EXPLORES A CITY THAT CONTINUES TO SEDUCE...
AS Gatsby fever takes the world by storm, it’s time to revisit the real roaring Twenties in Germany’s risque capital. A chorus line of 32 stunning girls, high- kicking with military precision on a vast Berlin stage, prove to me the city’s 1920s theatrical traditions are alive and blooming.
I’m watching the multi- million dollar revue Show Me, which opened last year at the enormous Friedrichstadt Palast in Berlin’s East End theatre district, during celebrations of the city’s 775th anniversary.
It is an amazing show, part Las Vegas and part Cirque du Soleil. Heavily infl uenced by America’s Ziegfeld Follies, it follows the tradition of German directors such as the great Max Reinhardt.
He staged similar productions in Berlin during the Golden Twenties, a period with which the city will always be associated.
Now Twenties fever appears to be gripping the world, thanks to Australian director Baz Luhrmann’s decadent adaptation of The Great Gatsby. So it seemed fi tting that I should revisit the real home of early 20th century razzmatazz, Berlin.
In the new liberal Weimar Republic created after World War I, with stuffy Kaiser Wilhelm exiled to Holland, Berlin shed its inhibitions so wildly, that Swinging London 40 years later was a mere vicarage tea party by comparison.
Twenties Berlin was the crossroads of Europe, priding itself on its modernity and embracing all things American. Censorship had been abolished and experimental theatre, music and fi lm- making fl ourished. The city’s many cultural offerings were the principal marketing feature for attracting visitors then, and this still applies today.
Since my youth I have been riveted by Berlin’s World War II and postwar experiences, but above all, by its Weimar days, immortalised in Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin novels, Goodbye To Berlin and Mr Norris Changes Trains, from which the 1972 musical fi lm Cabaret was created.
I fi rst visited the city in 1966, when it was divided by the notorious Communist Wall, although tourist access to the Mitte ( central) area behind the Wall was still possible.
That part of Berlin was a near- wasteland of vacant sites where buildings had once stood. The Friedrichstrasse, the pre- war Oxford Street of Berlin, was a ghost of its former self.
But now, standing at the Brandenburg Gate, looking down the Unter den Linden, I’m struck by how much rebuilding has taken place since 1966 and how the city is recovering.
The legendary Adlon Hotel – before the war, it was Berlin’s Ritz – is back in business as the Adlon- Kempinski. It was destroyed in 1945 and rebuilt on its old site only after the Wall came down in 1989.