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Chapter Two— Kulturkammer
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Chapter Two—
Kulturkammer

The conquest of Berlin lasted approximately ten days. Trams were still running in Charlottenburg when the Red Army seized the first outlying districts. Restaurants on the Kurfürstendamm were still serving lunch, and in the Caré Schilling, as a Swiss businessman recalled, there was "very good cake with a layer of brown crème the thickness of your finger."[1] Now and again grenades fell and there were casualties. Within a few days, this situation witnessed a complete inversion. As the battle raged in the center, above all in the government quarter, the outlying districts already enjoyed peacetime conditions. Individuals or groups of Germans appointed (or at least tolerated) by the Russian commanders saw to it that life continued. It was the great period of the so-called Antifa groups, which assumed control of the abandoned administration or stripped it from the hands of the old system's remaining representatives. "An atmosphere prevailed that I had always associated with meetings during the October Revolution and civil war in Russia, and in fact had always wanted party meetings to have," Wolfgang Leonhard, who returned to Berlin with the Ulbricht Group,[*] wrote in his memoirs. "Clear, brief suggestions issued from all sides, were then discussed, sometimes elaborated on by counter-suggestions, and decided upon."[2]


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Positioned between the old center lying in rubble and the largely undamaged outlying districts, Charlottenburg, with its famous central artery of traffic and business, the Kurfürstendamm, belonged to the districts of Berlin moderately affected by the war. Few street battles had taken place here; the Kurfürstendamm itself at Olivaer Platz and the surrounding side streets were mostly intact. The Russians had taken this area largely without resistance. One of these side streets was Schlüterstrasse. Between the Kurfürstendamm and Lietzenburger Strasse stood No. 45—one of those bourgeois apartment houses built around 1900, with a marble staircase, an elevator, high ornamental ceilings, spacious rooms, and all the technical comforts of the time.

It had been years since the building was last used for residential purposes. In the spring of 1945 it was the seat of the Reichskulturkammer (Chamber for Arts and Culture), which had resided on Wilhelmstrasse until it was bombed out. A few interior adjustments had been undertaken for this move, such as the creation of a large head office out of several smaller adjacent rooms. Inside stood the desk—a work of colossal dimension modeled after Hitler's desk in the New Reich Chancellery—of the head of this administrative authority, Hans Hinkel. Early in May 1945, its old occupants vacated No. 45 Schlüterstrasse. In addition to its office equipment and furnishings, the building contained the complete files on all of the members of the Reichskulturkammer—that is, a file on every German who had been permitted artistic, literary, and journalistic activity in the Third Reich—as well as a part of the painting collection of Berlin's former Jüdische Gemeinde in the basement, including paintings by Chagall, Liebermann, and Lesser Ury.

A week after the end of hostilities, this abandoned property of the Reich was seized in the name of district mayor Kilian, newly appointed by the Russian commandant. As was common in those days, this transpired not as an official administrative act but in the form of a "wild" occupation based on some form of unverifiable Russian authorization. In this case, the occupier in question was Elisabeth Dilthey. The forty-five-year-old widow of a high Prussian official passed herself off as the niece of the philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey,[3] although there was no family relation. She led the dance of dubious figures who seized the building in the following months to set up their operation.

"A lady of great social importance," as a Nazi informant referred to her in 1933,[4] Dilthey moved in the circles of upper-level officials and nobility. Until shortly after the death of her husband she lived in com-


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fortable circumstances, with a domestic staff and a chauffeur. In May 1932 she joined the Nazi party, shifting her social connections to prominent party figures like Hanfstaengl, Rosenberg, and Dietrich. She had a particularly close personal connection to Gottfried Feder, the economic theoretician and author of the Nazi party's economic program. Author of the "Manifesto against Usury," Feder belonged to the anticapitalist wing of the Nazi party and shared its fate after the seizure of power. For a few months he served as state secretary in the Reich's economic ministry but was soon pushed aside to a post at Berlin's Technical University. This occurred in the summer of 1933, a period of particularly close contact between him and Elisabeth Dilthey. Already tense for some time, the relationship between Dilthey and Hans Hinkel (at the time state commissioner in the Prussian Ministry of Culture) broke out into open personal enmity that summer. Their feud moved from mutual accusations of antiparty behavior and personal slander to a secret report on Dilthey commissioned by Hinkel and finally to her temporary "protective custody." What underlay all of this can only be inferred from the few remaining pieces of correspondence in the Berlin Document Center. Hinkel apparently considered Dilthey a spy for political circles outside the party. The secret report he commissioned on her (now lost) bore the title "Jewish Spirit in German Minds." Whatever Elisabeth Dilthey's true political sympathies and possible intention's—whether she was a supporter of the left wing of the Nazi party or, as Hinkel believed, a reconnoiterer from some opposing camp—the fact that she confiscated Hinkel's headquarters in May 1945 could be seen only as an act of delayed revenge.

