ABOUT THIS BOOK
Step into Ernst Wolzogen's Motley Theater, Max Reinhardt's Sound and Smoke, Rudolf Nelson's Chat noir, and Friedrich Hollaender's Tingel-Tangel. Enjoy Claire Waldoff's rendering of a lower-class Berliner, Kurt Tucholsky's satirical songs, and Walter Mehring's Dadaist experiments, as Peter Jelavich spotlights Berlin's cabarets from the day the curtain first went up, in 1901, until the Nazi regime brought it down.
Fads and fashions, sexual mores and political ideologies--all were subject to satire and parody on the cabaret stage. This book follows the changing treatment of these themes, and the fate of cabaret itself, through the most turbulent decades of modern German history: the prosperous and optimistic Imperial age, the unstable yet culturally inventive Weimar era, and the repressive years of National Socialism. By situating cabaret within Berlin's rich landscape of popular culture and distinguishing it from vaudeville and variety theaters, spectacular revues, prurient "nude dancing," and Communist agitprop, Jelavich revises the prevailing image of this form of entertainment.
Neither highly politicized, like postwar German Kabarett, nor sleazy in the way that some American and European films suggest, Berlin cabaret occupied a middle ground that let it cast an ironic eye on the goings-on of Berliners and other Germans. However, it was just this satirical attitude toward serious themes, such as politics and racism, that blinded cabaret to the strength of the radical right-wing forces that ultimately destroyed it. Jelavich concludes with the Berlin cabaret artists' final performances--as prisoners in the concentration camps at Westerbork and Theresienstadt.
This book gives us a sense of what the world looked like within the cabarets of Berlin and at the same time lets us see, from a historical distance, these lost performers enacting the political, sexual, and artistic issues that made their city one of the most dynamic in Europe.
The definitive account of the German capital's club and revue circuit from its origins around 1900 to its terrible coda in the transit camps, where performers would play for chuckling SS commandants before they were sent to their deaths.
-- New Statesman and Society
[A] wonderful book...Berlin cabaret...was embedded in Berlin intellectual life. Jelavich's documentation of these relationships offers a great gift to historians of German culture--indeed to all historians of modern Germany.
-- Barbara Miller Lane Central European History
Jelavich makes an important contribution to the study of cultural history.
-- James L. Zychowicz Monatshefte
The reader is transported clearly and smoothly on a fascinating journey through the history of an urban art form that was strongly stimulated by some of the same forces that gave rise to the [Berlin-focused] publications...Covering a period of almost half a century, from the founding of Ernst von Wolzogen's Motley Theater in 1901 through performances by inmates of concentration camps during the Second World War, Jelavich makes an especially valuable contribution to the analysis of culture in an urban context.
-- Andrew Lees Culture in Modern Germany
Peter Jelavich first explored the development of aesthetic modernism in Munich and Theatrical Modernism (1987). His superb new book carries this inquiry into the more complex and variegated life of Germany's political and cultural capital...Jelavich has contributed significantly to our understanding of modernist culture and its metropolitan context. He illuminates every subject he touches upon: the intersection of elite and popular art in the development of aesthetic modernism, the history of popular theater in Berlin, the city's cultural politics, and the broader social and political history of Germany. Like the best of cabarets, this book enlightens and entertains.
-- Warren Breckman Journal of Social History
[A] well-written and clearly organized book that displays all the hallmarks of a comprehensive standard work and reference source, rich in information that entices further investigation.
-- Frederick A. Lubich Germanic Review
Peter Jelavich has dismantled many legends about the politics of popular entertainments in his fine history, Berlin Cabaret.
-- Anthony Grafton New York Review of Books
Like the eloquent conférenciers who comment on the cabaret acts that are his subject here, Jelavich expertly takes readers in hand, introduces them to the exuberant affairs of Berlin, and does so in a witty and insightful fashion...A great achievement.
-- Peter Fritzsche American Historical Review
Jelavich has set the stage in a masterful work on the interaction between culture and commerce and the relatedness of decadence and exuberance as manifest in the Berlin cabaret. It was no mere frivolity but a legitimate expression--see Walter Benjamin and Georg Simmel's observations on the big city-see indeed Friedrich Nietzsche's Dionysian exhilaration--of a diversity and fragmentation that conditioned life in the Berlin metropolis. Jelavich clearly has had fun collecting all the evidence on the cabaret, and as he unfolds the story of its proponents, the texts of skits and songs and police reports, he succeeds in moving a seeming fringe phenomenon into the center of political and cultural dialogue of the big city whose idiosyncrasies he has recaptured with skill. The scholarship is impeccable, the writing is elegant; the author's fascination with his subject is contagious to the fellow-scholar as well as, I imagine, to all readers.
-- Klemens Von Klemperer, Smith College
In this well-written book, Peter Jelavich has tracked down cabaret openings, closings, and programs, and discusses politics and personalities. His writing makes the history of Berlin cabarets come alive in a very special way. I found myself increasingly fascinated with the 'showtime' experiences, both on-stage and back-stage.
-- Richard Hunt, Harvard University