Berlin, the Weimar Republic. Nazism is at its rise. Kirsten directs one of the most notable cabarets of the German capital, a city that’s facing economic and social misery, and moral decline. Kirsten has no qualms about carrying on his club: flanked by his son, his lover writer, a famous composer and two musicians, he entertains the audience by evoking suggestions of a bygone glory. A satirical and tragic fresco of Germany´s darkest era set in an artistic context where expressionism was on its last breath.
THE GERMAN CABARET, A VENUE OF PLEASURE AND RESISTANCE
The origin of the word ‘cabaret’ is unclear and its etymology uncertain. It is believed that the term dates back to the ancient langue d´oïl. In the Middle Ages, it designated a popular hangout where visitors could drink and eat and where at the same time they could be entertained by simple and brief performances: skits, songs, short theater plays, monologues, improvisations. In the mid-19th century, in France, Germany and throughout central Europe the word acquired its current meaning. Until then, cabaret had basically been a place of entertainment attended by folks and by the petty bourgeoisie. From then on, it gradually became permeated with a political and even ideological dimension that made it one of the protagonists of the social and cultural stages of the country, leading a role of protest and claim. Next to this, it became vital to the cultural and artistic arena of German avantgardes, especially in the aftermath of the 1918 defeat. This is when the best authors of the time, including Brecht and Wedekind, became habitués of cabarets. The cinema of the 30s drew inspiration from it, expressionism found its retreat. German cabarets entered the national mythology as a symbol of decadence, giving life to a specific history, culture, and aesthetics. The name itself called for dark, violent, or deliberately morbid suggestions, finding favorable ground in the most critical periods of Germany’s national history.
THE MIRROR OF SOCIETY
Cabaret became the mirror of German society, starting from the Twenties, in particular during the Weimer Republic, all the way to the rise of Nazism, which is when it started rejecting the cultural ambitions it had developed till then. After the 1918 defeat, the city of Berlin swiftly gained a reputation as a nightly city of pleasure and debauchery. In the imaginary of the time, Berlin was a sin city, just like Sodom and Babylonia! Once the glory and exaltation of the empire was over, cabarets opened in every corner, becoming true relieve outlets of the economic and social crisis. Variety shows entered cabarets in their most sensual, physical (bodies and nudities) and erotic custom. Soon they became more commercial, giving rise to prostitution. Homosexuality invaded cabarets. Censorship arrived later, with the rise of the Nazi regime but at the beginning, the code word was pleasure, according to the conception of absolute freedom and grazing anarchy inspired by Nihilism. Until 1928, there still were a few islands of artistic resistance patronaged by musicians as Friedrich Holländer (composer of L’Ange bleu), writers as Tucholsky, directors as Max Reinhardt, poets like Walter Mehring, theater artists as Brecht or Piscator - all committed to keep up the political tradition of cabarets, while introducing new forms of music, in particular jazz. But soon it proved to be in vain. Years went by, and the decay of cabarets grew. Social misery reached its peak at the beginning of the Thirties, the political and social protest invaded the stages once again, generating a strong reaction on behalf of the police forces of the growing Nazi party. This is when Joseph Goebbels, nicknamed the ‘Gauleiter’ of Berlin, set off a violent cabaret hunt, ordering the burning down of theaters, sending people in exile or in concentration camps, and killing the most famous artists in town. In 1933, the last cabarets in Berlin were torn down, and the capital was by now trying to revive its memory through sweetened aesthetics.