However, the ensuing satisfaction was not to last. Only a week later, a new figure appeared, armed with full authority from Bersarin, the Russian commandant of the city. Compared with Dilthey, Klemens Herzberg had more experience in artistic and cultural matters, having worked in the administration of Max Reinhardt's Deutsches Theater until 1933. His efforts to emigrate before the war began were unsuccessful, and after the deportation of Berlin's Jews began in 1942, he went underground. Supported by a hairdresser named Martin Gericke, he survived for three years in an apartment on Xantener Strasse, a few blocks away from Schlüterstrasse. Shortly after the end of the battle for Berlin, he called on the Russian commandant of the city and, because he spoke Russian well, was more successful than others who tried the same. In his own words:


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I went to General Bersarin and told him that this was the Reichskulturkammer building and would be suitable for the new authorities. General Bersarin directed me to Colonel Yusenev at headquarters in Charlottenburg and told me: "Have the building confiscated." A Russian lieutenant was put at my disposal and the building was confiscated. Here I came upon Frau Dilthey with a large staff of personnel. I took charge of the personnel, telling myself: They will be valuable. I suggested to Frau Dilthey that she stay. She refused. She refused all suggestions, and thus the misunderstanding came about that I appropriated the house for myself.[5]

Russian authority declared Herzberg "Plenipotentiary of the City Commandant of Berlin for Cultural Affairs." Yet Herzberg did not enjoy his success much longer than had his predecessor. His reign lasted about ten days, filled not with work but with "reunion parties" (Alexander Peter Eismann) with old friends, to whom he promised, like a Sancho Panza suddenly granted lofty office, heaven and earth. Herzberg's good time—or, as Dilthey later put it, his "Köpenickiade"[*] —came to an end when the Russsians' attention was drawn to these activities and he was removed from his position.

Thus ended the first phase of the new beginning of Berlin's cultural life. However incidental the two persons in question were, however obscure their interests and motives and however minimal their actual cultural contribution—in these four weeks the building on Schlüterstrasse nevertheless became a vital gathering and meeting place for artists and intellectuals. For this office came to oversee the classification and distribution of ration cards. The Russian ordinance of May 13, 1945, established four classes of ration cards. At the top was class I ("heavy laborers and workers in hazardous trades"), and at the very bottom, class IV/V, popularly known as the "dying class" ("children, nonworking family members, and the remaining population"). Intellectuals and artists might have reckoned that their daily bread lay somewhere in the middle—if not among "the remaining population "—had it not been for a special stipulation according to which "qualified scholars, engineers, and artists" were eligible for class I. Hence it was Schlüterstrasse that decided one's artistic rank and corresponding ration status. Toward this end, a categorization was established for every artistic profession. For writers, it read:


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Leading writers and poets: class II
Freelance writers, according to submission and evaluation of samples: III

And for actors:

Leading rolls: I
Supporting rolls: II
Supporting rolls in smaller theaters: III
Permanently engaged extras and others: III.[6]

