September’s BBS Excursion: Exploring Berlin’s Jazz History
Last week one of our wonderful guides, Anja Gellenkamp, led a group of two dozen eager explorers through the streets of Berlin-Mitte to uncover several forgotten entertainment venues that once defined Berlin’s heady Jazz scene of the 1920s and 30s.
As opposed to the more raucous American styles to have been found in places like New York and Chicago, Berlin-Mitte was renowned for its more conservative – watered-down – version of ‘Jass’ – so-called ‘Berliner Melange’. Equally, the windy, blues-jazz that could’ve been found in smoke-filled bars up and down the Mississippi River was always a long way from Berlin’s Spree River!
Many Berliners, however, were fascinated by American jazz during the Weimar Republic because Jazz from America meant modern, at a time when Germany was on the front lines of a political and societal revolution following WWI. If Berlin didn’t quite have the exact same noises and rhythms as New Orleans, Kansas City, or Chicago, it didn’t really matter at the end of the day. Jazz was modern, it was exciting and Berliners enjoyed it with as much empathy as those jazz enthusiasts on the other side of the Atlantic did.
One of the ‘forgotten venues’ our group found was the Weisse Maus – pictured now as the Quartier 205 shopping mall. Once home to famous Weimar era dancer Anita Berber and an extreme version of Schadenfreude Theatre where visitors would be invited on stage to embarrass themselves with unusual acts.