case western reserve university



2005/2006 Max Kade Workshop

"Libretto Fatale: Was ist und wie macht man politisches Kabarett" April 17 - 28, 2006.  Clark Hall 113, MW 7:00-8:30.  Open to all German speaking guests!

Werner Finck, leader and emcee of the famous cabaret "Catacombs":  "In the Thirties, cabaret was risky business: If you didn't want to lose your head, you were restricted to the most subtle of suggested satire.  Of course, sensitivity was so keen then that the slightest tinkle of criticism had the effect of a whole carillon of bells ringing at once.  These days-and this is precisely the problem of cabaret in a democracy-no amount of noise can make a dent in the complacency of the public.  At most someone may ask, 'Eh, did I hear something over there?'"

Libretto Fatale
The 2005/06 Max Kade Workshop is part of GRMN 381 "Verboten: Literature, Politics, and Censorship," an introduction to subversive German poems, songs, jokes, plays, and prose from the 16th to the 21th century.  The special focus is on political cabaret, a literary art form that by its very nature brings together diverse elements of European culture including politics, society, literature, theater, music, art and dance.  At the end of the 19th century, the Old World experienced the dramatic beginnings of a social, cultural and sexual revolution.  Cabaret is at the  crossroads  of  all these changes, representing and reflecting its various manifestations  like a sparkling kaleidoscope.  What started in the 1920s as a playground for the avant-garde soon became an important forum for social and political commentary and dissent.  We trace its development from the expressionist beginnings to the hysteria of inflation-era Berlin, the anti-Nazi and exile cabaret, and its renewal in postwar society.  Today, political cabaret is alive and kicking in the traditional Berlin "Distel," Bremen's beloved Libretto Fatale, and in Turkish-German cabarets such as Unkürrekt or Kanakmän. 

The 2006 Max Kade Visiting Artist/Scholar

Ellen Best is one of the founding members of Libretto Fatale, a posse of lawyers moonlighting as Kabarettisten.  In the workshop Ellen Best will talk about the changes in German law on freedom of speech and about the importance of political cabaret today.  Accompanied by her she will introduce students to Germany's contemporary cabaret scene.  Students will learn about the role and challenges of being a Kabarettist, analyze cabaret songs, and and learn how to blend humor and satire, poetry and theater, music and dance by creating and videotaping their own mini-cabaret performance as the final group project for the course under the guidance of Ellen Best and her husband Stephan Pulss, a lawyer, journalist at Radio Bremen, and co-member of Libretto Fatale. For more on Libretto Fatale:

When she is not moonlighting, Ellen Best is a judge and press officer at the Bremen district court.  She is also a member of the GZE (German Agency for Technical Cooperation), Germany's contribution to an  international effort by renowned legal experts  to foster the development of a democratic judiciary in Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Ellen Best has generously agreed to give a presentation about her experiences as a member of the GTZ (German Agency for Technical Cooperation) developing an administrative legislation and building up administrative institutions in countries such as Georgia, where she spent all of last year.  (Working title:"Democratizing the Caucasus"(TBA). Professor Kenneth Ledford, himself a historian and lawyer, is currently preparing a collaborative event with the Law School where Ellen Best will talk about the problems introducing democracy--particularly a democratic system of justice--in traditionally non-democratic countries. She will also present her view on whether these countries will follow the Anglo-American way or the European ways and talk about her close cooperation with US lawyers, which she views as an extremely positive and culturally very interesting experience.  (For more information on Best see , )   

"VERBOTEN: GERMAN CABARET 1920-90" Max Kade Lecture Series

Three public lectures in English will provide the framework and historical background to the workshop Libretto Fatale.  It will introduce the greater Case and Cleveland communities to the Golden Age of the political cabaret, its demise during the Third Reich, and in the former GDR, highlighting the tenuous relationship between German politics and the freedom of speech in the 20th century.  It will also include:


1. "Cabaret Culture: Paris  - Berlin - New York." March 30, 2006,  Clark Hall 206, 4:30-6:00pm. 

Frederick A.  Lubich, Professor of German and Chair, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA.  Using old and new recordings, photographic documents, and film excerpts, this presentation will tell of the heyday of liberal freedoms as presented in the Berlin cabarets of the Twenties and early Thirties, and it will relate the fate of these stages and the artists after the establishment of Nazi power in 1933.  The tale unfolds through case studies of three stages that represented the best cabaret art of Germany's young democracy: The Cabaret of the Comedians (Kabarett der Komiker, 1924), the Catacombs (Die Katakombe, 1929), and the Tingel Tangel Theater (1931).         

In its glory, the cabaret was a forum for exploration, creative exchange, and clever but often ambiguous transgression.  Modern Kleinkunst, the miniature art of the small stage, gained its edge through topical allusions, parody, and satire-but for the Nazis, this culture of impudence and individuality had to be suppressed, by force if necessary. The Tingel Tangel and the Katakombe continued to operate in the first years of the Third Reich until they were closed down by the Gestapo in 1935.  The "KaDeKo," on the other hand, negotiated a slippery slope with the new regime, which harbored bitter suspicions of any form of satire and playfulness, until it was closed in late 1944.


2. "The Rise and Fall of the Weimar Cabaret." April 13, 2006, Clark Hall 206, 4:30-6:30pm

Alan Lareau, Associate Professor of German, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. This presentation will focus on the topic of politics, transgression, and suppression by presenting two case studies: The political cabarets Tingel-Tangel (1931) and Katakombe (1929) before and after Hitler's rise to power and the closing of both stages by the Gestapo in 1935.  He will conclude with an outlook on cabaret and jazz under the Nazis.



3. "'No Drinks or Improv Allowed!' The Idiosyncrasies of Censorship in East German Political Cabaret, 1953-1989." April 20, 2006, Clark Hall 206, 4:30-6:00pm

Michelle Ricci, Visiting Professor at Oberlin College, Ohio. This lecture will outline the origins and objectives of the East German Political cabarets and the tenuous relationship among censorship, performance and reception. It will then examine specific cases where censors clashed with writers of the leading professional cabarets--Berlin's Distel, Dresden's Herkuleskeule, and Leipzig's Akademixer.  Professor Ricci's presentation will end with reflections on the legacy of GDR censorship for the former GDR cabaretists and cabaret venues that continue to exist after 1989.