Nollendorfplatz

This picture of Berlin’s Nollendorfplatz was taken in 1926.

The overhead railway had been completed in 1904, and the square resembled a small park prior to the arrival of the electric trams in the boom of post-WW1 Berlin.

The building rising to the left of the station cupola was home to the Schubert-Saal, one of the several ‘neighbourhood’ concert halls in Berlin. In the late 1920s the venue was host to many, diverse gay & lesbian social and cultural events.

Grand ‘beach parties’ were held by the Damenklub Altes Geld (Old Money Ladies Club) and, for the men, the Böse-Buben Balle (Bad-Boy Balls) were also a regular event.

“ We went to a ball for Sodomites. A great number of them were dressed as women, but I suppose that I was, in this respect, the only authentic article”

Vita Sackville-West, January 1929

 The venue was very diverse in its programming, in addition to the gay and lesbian balls were cultural events such as operetta and theatre performances, cabarets and literary evenings.

The writer Else Lasker-Schüler organised what was to be her last public reading here on November 30th 1932 before she fled the city. The adjacent street is now named after her. Like so much of Nollendorfplatz, the building was destroyed by bombing in 1943.

In its place now is publisher and ‘lifestyle’ shop Brunos, gay accommodation agency Ebab and campaigning and welfare organisations, Maneo and Man-o-meter.

The imposing apartment blocks on the far corners of the square, and stretching east along Bülowstrasse were built around 1890 to 1900. However what is not immediately visible is the run-down, shoddy state they were in by the late 1920s.

People were burning coal for heating causing a great deal of soot and smog in the air, blackening the plasterwork of the buildings. Added to that was the parlous financial situation of many of the tenants and owners brought on by the catastrophic inflation of 1922/3 and the ongoing poverty it caused. Consequently, there was no spare money for the repair and upkeep of these grand mansion blocks. Many were let and sub-let and often dangerously overcrowded.

Shortly after the writers WH Auden and Christopher Isherwood arrived in the city in 1928 and 1929 respectively, they were joined by a young schoolfriend of theirs, Stephen Spender. In later life he would become the renowned poet Sir Stephen Spender but at the time he was content to keep up with his racy, adventurous friends and he also kept a diary of his time in Berlin.

“Then I would come to Nollendorfplatz, an eerie of concrete eagles with veranda like breasts shedding stony flakes of whatever glory they once had, into the grime and soot which cakes the walls of this part of Berlin. The bridges, arches, stations and commanding noise of the overhead railway have taken possession of the square and the streets leading eastward to the ever more sordid tenements.

A peculiar and all-pervading smell of hopeless decay comes out of the interiors of these grandiose houses, now converted into pretentious slums”

Stephen Spender, Summer 1929

 

WH Auden, Christopher Isherwood and Stephen Spender

Out of shot, to the right of the picture, was the impressive Neues Schauspielhaus (The New Theatre). Construction was started in 1905 and it opened in 1906, intended as a centre-piece for the newly laid-out Nollendorfplatz. The theatre was huge at 1200 seats and the building also featured, on it’s upper floors, an 1100-seat concert hall, The Mozartsalle.

By 1910 the Mozartsalle had been converted into a cinema and in the coming years would host the Friday-night premieres of films produced by the burgeoning Ufa film company based in Potsdam.

By the late 1920s, the theatre had been leased by director and producer Erwin Piscator, who staged extraordinary, ground breaking new work with contributions from the likes of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. The theatre was destroyed during WW2 but the front of the building survived. The Mozartsalle Kino became The Metropol in the 1950s and, as a dancehall and concert venue, was the heart of West Berlin social life for decades.

It is now the night club and event venue Goya having undergone a €6m refurbishment at the end of the 1990s. It was never quite the success it promised to be and it is unknown as to whether it is currently operational at all.

 

By the early 1930s, Nollendorfplatz was the hub of gay and lesbian life in Berlin and a thriving entertainment district. Bars, cafes and dance halls were thriving for those who could afford it but were equally attractive to those who couldn’t. Prostitution was widespread and, seemingly, tolerated.

The rise to power of the National Socialist government in 1933, brought an end to many of the bars and clubs of Nollendorfplatz and across the city. The ‘Golden Twenties’ were over and very dark times lay ahead for the citizens of Berlin and beyond.

