Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 September 2018
It was a glorious time. More naive than today's twenty year-olds, not at all disappointed or embittered, our optimism was boundless. The long, bloody war had passed and become a ghost. Its victims had not died in vain, its suffering had not been endured in vain, it had taught us to love peace. There would never be another war, we had lived through the last one!
Poverty presented itself to our conscience, and we knew its remedy: socialism. We knew it was our responsibility to denounce tradition, which stood in the way of the new life. No less in the arts. Painters painted with their left hand in order to free themselves of what they'd learned, and create works of immediacy. The Dadaists arrived with their objective of mocking every concept and teasing the artistic world. So, at least, the intelligent ones like George Grosz; the idiots among them thought they had found a new direction.
The theater was liberated from censorship. Wedekind's Pandora's Box could have its first performance. A lesbian couple, an old man who deflowers his twelve-year-old stepdaughter, Jack the Ripper—these were the characters involved. Nothing like it had ever before been seen on stage, and the public stormed the box office. Movie theaters showed “educational films” depicting prostitution, drunkenness, gambling and drug addiction realistically. The films had a moral to them, they warned about vice, and the public came in droves to enjoy the spectacle.
In one feature fi lm, Baccarat, Ludwig Hartau played the role of the big industrialist ruined by his gambling habit. At the center of the action is a young violin virtuoso, famous and spoiled by women, who also veers from his course into moral and artistic bankruptcy at the Baccarat table, and finally takes his life. Hartau held the silent fi lm in contempt, as most stage actors did at the time, and took his part only because of the money—but he thought that for me, an actor with no experience, this would be a good assignment, and guaranteed that I could handle the role of the young violinist. By the time the fi lm first played at the Marmorhaus, I had an acting contract with the Dresden State Theater and couldn't come to Berlin. I never saw the fi lm.