Back To The Twenties
Squeezed in between two World Wars, the 1920s were exciting times – deserving a revisit by Annabelle Mallia.
The Golden Age: classy cabaret bars and a flourishing art scene. BY ANNABELLE MALLIA
Imagine big, rich men smoking cigars; daring cabaret shows with semi- naked dancers; Brecht's Threepenny Opera, resounding in the Berliner Ensemble theater; or Marlene Dietrich in one of her elegant outfits, singing at a Nollendorfplatz revue theater. For Berlin, the 1920s were an age of excess. Stemming from a desire to reemerge and live after the devastation of World War I, the Golden Twenties saw the blossoming of the city's cultural life and Berlin's elevation to the status of Europe's nightlife capital. This cultural prosperity came to an abrupt halt when Hitler came to power, and though Berlin's culture is now thriving once again, WWII destruction and almost 50 years of division mean that not many traces of the city's most legendary era are to be found today. Here's where you can still get a glimpse of Berlin's 1920s: During the city's heyday, Potsdamer Platz was a bustling hotspot of fashion, music, and entertainment, comparable to London’s Trafalgar Square and New York’s Times Square. The level of traffic through the square prompted the installation of Europe's first- ever traffic light. Completely razed by WWII air raids and then dormant for almost 50 years as it lay in no- man's land by the Wall, the Platz has been rebuilt to its former glory by modern architects, but still nods to its past with a replica of the traffic signal, while the Deutsche Kinemathek (deutsche-kinemathek.de) at the Sony Center houses Marlene Dietrich's photo archive.
The Brücke Museum ( p. 38) offers great examples of the art scene of the 1920s. Pay a visit to check out the works of German Expressionists Kirchner, Pechstein, and Emil Nolde, who depicted the excesses of the era in all its shades. For more artistic expression from the ' 20s, visit the Bauhaus Archiv ( p. 38), which displays a collection of items from the Bauhaus school of design and architecture. Its students broke away from the tradition of fine arts and concentrated instead on geometric shapes and primary colors, creating products that could be easily mass-produced for the broader population. In addition to the numerous theaters and cinemas on Ku'damm, back in the day Wintergarten-Varieté ( p. 51) was a favorite way to start a night out. It reopened again at the beginning of the 1990s as a homage to the original, decked out in glamorous 1920s style with mirrored walls and red- velvet, now hosting nightly shows to revive the old charm of vaudeville theater. Another venue inspired by those times is Sally Bowles ( Eisenacher Str. 2, www.sallybowles.de), a stylish 1920s-themed café and bar with regular jazz and cabaret performances. Named after a character from Christopher Isherwood's novel Goodbye Berlin, later adapted into the famous musical and film Cabaret, the café embodies the decadent Schöneberg nightlife of the time. To learn more about Isherwood and the laissez- faire mood of 1920s Schöneberg, join a walking tour with Cabaret Berlin, departing from U Nollendorfplatz every Saturday at 11am. (www.cabaret-berlin.com)
From to: German Expressionism; Sally Bowles; Replica of the world's first traffic signal; Marlene Dietrich.