Jewish Identities in German Popular Entertainment, 1890-1933

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These areas are particularly fascinating because by the turn of the nineteenth century, traditional concepts of bourgeois Bildung were successfully being challenged by other, enormously successful, forms of entertainment like the circus, which became the first true mass medium.

In terms of her chosen forms of entertainment Otte rightly laments a lack of research regarding questions of ethnic identity and concerning the significance of popular performances for historical interpretation.

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She claims that popular entertainment, because it operates across class and gender lines, has been undervalued by historians who preferred to focus on the "ideal type" public sphere p. Additionally the methodological problems with non-verbal sources have added to the reluctance to deal critically with popular entertainment. Jewish performers, for example, were more successful in Wilhelmine Germany than during the Weimar Republic and met with less open hostility.

Otte points out that these three types of popular performance had three different peak times. Whereas the circus experienced its biggest successes in the late nineteenth century, jargon theaters blossomed during the years before and revue theater triumphed in the interwar period.

Despite these quite distinctive timeframes, however, there are also interesting points of contact. In concentrating on the circus in the first of her three major chapters Otte makes it clear that Jews played a significant role in the rise and success of circus entertainment in Germany. For many poor Jewish families based in rural areas, the circus offered a chance to climb the social ladder in the booming cities where many of the former travelling circuses became stationary.

In their magnificence, these circuses soon rivaled the country's leading theaters and even sought to outshine them in terms of respectability by claiming their roots lay in the circuses of ancient Rome. In contrast to elite forms of entertainment, these circuses drew audiences from all strata of society and circus proprietors became "bourgeois entrepreneurs" instead of simply "marginalized fairground performers" p. Otte's tendency, however, to paint a rather romantic picture of philanthropist Jewish circus directors, who were supposedly aware of family values, tradition and moral reputation, while harshly describing non-Jewish directors such as Paul Busch, Hans Sarrasani and Carl and Wilhelm Hagenbeck, as money-grubbing entrepreneurs solely interested in their own financial and social gain, is slightly irritating pp.

The circus' reputation, respectability and, by default, its survival as a profitable enterprise were at risk during the public debates over gender roles and "Americanization," so circus directors were at pains to uphold their impeccable reputation. In this respect connections to nobility proved important, especially for Jews who had been denied civil rights for so long. The First World War and its aftermath, however, ultimately marked the end of circus entertainment as a mass medium in Germany. Although many Jewish enterprises reopened for business after the war, by the mids growing antisemitism forced many of them to give up as audiences stayed away.

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In a poignant epilogue Otte illustrates that Jewish performers and artists not only faced the economic downfall of the s, but a few years later the threat of death during the Nazi years and the Holocaust, which only a few survived. Unlike Jewish circus performers, however, Jewish revue artists deliberately played out questions of identity.

By doing so, Otte claims, jargon theater did not solely cater for unassimilated Jews but was part of a wider urban middle-class amusement scene attended by Jewish as well as non-Jewish Germans. Jargon theaters corresponded to a general interest in Volkskultur and catered to audiences interested in "folksy" topics.

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It did not remain, however, in the Volkstheater corner, because it mixed Yiddish performance traditions with contemporary Western burlesque theater. Close mobile search navigation Article Navigation.

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Marline Otte | Film Studies | School of Liberal Arts Tulane University

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Its like you read my mind! Otte, Marline. Erschienen am Beschreibung Informationen zu E-Books At the turn of the century, German popular entertainment was a realm of unprecedented opportunity for Jewish performers.


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