“Our street looked quite gay when you first turned into it and saw the black-white-red flags hanging motionless from windows against the blue spring sky. On the Nollendorfplatz, people were sitting out of doors before the cafe in their overcoats reading newspapers. Göring spoke from a radio horn at the corner. Germany is awake, he said. An ice cream shop was open. Uniformed Nazis strode hither and thither, with serious set faces, as though on weighty errands. The newspaper readers by the cafe turned their heads to watch them pass and smiled and seemed pleased. 

Christopher Isherwood, March 1933

 

(Pic: Tony Le Tissier – Berlin, Then and Now)

The dome on the station was completely destroyed in WW2 and the one that is there today was constructed in 1999. Since 2014 it has been illuminated at night in rainbow colours to reflect the history and diversity of the neighbourhood. The station building itself is almost unchanged.

 

There are two very distinct memorials at Nollendorfplatz. Inside the station building is an enclosed chamber, visible only through a gate, dedicated to the memory of the railway workers killed in the first and second world wars. On the outside of the building is a triangular plaque, in memory of the gay and lesbian victims of the National Socialist regime.

Today, Nollendorfplatz remains at the heart of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities of Berlin.

Nollendorfplatz, December 2015

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Joseph Schmidt

Tenor and actor Joseph Schmidt was born in March 1904 in the Austro-Hungarian village of Davideny, which became part of Romania after WW1 and is now in Ukraine.

 

His mother encouraged him into a career in music despite objections from his farm-worker father.

He began singing at the Czernowitz Synagogue and by the age of 20 had featured in his first solo recital, performing the works of Verdi, Puccini, Rossini and Bizet alongside traditional Jewish songs.

In 1928 his uncle, Leo Engel, encouraged him to come to Berlin and his concert career began to flourish. He had also become an accomplished pianist .

He soon found that his diminutive stature – he was just 1.5 metres tall – effectively barred him from performing opera on stage but his voice was in great demand both on the radio and on recordings.

 

By 1930, he was living at Nürnberger Strasse 68 in the west of the city, opposite the famous Eden Hotel and overlooking the Elephant Gate of Berlin Zoo.

Over the next 6 years he appeared in 9 films and made numerous recordings for Ultraphone and Parlaphone, and in 1937 undertook a tour of the United States culminating in an appearance at the Carnegie Hall.

Under the National Socialist regime, restrictions on Jewish artists and performers were becoming increasingly harsh and he concentrated on touring in Belgium and the Netherlands where he was extremely popular.

 

When war broke out in 1939 he fled initially to France and then onto Switzerland, arriving penniless and in poor health. Despite being well-known and in possession of a US visa, he was interned in a camp for illegal immigrants at Girenbad, close to Zurich.

His health continued to deteriorate and despite his complaints of a throat infection and chest pains, medical attention was almost non-existent.

He died on November 16th 1942, aged 38.

In defiance of authority, all 350 inmates of the camp attended his funeral.

 

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Britain’s Best season at Bar Jeder Vernunft

Driven by Instinct – An Evening with Dillie Keane.

28th to 30th September 

If you have ever had the pleasure of seeing one of Britain’s top cabaret trios Fascinating Aida since their debut in 1983,  then you will need no introduction to Dillie Keane.

Actress, singer, writer, composer and all-round theatrical powerhouse, this new one-woman show marks a welcome return for Dillie Keane to Berlin’s beautiful Bar Jeder Vernunft.

(Pic: Steve Ullathorne)

 

28th to 30th September

20:00 (entry from 18:30) 

Tickets €23,80 to €27,00

Concessions €12,50

 

A Bit of a Mouthfull – An evening with Ian Shaw

1st to 2nd October

This is, surprisingly, a Berlin debut for the enduring talent that is singer-songwriter Ian Shaw.
Twice winner of Best Vocalist at the BBC Jazz Awards, Ian is a regular at renowned London clubs such as Ronnie Scott’s and Crazy Coq’s and at festivals around the world.
In this new solo show he will be presenting a repertoire of work by Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits in his own, very personal, style.
(Pic: Bob Barkany)

1st to 2nd October

20:00  (entry from 18:30) 

Tickets €23,80 to €27,00

Concessions €12,50

Arthur Smith sings Leonard Cohen – the extended remix

 4th to 5th October

 

Londoner, Arthur Smith was at the forefront of the ‘alternative’ comedy boom in the early 1980s and, 30 years on, his work today is a fresh and challenging as ever. This new musical show explores the work of Leonard Cohen and has been performed at the Edinburgh Festival and broadcast on BBC Radio 4.  Support come in the form of the uniquely talented trio, The Smithereens.

