Saturday, October 21, 2017

Jewish Berlin under the Weimar era

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

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Georg Scholz, the New Objectivity

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.

                  By Georg Scholz - via, Public Domain,

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Hotel Excelsior 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.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Gustav Wunderwald, painter of Berlin

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)

Friday, October 6, 2017

Berlin, early morning

From L'exposition, novel by Hugo Walter, available at

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.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Berlin is Dada, we are all Dada !

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.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Berlin in literature

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 

Monday, September 25, 2017

U-Bahn, the Berlin-underground

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

Friday, September 22, 2017

Flapper-girls of Berlin

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.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Lilian Harvey and Irgendwo auf der Welt

Lilian in Ein Blonder Traum, with Willy Fritsch at her left and Berlin in the background

Youtube link to the film 

Lilian Harvey, born in London in 1906, was an Anglo-German actress and singer. His mother was English and his father a German businessman.
She met a huge success in 1930 with "Die Drei von der Tankstelle", the first musical comedy of German cinema, directed by Wilhelm Thiele.
In 1931, his French-German film The Congres s'amuse realized by Erik Charell, the great producer of varieté shows, is one of the biggest successes of the year.
Arte-TV recently showed a comedy in which Lilian plays the leading role, accompanied by Willy Fritsch: "Glückskinder". An unusual film since it was shot under the Nazism, in 1936, and the action is located in New York, even if everybody speaks German.
She was expelled from Germany by the Nazis who confiscated her fortune (which she later recovered).

"Irgendwo auf der Welt" ("Somewhere in the World") is a song composed by Werner Richard Heymann for the 1932 movie A Blonde Dream (Ein blonder Traum). The lyrics are by Robert Gilbert.

Originally performed in the movie by Lilian, it gained popularity as one of the most renowned songs by the German sextet, the Comedian Harmonists.
In 2006, German singer Nina Hagen used this name as the title for her album of covers of swing / jazz classics.
Lilian Harvey

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Commemorative plaques in Berlin

Like every self-respecting capital, Berlin pays tribute to its famous inhabitants or visitors. In front of the addresses concerned, since 1986, a white porcelain plate with blue text has been fixed. With its help, one can discover the residences of artists, writers and politicians who in a period of their lives have stayed or lived in Berlin. The list is long : Walter Benjamin, Lilian Harvey, Vicki Baum, Konrad Adenauer, Irmgard Keun, Kurt Weill. But also David Bowie, Mark Twain (who, according to the plaque,  said Berlin was a luminous centre of intelligence, and a wonderful city), Albert Einstein, boxing champ Max Schmeling, Hollywood director Ernst Lubitsch, Hannah Arendt.

But they also point out the sites of famous buildings which are no longer there : theaters, cinemas, cafes.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Louise Brooks

Talking about Berlin, about famous Berliners, or characters who have contributed to the legend of Berlin, we often (most often?) stumble upon guys and dolls born in other German cities or even in other continents . There is Brecht, there is Billy Wilder, Vera Broido, Margo Lion, Alfred Döblin ... And just to add a name to that long list, let us remember the great Louise Brooks, the protagonist of the great classic "Lulu", Georg Pabst (1929), the woman who made popular the haircut "à la garçonne".  Born not in Friedrichshain or Kreuzberg but in Cherryvale, Kansas in 1906.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A (very) little history of Berlin

The text that follows is extracted from the website

The 1920s in Berlin
The First World War, which arose from alliance commitments soon engulfed the whole of Europe and, before it finished, brought death to 17 million soldiers – the war debts imposed upon Germany at the Treaty of Versailles were only finally paid off in 2010. As the conflict lasted far longer than anybody had anticipated beforehand, Germany was forced to switch its previous liberal economic system completely over to a planned war economy. As a result of the falling agricultural productivity, from 1915 onwards Berlin experienced increasing supply shortages in basic foodstuffs. War-weariness, the breaking up of existing family and social structures, poverty and hunger were all factors contributing to a growing dissatisfaction and reluctance in the population. Under the banner of “Peace and Bread”, over 400,000 desperate people took part in demonstrations organised by the Spartacus League in Berlin in the spring of 1918. Their protests peaked in the 1918 November Revolution, when on 9th November Philipp Scheidemann (SPD) proclaimed the Republic from the balcony of the Reichstag.

