Vintage Photos of Berlin Cabaret Artists (1920s-1930s)

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Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992). Her earliest professional stage appearances were as a chorus girl on tour with Guido Thielscher’s Girl-Kabarett vaudeville-style entertainments, and in Rudolf Nelson revues in Berlin. Her performance as Lola-Lola in The Blue Angel (1930) brought her international fame and resulted in a contract with Paramount Pictures. Photo of Dietrich by Ruth Harriet Louise, c 1930 via

Trude-Hesterberg

Trude Hesterberg (1892 – 1967) was a German stage and film actress, cabaret artist, chanson singer, soubrette and operetta singer, as well as founder and director of a cabaret stage. It is thought that she was an early consideration for the lead role in The Blue Angel, before it was given to Marlene Dietrich via

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Margo lion (1899 – 1989) first came to Berlin in 1921 and made her debut at Trude Hesterbergs cabaret ‘Wild Bühne’ (The Wild Stage) in 1923 . She is best known for her role as Pirate Jenny in director G.W. Pabst’s 1931 French language adaptation of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera (Die Dreigroschenoper) via

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Anita Berber (1899 – 1928) was a German dancer, actress, and writer. Her hair was cut fashionably into a short bob and was frequently bright red, as in 1925 when the German painter Otto Dix painted a portrait of her, titled “The Dancer Anita Berber” via

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Valeska Gert (1892 – 1978) could be considered one of Germany’s most ambiguous and overlooked artists. She was a dancer, actress, film and cabaret star. She was a pioneering performance artist who is said to have laid the foundations and paved the way for the punk movement via

Kate-Kühl

Kate Kühl (1899-1970) nicknamed ‘The Red Nightingale’ went on to perform in all the major cabaret venues of the time including the Wilde Bühne, Kadeko and the Katacombe via

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Blandine Ebinger (1899 – 1993) was a German actress and chansonniere. Ebinger became acquainted with Friedrich Hollaender in 1919, and with him she became heavily invested as a performer, writer, and composer in the Berlin cabaret scene in the 1920s, beginning in the cabaret Schall und Rauch and the Café Größenwahn. Photo of Blandine Ebinger performing Lieder eines armen Mädchens, 1925 via

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Anita Berber

Anita Berber (1899-1928) was immensely famous in 1920s Berlin. Berber was a dancer, actress, and writer who epitomized the excesses and decadences of the German Roaring Twenties. Incredibly, given her notoriety, almost no one in the present day would have heard of Anita Berber were it not for a portrait by Otto Dix from 1925.

Born in Leipzig to musician parents who later divorced, she was raised mainly by her grandmother in Dresden. In time Berber would exert a huge impact on Weimar Berlin, whose excesses and experimentation she both embodied and surpassed. Simply, in a period when Berlin was rethinking art, politics and life itself, Berber was going further than anyone else, blurring the line between life and performance, setting new standards for scandal and audacity.

It was her public appearances that really challenged taboos. Berber’s overt drug addiction and bisexuality were matters of public chatter. In addition to her addiction to cocaine, opium and morphine, one of Berber’s favourites was chloroform and ether mixed in a bowl. This would be stirred with a white rose, the petals of which she would then eat.

According to Mel Gordon, in The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber: Weimar Berlin’s Priestess of Debauchery, she was diagnosed with severe tuberculosis while performing abroad. After collapsing in Damascus, she returned to Germany and died in a Kreuzberg hospital on 10 November 1928.

Anita Berber, by Madame d’Ora, 1921.

Anita Berber, by Madame d’Ora, 1921.

Anita Berber

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Anita Berber

Anita Berber

Anita Berber

Mary Wigman – Expressionist Dancer

Strong and convincing art has never arisen from theories – Mary Wigman 

Mary Wigman (1886 – 1973) was a German dancer, choreographer, notable as the pioneer of expressionist dance, dance therapy, and movement training without pointe shoes. She is considered one of the most important figures in the history of modern dance. She became one of the most iconic figures of Weimar German culture and her work was hailed for bringing the deepest of existential experiences to the stage. Wigman, who viewed herself as a dancer of humanity, proved fascinating to painters Emil Nolde and Ernst Ludwig Kirchne. Her dances were often accompanied by world music and non-Western instrumentation, such as fifes and primarily percussions, bells, including the gongs and drums from India, Thailand, Africa, and China, contrasted with silence. She would often employ masks in her pieces, influenced again by non-western/tribal dance.

