann) Soon thereafter he decided

the Grosses

with a production

of the Oresteia.

to return to the origins of his Schall und Rauch in the rooms

retheatricalization in the basement

of theater by resurrecting Schauspielhaus,

of the Grosses

where the circus animals used to be encaged. The new Schall und Rauch opened under conditions differed radically from those surrounding that

the birth of its forebear. so there were no (verbal of writers of war, then of the


had been abolished

a year earlier,

limits to the political or visual)


or sexual explicitness a new generation

of the shows. Politically,

and artists had been radicalized

first by the horrors

by the civil strife in 1918 and 1919. Following monarchy, elements the Social Democratic government

the collapse

had allied

itself with

of the army and the Freikorps and other members German Communist Spartakus uprising

to put down workers, (such as the reforms. as with

intellectuals newly-formed The January

of radical parties

Party) demanding and the March

thoroughgoing Days in Berlin,

well as the Bavarian considerable

Soviet Republic

in April, were suppressed


and loss of life. For many leftist and

left-liberal writers, artists and intellectuals, these events
branded the Social Democrats as hypocrites and class traitors: yet they allied

they claimed themselves supporters

to be republicans

and Marxists,

with the worst elements of genuine revolutionary

of the old order to combat change. Especial targets for


they became amusement



into the mass-cultural

industry. But here too they had to swim against some currents. The abolition of stage censorship

very unwholesome

led to a veritable Weimar Republic. could appeal justify

flood of nudity

in the early years of the of strip shows culture to

To be sure, some producers

to the national

interest and classical "To our destitute

their presentations:

people, broken

and martyred greyness

by the most terrible

of all wars, sunk into the

of everyday existence,

we hope to bring to life beauty form, in the shape of woman, and

in its purest and most original God's creation, blessed

inspired by the sublime art of Praxiteles

Hellas -- that is the high goal and inspired aspiration Of course, no one doubted the true appeal

of Celly de Rheidt."

of Celly and other strippers, to use l~l emergency

and by 1922 the police were able so common in the early years on stage. on the


of the Republic, Nevertheless, vaudeville

to require a bare minimum

of clothing


female nudity became commonplace

and revue stages of Berlin

(as well as in some "cabarets"), lyrics lambasting

which also hosted republican

singers of ultra-nationalistic the French occupation and other oppressors


of the Ruhr, the

Treaty of Versailles, patriotism turned Weimar

of the nation. The and revues

and coy eroticism

of the prewar cabarets

into the chauvinism nightspots. Whereas

and strip shows that marked many in 1908 the Metropoltheater had staged


-- tadellos!", "Donnerwetter

twenty years later the James Klein -- 1000 Frauen!" These two tendencies

Revue presented

-- flesh and Vater land -- could even become

fused in production



(Revue Roter Rummel),

which was performed



in various working-class highlighted the political


of Berlin. Short numbers

events of the day: bourgeois as a circus show, a juggling to stretch the workday, candidates act and a

electioneering illustrated

was portrayed



boxing match pitted leading bourgeois

against each the

other. The last and longest scene depicted revue: a bourgeois tastelessness . . Its bourgeoIs cabaret was recreated

a revue within the

to illustrate

and degradation 15

of middle-class

entertainment. depicted


this way, the Red Revel Revue simultaneously prototype.

and rejected

The Red Revel Revue was significant the agitprop numerous movement in Germany.


it launched

Over the course of 1925, of the Communist Germany.

amateur groups, many under the auspices wrote and performed movement

Youth League, The agitprop communist

similar shows throughout not only to spread the form, but also to

was initiated


in an easily comestible

draw working-class Just as cabarets lure the middle conociously provide

youth away from mass-cultural had been formed by writers


and actors in 1901 to the red revues were Youth League diversions to


away from vaudeville,


by leaders of the Communist political)


(and appropriately

for a


that was too easily
h sows. 16 some entertainers movement

drawn toward

films, carnivals


. ch eap varIety Although

who performed

in bourgeois


joined the agitprop most cabaretists

(e.g. Erich Weinert

and Ernst Busch), directly, and

had no desire

to aid the communists


Grosz and executed by John Heartfield a dadaist, Oresteia, composed Agamemmnon the music}.




