Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Weintraubs Syncopators, a Berlin jazz-band

Weintraubs Syncopators
 At their peak beginning around 1928 the Weintraub Syncopators was the premiere hot jazz band in Germany. The group was formed by the pianist Stefan Weintraub and saxophonist/clarinetist Horst Graff in 1924. In 1927 pianist and arranger Friedrich Hollander took over leadership as Weintraub moved to drums.

In 1913, Weintraub began after graduation in his hometown Breslau (Wrocław)  apprenticeship in pharmacy and was drafted in 1916 for military service. After returning from the World War, he moved to Berlin, where he worked in the food industry. Jazz, the new American dance music, fascinated him; Weintraub was so talented as a pianist that he could reenact tracks easily. Together with the eight years younger Berliner Horst Graff, who played saxophone and also had organizational talent, he founded the dance band Stefan Weintraub, which soon got the name Weintraubs Syncopators. In 1924, the five-member band appeared for the first time.

The Weintraub Syncopators were so successful that their members became professional musicians and expanded the band. Among the members was the chemistry student Ansco Bruinier, who had received cello lessons, but also played trumpet, saxophone and Susaphon and mastered the art whistling in addition to the singing. His brother Franz S. Bruinier was the first composer of Bertolt Brecht (who worked later with Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler). As a pianist and composer, Franz Bruinier participated in musical-literary events, the so-called MA (for Montag Abend, "Monday Evening"), in which he participated in the Syncopators. Here Friedrich Hollaender got to know the group and took part in the revues supervised by him, where he himself took over the piano part. Already in 1927 the band performed in Max Reinhardt's revue "What they want", "Hetärengespräche", "That's you", "Das spricht Bände" and "Around us the Gedächtniskirche". With Hollaender’s entry, Stefan Weintraub switched from the piano to the drums.

Weintraub's Syncopators were fascinating by their musical and stylistic versatility between classical parody, Latin American dances, Viennese waltzes, French cabaret chansons, swing and Chicago jazz: the individual musicians changed several instruments in one title; between the pieces, they also changed clothes according to the topic. They also entertained the audience by imitating animal sounds, using other instruments, unusual tools such as kitchen utensils as instruments, or playing unfamiliar positions (e.g., lying on the floor). Theatrical, grotesque and clownish elements were so masterfully combined with musical entertainment and jazz that Weintraub's Syncopators was soon recognized as the most sought-after stage orchestra in Berlin. In the revue "Please come on board" they appeared as companions and teammates of Josephine Baker. 1928 it came to first recordings. The band consisted of Friedrich Hollaender (piano), Stefan Weintraub (drums), Paul Aronovici (trumpet), John Kaiser (trombone), Horst Graff (clarinet, alto saxophone), Freddy Wise (tenor saxophone, bass saxophone and clarinet), Cyril "Baby " Schulvater (banjo and guitar) and Ansco Bruinier (trumpet, tuba and bass). Stefan Weintraub had the skills of a bandleader and ensured the artistic and human cohesion between the different musicians.

The Syncopators were also involved on September 6, 1929 in the scandal-ridden premiere of the play "The Merchant of Berlin" by Walter Mehring at the Berlin Volksbühne, to which Hanns Eisler had written the music. They also appeared in the first german sound movie The Blue Angel, which Joseph von Sternberg staged in 1930, starring Marlene Dietrich. The jazz arrangements came from Franz Wachsmann, Hollander's successor as pianist of the group. Hollaender brought the band for some recordings, where they appeared as  "Friedrich Hollaender and his jazz symphonists". Presumably, the syncopators were also involved in recordings by Peter Kreuder and Marlene Dietrich. Also in 1930 they were together with Paul Morgan, Max Hansen and the tenor Carl Jöken in the cabaret sound film Das Kabinett des Dr. Larifari (not Caligari...), directed by Robert Wohlmuth.

In 1933 the Weintraubs Syncopators played side by side with Hans Albers in the UFA-film "Today it depends" („Heute kommt’s drauf an“). This was the last of 20 feature films in which they were involved, before they were affected as a so-called "non-Aryan" in Germany by the performance ban. They undertook extensive foreign tours - even to the Soviet Union (1935, 1936) and to Japan (1937). The group wanted to emigrate to Australia. With a lucrative contract, the Weintraub Syncopators arrived in Australia in July 1937, where a month-long tour began in October. Australian audiences reacted enthusiastically, but the musicians' union resisted by all means against the successful group, at that time still the most internationally known German jazz group.

Eventually they did settle in Australia, where Stefan Weintraub died in 1981.

Main source: Wikipedia 

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Egon Erwin Kisch, the raging reporter

Egon Erwin Kisch

Egon Erwin Kisch (1885-1948) was born into a German-speaking Sephardic Jewish family in Prague, at that time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and began his journalistic career as a reporter for a Prague German-language newspaper. His most notable story of this period was his uncovering of the spy scandal involving Alfred Redl. The hungarian film-maker István Szabó made a film about this scandal in 1985 : « Colonel Redl », with Klaus-Maria Brandauer in the main rôle.

