After 1907: Oh, the decadence!

One day recently, listless from a prolonged illness, I paged through Berliner Leben, a periodical mostly made of up photographs of stars and productions from the theater world. I had already looked at its first years, starting in 1899. But this time I skipped ahead to 1910, and was struck by the evidence of trends I associated with the 1920s. My, I thought, half-seriously, what a decadent era! Clearly, the age had lived past its normal lifespan and was now in a state of advanced decay. What a jaded outlook they had! What once was considered stimulating and inspiring was now apparently boring. It really looks like popular enterprises were pushing as far as they could to arouse the public by the most exaggerated, outlandish, and indecent entertainments. Oh my!

Exhibit A: Luna Park at Halensee, 1911

Without going further than Charlottenburg, one could see the Doge’s palace, lit up at night on Venice’s grand canal, or visit the Moulin Rouge of Paris. The amusement park also housed the Egyptian village “Cairodorf,” whose inhabitants lived for months at a time just as they did in Egypt, with flame swallowers and harem dancers on display. For nerve shattering scenes of horror, visit the “Johnstown Disaster,” a recreation of the 1889 flood in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

Exhibit B: Anything and everything on ICE


The picture shows “Montreal on ice.” The Admiralspalast opposite the Friedrichstrasse station (where it still is today) was completely rebuilt to include luxurious baths, a cafe, a Lichtbild-Theater and an ice rink for spectacles performed on ice skates.


Exhibit C: American Indian opera, 1910

Poia by Arthur Nevin, three-act opera about American Indians, said to use authentic sources transcribed from gramophone recordings. Libretto translated into German, conducted by Carl Muck, starring the main singers of the Königliche Oper.

Exhibit D: Siberian prisoners’ chorus, 1910.

“Siberian prisoners still in their chains with prison guard singing their wild passionate slavic songs of unknown origin.” These are actually members of the Tiflis royal opera, performing in the Mozart Saal because the Berlin police forbid them to appear at the Circus Schumann; in Russia they would be arrested for disturbing the peace.

Exhibit E: Female impersonators and women dressed as men, 1911.

Max Waldon, “the excellent woman-imitator, is appearing with great success at the Apollo-Theater.” Madge Lessing at the Metropol Theater is playing a “London Snob”; a delightful trousers role.

Chorus line of women in military uniform

The “Germania Ensemble” at the Apollo-Theater, 1911.

Final Exhibit: Flying pianos and ridiculous hats, 1910.

The beautiful “Durga” and her mysterious illusion of a flying piano, at the Wintergarten, nightly!

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2 comments

  1. this is so fascinating! Japan was experiencing some of the same trends in popular entertainment, including building a Luna Park in 1910 and the rise in the early teens of Takarazuka Theater, with women playing male and female roles in musical theater and ending the show with a chorus line dance/revue!

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