Theme Year: Destroyed Diversity
Theme Year: Destroyed Diversity
Berlin at the time of the Nazi dictatorship
Berlin is characterised by a wide-ranging diversity of different ways of living. This environment creates fertile ground for ideas and projects not only in art and on the stage but also equally in the cityscape and daily life. This Berlin diversity reached its zenith in the 1920s – before Hitler came to power in 1933 and almost immediately enacted his Gleichschaltung “Enabling Law”, heralding the onset of the Nazi dictatorship of enforced conformity.
In memory of the unimaginable extent and fatal consequences of this tyranny, the Theme Year “Zerstörte Vielfalt – Berlin in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus” (Diversity destroyed – Berlin during the Nazi period) has been launched, which from 30th January to 9th November 2013 will include events everywhere in the city. The two dates refer to the 80th anniversary of Hitler’s accession to power, which took place on 30th January 1933 and the Novemberpogrome/Reichskristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) on 9th - 10th November 1938.
80th anniversary of Hitler’s accession to power
The victories in the two General Elections to the Reichstag that took place in 1932 as well as the assumption by Adolf Hitler of the office of Reich Chancellor culminated in the Day of the Takeover in January 1933. The political situation was tightened by the Nazis by a so-called Emergency Decree following the Reichstag fire, the Enabling Act and the Aryan Clause. They also instigated boycott measures against Jewish businesses, forced many Jews to emigrate, and set up the first concentration camps near Berlin. The subsequent ban on employment for non-Aryans and the “right of further professional activity”, the suppression of the freedom of the press as well as the book burning on the square in front of the Old Library (today’s Bebelplatz), all further served to marginalise resistance against the Nazi’s total exercise of power.
75th anniversary of the November Pogrom
On 7th November 1938, the Polish Jew Herschel Grynszpan shot a German embassy official at the German Embassy in Paris (who died of his wounds five days later). This event had dire consequences, as it provided the Nazis with a welcome pretext for the pogrom known to history as “Reichskristallnacht” (Night of Broken Glass), which took place on 9th/10th November 1938. The SA and SS destroyed Jewish department stores, businesses, apartments and places of worship in the whole of the Greater German Reich. Eleven of the fourteen synagogues in Berlin were completely burnt down while the other three were badly damaged. Thanks to the brave efforts of the local police station superintendent, it proved possible to save the New Synagogue in Oranienburger Straße. The Nazis arrested over 1,000 Jews and deported them to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg. A “Jewish Property Levy” was introduced with the objective of raising a billion Reichsmarks from the surviving victims of the “Night of Broken Glass” as an “act of atonement” in restoring an intact street setting. The subsequent “Regulation for the Elimination of Jews from Economic Life” forbade Jewish citizens from running retail or handicraft businesses as well as the sale of any kind of goods.
Berlin’s Destroyed Diversity of the 1920s and early 1930s
The rights guaranteed to people in Germany by the Weimar Constitution, which came into force on 14th August 1919, included equality before the law, the abolition of class distinctions, the right of freedom of expression as well as freedom of faith and conscience. Berlin as an industrial and working-class city was particularly affected by the fundamental right to work and the right for a suitable place to live in. Moreover, the creation of a standard labour law and the right to form works councils had a sustainable impact on industry in the city. Not everybody was enamoured by the consequent strengthening of Berlin as a “left-wing bastion”.
Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity)
In Berlin, the new freedoms enjoyed in the Weimar Republic were particularly relished by artists and intellectuals. Bertolt Brecht, Otto Dix, Max Liebermann, Erich Kästner, Joachim Ringelnatz and Billy Wilder – to name just a few – would meet and discuss topical issues in the Romanisches Café (Romanesque Café) at Kurfürstendamm 238 (today’s Budapester Straße 43). The New Objectivity movement in literature, art and music would analyse, comment on and influence the current political developments by using such concepts as Gebrauchslyrik (Poetry of Use) - Kästner, Ringelnatz, Tucholsky, and Gebrauchsmusik (Functional Poetry) - Hindemith. The cinema too developed important positions on current events with such seminal films as Georg Wilhelm Pabst’s Freudlose Gasse (The Joyless Street, 1925) and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927).