At the outbreak of World War I, Kisch was called up for military service and became a corporal in the Austrian army. He was briefly imprisoned in 1916 for publishing reports from the front that criticised the Austrian military's conduct of the war, but nonetheless later served in the army's press quarters along with fellow writers Franz Werfel and Robert Musil.

The war radicalised Kisch. He deserted in October 1918 as the war came to an end and played a leading role in the abortive left-wing revolution in Vienna in November of that year. Kisch became a member of the Austrian Communist Party and remained a Communist for the rest of his life.

Between 1921 and 1930 Kisch, though a citizen of Czechoslovakia, lived primarily in Berlin, where his work found a new and appreciative audience. In books of collected journalism such as Der rasende Reporter (The Raging Reporter or, more accurately, the reporter that runs like mad) he cultivated the image of a witty, gritty, daring reporter always on the move, a cigarette clamped doggedly between his lips. His work and his public persona found an echo in the artistic movement of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) , a major strand in the culture of the Weimar Republic.

From 1925 onwards Kisch was a speaker and operative of the communist international and a senior figure in the publishing empire of the West European branch of the Comintern run by communist propagandist Willi Münzenberg.

On 28 February 1933, the day after the Reichstag fire, Kisch was one of many prominent opponents of Nazism to be arrested, but as a Czechoslovak citizen, he was expelled from Germany and his works were banned and burnt.

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Friday, December 1, 2017

Berlin 1920: the needy and the greedy

Queuing up for butter in Berlin 1918
Queuing up for butter

An excerpt from Goodbye to Berlin, by Christopher Isherwood

That is the novel on which the film Cabaret, with Liza Minelli, was based.

« Herr Krampf, a young engineer, one of my pupils, describes his childhood during the days of the War and the Inflation. During the last years of the War, the straps disappeared from the windows of railway carriages: people had cut them off in order to sell the leather. You even saw men and women going about in clothes made from the carriage upholstery. A party of Krampf’s school friends broke into a factory one night and stole all the leather driving-belts. Everybody stole. Everybody sold what they had to sell--themselves included. A boy of fourteen, from Krampf’s class, peddled cocaine between school hours, in the streets.
Farmers and butchers were omnipotent. Their slightest whim had to be gratified, if you wanted vegetables or meat. The Krampf family knew of a butcher in a little village outside Berlin who always had meat to sell. But the butcher had a peculiar sexual perversion. His greatest erotic pleasure was to pinch and slap the cheeks of a sensitive, well-bred girl or woman. The possibility of thus humiliating a lady like Frau Krampf excited him enormously: unless he was allowed to realise his fantasy, he refused, absolutely, to do business. So, every Sunday, Krampf’s mother would travel out to the village with her children, and patiently offer her cheeks to be slapped and pinched, in exchange for some cutlets or a steak. »

One billion marks. How many zeroes?

One wonders whether this comical but above all brutal and tragic social reality did not have its share in the "demoralization" of Berlin society in the 1920s. Was the emergence of “swinging” Berlin, with its sexual freedom, linked to the need for many women (and men) to prostitute themselves, especially during the war and in the first years of the decade, when the misery was worst? Maybe it "dedramatized" sex for money, and even other kinds of sex ?

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Eric Weitz' book about Weimar Germany (and Weimar Berlin)

Weimar Germany, a book

University of Minnesota history professor Eric D. Weitz has written a book about Weimar Germany. He sees that era as a time of progressive achievements and he views Weimar in its own right, not just as a prelude to the Third Reich.

Link to professor Weitz' book on Amazon

One of the chapters is devoted to Berlin, the capital of the Weimar Republic.

Here, a excerpt from that chapter :

Weimar was Berlin, Berlin Weimar. With more than four million residents, the capital was by far the largest city in Germany, the second largest in Europe, a megalopolis that charmed and fright-
ened, attracted and repelled Germans and foreigners alike. 

In the 1920s it was one of Germany’s and Europe’s great cultural centers, the home of the Philharmonie, the State Opera, the Comic Opera, scores of theaters, and a cluster of great museums, all located in the center of the city. Berlin was a magnet for artists and poets, the young and ambitious. It had a glittering nightclub scene, including scores of homosexual bars, and a relentless fascination with the body and sex.

Berlin was a great economic machine that churned out electrical goods, textiles, and confectionary products in huge quantities. It was the governmental center, and from the famed Wilhelmstraße, home of the Foreign Office, the Reich Chancellery, where the government sat, and the Reichstag, the parliament building, Germany’s leaders and bureaucrats tried desperately to maintain order, promote prosperity, and revive the nation’s international position. 