In short, conductors, soloists, producers, and directors made up class I; established and distinguished performers, along with intellectuals and fine artists, formed class II; the rest belonged to class III. In practical terms, a trip to Schlüterstrasse meant for the majority, who were neither directors nor internationally known artists, a struggle for a place in class II—that is, avoiding placement in class III. The artistic achievements publicly acknowledged and often handsomely rewarded during the twelve years of the Third Reich did not, after its collapse, meet with automatic approval. In other words, political evaluation went hand in hand with artistic assessment. And the building on Schlüterstrasse was particularly suited to this end, as the complete personal files and the entire correspondence of the Reichskulturkammer were stored here. The question of who was to control and make use of this archival cache had been decided by a group of individuals in the first days of the occupation, and in the same pragmatic way that Dilthey and Herzberg had occupied the building—that is, by simply assigning themselves this function. In distinction to Dilthey and Herzberg, however, this group was able to win official recognition and support. Its functions were at first carried out in an unstructured and improvised way; the group was later institutionalized as the Spruchkammer. für Entnazifizierung (Office of Denazification) of Berlin's artists.

Its members came from the Berlin resistance, above all from the socalled Ernst Group, which had been active in the western districts. It was a loose, ideologically and politically diverse fusion of liberal bourgeois and communist members. These included the actor couple the de Kowas; the conductor (and temporary head of the Philharmonic in the spring and summer of $1945) Leo Borchardt and his companion, the writer Ruth Friedrich; a few doctors; a boxer; and the students Alexander Peter Eismann (who had gone underground) and Wolfgang Harich (who had deserted from the army). This loose agglomeration was held together by a certain Alex Vogel. The resistance activities of the Ernst Group had consisted in organizing desertions and falsifying identification cards and


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other papers necessary for survival. A few days before the final battle, the group undertook the action undoubtedly truest to its spirit: they posted hundreds of handbills with the word nein on walls, shop windows, lampposts, and trees.

Thirty-seven years old and by profession a trade correspondent, Alex Vogel had been a communist since the age of eighteen, "a first-class organizer and man without scruples" (Wolfgang Harich). Temporarily arrested after the Nazis seized power, he afterward left the country, but returned in 1935, possibly at the behest of the party. Until his desertion and disappearance into the Berlin underground in 1944, he went through the war as a soldier, at first in the Wehrmacht and then in a penal battalion. It is characteristic of Vogel that all information about him, this included, is somewhat uncertain and difficult to verify. His membership in the KPD was the only thing that the other members of the Ernst Group knew about him. There were rumors of his connections to the Russians. It is certain that no one in the group knew about Alex Vogel's role as a go-between for the Gestapo. His assignments included reporting on certain persons in the Russian embassy.[7] Perhaps Alex Vogel was a double agent whom the Gestapo fell for, or an eccentric and independent Antifa fighter, a type of warlord not uncommon in Berlin's antifascist underground; perhaps he was both. He was at any rate a scintillating figure, not unlike Elisabeth Dilthey, whose move into the building on Schlüterstrasse roughly corresponded with his own.

The political scrutiny of Berlin's artists was for Vogel only one function among many, but another former member of the Ernst Group, Wolfgang Schmidt, gave himself over to this task with passionate and singular devotion. As an English officer recalled, Schmidt bore

an almost uncanny likeness to Joseph Goebbels. Ironic it was, but in looks our Nazi-hating Spruchkammer secretary could have been the late unlamented Nazi leader's younger brother. Both had the same slight, slim bodies with disproportionately large heads, the same slicked-back dark hair, the same deep dark eyes, the same thin lips with the same misanthropic downturn at their corners. And when Schmidt got excited, then—just as with Goebbels when he worked himself up to an oratorical climax—strands of that neatly combed hair would shake loose, fall on to an unusually wide forehead, and thereby draw attention yet once again to a curious anatomical imbalance.[8]

As the building on Schfüterstrasse became a first central meeting point, an exchange for jobs and information among artists and intellectuals, the Ulbricht Group made its presence on the cultural scene felt in


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other ways. The group—that is, those members entrusted with cultural missions—had arrived in Berlin on May 1:. Rudolf Herrnstadt brought out the first newspaper, the Berliner Zeitung . In the Reich's former broadcasting center on Masurenallee, Hans Mahle organized the first postwar radio station. Fritz Erpenbeck, a former assistant to Erwin Piscator in the Theater am Nollendorfplatz and the only member of the group not charged with a specific task, linked old contacts with new and thereby also came into contact with the Kammer. "Lively, straight-forward, curious, intelligent, he felt particularly good in this roving position" (Wolfgang Leonhard).[9] Erpenbeck became personal adviser to Otto Winzer, who for his part turned out to be the most important cultural functionary of the Ulbricht Group and one of the key figures in the rebuilding of Berlin's cultural life.