In the Weimar Republic: The Spartacus Uprising
The war had been lost, the Kaiser had abdicated and the young republic was frantically searching for stability. The newly founded Communist Party of Germany (KPD) led by Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht and Wilhelm Pieck proved unable to enforce its pursuit for a socialist soviet republic. The Spartacus uprising instigated by them in parts of the city centre as well as the newspaper publishing quarter from 5th to 12 January 1919 was bloodily suppressed by Freikorps (right-wing volunteer militia) units loyal to the government. The SPD emerged as the strongest party in the elections to the National Assembly that took place on 19th January. Friedrich Ebert (SPD) was elected as Reich President, and Luxemburg and Liebknecht were murdered by Freikorps members of the Garde-Kavellerie-Schutzen (Cavalry Protection Guard) Division in Tiergarten.

(Cultural) Metropolis of Berlin
As a result of the “Greater Berlin Law” of 1920, Berlin became the largest industrial city in Europe. The fundamental human rights anchored in the Weimar Constitution, combined with personal freedoms, enabled the city to flourish as the cultural metropolis of the 1920s. Art and culture experienced a hitherto unknown boom. The most important artists of the time met in the Romanisches Café on Kurfürstendamm (Bertolt Brecht, Otto Dix, Max Liebermann, Erich Kästner, Joachim Ringelnatz, Billy Wilder and many others) and Josephine Baker introduced the new Charleston dance sensation to Germany with her performance in 1926 in the Nelson Theatre on Kurfürstendamm. 1928 saw the premiere of Brecht’s “Threepenny Opera” in the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, from where it went on to sweep the world. Alongside the boom in Berlin’s nightlife with entertainment shows and music hall, the city also made great strides by day. In 1921 the AVUS (Automobile Traffic and Practice Course) autobahn (a world first) was built through the Grunewald forest, in 1923 Tempelhof airport was opened, and in 1926 the Funkturm (Radio Tower) was opened to the public for the Third Radio Exhibition. The first “Green Week” trade fair was held in 1926 and attracted the enormous number of 50,000 visitors.

World Economic Crisis
On 23rd June 1919, the National Assembly, which initially met in Weimar instead of Berlin as a result of the internal political turmoil, was forced to sign the Versailles Peace Treaty under massive pressure from the victorious Entente powers, thus accepting the assignment of sole German responsibility for starting the First World War. The reparation payments resulting from this, amounting in total to 132 billion Reichsmarks, imposed a severe burden on the German Reich and provided extreme right-wing elements with a welcome pretext to combat the Weimar Republic. The world economic crisis, which hit Berlin in 1929, led to 664 bankruptcies and the unemployment of 450,000 people. By 1932, industrial production in the city had been reduced by half, and unemployment had grown to 30.8%! The only hope for 600,000 Berliners affected was the support of the Arbeiterwohlfahrt (Workers’ Welfare Association - AWO), unless they were covered by state unemployment insurance that had been introduced in 1927.

Rise of the Nazi Party
The Dolchstoßlegende (stab-in-the-back myth), the question of responsibility for the war, the world economic crisis, poverty, hunger and a lack of prospects – all these factors contributed to making the populace receptive to the propaganda of the NSDAP (National Socialistic German Workers’ Party), who had been striving for the destruction of the Weimar Republic since 1920. Following the lifting of the ban on Hitler speaking in public in Prussia, he first publicly spoke in an address in the Berlin Sportpalast in 1928. The hall and street battles, which had been taking place towards the end of the 1920s between the Nazi Sturmabteilung (Storm Troopers - SA) and the communist Roter Frontkämpferbund (Red Front Fighters’ League) with increasing ferocity, culminated in 1929 in the Berlin “Blutmai” (Bloody May) with 30 dead, 200 injured and 1,200 arrests. The elections to the Berlin City Council resulted in a share of the vote for the Nazi Party of 5.8%, giving then 13 seats in the city parliament. In 1932, the Nazi Party won both the elections to the Reichstag: in July with 37.4% and in November with 33.1% (figures for Berlin 25.9%) – whereupon on 30th January 1933 Hitler was appointed Reich Chancellor, a post he had long coveted, by Reich President Paul von Hindenburg.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Volker Kutscher

Volker Kutscher is a contemporary author, born in 1962 near Cologne. He has written a number of mysteries situated in the Berlin of the Weimar Republic. Which, by the way, is not the case of Philip Kerr, whose best-selling Berlin novels take place some years later, under Nazi rule.