It was a city of leisure, with neighborhoods of elegant wealth and amusement parks, a zoo, and numerous lakes accessible by rail or streetcar to virtually all Berliners. Its infamous tenement blocks rivaled the slums of any great city for their darkness, congestion, and poverty. Tens of thousands of Russian émigrés, fleeing from communism, and Poles looking for work and business opportunities contributed to the city’s international feel. 

Berlin’s Jewish community was the largest in Germany, its main synagogue an elegant symbol of piety and prosperity. The Berlin Dom, the Protestant cathedral commissioned by Kaiser Wilhelm II and completed in 1905, had a massive presence, its bombastic, late Renaissance style a testament to the pretensions and arrogance of the Hohenzollern rulers deposed in the revolution of 1918–19.

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Thursday, November 23, 2017

Rudolf Belling, the triad and the boxer

The Boxer

Rudolf Belling, a Berliner artist

The sculptor Rudolf Belling, born in Berlin in 1886, is one of those artists whom the Nazis declared "degenerate" when they come to power. The term already existed before, to designate avant-garde art, which parted from the classical style considered authentically German.

What is special about Belling is that, while considered degenerate, one of his works was chosen for a Pure German art exhibition.

In 1918, with the revolutionary events taking place in Germany, Belling took part in the Workers' Councils for Art. He also participates in the foundation of the Novembergruppe, grouping progressive artists.

In 1931 he entered the Prussian Academy of Arts in Berlin. But in 1933, with the coming to power of Hitler, he was considered degenerate and has to resign. In 1935, he emigrated to the United States and the Nazi regime forbade him to return home.

His sculpture Dreiklang (Triad), from 1924, is a ragged twist of interlocking prongs made from lustrous birchwood. Inescapably modern, it is a pioneering example of abstract sculpture, and was Belling’s first real success. Its split structure might symbolise the schools of painting, sculpture and architecture that Belling sought to unify.

In 1937 Dreiklang was one of the artworks exposed in Munich’s Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition. Conceived by Reich propagandist Joseph Goebbels and authorised by Adolf Hitler, the show took aim at modern work that was deemed “decadent” or “racially impure” by the National Socialist party – but Dreiklang’s presence underlined the confusion and complexity surrounding the Nazis’ cultural approach. At another place in Munich, at the same time, Belling’s more traditional sculpture of the German boxer Max Schmeling was shown in the state-sanctioned Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung (Great German Art Exhibition) in the House of German Art. When the authorities realised the coincidence, Belling’s “degenerate” pieces were quietly removed, but The Boxer was left.

The Abteiberg Museum in Mönchengladbach presents to the public several works by Rudolf Belling.


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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Wilhelm Heise, a neo-objectivistic painter under the Weimar republic

Painter Wilhelm Heise - Die Stadt - 1922
Die Stadt, 1922

Wilhelm Heise (1892-1965) began his work, like many other German artists of that time, under the sign of Expressionism, to be considered later a "neo-objectivist". The neo-objectivists advocated an approach closer to the visible reality than the Expressionists and, in some cases (Otto Dix, George Grosz), a commitment in the social fights of the time.

I find very few biographical details about Heise on the Net. It seems clear that he was not affected by the arrival of the Nazis in power, unlike other avant-gardists, probably because his style, as well as the absence of political subjects in his paintings, made him acceptable or at least "not dangerous" in the eyes of the new masters of Germany.

He married Lisa Heise, who had maintained a correspondence with the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, an exchange that she published after the Rilke’s death under the name "Letters to a young girl". Lisa also published a novel of her own production.

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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Walter Benjamin, a Berlin intellectual

Photo Walter Benjamin

Walter Benjamin

When one thinks of the Berlin of the 1920s, the Berlin that survived the German defeat in the Great War and has not yet experienced the Hitlerian nightmare, one thinks often of cabarets, revue theaters, in short, of the nightlife of those years.

We also think of art, and first and foremost o
f painters like George Grosz, with his ruthless portraits, as well as of Otto Dix. Of literature perhaps: Alfred Döblin, Bertolt Brecht.

But one thinks
more seldom, perhaps, of the intellectual life of the German capital. And yet, there is so much to say about it. There was Hannah Arendt, Gershom Scholem, Georg Lukács, Theodor Adorno. And Walter Benjamin, literary critic and philosopher.

Benjamin was born in Berlin in 1892. A Berliner, therefore, but a universal Berliner, who spent much of his life in Switzerland, France, Italy, Spain, Israel.

Benjamin wrote an autobiographical book about his childhood in Berlin, but I find it difficult to find testimonials about his life in Berlin. There are, however, many texts
by him on Paris, on its covered passages, on Charles Baudelaire.

Benjamin suffered a tragic death in 1940 while trying to escape the Nazis. It is in the Spanish border town of Port Bou that he finished his days. There is a beautiful monument dedicated to his memory in this Catalan city.