At the time of his return from exile in Moscow, Winzer was forty-three years old. The former typesetter had spent his entire adult life as a party functionary. Long before his emigration he had been privy to functionary conferences and training sessions in Moscow. However, the impression he made on his Western counterparts in the spring and summer of 1945 did not at all correspond to what his fellow Moscow émigré Wolfgang Leonhard later said about him after his break with the Socialist Unity Party (SED): "More than all the other members of the Ulbricht Group, Winzer represented the type of 'sharp' icy Stalinist functionary who executes every directive unconditionally, whose long involvement in the 'apparatus' has stripped him of all connections to the living workers' movement and the ideals of socialism and popular solidarity."[10] To Western officers, Winzer, like many of the communists returned from exile, seemed a competent manager. "They are all highly intelligent men," commented the British cultural officer E. M. Lindsay, professor of classics at Oxford in civil life, "passionately sincere and with a good idea of just what was wrong with National Socialism and how one should set about stamping it out. They have a considerably broader outlook than the average man who has been caged up in Germany for the last twelve years. ... It would be ideal if Britain were in a position to produce intelligent émigrés of the type of Winzer."[11] Michael Josselson, an American cultural officer and later general secretary of the Congress of Cultural Freedom, characterized Winzer as "highly intelligent," adding that he "knows what matters, but also possesses a certain unusual modesty."[12] Wolfgang Harich remembers him as "a man of quality," "an excellent functionary," and, in distinction to the other leading KPD functionaries, someone who was "aware of his


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limits" and surrounded himself with competent advisers like Erpenbeck.[13] In the Magistrat, the first central administration in Berlin formed by the Ulbricht Group, Winzer took over the department of Popular Education. Not limited to actual educational institutions, this agency covered all cultural domains in the stricter sense: art, literature, music, theater—in short, everything organized at Schlüterstrasse.

Given the multitude of former administrative officials, politicians, functionaries, and fortune hunters populating the house on Schlüterstrasse, one might ask what Berlin's artists—in whose name all of this was being carried out—were doing. Artists valued the place above all because of the ration cards distributed there. There was hardly time or interest for greater activity of a political, ideological, or even organizational kind. Individual concerns with sheer personal survival and the effort needed to restart a professional career were predominant. For those in the theater, this was a relatively easy matter. If the building in which they had formerly performed was still standing, they could continue. If it had been destroyed, a replacement needed to be located, an undertaking that succeeded or failed according to initiative, ingenuity, and connections. Gustaf Gründgens, whose Staatstheater at Gendarmenmarkt stood in ruins, was one of the first to assemble what remained of his ensemble and to continue where they had left off after the theaters were closed in 1944. He rehearsed Schiller's The Parasite in the Harnack House of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute in Dahlem. Rudolf Platte was able with the help of colleagues to set himself up in the undamaged Theater am Schiffbauerdamm. Empowered by a staff plebiscite, Michael Bohnen, until then a singer at the City Opera on Bismarckstrasse now lying in ruins, took over the Theater des Westens on Kantstrasse as a replacement and acted as its director. Ernst Legal, formerly at the now ruined Schiller Theater, moved into the intact Renaissance Theater on Hardenbergstrasse with part of his ensemble and rehearsed The Rape of the Sabines . Smaller theaters and cabarets sprang up in the cellars of ruins and half ruins. Everyone previously involved with the stage or now transfixed by the vision of a shining career set about planning and opening a theater. Jürgen Fehling, who hoped to crown his fame as a director with a position as the head of a theater, envisaged himself as the new Intendant[*] of the Deutsches Theater. Fritz Wisten, president


