Clara Wortmann was born in 1884, the 11th child of a family of 16, and grew up in Gelsenkirchen. She attended a girls’ High School in Hanover, from where it was expected she would graduate and go on to study medicine. But her father leaving the family made this financially impossible and allowed her to pursue her fascination with the performing arts.
From 1903 she started to get roles in various touring companies and by 1907 had arrived in Berlin.
” I fell passionately in love with Berlin. Not because the city was beautiful or the Imperial capital, but because it was Berlin, with its special atmosphere, its vivacious and curt character”
Shortly after arriving in Berlin, and with her new stage name of Claire Waldoff, she was spotted by Paul Schneider-Duncker of the Roland Von Berlin cabaret and made her debut there that autumn.
In her songs, she eschewed the conventions of other performers of using double-entendres and suggestion, preferring to get straight to the point leaving little to the imagination. This often caused her problems with the censors.
She was a revelation to cabaret audiences of the time, so used to stylish and well groomed cabaret divas, she was short and stocky with wild red hair and had adopted the gruff persona and brash slang of a ‘native Berliner’.
“I began to become the Berliner, a prototype of the Berliner, a representative of modern Berlin”
She rapidly became very popular and after being lured away from Roland Von Berlin after just a few months, became a regular at the Chat Noir in Friedrichstraße.
She limited her performances to just three songs, with no encores, allowing her to play several different venues a night, and establishing herself as a major star.
By the mid 1920′s, with a repertoire of 300 of her own songs, she was not only playing vast stages such as The Scala and The Wintergarten but also the more intimate venues such as The Eldorado alongside Marlene Dietrich.
Openly lesbian, she lived with her partner Olga Von Roeder in Berlin throughout the Weimar period and beyond . She was also a keen gardener and had a garden plot (allotment) in the Kissingen colony in the city
In a long strings of pearls, her luxuriant hair wreathed with paper flowers, or in a cheeky cap and suit, Claire Waldoff would sing in a Berlin slang as rich and gravelly as the city’s soil:
“Was braucht der Berliner, um gluecklich zu sein?”
” ‘ne Laube, n’Zaun und n’Beet!”
What does it take to make a Berliner happy?
An arbour, a fence and a flowerbed!
Joanna Robertson -BBC
There is now a path named after her in the colony she gardened.
She wrote her autobiography ‘Weeste noch…! Aus Meinen Erinnerungen’ in 1953 and died in 1957 in Stuttgart aged 73.
She has a star on The Cabaret Walk Of Fame in Mainz, and a memorial bust, created by Reinhard Jacob, at the site of the Freidrichstadt-Palast in Friedrichstraße, Berlin.