Here is the link of an emission on Walter Benjamin,
in French:

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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

A Berlin novel

Berlin street 1927

An excerpt from the novel « L’exposition », by Hugo Walter

... which takes place in Berlin in the years of the Weimar Republic. The novel is written in French but it will soon be available in English translation.

The first day of Bang in Berlin would not deserve to be stated in detail if this gentleman was not going to play a role of first order in the genesis of the work of art which several years later will concern so much Morel, the art dealer, and Hans Schattendorf, the head of Cultural Action in Spandau.

Bang had taken the train from Copenhagen to Edser and from there a ferry to Rostock. At nine o'clock in the morning of a day of 1925, his train stopped with a bump under the glass roof of the Lehrter Bahnhof.

After leaving the station, he could admire the neo-classical silhouette of the Reichstag on the other side of the Spree, with its purple rectangular dome and its four towers, one in each corner of the building. To the right and left, trains were passing over the river, passengers from the suburbs queued up for the bus that would take them to their workplaces in the city center, or they hurried towards the S-Bahn , the urban railway that connects the Lehrter with other railway nodes of the capital.

Bang had imagined Berlin as a dark city, all brown and black. Large imposing buildings, facing small squares, narrow openings in a dense medieval fabric. But he saw nothing medieval here ; The Unter den Linden, wide and luminous, people walking quietly under the trees, sitting in the public benches of the central aisle or sipping coffee in the terraces. An intense traffic, well regulated by policemen with precise gestures.

On a trafic island in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the Friedrichstrasse, a black man of papier-mache. Elegant costume, bow tie and hat, his hands on his waist. With a big smile, he announces the good news: "In Berlin or Paramaribo, I drink nothing but coffee Schibo."

The signs of a policeman force the taxi to stop. From the Friedrichstrasse, a dozen young ladies are approaching while dancing a cancan: an advertising for a show at the Admirals-Palast. "It's the Tiller-girls," says the driver. "But," puts forward Bang, "Their sign says Jackson-girls." "Psss," answers the driver, shrugging his shoulders, "the city is full of these girls, and there are always new ones coming from London or Leipzig, I’ll be damned if I know. I just hope they don’t try to cross the street right now... »

Very close to his hotel, at the Wittenbergplatz, Bang finds a café: the Schimmel. The menu offers a wide variety of drinks: Moka coffee, Fachinger mineral water, Tarragona wine, Vermouth of Cadiz, Elixir of Antwerp. But it was hot in Berlin this October of 1925. He did not choose neither an Arak grog or a Goldwasser from Danzig:

"Ein Bier, bitte."

The brillantined waiter moves away with a nod.

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Friday, November 3, 2017

A film on Berlin in 1934

Berlin street 1934

 Link youtube:      Berlin 1934

The film was shot in 1934, probably during the summer. The Weimar Republic had ceased to exist a year ago. The proof: the swastikas that we see here and there, the people gathered around a stage to listen to the speech of a character who could be a Hitler double (if it is not the mass murderer himself, Chancellor of the Reich since one year before...) whom they greet with the usual Heil, a newsstand with an issue of the Illustrierte Zeitung with the Führer on its front page. We also learn that it was (still) possible to buy the New York Times or the London Daily Mail, among other foreign publications.

In addition, the photographer takes us to the main thoroughfares: the Friedrichstrasse, the Unter den Linden, the Kurfürstendamm, as well as the most famous monuments, including the Memorial Church (Gedächtniskirche), eleven years before its destruction by allied bombs.

At 3'40 min, a facade of modernist architecture reminiscent of the Bauhaus, a style that the Nazis hated (“degenerate architecture”) t. But in 1934 the ideological battle had not yet been definitively lost for the artistic avant-garde and it was still possible to show such images in this film, no doubt thought of as a tourist promotion.

Towards the end of the film, a gymnastics exhibition at the Olympic Stadium (?) Which was to host two years later the Olympic Games, filmed by Leni Riefenstahl and where the black athlete Jesse Owens publicly humiliated the Nazis, snatching the medal of gold from the German champion.

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Saturday, October 28, 2017

Lotte Laserstein, a painter in Berlin

Lotte Laserstein - Abend uber Potsdam - Berlin
Abend uber Potsdam

Lotte Laserstein

The German-Swedish painter Lotte Laserstein was born in Prussia in 1898. She received her artistic training at the Berlin Art Academy, which she entered only a couple of years after it had opened its doors to women painters. 
Berlin in the 1920s was an uneasy yet exciting place. Laserstein painted cadavers to illustrate text books to obtain cash during the period of hyperinflation. During this time women were growing in independence and were increasingly entering the workplace. Laserstein depicted the New Woman, who also adopted a stereotyped appearance of a masculine look, typically with a man's style haircut.

Her early work was typical of both the avant-garde New Objectivity movement and the extremely traditional backward-looking trends in German art of the period. 

