Whatl Saw

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Whatl Saw
Whatl Saw
Reportsfrom Berlin
r92o-r933
JoTEPHRomt
by
transl.uted
uith an introdu.ction
MichnelHoftnnnn
Gertnan selection.
by Michael Bienert
W.
N rw
N oR ToN
Y onx
&
C ol rpauv
LoN ooN
i-in-3
28
The Berlin PleasureIndustry
( tql o)
ometimes,in a fit of incurable melancholy,I go into one of
the standardBerlin nightclubs, not to cheer myself up, you
understand,but to take malicious pleasureat the phenomenonof
so much industrialized merriment. Ary anxiery that it might be
my advancing years that make me incapable of enjoying myself is
quickly allayed by *y perfecdy objective view of the indescribable
monotony of international nighdife. The entire mechanism by
which fun is produced and communicated these days seemsever
more simplistic and transparentthe more human nature is forced
to import entertainment from outside. It's as though that crude
force that seemscapablealmost of making somethingout of nothing had now been tried out on people'sspirits and feelings,in the
attempt to createcapital from our inborn inclination and need for
amusement.And it's as though this crude and homogenizedpurveylng of fun had also succeededin producing in all the cities of
the world one standardizedtype of night owl, with the sameset of
strictly normed and basicrequirements,which can be satisfiedin
accordancewith one or two simple rules.At around two o'clock at
night, anyway,the irnagegiven by abar, a "lumry spot," "a dance
hall," is one and the samein Berlin, Paris,Marseilles,and Cairo:
17T
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JOSEPIi
ROT H
sBnLrN ' s
P LE A s uR E
IN D U s TR Y
17?
the perfurned srnoke of international "luxury brand" cigarettes
hangsunder the ceiling like a sort of gaseouslining or underpin-
window dummy, the fake worlclwearinessin the glassystare,and
the thin lips touched up by nafure itself in homage,of course,to
ning. The soft reddish illurnination works not to create light but
to slrppressit. The glowing colors of the cocktails,mixed in accor-
certain photographic originals. Couples get up simultaneously
and indifferently to do their athletic clance movements. Tire
dancewith intemational recipes,evokesemipreciousstonesin liquid fonn anclare poured into cuwecl glassbowls about the size of
movementsof the musiciansare livelier than thoseof the dancers.
It's asthough the marionette-likemovernentsof the musicianshad
a coconut half-.Stiff yellow buncllesof straws stick out of metal
holders, the only remote nlemory of a long-gone mstic period of
taken all the life out of the dancers,The coupleswho, under the
heading "classicmodern dance,"go from city to city earning their
hurnan history.
daily/nightly bread with the sane mechanicalsmile that consists
In dre corner the band is installed,nor ro sit but to perform
incessantand foolish nlovements that lemind one of the exercise
only of the baring of brilliantly maintained teeth-they at least
"narching in place."Merely switched to the world of bacchicmilitarism fron that of waL,the saxophone-profane trump of a pro-
whele, as if thesebars didn't actually belong to anyone,as if they
were institutions of public luxury just asbusesand streetlightsare
fane, so to speak, penultimate judgment-flashes and gleams,
rnoansand r.vails,yelps and croons. The rnusiciansdo not wear
jackets.They sit in their shirtsleeveslike bowlers,in sportsshirts
institutions of utility, as though dre entertainment industry
produce an imitation of life. There is no owner to be seen any-
wanted to prove its closerelationshipto the utility industry.
In a ciry like Berlin there are stock companiesthat are capable
like tennis players, in thar relaxed A.nglo-Saxonuniform that
seelnsto suggestthat the production of sound and noise is more
of satis$.ingthe entertainment needs of severalsocial classesat
a sporting vocation than an zrrtisticone. Bar girls all over the
world are rnarcleout of the same substanceof beauty, with little
"solid bourgeois" pleasuresin other parts of the cit1z,and in a
concessionto the local variations of climate, geology,anclrace,
poured equally over every counrly by a prodigally lavish god-
have some inkling of the "grand monde" with its very own
Ancl just as in a departmentstore
"third-classestablishments."