The 1920s in Berlin was characterised not only by political art but also the art of entertainment. Wilhelm Furtwängler conducted both the Berlin Philharmonic and the Berlin State Opera. The jazz and shimmy dance crazes were all the rage. Josephine Baker’s spectacular performance in the Nelson Theatre on Kufürstendamm in 1926 introduced the outrageous Charleston dance to Germany. It was the heyday of cabaret and vaudeville. At the same time, a gay and lesbian bar and pub scene with international appeal sprang up.
The term Neues Wohnen (New Way of Living) was given to the social, constructive and stylistic economical responses to the housing shortage developed by the architects Bruno Taut (Britz Housing Estate, Falkenberg Garden City, Carl Legien Residential Town, Schillerpark Housing Estate), Hans Scharoun (Siemensstadt Housing Estate) and Otto Rudolf Salvisberg (White City). The buildings they designed were strongly influenced by the Bauhaus movement (forced to disband in 1933 under political pressure), and are today listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites.
While the suburb of Spandau and the area around Schlesisches Tor (Silesian Gate) became shelters for poor migrant workers from Eastern Europe, the Bayerisches Viertel (Bavarian Quarter) had established itself by 1909 at the latest as the heart of Jewish bourgeoisie. Enterprises such as Schocken, Wertheim and Tietz (KaDeWe) were the pioneers of department stores in Berlin, while the Jewish clothes stores of David Leib Levin, the Mannheimer Brothers and Herman Gerson at Hausvogteiplatz stood out as the centre of women’s fashion.
Of the 201 private banks then in Berlin, 150 of them were owned by Jews, while the liberal professions of lawyers, solicitors and estate agents were also disproportionately represented by Jews. Important German-Jewish scientists such as Nobel Laureates Albert Einstein and Gustav Hertz were also active in research and teaching. In contrast to this, however, in the entire life of the Weimar Republic comprising twenty successive Reich Governments with a total of 200 Reich Ministries, there were only two Jews represented: the Interior Minister Hugo Preuß (1919) and the Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau, who was assassinated by a right-wing terrorist in 1922.
Berlin today: Taking up the traditions of the 1920s
It was only following the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent reunification of Germany that the foundation was provided to restore a cultural infrastructure of Berlin approaching that of the 1920s, which had practically been completely destroyed by the Second World War. The election in 2001 of the openly gay SPD politician Klaus Wowereit (SPD) as Ruling Mayor of Berlin sent out an important signal for plurality and cosmopolitanism. Since then, the city has established itself as more than the international hotspot of gay life and the capital of the party scene in Germany.
Jewish culture is also gradually returning to Berlin. The sharp increase in the Jewish Diaspora in Berlin, caused by the influx of Jews from Eastern Europe is manifest in the New Synagogue, the Rykestraße Synagogue as well as eleven other meeting houses and places of worship. In order to reinvigorate and further develop “the potential of both the theological and secular Jewish studies” in Berlin, an inter-university “Centre for Jewish Studies” was opened in the Berlin-Mitte district in June 2012. The Jewish Museum, opened in 2001, provides the setting to remind more than 2,000 years of German-Jewish history. And also to celebrate with young Israelis, who have discovered Berlin as a subculture destination.
Outlook on the Theme Year "Destroyed Diversity"
A variety of projects will deal with everyday life in Berlin in this period during the Nazi dictatorship: There will be numerous special exhibitions and discussions, but public readings , theatre plays, concerts and art installations, for the purpose of providing some insight into the daily life of that period of history. Furthermore, markings and historical markers at many places in the city will throw up questions to the public.
As part of this Theme Year, the Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum) , is providing an overview of the many events taking place all over Berlin with its major portal exhibition Zerstörte Vielfalt. Berlin 1933-1945, and will put the various thematic topics into their historical context. Admittance is free of charge.
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