Her works were peopled with attenuated intellectuals such as one sees in the portraits of Christian Schad, but her figures also often had a strong, cold, and athletic look that would have made them appropriate for Nazi propaganda posters. A painting of a lady tennis player, bursting with strength, is a good example of the type. Laserstein is difficult to place conclusively in any aesthetic category. There is a sense of emotion and a connection with her models which does not appear to be suited to New Objectivity. Art historians have also argued for her placement within German Realism and German Naturalism.

Laserstein's masterpiece was the large 1930 painting Abend über Potsdam (Evening over Potsdam), with Potsdam's skyline arrayed in the far distance. The mood is pensive and full of ennui.

During the Nazi period, Laserstein, with Jewish roots, emigrated to Sweden.
She was rediscovered in 1987, when Thomas Agnew and Sons and the Belgrave Gallery organized a joint exhibition. In 2003, a large retrospective of Laserstein's work was held in Berlin. 
She died in 1993.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Berlin and George Grosz

George Grosz - Street in Berlin - 1931
Street in Berlin, 1931

Berlin in the 30s: between frenzy and chaos (from the excellent French website “L’histoire par l’image" Author: Charlotte Denoël)

The First World War and the German defeat had important political and economic consequences. On one hand, the fall of the monarchy in November 1918 and the official proclamation of the Weimar Republic a few months later did not succeed in stifling the revolutionary agitation, maintained by both the extreme left and the extreme right and militarist formations. The war gave way to a period of violent internal disorder, especially in Berlin, where the Spartacist revolution took place at the beginning of 1919.
On the other hand, in 1923, the Weimar Republic faced a very serious economic crisis: Germany suffered an unprecedented inflation, which ruined millions of savers and made a lasting impression on the minds of some industrialists. get rich during this time. Despite the recovery of the economic and social situation in the following years, social inequalities remain glaring, and the government was the object of increasingly virulent criticism not only of the extremist parties, but also of the intellectuals.

George Grosz (1893-1959), cartoonist and painter from Berlin, put his art at the service of social criticism. Mobilized during the war, he returned to Berlin in 1918, where he took part in political activity: he contributed to the founding of the Dada movement in Berlin in 1918, before joining the German Communist Party, while his caricatures, very aggressive, mercilessly pit the representatives of the bourgeoisie and refuse to offer an embellished image of reality.
Painted in 1931, this Street in Berlin is distinguished by the violence of its iconography and its style: in this street scene, Grosz depicts the loneliness of people from different social classes. The bourgeois of the time, identifiable thanks to their clothes typical of the fashion of the Roaring Twenties, their pig facies or their plump forms, rub shoulders with the people, who here takes the appearance of a butcher's view of the back, an apron knotted at the waist. History burst into the midst of the stage through a woman dressed in black, the incarnation of the war widow, an omnipresent figure in Germany where the First World War decimated an entire generation. All these human beings wander in the street, without their paths crossing one another. In the background, from left to right, a railway station sign, butcher's stalls, a new building surrounded by wooded areas and a car, remind us that the scene takes place in the German capital, a symbol of modernity.

Grosz's painting, which in some respects is close to the art of Hieronymus Bosch, is nevertheless distinguished by its style: its sketching character, its rapid and disorderly brushstrokes that evoke graffiti. its lack of material effects and the darkness of its tones inscribe this canvas in its time. The impression of fragmentation, asymmetry and overlapping plans are a reflection of urban frenzy and chaos.

Latent in this work, Berlin, which was the object of love, anguishes and hatred of Grosz, aroused the same contradictory feelings among the artists who came to settle there, the German capital having become the meeting point of the European avant-gardes. Its extraordinarily rapid growth in the nineteenth century helped to forge a reputation as a city of "new rich". The enrichment of the bourgeois class, which coincided with the growth of the proletariat in the 1920s and 1930s, only accentuated the contrasts between rich and poor neighborhoods. Moreover, Berlin was for a long time the theater of bloody street fighting. Thus, the sordid poverty and the climate of violence which prevailed continuously in Berlin constitute the backdrop of the works realized at that time. But the arrival of Hitler to power on January 30, 1933 put an end to all artistic expression and brought about the ruin of the Berlin civilization. The avant-garde artists, like Grosz, who had not been able to go into exile in the United States or elsewhere, were persecuted by the Nazis, and their works described as "degenerate art".

Charlotte DENOEL, "Berlin in the 30s: between frenzy and chaos"
L’histoire par l’image

URL: http://www.histoire-image.org/etudes/berlin-annees-30-entre-frenesie-chaos

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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Jewish Berlin under the Weimar era

Berlin Synagogue Fasanenstrasse 1916
Synagogue on Fasanenstrasse, 1916

In the 1920s, Yiddish was more than just a lingua franca for East European Jewish émigrés; it was also a language of high culture, as demonstrated by a brilliant new book, “Yiddish in Weimar Berlin: At the Crossroads of Diaspora Politics and Culture” (Legenda Books), edited by New York University Yiddish scholar Gennady Estraikh and University of Michigan professor Mikhail Krutikov.