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of the Jüdischer Kulturbund until 1938, assembled actors to realize his long-planned staging of Nathan the Wise . And Wolfgang Staudte, an unknown film director until then, sought the collaborators and means to realize his long-planned project under the working title The Murderers . During these weeks, Paul Wegener undertook comparatively little activity, which, given his age of seventy-one, was no surprise. He and his apartment on Binger Strasse in Friedenau, with its costly East Asian furnishings and famous pair of Buddha statues, had survived the bombs and the final battle and, after the Russians marched in, had the fortune of being recognized, protected, and touted by the victors. A sign in Russian on his garden fence mounted by order of the commandant read: "This is the house of the great artist Paul Wegener, loved and honored throughout the world." It was an angelic protective measure in those violent days.[14]

Wegener was not one of those artists who had withdrawn from the public light after 1933. He worked as a film director and actor, and also belonged to the ensemble of the Deutsches Theater under Heinz Hilpert; in short, he led the life of a star without, like his colleagues Emil Jannings, Werner Krauss, and Heinrich George, signaling to the public any express affinity to the regime. The American cultural officer Henry C. Alter offered an apt characterization of Wegener in the summer of 1945: "He is an uncompromising German of the kind you seldom come across. ... His hatred of everything in any way connected to National Socialism is credible, but his exorbitant belief in the importance of art, theater, and the phrase 'The show must go on' can make dealing with him somewhat difficult. He believes that German art and Germany's more notable artists are the logical means through which the German nation can, must, and will be reeducated."[15]

Wegener was taken up into the network of dignitaries that began to form in these weeks through the efforts of his neighbor, Ernst Legal, who in a whirlwind of activity had already procured for himself a replacement theater and new contacts in Russian headquarters and resumed contact with numerous colleagues in the theater. The circle was made up of those heads of Berlin's artistic and cultural life who had not all too strongly identified with the Nazi regime. Among them were the general director of the Staatsoper, Heinz Tietjen (appointed the "Plenipotentiary for Opera" by the Russians for a few weeks); the directors Karl-Heinz Martin, Ernst Legal, de Kowa, and Michael Bohnen; as well as Gustaf Gründgens, who at this point had not yet been detained by


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the Russians. Not included in this circle were those prevented only by absence—people like Wilhelm Furtwängler and Heinz Hilpert—or those who, like Jürgen Fehling, kept apart because of their temperament and disinclination to join any kind of group or collective organization.

This group—which today might be called a kind of cultural mafia—assumed contact with the Russian authorities in the second half of May. It is no longer certain whether the initiative came from the German or Russian side. The version most often circulated, according to which Bersarin invited all of Berlin's prominent cultural figures to a meeting in Karlshorst, would seem to correspond more to these artists' sense of self-worth than to a reality in which the Russian commandant, however great a student of the arts he might have been, had higher priorities than busying himself with art and artists. It is more probable that the group around Legal called on Bersarin to make him aware of Herzberg's incompetence as the "Plenipotentiary for Cultural Affairs" and to urge his dismissal. It followed that Herzberg's successor should be decided upon by this circle, and then confirmed and officially appointed by the Russians. It followed, too, that the group, composed of so many ambitious men potentially caught up in their pasts, agreed upon the one person who because of his age and political benignity must have appealed to everyone: Paul Wegener. At the beginning of June 1945, Wegener was appointed Herzberg's successor by Bersarin and moved into Hans Hinkel's former office. With this action, the piratelike seizure of this building ended. The more orderly occupation began. In addition to the plenipotentiary, a five-person board of directors was created, first named the Council of Five and then the Presidential Council, which Wegener presided over as the first among equals. Seven divisions were established for the various artistic fields. The melee of individuals, groups, and cliques (between eighty and ninety people) who had settled in at Schlüterstrasse in the preceding weeks were now subjected to a preliminary form of organization. The divisions were:

theater

opera/operetta

music

film

fine arts

literature

cabaret and variety shows


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Administrative—above all, financial—matters were also organized, and the house on Schlüterstrasse became part of the Popular Education department in the Magistrat under Otto Winzer. From June 1945 onward those employed drew fixed salaries from the city government. And finally, in the course of the reorganization, the building received a new name—which, to be sure, was not all that new. What four weeks before had still been called the Reichskulturkammer was now the Kammer der Kunstschaffenden (chamber of artists).