 I have not read the works by Volker Kutscher but they sound very interesting indeed. What follows is the presentation of "Babylon-Berlin" in the Amazon site:

Berlin, 1929. Detective Inspector Gereon Rath, was a successful career officer in the Cologne Homicide Division before a shooting incident in which he inadvertently killed a man. He has been transferred to the Vice Squad in Berlin, a job he detests, even though he finds a new friend in his boss, Chief Inspector Wolter. There is seething unrest in the city and the Commissioner of Police has ordered the Vice Squad to ruthlessly enforce the ban on May Day demonstrations. The result is catastrophic with many dead and injured, and a state of emergency is declared in the Communist strongholds of the city. When a car is hauled out of Berlin s Landwehr Canal with a mutilated corpse inside the Commissioner decides to use this mystery to divert the attention of press and public from the casualties of the demonstrations. The biggest problem is that the corpse cannot be identified.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Big row on the Leipzigerstrasse

An excerpt from Goodbye to Berlin,  by Christopher Isherwood :
One night in October 1930, about a month after the Elections, there was a big row on the Leipzigerstrasse. Gangs of Nazi roughs turned out to demonstrate against the Jews. They manhandled some dark-haired, large-nosed pedestrians, and smashed the windows of all the Jewish shops. The incident was not, in itself, very remarkable; there were no deaths, very little shooting, not more than a couple of dozen arrests. I remember it only because it was my first introduction to Berlin politics.

Frl. Mayr, of course, was delighted: "Serve them right!" she exclaimed. "This town is sick with Jews. Turn over any stone, and a couple of them will crawl out. They're poisoning the very water we drink! They're strangling us, they're robbing us, they're sucking our life-blood. Look at all the big department stores: Wertheim, K. D. W., Landauers'. Who owns them? Filthy thieving Jews!"

"The Landauers are personal friends of mine," I retorted icily, and left the room before Frl. Mayr had time to think of a suitable reply.

This wasn't strictly true. As a matter of fact, I had never met any member of the Landauer family in my life. But, before leaving England, i had been given a letter of introduction to them by a mutual friend. I mistrust letters of introduction, and should probably never have used this one, if it hadn't been for Frl. Mayr's remark. Now, perversely, I decided to write to Frau Landauer at once.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

More on Isherwood's Berlin

A link to the site of the BBC

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Hans Baluschek

A street scene. In Berlin of course, but where exactly? Hard to say. It could be the Bülowplatz, today Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, in the eastern districts. On the left, two men wearing a cap, workmen perhaps. One of them has a red pin on his jacket. An emblem of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) ?.

The author of the painting, Hans Baluschek, was a member of the SPD. He died in 1935, at 65, after being classified as a "degenerate artist" by the Nazi regime and therefore prohibited - like so many other valuable artists - from practicing his craft as a painter.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Vera Broido

Vera, to the right Photo: August Sander.

Vera Broido, writer and feminist, was born in St Petersbug in 1907, the daughter of two Russian Jewish revolutionaries. In 1914, when Vera was seven, her mother, prominent Menshevik Eva Broido, was sentenced to exile in Siberia for taking a stand against the war. 

During her time in Berlin in the 1920s Vera met the avant garde artist and Dadaist Raoul Hausmann and became his lover and muse, living in a ménage à trois with him and his wife Hedwig Mankiewtiz in the fashionable Charlottenburg district of Berlin.

After a stay in Northern Ireland, she later settled down in England, where she died in 2004.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Christopher & his kind

In 1976, more than 30 years after his time in Berlin, Christopher Isherwood wrote his memoirs: Christopher and his kind. The book deals not only with his Berlin experiences: after Berlin, Isherwood traveled around Europe and eventually moved to California, where he died in 1986.

In this book, he comments on his Berlin books, which were written in first person and where the narrator is presented in a somewhat impersonal way. Now Christopher "comes out". He assumes his homosexuality and explains that if he chosesto live in Berlin in the years 20-30, it was mainly because of the sexual freedom that reigned there.
"Paris", a metropolis often considered as the Mecca of romanticism, glamor, eroticism, not to say vice, "meant 'girls'", he explains. While Berlin “meant boys'. "

A few years ago, a film was made for television, based on Isherwood's memoirs.

The link is here :

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Christopher Isherwood and Sally Bowles

One of the books that best describes inter-war Berlin, and which shaped our vision of that place and that time, is Goodbye to Berlin, by Christopher Isherwood.

The novel, a partly autobiographical account of Isherwood's time in 1930s Berlin, describes pre-Nazi Germany and the people he met. It is written as a connected series of six short stories and novellas.