Yiddish in Weimar Berlin” describes street scenes in the ironically named “Jewish Switzerland,” a slum northeast of Alexanderplatz, which housed arrivals from Poland. Though poverty-stricken, the area boasted theatrical performances by the touring Vilna Troupe, while Yiddish writers clustered at the Romanisches Café, nicknamed the Rakhmonisches (Pity) Café by its regulars to evoke its “poor food and run-down interior.”

(My comment : The area mentioned must be the Scheunenviertel. But the café mockingly called Rakhmonisches can hardly be the Romanisches itself, which was in a different area and whose interior was not really run-down, but some café in the Scheunenviertel.)

Another chapter of “Yiddish in Weimar Berlin” explores how in 1921, Abraham Cahan decided that Berlin was “in a sense, the most significant city in the world” for Jews, and recruited staff for a large Forverts bureau there. Jacob Lestschinsky, a Ukrainian-born scholar of Jewish sociology and demography was hired as the bureau chief.

Though Lestschinsky would be repeatedly arrested for his courageous reporting on Berlin’s anti-Semitic pogroms, his accurate reports were discounted by fellow Jews like Alfred Döblin and Asch, who diagnosed Lestschinsky’s articles as an East European journalist’s overreactions, adding: “Germany is not Ukraine!”

By 1933, the Berlin Forverts bureau was dissolved by exile or deportation. Yet throughout the war, the Forverts had a subscriber in Berlin, Johannes Pohl, a Judaica specialist at the Prussian State Library whose knowledge helped the Nazis loot Jewish libraries throughout German-occupied Europe.

From an article on the Forward newspaper

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Georg Scholz, the New Objectivity

Georg Scholz - Self portrait - 1926
Self-portrait, 1926

The German artist Georg Scholz 

... had his artistic training at the Karlsruhe Academy. His teachers included Hans Thoma. He later studied in Berlin under Lovis Corinth. After military service in World War I, he resumed painting, working in a style which can be described as both cubist and futurist.

In 1919 he became a member of the Communist Party, and his work of the next few years is harshly critical of the social and economic order in postwar Germany.

Scholz was one of the leaders of the New Objectivity school, along with Otto Dix, George Grosz and Christian Schad. He was appointed a professor at the State Academy of Art in Karlsruhe in 1925. Scholz began contributing in 1926 to the satirical magazine Simplicissimus, and in 1928 he visited Paris where he especially appreciated the work of Pierre Bonnard.

With the rise to power of Hitler and the National Socialists in 1933, Scholz was quickly dismissed from his teaching position. Declared a Degenerate Artist, his works were among those seized in 1937 as part of a campaign by the Nazis to "purify" German culture, and he was forbidden to paint in 1939. He died in 1945, shortly after the war end.

Georg Scholz - Newspaper sellers

                  By Georg Scholz - via imgur.com, Public Domain,

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Hotel Excelsior Berlin

Restaurant Hotel Excelsior - Menu - 1932 Berlin

Menu (1932) of one of the restaurants of Hotel Excelsior, opened in 1908. Standing on Askanischen Platz, across the street from Anhalter Bahnhof. One of the most modern and biggest hotels in the world. This colossus had 600 rooms, 9 restaurants, an array of amenities including a butcher’s and a baker’s and, the cherry on the cake, an underground tunnel connecting the hotel to the station over the road. Hotel guests could even buy their train tickets at The Excelsior. It is alleged that The Excelsior was the initial choice of the Nazi Party leadership to host Adolf Hitler on the eve of his assumption of power. The hotel director, a certain Curt Elschner, not a great friend of the Nazi movement, is said to have turned down the honour.

Hotel Excelsior 1930 Berlin

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Monday, October 9, 2017

Gustav Wunderwald, painter of Berlin

Gustav Wunderwald - Bridge over Ackerstrasse - 1927
Bridge over Ackerstrasse, 1927

Gustav Wunderwald (1882 - 1945) 

... was a German painter of the New Objectivity style, and a theatrical set designer, born in Cologne.
In 1925 and 1926, Wunderwald was represented at the Great Berlin Art Exhibition, and from 1927 in numerous national exhibitions. His works dealt with industrial landscapes in the Berlin districts of Moabit and Wedding, street canyons of Prenzlauer Berg, tenements, houses and back-to-backs in Spandau. He painted bridges, subways, train stations, billboards, as well as villas in Charlottenburg. People were reduced to the role of anonymous figures seen from behind.
Of this period of his creativity he wrote: "The saddest things hit me in the stomach. Moabit and Wedding grab me most with their sombreness and desolation" (1926).
In the Nazi era, his works were disparaged by the authorities and from 1934 he was not allowed to exhibit or sell work. During this period he made a living tinting advertising films for Ufa and Mars Film-
The rediscovery of Wunderwald after the Second World War was the work of Berlin art chief officer Friedrich Lambart with the 1950 retrospective "Images of Berlin".  (Wikipedia)

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Friday, October 6, 2017

Berlin, early morning

Photo Berlin street 1929

From L'exposition, novel by Hugo Walter, available at  Amazon.fr

He loved his work at Babelsberg as he loved Berlin. Sometimes, if he was not in too much of a hurry, he would stop for two minutes on his way to work to admire the view from the bridge over the Spree while lighting a Juno.