In this topical updating prince and general,

of the Aegisthus

was a Prussian

a republican and Electra three-act


Orestes an "officer of the Attic Freikorps," member of the Salvation Army. The

an anti-Semitic

play ended with a triumph of reaction, of "Woodrow Apollon." It included

aided in part inserts parodying while the

by the naivet~ film stars,

the press and other mass-cultural

phenomena, trilogy

work as a whole was a spoof of the classical was staging satyr-play upstairs;

that Reinhardt

in a way, Einfach klassisch Politically,

was a modern all points the

for the Oresteia. spectrum:

it satirized

on the political Freikorps,

the Kaiser,

the High Command,

Ebert, Wilson,

and the antisemites

were all presented

as being equally ludicrous.13 It was precisely Standpunktlosigkeit In the Wilhelmine this lack of political focus, this

of the dadaists

that became problematic. ambiguity

era one could excuse one's political and by claiming

on stage by blaming the censor, be done to reform the generally early years of Weimar, however,

that little could system. In the

stable Wilhelmine

the arts were free, and politically depended upon active By

much was at stake: the future of the Republic support for democratic forces, including

the Social Democrats.


"Weimar" in toto, the dadaists

were not exactly sinking

their own ship -- the torpedoes more powerful

were to come of course from much the boat that was

groups -- but they were maligning

giving them free passage. Johannes

This became clear with the antics of a session of the National

Baader, who interrupted



The cabaretic literary quality


and performers

who sought to maintain

and political

satire were forced to move from or successive employment

stage to stage, to find simultaneous at whatever institutions

would host them at the moment. The songs and Erich Kttstner, the cabaretSchiffer and Mischa balance

of Kurt Tucholsky, revues of Friedrich Spoliansky between usually

Walter Mehring

Hollttnder, Marcellus succeeded

in maintaining

a spirited


satire and ironic eroticism.

Their formula for for the 1920:

success was spelled out in a song that Mehring had written second program of the postwar Schall und Rauch, in January


kenn'n Se schon das neueste Lied schieben? der Refrain -- der Refrain

Eh Sie weiter

Doch der Refrain Ach Fr~ulein,

da is was von Noske drin,

Und was vom Lieben. This recipe -- a little bit of love, a little bit of Noske -certainly generated the best cabaret songs of the Twenties, performers but

it also left the more committed Liberal newspapers

with an uneasy feeling. and others of

accused Tucholsky, government


attacking support

a republican

that badly needed whatever assaults to repeat in

it could muster.

To be sure, most of the cabaretic

were aimed at the far right, but this led leftist critics their claim that energy expended bourgeois Walter cabarets. on political

satire was wasted

In an essay entitled

"Leftist Melancholia," and Kttstner: "their


said of Mehring, exhausts


political reflexes,


itself by turning revolutionary

to the extent that they exist among the bourgeoisie,


numbers .. mliltary



clad women in precision-drilled

. 17 formatlons. upon stage satire,

Public taste again placed constraints as Tucholsky because noted in 1919: "Everything and most pitiless

has stayed the same. That's German censor does not Round and

the harshest

sit in bureaucratic

offices, but rather in the parquet.

fat he sits in the middle of the parquet and prevents singing his song onstage from deviating the accepted line .•..

any performer from

even a hair's breadth

He won't stand for radicalism

in a variety

show." Consequently,

Schall und Rauch toned down its political vaudeville

satire, and within two years it had become a conventional hall. Subsequent satire, attempts to maintain cultural

parody and political or Trude

such as Rosa Valetti's

Cabaret GrOssenwahn


Wilde Btlhne, met with similar fates within two Kurt Robitschek,the director of

seasons after their founding. the longest-lived of his Kabarett cabaret

cabaret of the Weimar

era, attributed

the success

der Komiker to his pragmatism:

"My dream was a

full of aggression,

a cabaret of topical satire. But how for such an ideal cabaret?