head, to produce that international,slencler,narrow-hippedtype
of child-worran in whom vice is paired with training, knee-jerk
there are clothes and food for every social classand even for the
n-rodernitywith traditional seducrion-by-helplessness,
active and
passivesuffr'.rgewith the rvillingness to be bought. In every city
and "qualiry" so tire great names of the pleasureindustry supply
there is the protoqpical young, or rather, ageless,player in male
clress(dris dre only overt indication of its sex): smooth fearures
ate-and affordable-drink, from champagne and cocktails to
ancl slicked-back hair, padcled shoulders and compressedhips,
brggy, billowing pants and poinred parenr leather boots-and the
the course of a single night, in which my mournfulnesswas such
casualdemeanor out of fasl-rionmagazines,the nonchalanceof a
once, catering to the "cosmopolite" in the West End, providing
third supplying that part of the lower middle classthat wants to
myriad delicate nuances in between, carefully graded by price
every classwith the appropriate entertairunentand the appropricognac to kirsch to sweet liqueurs down to Patzenhoferbeer. In
that it compelled rne to experiencethe pain of every class of
big-city dweller athirst for joy, I slowly made the rounds fror"nthe
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JOSEPH
ROT r I
bars of the West End of Berlin to those of the Friedrichstrasse,
and from there to the bars in the north of the ciry finishing up in
the drinking placesthat are frequented by the so-calledlumpenproletariat. As I went, I noticed the schnappsgetting stronger,
the beers lighter and brighteq the wines more acidic, the music
cheaper,and the women older and stouter' Yes, I had the sensation that somewherethere was some mercilessforce or organizacommercial undertaking, of course-that implacably
forcecl the whole population to noctLrrnal pleasures,as it were
belaboring it with joys, while husbanding the raw material with
tion-a
extrene care, clown to the very last scrap. Saxophonistswho have
Iost their wind playing in the classybars of the West End carry
on playing to the middle class till they lose their hearing, and
then they wincl up in proletarian dives. Dancers start out reed
thin, to slip slowly, in the ftillness of time and their bodies, in
rrccordancewith a strict plan, down from the zonesof prodigality
to those where people keep count, to the third where people save
their pennies,to the very lowest finally, where the expenditure of
money is either an accident or a calamity.
One of these places-it was already fhr along in years, a hoary
ancient among the clubs of Berlin-was celebrating its fiftieth
anniversaty, and was giving out detailed anniversaty programs,
complete with unobtainable photographs of long-gone vaudeville stars and popular favorites and a "historical look back."
Fror-nthis it appearedthat the establishment,having once been
founded and run by a single man, has fallen into the numerous
hands of a consortium, a consortiurn, I like to imagine, of deadly
seriousfellows, heaqrweight fat cats.There is the photograph of
the founding father: the broad round face of a lnan who knew to
live and let live, with the twinkling eyes of a connoisseur,with a
mighty upntrned moustache betraying a kind of martial good
B ER LIN ' s
P LE A s U R E
IN D U S TR Y
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humor, and a slow smile that legitimatesthe man'sunquestioned
desire for profit.
There follow picturesof the "famous numbers,"dre "diseuses,"
a race of courageouswomen setting foot on the stageas on a battlefield, armored in corsets,in long skirts,under which peep outflirtatiously, seductively, sinfully-snow white or salmon pink
srockings and tightly laced dancing shoes, Boadiceaswith bare
throats and powerful shouldersand with abundantpiled-up I'rairon
their heads, such that a little nodding double-entendrecan't
have been an easy matter; and finally the dancerswith round,
shapelylegs, sewn,one would think, into the whirling expanseof
and
ruffletl and lacy underskirts,loose girls of sweetharmlessness
easyvirtue. Yes,tl-rat'sthe way it was then. The clubowner walked
around among the tables,and nodded and smiled and allowed his
patrons to live and encouragedthem to sin as hard as they could.
The jokes were terrible, but fhe peoplewere cheerful,the women
were very dressed,but at leastdrey were flesh and blood, and not
the procluct of hygienic training. Pleasurewas alwaysa business,
but at least it wasn't yet an indusuy'
Miinchner NettesteNachrichten,May 1, 1930

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