Seven thirty. Berlin got under way. An incessant caravan of workers and clerks comes out of the metro's mouth or hurries to the S-Bahn.He enjoys studying the different hats. There are wide-brimmed felts or those of a more compact shape, whose owners also wear ties or bow ties. But what prevails in this neighborhood are the caps, with a narrow visor or a wide, glossy appearance like those of coachmen or porters. Occasionally a panama, tropical island in an ocean of dark felt. And then the secretaries, typists, standard operatives, with their blue, green, pink, headpieces of color touches in the male swirl gray.

The cigarette finished, he crosses the bridge too. On the other side of the river, a circle of onlookers. A man in a brown suit and a plaid cap, standing behind a folding table, attracts the attention of passers-by with a stentor voice. "On behalf of the well-known and renowned house Krüger und Söhne, for the very first time in the capital of the Reich." But: what does he sell? There is no kitchen knife. There is no wallet with a special pocket for identity documents and pictures of "loved ones", ideal for both gentlemen and ladies.
Folded on his right arm, a jacket that he proceeds to stain with black ink. In his left hand, a small cardboard box. He deposits the jacket on the table, draws a bottle of water and a glass from his suitcase, opens the box and dilutes its contents - a white powder - into the glass of water. He clogs the opening of the glass with the palm of the hand and shakes energetically. Then he applies the mixture to the jacket.
Miraculously, the ink stain disappears. "Miracle?" No such thing, dear and highly respected public, simply the strictly scientific effect of this amazing product that I have the pleasure and honor to put at your disposal in absolute exclusiveness and in representation of the firm Krüger und Söhne, the flagship of the German chemical industry, a product whose formula is a carefully guarded secret, no miracle, ladies and gentlemen, but what can truly and without exaggeration be called miraculous is its price: barely a mark twenty box, a special promotion valid only on the date of today. "

Sacha sets out to cross the avenue running parallel to the bridge when he sees a tram of line thirty-two arriving. Two pedestrians are approaching the track too. "Watch out!" He shouts. The men look at him curiously but they do not stop their march, it is rather the tram which reduces the speed, to stop completely at two meters of the pedestrians. Unperturbed, they pass in front of the vehicle without looking at him.
How could they foresee that the tram would stop? There is no stop at this place. But they know well that at this point the conductor is obliged to go down to the track to effect the change of needles with his iron bar.

He is fascinated by this casualness, by this metropolitan assurance, by the elegance of the movement of people, skilfully avoiding other passers-by, judiciously assessing speeds and obstacles so as never to have to stop, never to break this law of the big city: the continuous movement.

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Monday, October 2, 2017

Berlin is Dada, we are all Dada !

Dada exhibition Berlin 1920

Revolution in Berlin in 1920

From the blog of Philippe CADIOU

1920: international Dada fair in Berlin. A moment of grace in the twentieth century. After this push up, the Dada effect will dissolve, except for the artists who will be involved: George Grosz, Hannah Höch (the Dadasophe), John Heartfield, Franz Jung, Walter Mehring, Erwin Piscator, Richard Huelsenbeck , Raoul Hausmann (the Dadasophe), Carl Einstein, Hans Arp, Max Ernst (the Dadamax), Johannes Baader, Walter Serner, Wieland Herzfeld, Kurt Schwitters ... of which so little is known today.

Picasso discovers art as a creative revolution in the context of painting - his work revolves around an empty nucleus that always requires starting from scratch and moving in new directions. Dada artists have also discovered art as a creative revolution by exploding the general framework of the aesthetic tradition, art as a whole becomes an empty nucleus that needs to start from scratch and seek new uses of art and, for instance, directly reach life: to transform life into art. A revolution explodes inside the frame, a revolution explodes out of frame. Should we not see that the two movements belong to the same story instead of opposing them?

How does art in the twentieth end by identifying with the creative revolution? Science ? Politics ? A creative revolution is the encounter of a creative idea and a field of experience to be reinvented within a life. Imagine that these lives are gathered around the same idea, the creative revolution enters into a multiple field.

Just as the genius of the unconscious, the creative revolution is anonymous. It does not matter if there is such and such a name in the history of art and that -surprisingly enough- . an astonishing religion of the creative personality emerges:  "Glory is a scandal," said rightly Arthur Craven. Let us say that he who leaves his name in art or in science is the one who has essentially captured the direction of the creative revolution of his time.  (...)