many people would show understanding The Kabarett all political

der Komiker has 950 chairs, they seat people of all social classes, all Weltanschauungen. ... The


Try to cook up a sauce that all of them will find tasty! solution was the recipe: cabaret plus vaudeville of innocuous chansons, monologues vaudeville

plus theater." stunts, one-act

A combination

skits and satirical to appease

the multi-class,

were thus presented 18 truly "mass-cultural" audience.

by conferenciers


he told Adrian weren't



It would be funny if it nihilism."20

so dreary

in its aristocratic

Cabarets Republic.

did not, of course, make or break the Weimar and may have reinforced a

At most, they reflected

sense of hopelessness liberal middle

about the Republic's

fate among Berlin's


who after 1929 either stood paralyzed or else caved in to the Nazi cause. contributions of Weimar of Mehring,

before political


Aside from agitprop, cabretists Tucholsky, captured

the positive embodied

were artistic, K~stner,

in the chansons


and others.Many

of these songs were

on mass-marketed

records or spilled over into films in The Blue Angel). The trend before

(such as the Holl~nder toward including


songs in plays, begun by Frank Wedekind

the war in the wake of the first cabaret movement, by Mehring Brecht, in his Merchant of Berlin and especially

was continued by Bertolt efforts

in his numerous

plays and his collaborative

with Kurt Weill cabaret'~lings more promiscuous

(Happy End, The Threepenny

Opera, Mahagonny).

with high theater and mass culture were even in the Weimar than in the Wilhelmine era.

All of this came to an end in 1933, as the Nazis left no doubt about their intentions: were among those burned composers ancestry and performers or communist, the works of Tucholsky and K&stner

in Berlin

in May 1933. Many writers, due to Jewish outspokenness.

had to flee immediately, or left-liberal


Some, like Holl&nder, profitable employment

were famous or fortunate in Hollywood

enough to find some even barely eked

and elsewhere;

opened cabarets

in exile. Most expatriate



into objects

of diversion

and amusement

which are capable of is

being consumed .... precisely action .•..

In short, this leftist radicalism

that stance that no longer corresponds

to any political

From the outset it seeks nothing more than to enjoy peace. The transformation toward commitment of the political

itself in negativistic struggle

from a compulsion

to an object of

enjoyment, sumptlon

from a means of production
0 0 0

to an article of con0 0

-- t at 1S the ultlmate

h1t of th1S llterature."


The problem posed by Benjamin Weimar cabaretists,

was endemic not only to in all ages. Recent studies was more likely

but to satirists

have argued that the inverted world of carnival to serve as a safety-valve "repressive tolerance" tensions, than as a prelude

to revolt; the

of satire allows one to let off steam and at least temporarily. Wolzogen had attributed

hence diffuse this function

to cabaret explicitly:

"The paw with splayed claws than

that is laughingly the fist clenched

slapped on the knee is much more harmless in the pocket." to genuine Weimar satirists

like Tucholsky, came the

much more committed

social reform than Wolzogen, question

to the same conclusion, value of their artistic

but it made them constantly undertaking. Tucholsky wrote

in 1933: "For

twenty years I have always been pained by the same thing: that I was not able to remove even one single policeman Others, like Mehring, from his post." isolationism:

made a virtue of their principled

"I stand neither vertically." hauteur

to the left nor to the right: I have always stood

But this stance could easily lead to the negativistic was lambasted by Benjamin. The

whose ineffectiveness

devil in Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus made a similar point when



and amateurs



shows, sometimes
in strictest

with the permission secrecy.

of camp commanders,


Under these conditions, functions:

cabaret was reduced

to its Some

two basic existential shows attacked bitterly

protest and escapism.

camp conditions

in either mildly

joking or camp guards provided


tones, depending

upon whether

were present

at the performances.