This reorganization confirmed what until then had developed of its own accord. Personnel remained the same, including the retired Herzberg. And activities continued without change: the distribution of ration cards, the political scrutiny by the Vogel-Schmidt group, and the examination of Hinkel's archives. At the same time, with Wegener's appointment the old cultural establishment took over, where until then new men and women had done as they pleased. Conflict was unavoidable and would become the defining mark of the Kammer der Kunstschaffenden up to its not all too distant end. No. 45 Schlüterstrasse was the roof under which the cultural establishment tried to resume its old position while the forces against the establishment, striving to realize their own ideas and goals, tried to prevent precisely that. External influences also had to be reckoned with: Winzer's Popular Education department, the reestablished artists' unions, the Russians, and, soon afterward, the Western Allies.

The first to announce his claim was Erich Otto, president of the German Theater Guild until 1933 and the type of "mediocre actor who compensates for it in union work" (Wolfgang Harich). He was among the first occupants of No. 45 Schlüterstrasse and immediately set about his union work. With old friends and colleagues, he reestablished his former organization, which the Nazis had dissolved in 1933 and absorbed into the Reichskulturkammer. He regarded the building on Schlüterstrasse as union property because, as he argued, "it was bought with money stolen from the Theater Guild and German actors."[16] In addition to the property itself, Erich Otto laid claim to liquid assets in an amount between 1 and 2 million reichsmarks.[17] In order to carry these demands through, he had himself appointed executor of the property of the Reichskulturkammer by the municipal authorities.[18] In fact, he already occupied a not insignificant position in the Magistrat as Winzer's deputy and at the same time head of the Office for Theater, Radio, and


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Music. And with the establishment of the Kammer der Kunstschaffenden, he also became a member of the Presidential Council. Otto pursued his union interests vigorously, skillfully, and successfully, without regard for the displeasure that the performance of so many offices and functions in one person produced in many observers. The report of the official in the Popular Education department responsible for the resulting complaints offers an impression of Erich Otto's omnipresence:

Should you have a complaint about the German Theater Guild and its president, Herr Otto, then you must go to the head of the union, Herr Otto. He will then decide that the president of the guild, Herr Otto, acted properly. Should you still wish, you might see the municipal department chief, Herr Otto. And if you achieve nothing that way, then go to the head of the division, Herr Winzer. But he, as you yourself must admit, is completely overburdened with work, for he runs one of the most important divisions. Accordingly, you might at most speak to Herr Winzer's representative, and that would be, once again, Herr Otto.[19]

Already feeling like the real master at Schlüterstrasse, Otto suggested the name Kammer der Kunstschaffenden and carried it through against strong opposition and reservation, arguing that the Nazi concept of the Kammer was a totalitarian perversion of an originally democratic union concept that was now to be restored and accorded its old rights. The intention was to kill two birds with one stone: if the Kammer der Kunstschaffenden, even in its name, was recognizable as the successor to the Reichskulturkammer, the legal claim of Otto's Theater Guild would have a stronger foothold; and the union definition of the word Kammer further underpinned the union's claim to legal and material succession.

Erich Otto's preference for the Kammer concept understandably cooled as the Kammer moved in an undesired direction. Paul Wegener and those surrounding him were anything but friends of the union. When Erich Otto noticed this, Schlüterstrasse 45 ceased forthwith to be the site of the rebirth of a democratic union organization and became, in Otto's eyes, simply an updated version of what it had been in the Third Reich: "Today it is exactly like when the artist went to the Reichskulturkammer or—it meant the same thing—to Schlüterstrasse during the Hitler years. Just as before, artists still go to the Kammer, to Schlüterstrasse. After the collapse of those twelve years, nothing has changed for this whole circle. The Kammer is in the same building. Most of the 'artists' today speak once more of the Kulturkammer in the manner customary then, so that specifically Nazi ideas are retained and rees-


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tablished."[20] In other words, a union-controlled Kammer was good and a non-union Kammer was bad. As Otto noted: "The Kammer I represented was laid to rest when in one meeting Wegener announced: 'As long as I am at the head of this Kammer, neither guild nor union will enter this building.'"[21]

Wegener, who knew Otto from the old times, could not stand him, for both ideological and personal reasons. Even the slightest contact ("repulsive functionary type") was unbearable to the great man of the theater. Defending the autonomy of the Kammer der Kunstschaffenden, as Wegener understood it, against Otto required the intervention of a person suited to this task. Wegener found his man in that hairdresser with whom we were briefly acquainted as the aide and protector of Klemens Herzberg during the Third Reich. Martin Gericke had appeared with Herzberg at Schlüterstrasse in mid-May and during his short reign became something like the unofficial managing director there. He had not shared in the fall of his patron; on the contrary, he now succeeded in being officially confirmed in this position by Wegener.