Moving to Germany to work on a novel, the young writer Isherwood becomes involved with a diverse array of German citizens: the caring landlady, Frl. Schroeder; the "divinely decadent" Sally Bowles, a young Englishwoman who sings in the local cabaret and her coterie of admirers; Natalia Landauer, the rich, Jewish heiress of a prosperous family business; Peter and Otto, a gay couple struggling to accept their relationship and sexuality in light of the rise of the Nazis.

Sally Bowles, impersonated by Liza Minnelli, is one of the main characters of Cabaret, the award-winning film from 1972 directed by Bob Fosse.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Comedian Harmonists

Bulgarian Archives State Agency

The Comedian Harmonists were a German vocal sextet. During the interwar period, they were renowned throughout Europe. The Comedian Harmonists separated after being banned by the cultural authorities of Nazism, three of their members being Jews.

The members: Ari Leschnikoff, Roman Cycowski, Erich A. Collin, Harry Frommermann, Robert Biberti, Erwin Bootz. They met especially to form the group, they did not know each other before. Leschnikoff and Cycowski were employed in the Grossen Schauspielhaus, one of the most important scenes in Berlin.

Their success coincided with the rise of Nazism in Germany. Roman Cycowski will say: "We were a bright light in a very dark time". The generalization of radio, and phonograph in homes has also served their popularity.

The band influenced the orchestras of Jack Hylton in Britain and Ray Ventura in France. His style later made many emulators ranging from the Frères Jacques to Max Raabe.

In 1997, Josef Vismaier devoted an excellent film to them, which can be seen on youtube, unfortunately without subtitles in english (but in spanish, yes).

Another film about the Harmonists, a documentary this time, but still without subtitles:

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Berlin's anthem

The song "Berliner Luft" by Paul Lincke is considered an unofficial anthem of the city. It is played every year as the finale of the Berliner Philharmoniker’ season. A bit like Land of Hope and Glory for the BBC Proms at Albert Hall in London.

Here, in the beautiful version of Lizzi Waldmüller, not a Berliner but an Austrian singer  (!).

To hear it, click here:

Thursday, August 17, 2017

It's in the air...

The revue Es liegt in der Luft (It’s in the air) by Marcelus Schiffer and Micha Spoliansky had its first representation in 1928. In the three main roles, Margo Lion (Schiffer's wife), Marlene Dietrich (no so famous yet) and Oskar Karlweis. Karlweis was an Austrian actor who often played in light comedies and operettas. In Berlin, he played one of the three suitors of Lilian Harvey in Die drei von der Tankstelle, a highly successful film, remade in Hollywood in the 50's.

In the film we can also see the German ensemble Comedian Harmonists, a musical band very in vogue.

The best-known number of Es liegt in der Luft was undoubtedly Wenn die beste Freundin (If the best girlfriend with the best girlfriend), a song whose theme could be understood as ambiguous from the point of view of relations between the sexes. It even became a kind of lesbian anthem.

The text of the song:

Wenn die beste Freundin
Mit der besten Freundin
Um was einzukaufen,
Um was einzukaufen,
Um sich auszulaufen,
Durch die Straßen latschen,
Um sich auszuquatschen,

When the best girlfriend
With the best girlfriend
Go do some shopping,
Go do some shopping,
To get some exercise,

Wander through the streets,
Blabbing about everything,
Says the best girlfriend
To the best girlfriend:
My best, my best girlfriend!

And then a trio, where the husband joins both "girlfriends":

Girl 1: You cheated on me with her.
Husband: Because you cheated on me with her.
Girl 2: And you cheated on me with him
Girl 1: Because you cheated on me with him
Husband: What's this for intricate family relations! Don't we want to get along?


Monday, August 14, 2017

Margo Lion

When it comes to the Berliner cabaret, one almost instinctively thinks of the great Marlene Dietrich. But she was not the only star in that heaven far from it.
Marguerite "Margo" Lion, born in Istanbul in 1899, was a French actress and singer. She arrived in Berlin in 1921 and debuted in the cabaret 'Die Wilde Bühne' in 1923. She also appeared in such iconic cabarets as Schall und Rauch and Kabarett der Komiker.

She was married to lyricist Marcellus Schiffer and was a friend of Marlene Dietrich. In the magazine
"It's in the Air" (1928), she sang with Marlene the duet "Wenn Die beste Freundin mit die Beste Freundin "(when the best girlfriend with the best girlfriend ...), which became a lesbian hymn in the 1920s.
In cinema, she played in seventy-five films between 1926 and 1975 and found her most significant role in 1931 in Georg Wilhelm Pabst's The Three-penny Opera (French version) in which Margo, in the role of Jenny, sings The Bride of the Pirate.