Other productions
in a hopeless

simply entertainment, This attitude

pure escapism


was expressed

most clearly and self-consciously cabaret

in Theresienstadt, pleaded

where the theme song of the Karusell ach bitte, bitte, Illusion."

for "Illusion,

The director a member of

of that cabaret was Kurt Gerron of the Cabaret Tiger Brown vaudeville Gr~ssenwahn

-- a native Berliner,

and the Wilde BUhne, of The Threepenny

the portrayer

in the premiere director

Opera and the in

in The Blue Angel. He died in Auschwitz

1944, as did Max Ehrlich, Willi Rosen and Otto Wallbergi had been preceded GrUnbaum by Paul Morgan (Buchenwald 1938), Fritz


(Dachau 1941), and other colleagues

from Berlin's

cabarets.22 Throughout of tenacity its history, cabaret had to exhibit varying degrees

in the face of different liberality

levels of duress. Politically, censor, the

it faced the cautious

of the Wilhelmine

of National somewhat Weimar


of the Weimar

era, and the outright



The Wilhelmine

context gave rise to a which was polarized by of





hatred of the radical right and suspicion towards either

the republican

middle drove many cabaretists

communist sustain


or "bourgeois"


it proved hard to

a type of satire that refused or simple negativism. to the Nazis,

to veer toward simplistic seemed

propaganda equally

All of these alternatives and were stifled.


Commercially, dramatic

cabaret had to face forces that were less Cabarets often tried, but the

but just as compelling.

rarely succeeded, box-office the public the risqu~:

at being better than their customers; extremes.

was a brake upon avant-garde

Nevertheless, a modicum of a variety

did expect a certain degree of novelty, and this space was sufficient innovations of elements

to generate

of theatrical appropriation general cabaret

that proved contagious. of popular theatrics


led to a more Simultaneously, and performers

revitalization nurtured

of the elite stage and drama.

several cohorts of writers,


whose works were imitated or appropriated personally Having

-- and who were often of mass entertainment. in the a cen-

hired -- by larger establishments a "Nebenkulturgeschichte" cabaret history



first year of its appearance, tral position in the cultural

rapidly claimed of its day.


out a living, Nikolaus,

and some died abroad by their own hands


Kurt Tucholsky). and revues that remained commitment open in Berlin to the ideals of nature.

The cabarets stressed National

either their positive Socialism,

or else their fully apolitical

The December Musenschaukel politics

1933 program of Trude Hesterberg's noted:


"Far be it from us to want to illuminate We pursue just one goal, to hours." Those

from our small stage ..•.

reward hard-working cabarets

people with a few cheerful

that still dared to make covert jokes about the regime closed in 1935 (Werner Finck's Katakombe, the

were ordered Tingeltangel, survive

the Vier Nachrichter).

The only major cabaret to on 31 August 1944

until Goebbels

closed all theaters

was the Kabarett Robitschek. general

der Komiker,

sans its founder, forced closings,

"the Jew" Kurt and a

Despite numerous



of the arts, the Nazis took no chances: ordered that all references (even

on 8 December positive

1937 Goebbels

ones) to political


the state, religion, vaudeville halls

the police

and the army be prohibited

in cabarets,

and theaters.

With that order the final depoliticization Cabarets

of the

stage was complete. origins, to become

had no choice but to return to their shows. Even the performance was prohibited

innocuous variety

of "Girls"

in military

dance formations

in July 1940,

now that war f are was once agalD a grlm reallty. Having survived been stifled

in the Reichshauptstadt,

true cabaret camps. interned

in Nazi-held Buchenwald,

Europe only in the concentration Theresienstadt and elsewhere,

In Dachau,






10 December






in the Vossische


31 October

190ID. Similar arguments

were made by Frank Wedekind, see Peter Jelavich, Playwrighting, and 1985), of

Oskar Panizza and Otto Julius Bierbaum: Munich and Theatrical 1890-1914 Modernism:




Harvard University of Georg Simmel's


pp. 160-164. One is also reminded modernity: see "The Metropolis and Social Forms


and Mental Life"

in Simmel, On of Chicago Press,


(Chicago: University of variety

1971), pp. 324-339. For a history see Ernst GUnther, Geschichte

shows and vaudeville,

des Vari6t~s

(Berlin: Henschelverlag,

1978). For a contemporary see Eberhard Buchner,

account of such shows in Imperial Berlin,


., " und Tingeltangel



Verlag Hermann

Seemann Nachfolger,


3. Zeitunq,

Wolzogen's 31 October


is again taken from the Vossische

1900. His own account of the origjns of his Wie ich mich urns Leben Verlag of

cabaret may be found in Ernst von Wolzogen, brachte: Erinnerungen und Erfahrungen


Georg Westermann,

1922), pp. 194-256. For general histories in Germany,

this and other cabarets R~sler,

see Rainer Otto and Walter Kabaretts im


Abriss des deutschsprachigen

(Berlin: Henschelverlag, deutschen Kabarett,

1977); Walter R~sler, Das Chanson (Berlin: Henschelverlag,



Heinz Greul, des Kabaretts


die die Zeit bedeuten: Taschenbuch

Die Kulturgeschichte Verlag, 1971); and durch 100 is the

(Munich: Deutscher Pfeffer

Klaus Budzinski, Jahre Kabarett

ins Getriebe:

Ein Streifzug

(Munich: Heyne Verlag, conducted

1984). This article der KUnste,

based upon research Landesarchiv

in the Akademie

and the Staatsbibliothek the MMrkisches Museum


Kulturbesitz and the

in West Berlin; Staatsarchiv This research

in East Berlin; Staatsarchiv

Potsdam and the Zentrales was made possible


by a leave from Harvard University zu Berlin. 1901 in Ludwig (Munich:

and a fellowship

from the Wissenschaftskolleg of 16 November and 1 December



Ein Leben in Briefen


ed. Anton Keller

Piper Verlag, Potsdam,

1968), pp. 96, 103. Police report

in Staatsarchiv

Pro Br. Rep. 30 Berlin C, Pol. Pr&s. Tit. 74, Th 793, Review in Vorw8rts, 9 June 1901. were published in Max Reinhardt, und Loeffler, 1901).

pp. 42-42r. 5.

Some of these parodies

Schall und Rauch: Erster Band

(Berlin: Schuster

.n .

6. 1902;

See the 1902


in the Deutsche Potsdam, career, Traum


24 January des Innern For Braulich, (Berlin:

and the report history

of Possart

to the Ministerium

of 4 January a critical Max Reinhardt:

in Staatsarchiv of Reinhardt's zwischen

TH 804, p. 153. see Heinrich

Theater 1969),

nnd Wirklichkeit


7. For the police crackdown in Staatsarchiv Potsdam, Th 1499.

from 1904 on, see the documentation

8. See Egon Jameson,

Am FlUgel: Rudolph Nelson 1967), pp. 81-99.

(Berlin: Haude

& Spenersche


~. See Dora Duncker, Revue,"

"Das Metropoltheater

und die Berliner

in BUhne und Welt, 10/1 (1907-08), 46-56; Walter Freund, des Berliner Metropoltheaters," in Kleine

"Aus der FrUhzeit Schriften

der Gesellschaft

fUr Theaterfreunde,

no. 19 (Berlin:

1962), 45-66; Otto Schneidereit, Spaziergange durch Berlins

Berlin wie es weint und lacht: (Berlin: VEB Lied of revues in Revue


der Zeit, 1976), pp. 110-139. More general histories Berlin may be found in Franz-Peter in Berlin und Wien 1900-1938 Verlag,

Kothes, Die theatralische Heinrichshofen's


1977); and Ingrid Heinrich-Jost, und Unterhaltungstheater Kulturgeschichte

Auf ins Metropol: im ausgehenden 19. Jahrhundert:

SpecialitatenEin Kapitel
n . d. ) •


(Berlin: Edition Berlin 750,

10. Bethmann


letter of 5 July 1905 is located




Th 1499. in Otto Reutter, Berlin. 1914, Act 3, pp. 15-18;

11. See the "Kuplet"


in Landesarchiv


12 . Raoul Hausmann, Lebensauffassung" Dada Berlin: pp. 49-52.
13 •

"Pamphlet gegen die Weimarische eds., 1979),

(1919), in Karl Riha and Hanne Bergius, Aktionen (Stuttgart:

Texte, Manifeste,


Walter Mehring, Ausgang

Einfach klassisch!