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Mary Wigman

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Mary Wigman

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Mary Wigman Performing

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Clips from Totenmal 1929

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Mary Wigman performs Hexentanz in 1929

Elsbeth Juda – Pioneering fashion photographs

Elsbeth Juda, known professionally as Jay (born 2 May 1911), is a British photographer most notable for her pioneering fashion photographs and work as Associate Editor and photographer for The Ambassador magazine between 1940-1965.

Juda was born in Darmstadt, Germany on 2 May 1911. At 18, she refused to go to Oxford as her father wished and went to Paris where she found work as secretary to a banker. In 1931, Elsbeth married her childhood love, Hans Juda, and they went to live in Berlin where he was a financial editor at the Berliner Tageblatt. In 1933, they fled Nazi Germany with nothing but a violin and moved to a one-room flat in London, a city she had been sent to frequently, if not happily, as a girl.

Juda studied photography under Lucia Moholy (wife of László Moholy-Nagy) formerly of the Bauhaus and started her long career in a commercial studio as “dark room boy”. In 1940, Hans became founding publisher and editor of The Ambassador, The British Export Magazine. Juda would later join the magazine as associate editor and fashion photographer as, unlike Hans, she spoke fluent English.

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Elsbeth Juda

Eva Besnyö – Nieuwe Fotografie Movement

Photographer and photojournalist Eva Besnyö was born in Budapest on April 29, 1910, who participated in the Nieuwe Fotografie (New Photography) movement.

In 1928 she began a two-year course of studies at the renowned József Pécsi Portrait, Advertising and Architecture Studio, where she also did her apprenticeship. In 1930 at the age of 20 she decided to move to Berlin, metropolis of the avant-garde, not only in order to get away from home but also in order to leave the Hungary of the Horthy regime. Later she referred to her stay in Berlin as the most important period of her life, meaning that it laid the foundations not only of her photographic practice but also of her political awareness. She became part of the social and political circle of intellectuals which included György Kepes, Joris Ivens, Lászlo Moholy-Nagy, Otto Umbehr and Robert Capa. In 1931, she opened her own studio where she was successful in receiving agency work. Her well-known photograph of the gipsy boy with a cello on his back stems from that period.

Beacause of the political climate she moved to Amsterdam in 1932 with her Dutch friend John Fernhout whom she married. With the assistance of Charley Toorop, she participated in exhibitions which led to commissions in press photography, portraits, fashion and architecture. Her solo exhibition in the Van Lier art gallery in 1933 consolidated her recognition in the Netherlands. Besnyö experienced a further breakthrough with her architectural photography only a few years later: translating the idea of functionalist “New Building” into a “New Seeing”

After the war she again received commissions for documentary work but became less active as she raised her two children fathered by the graphic designer Wim Brusse. In the 1970s, she was active in the Dutch feminist movement Dolle Mina, fighting for equal rights and photographing street protests

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Eva Besnyö Selfportrait 1952

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Eva Besnyö, 1939

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Eva Besnyö Budapest 1929

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Eva Besnyö Shadow play web

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Eva Besnyö 

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Eva Besnyö 

Amazing Surreal Photomontages by Grete Stern

Grete Stern (1904-1999) was German born but adopted Argentine nationality after living in the country for 23 years.

In 1948 Stern was offered the unusual assignment of providing photos for a column on the interpretation of dreams in the popular weekly women’s magazine Idilio. The column, entitled “Psychoanalysis Will Help You,” was a response to dreams sent in by readers, mostly working-class women. It was written under the pseudonym Richard Rest by renowned sociologist Gino Germani, who later became a professor at Harvard University. The result was a series of about one hundred and fifty photomontages produced between 1948 and 1951 that show Stern’s avant-garde spirit. In these photomontages she portrays women’s oppression and submission in Argentine society with sarcastic and surreal images. The photomontage was an ideal way for Stern to express her ideas about the dominant values.

It has been claimed that the motivating semiotic principle behind Grete Stern’s photomontages is the need to create a language for women’s dreams; this language may be, in a first instance, sympathetic with the repression and oppres­sion of women, and in a second instance it may be critical of the pscyhoanalytic project with regard to women’s experience.

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Grete Stern

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Grete Stern