She also starred in the film "24 Hours of a Woman's Life," based on a text by Stefan Zweig, Robert Land's board in 1931.

She left Berlin in 1933 and continued her career in France. There, among other productions, she appeared in La Bandera, by Julien Duvivier (1935). Also in Lola, by Jacques Demy.

She died in 1989, a little too early to enjoy the sight of the Berlin Wall collapsing.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Berlin cabaret: a film without Liza Minnelli

Berlin Cabaret - Die Wilde Bühne A film by Fabienne Rousso-Lenoir.

The world of the Berliner cabaret of 1919 and 1933 was one of the most fascinating cultural phenomena of the Weimar Republic. It sums up the spirit of the Roaring Twenties and reflects history with bold and innovative ways. From the years of the boom, through the period of depression and inflation, and ending with the seizure of power by the Nazis.

A fascinating film. But don’t take my word for it, watch yourself the movie of Fabienne Rousso-Lenoir:

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Alfred Döblin

Yet another famous Berliner not born in Berlin... The writer Alfred Döblin was born in Stettin, now in Poland. He began his collaboration with Herwarth Walden in 1910, and participated in the Expressionist journal Der Sturm (The Storm).

Established in the district of Berlin-Lichtenberg, in the eastern part of the city, he witnessed the 1919 street-fights in Berlin, which became later the subject of his novel November 1918. During his Berlin period, Döblin wrote numerous articles (about plays and films, but also about life on the streets of the capital), among others for the German-language daily Prager Tageblatt. These articles offer a striking picture of everyday life in the Berlin of the Weimar Republic.

His most famous work is Berlin Alexanderplatz, dated 1929. In this novel, he describes the low life of Berlin from the years 1925-1930. The main character is an anti-hero: a repentant criminal whom fate catches up and who falls back into delinquency. This resolutely modern narrative is composed of biblical and mythological references, collages of extracts from newspapers, and mixes tragedy with popular humor, in a cacophony and a frightful chaos.
This novel is often compared to Celine’s Journey to the end of the night. It has been adapted to the screen on numerous occasions, first in 1931 by Piel Jutzi with Heinrich George in the lead role, then in 1979 by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who made it a television series of 14 episodes.

Döblin, of Jewish origin, left Germany in 1933 (like Brecht, like Grosz, like so many others), and in 1936 he became a French citizen.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Bertolt Brecht, a berliner?

Monday, August 7, 2017

Bertolt Brecht, one of the most important playwrights of the twentieth century, was NOT born in Berlin, but in Bavaria. But, does the place of birth matter? Picasso was born in Malaga, but it is as a French artist that he is known for most people.
The same goes for Brecht. He arrived in Berlin in 1924, to join Max Reinhardt's Deutsches Theater, and it was in the cultural capital of Germany (of Europe some would say) that he wrote The Threepenny opera, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Saint Joan of the Stockyards.
The year 1933 marked a turning point for him, as for many other artists and writers. This is not an innocuous year, it is the year when the Nazis take power in Germany. Brecht was not Jewish, but he became a Communist, another favorite target for Nazi repression.
Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) and his wife Helene Weigel (1900-1971) are buried in the Dorotheenstadt cemetery in Berlin. The playwright wanted a grave "where all the dogs would want to piss".
In the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, a former theater of variety, Brecht made the first performance of the Opera de quat'sous in 1928 and his first triumph. With its overflowing of gilding, its cherubs, its caryatids with swollen breasts, the contrast couldn’t be more marked with the miserly staged by Brecht, with his clear and rigorous theater. The poet liked this distance between the stage and the audience. After the war, when he chose to settle in the communist half of Berlin, it was this theater that Brecht obtained to set up his troupe of the Berliner Ensemble.

Michael Bienert, a guide to literary walks, takes lovers to other parts of Berlin, exploring Brecht's relations with the Nazi regime and then with the GDR.
From the Berlin of the 1920s, which Brecht, the young provincial born in Bavaria in Augsburg, discovers with avidity, there is not much left. The cafes and cabarets that Brecht used to visit around the Kurfürstendamm are no more. But there remains a letter written to a friend in 1920: "Berlin is a wonderful place, can’t you steal 500 marks and come?"
Thank you for the informations borrowed from the site