Eine Orestie mit 1919).

14 •

(Berlin: Adolph FUrstner,

Berliner action.


no. 324, 17 July 1919 recounts


15 . For the Red Revel Revue, Theater (Reinbek: Rowohlt,

see Erwin Piscator,

Das politische

1963), pp. 65-69; and Ludwig Hoffmann Deutsches Arbeitertheater 1918-1933

and ~aniel Hoffmann-Ostwald, (Berlin: Henschelverlag, 16 . For the agitprop last-named

1977), pp. 154-166. movement, see the documents in the

work, as well as Daniel Hoffmann-Ostwald 1924-1933 (Leipzig: VEB Friedrich of "Celly de Rheidt: Potsdam,
is analyzed

and Ursula Hofmeister, 1960).

Behse, Agitprop

17 . See the program (December
of women Thomas und

10 Sch~nheits-Tanzabende"
The K100ss use and

1919) in Staatsarchiv
in production numbers KBrperbilder: (Frankfurt Tucholsky, Werke Robitschek, in Der (Reinbek: "5 Jahre

Th 1505, p. 13.
in Reinhard in 1980). (1919), vol. in pp. (1929) p.


Menschenornamente am Main: "Politische Rowohlt, Kabarett v o L, Syndikat, Couplets" 1975), der


Revuefilm 18. Kurt

Gesammelte and Kurt







11 (December



19. Walter Mehring, Lustbarkeiten: (DUsseldorf: Benjamin, (Frankfurt

"Das kesse Lied,"

in Chronik der 1918-1933

Die Gedichte, Claassen Verlag,

Lieder und Chansons

1981), pp. 76-78; and Walter in Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 3

"Linke Melancholie," am Main: Suhrkamp,

1972), pp. 280-281. of chansons

For accounts

of three of the major text-writers see Harold Poor, Kurt Tucholsky

in the Weimar era, 1914-1935

and the Ordeal of Germany,

(New York: Scribner's, Schriftsteller zwischen

1968); Frank Hellberg, Kabarett

Walter Mehring: (Bonn: Bouvier,

und Avantgarde

1983); and Helga Bemmann, und Werk 20.

Humor auf Taille: 1983).

Erich K~stner -- Leben

(Berlin: Verlag der Nation, Ernst von Wolzogen,


und Aussichten:

Ein Erntebuch

(Berlin: F. Fontane, in his "Politische "The Germans better

1908), p. 227. Tucholsky (1919), Gesammelte

made a similar point Werke, vol. 2, p. 171: joke is a


still don't know

... that a well-aimed


for public anger than an ugly riot that can't The comment in the text is from Tucholsky's in Tucholsky, 1962), p. 259. Eine

be brought

under control."

letter of 17 May 1933 to Walter Ausgew~hlte The Mehring Biographie Briefe 1913-1935


(Reinbek: Rowohlt,

quote is cited in Urs Bader, des Jahrhunderts,"

"Walter Mehring:

Basler Zeitung,

25 April 1981.

The devil has his say in chapter 21. "An unsere G~ste," Akademie

25 of Doktor Faustus. 1933 program of the Theatersammlung. in the Rundschreiben see

in the December

Musenschaukel, Military-style

der KUnste

(West Berlin),


numbers were forbidden

of 2 July 1940 by the president

of the Reichstheaterkammer;

Zentrales Staatsarchiv Potsdam, Reichsministerium

fUr Yolksaufklarung

j ~•

und Propaganda,

Abt. VI, no. 472, p. 260.

~ 22. Eva Somorova,



im Konzentrationslager



(Theresienstadt)," und Manege Daniel, "

in Kassette

5: Ein Almanach

fUr BUhne, Podium

(Berlin: Henschelverlag, The Freest Theater Camps," Theatre

1981), pp. 161-169; and Curt

in the Reich:

In the German


Arts, 25 (1941), 801-807.

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