 

(Pic: Steve Ullathorn)

 

4th October  19:00 (entry from 17:30)

 5th October 20:00 (entry from 18:30)

Tickets €23,80 to €27,00

Concessions €12,50

 

Barb Jungr
Hard Rain – The songs of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen
6th to 7th October

One of Britain’s finest ‘chansonniéres’ Barb Jungr has toured the world, playing to packed-out houses and winning numerous awards.  She has played residencies in New York and London cabaret clubs with critics drawing comparisons to Nina Simone and Peggy Lee.

She comes to Berlin to perform her highly-acclaimed latest album Hard Rain – The songs of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.

(Pic: Steve Ullathorne)

 

Bar Jeder Vernunft

Schaperstr. 24 
10719 Berlin

Tickets: 030.883 158 2

www.bar-jeder-venunft.de

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Kakadu Bar and Barbarina Cabaret

Kakadu Bar & Barbarina-Cabaret 1920-1936

On completion in the late 1800s, the area around Joachimstaler Platz on the corner of the Ku’damm resembled an open-air arena with tiered bleacher-style seating for 10,000 spectators. In July 1890 it played host to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, featuring 200 cowboys, indians and horses.

The Kakadu opened at the corner of Joachimstaler Straße and the Ku’damm in 1920 and consisted of a bar, a vegetarian restaurant – unique for the time-  a dance floor and the Barbarina Cabaret. It was taken over by well-known cabaret entrepreneur Georg Tichauer in 1923 and became a huge success. It was open until 3am, did not charge admission and after a 1928 refurbishment boasted the world’s longest bar.

One of the more colourful stories about the venue is that above each table in the restaurant sat a cockatoo in a cage – the Kakadu of the name. When diners were ready to leave they would tap a glass on the table, which signalled the trained birds to call for the bill.

The Barbarina-Cabaret presented a five-act programme every night, with a jazz band accompanying the dancing before and after the show. One of the highlights of the repertoire during the early 1930s was the mirror-dancing duo of Eva von Sacher-Masoch and Hede Merman. Their provocative performances played with ideas about gender and sexuality and, in response to current events, had become increasingly political. Forced to flee Berlin for Austria in 1934, Eva von Sacher-Masoch eventually married a British army officer Major Robert Glynn Faithfull and settled in the UK. They had one daughter, the 1960s pop icon Marianne Faithfull.

The Kakadu survived the early years of the National Socialist government and was a big hit during the Olympic Games in the Summer of 1936 but, like so many other establishments, was forced to close soon after.

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Briefs – Excentric Body-Circus at The Tipi

 

If Chancellor Merkel was working late in her office on Thursday night, then she may have wondered about the noise coming from the Tipi am Kanzleramt, but a packed house had just seen a spectacular show from Australian burlesque troupe, Briefs, and wanted them to know it!

It’s almost impossible to describe this full-throttle show without spoilers, but expect very high-heels, very fit bodies, very ‘Aussie’ humour and breathtaking circus spectacle. It’s definitely not suitable for children, but all the better for that.

Hailing from Brisbane, this immensely talented all-male septet have only been together for six years but compliment each other perfectly in both their solo acts and well-drilled group routines.

Having first seen this show a year ago, it has grown and matured into something very special and thoroughly deserves this five-week run at The Tipi.

And one tip: if you are sitting near the front and are offered a waterproof cape – take it, you’ll need it!

 

Louis Biggs

Evil Hate Monkey

Thomas Worrell

Fez Faanana

All Pics:Xamax

 

Briefs Excentric Body-Circus

May 7th to June 10th

Tuesday to Saturday at 20:00 (entry from 18:30)

Sunday at 19:00 (entry from 17:30)

Tickets 030 390 665 50 or

karten@tipi-am-kanzleramt.de

www.briefsboys.com

www.tipi-am-kanzleramt.de

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