The fact that in Berlin 1920, this amazing encounters of thoughts took place, which would be the center of the creative insurrections of the twentieth century, marks our history and show the proximity of the political question to art. For the creative revolution cannot be entirely monopolized by technology insofar as technology creates no truth for man. It is from the side of poetry that a truth alone is said which will affect and radically change our lives.

By Philippe Cadiou, 2016  

Written originally in French, my own translation, sorry if there are mistakes.

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Friday, September 29, 2017

Berlin in literature

Rain in Berlin - 1927
Photo: Friedrich Seidenstücker

 Excerpt of a piece by  Pierre Deshusses, writer, germanist and translator:

For a long time, German literature has neglected the world of the city, preferring the Heimat, synonymous with countryside. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that writers such as Alfred Döblin, Thomas Mann and Bertolt Brecht really brought the city into literature, relayed in the field of painting by artists such as George Grosz and Otto Dix. Berlin, which became the capital of the first German republic in the aftermath of the defeat of 1918, naturally occupies the first place; but as the threat of the Third Reich became clearer, writers came to travel more and more, and Paris, Marseille and Nice, places of refuge or exile, were also the object of descriptions and evocations often published under form of reports for the newspapers to which they collaborate. Thus, the essayist Siegfried Kracauer (1889-1966) wrote for the Frankfurter Zeitung, and the novelist Joseph Roth (1894-1939), an eternal exile from hotel to hotel, fa chronicler for various German and Austrian newspapers.
"A well-ordered confusion; a precisely planned arbitrariness; an absence of goals under an appearance of finality. Never has so much order been applied to disorder.“ Thus in 1930 Roth apprehended Berlin, a symbol in his eyes of a German history marked by split. Fascinating and repulsive, the capital concentrates all the defects and all the qualities of a democratic interlude dazzling but fragile. In the same year, Kracauer visited the Berlin employment offices where the unemployed are crowded and where "waiting becomes an end in itself". They come here to escape from solitude, as one goes to cabarets and cafes "where you seem the lifeless protagonist of neglected times".
Both of them set out to paint the portrait of a quivering city which was soon to become the cauldron of barbarism. Kracauer is subtle and sometimes sententious; Roth is the man who looks and tells what he sees, even if he knocks. But, each in its own way, they deploy the panorama of a universe where a beauty in the Blaise Cendrars nestles in the midst of dangers. "A journey by subway is sometimes richer in lessons than traveling on the seas or in distant lands," writes Roth.

Le Monde Diplomatique, february  2014 

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Monday, September 25, 2017

U-Bahn, the Berlin-underground

Berlin U-bahn Potsdamerplatz 1924

At the end of the nineteenth century, solutions were being sought to the problems of traffic in Berlin and the neighboring communes, which were later annexed by the city. After several solutions had been studied and rejected, the first stretch of metro between Warschauer Straße and Zoologischer Garten with a branch to Potsdamer Platz was built and commissioned in February 1902. It was still essentially an underground train. Shortly afterwards, the municipalities of Wilmersdorf, Schöneberg and Charlottenburg (which were not yet part of the city of Berlin) began to plan their own line, which first was to travel between Dahlem in the south and Spittelmarkt in the north, and later be extended to Olympiastadion. This primary grid with a small gauge corresponds to the current lines U1, U2, U3 and U4.

After the First World War and the absorption of neighboring communes in Greater Berlin in 1920, plans for a subway line between Wedding and Tempelhof with a possible branch to Neukölln - were developed. This so-called North-South line constitutes the present line U6 except the branch of Neukölln integrated nowadays to the U7. AEG also undertook the construction of its own line (the GN-Bahn line U8) between Gesundbrunnen and Leinestraße in the neighborhood of Neukölln via Alexanderplatz. But the completion of these new lines was delayed until the late 1920s because of the economic crisis and the period of hyperinflation that Germany experienced between 1918 and 1923. In the 1930s a new line , the future U5, was built between Alexanderplatz and Friedrichsfelde east of the city center.

Information from Wikipedia

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Friday, September 22, 2017

Flapper-girls of Berlin

Photo flapper girl 1927
Betty Karrenbauer

The flappers were young women in the 1920s, who showed disdain for dress and conventional behavior. The flappers were known mainly for their free manners (strong alcohol, cigarettes, sex, among others ...).

The flapper style, originated in the United States, was successfully imported to Germany, especially to Berlin.

One can recognize a flapper for her short skirt and her hair rather short or bobbed. She did not wear a corset, thus contravening the social norm of previous years.

Actress Louise Brooks was the archetype, but Fräulein Betty Karrenbauer seems to have been a hard-line flapper too. I doubt however that Lilian Harvey, “the blonde dream”, could be considered a flapper.

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