The Cultural Life of Berlin, circa 1933

Self is on p. 404 of Richard J. Evans’ magisterial tome, The Coming of the Third Reich.  The Germany it conjures is a scarily violent place, with brownshirts ruling the streets and giving the Nazi stiff-armed salute to mock officials who were considered “degenerate” or “tinged by Jewish-ness.”  Here’s what self discovers, from a chapter called “Hitler’s Cultural Revolution” :

  • The creation of what the Nazis regarded as a truly German musical culture also involved the elimination of foreign cultural influences such as jazz, which they considered to be the offspring of a racially inferior culture, that of the African-Americans . . .  It confirmed the widespread Nazi view of American degeneracy . . .
  • The swooning tones of the newly popular saxophone also came in for criticism, though, when saxophone sales began to slump as a consequence, German manufacturers of the instrument riposted by trying to claim that its inventor Adolphe Sax was German (in fact, he was Belgian) . . .
  • And yet, Richard Evans writes, jazz did continue to survive in Germany, through the 1930s, because “jazz proved almost impossibly difficult to define, and with a few deft rhythmic tweaks, and a suitably conformist demeanour on the part of the players, it proved quite possible for jazz and swing musicians to continue playing in the innumerable clubs, bars, dance-halls and hotels of Germany throughout the 1930s.  Bouncers at swanky Berlin nightclubs like the Roxy, Uhu, Kakadu or Ciro turned away the invariably shabbily dressed spies sent by the Nazis, ensuring that their chic clientele could continue to swing to the latest jazz and pseudo-jazz music inside.  If a spy should gain entry, the doorman simply rang a secret bell and the musicians rapidly changed the music on their stands before he reached the dance-floor.”

Self loves reading about all the cloak-and-dagger antics (artists are incorrigible!), and she loves in particular the descriptions of German bars, in one of which, the Femina, “swing bands continued to play to over a thousand dancers through the night, while a system of 225 table telephones with instructions for use in German and English enabled singles to ring up potential partners seated elsewhere in the hall.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

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