Martin Gericke was fifty-eight years old and the proprietor of a barber shop in Wilmersdorf. His connection to the art world had been as a makeup artist for Ufa film productions, a connection that automatically made him a member of the Reichsfilmkammer, a subdivision of the Reichskulturkammer. Those who knew Gericke at Schlüterstrasse in the summer of 1945 remembered him, in contrast to the generally unloved Erich Otto, as self-confident, perhaps a little too outspoken, but a not unkindly, corpulent gentleman.[22] Gericke had finished only elementary school. In the Kammer, however, he passed himself off as a student of Friedrich Gundolf and an admirer of the poet Stefan George. As he put it, he was a man of spirit "from those firmly rooted circles of art and science that—grounded in the turn-of-the-century Georgean tradition—everywhere reveal their influence on the artistic and particularly humanistic mien of the last decade."[23] Martin Gericke was the type who turns up in times of upheaval and transition, assuming some astonishing position, only to disappear with equal swiftness and without a trace once conditions have normalized again. He tried to secure his position permanently, which meant making the Kammer into a lasting institution. This was where his and Wegener's interests met, for the latter had precisely this in mind. Entering the first official position of his life in old age, Wegener envisioned the transformation of this provisional postcollapse organization into a kind of academy drawing together the


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artistic and moral elite not only of Berlin but of all of Germany. Although in Wegener's eyes Gericke was not the man to lead such a serious undertaking responsibly (he once referred to him as "a chatterbox and out of the question at this time"[24] ), Gericke seemed suited to the task of keeping Erich Otto in check, like a good watchdog. His other duties included parrying efforts by Winzer's department to strip the Kammer of its autonomy, and establishing good relations (or at least avoiding poor ones) with the Allies.

As far as the latter was concerned, the situation for the Kammer had meanwhile been complicated by the arrival of the Americans and English in early July. Neither the English, in whose sector Schlüterstrasse lay, nor the Americans, who had arrived with particularly rigorous ideas of denazification, objected in principle to the Kammer. There was nonetheless a certain mistrust of the institution and particularly its name, just as there was a healthy caution and reserve toward all of the institutions created during the two months of Russian occupation. In the opinion of the American military intelligence service, the Kammer was "neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring. It has no official status of any kind. It has no membership of any kind, it has no defined jurisdiction of any kind, it has simply a secretariat, which is paid by the Magistrat. Apart from this it has no funds whatsoever. ... Its main functions at the moment seem to be a kind of exchange of artistic personalities and materials."[25] Another cause for worry was the Americans' realization that Germany's cultural mandarins of Wegener's type seemed to share a kindred conception of culture with the Russians. ("At the core of Russian politics is an almost fanatical worship of art and artists, paired with the belief that artistic activity is in itself good and necessary for the people in times of uncertainty and suffering.") The American military government believed that these views resulted in excessive leniency toward politically compromised artists. "It is characteristic of Russian 'the show must go on' politics that they have still not adopted a critical attitude toward the individuals involved. ... It seems as though the Russians are inclined to forget a great deal when it comes to artists. They seem to consider them a different species who are hardly to be held accountable."[26] For American taste, there were too many prominent artists at Schlüterstrasse who had been active in the Third Reich. The film division in particular attracted attention. Heinz Rühmann and the producer Eberhard Klages were the first to be turned out. In this matter Martin Gericke made himself so useful that the Americans regarded and cultivated him as their


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man ("Excellent man for the Chamber, with good judgment").[27] He became a valuable informant for them on Berlin's cultural politics and the art world during the time of the Russian occupation, on the situation in the Magistrat and in the Popular Education department, on the status of union organization under Erich Otto, and on various cases of Nazi-compromised or compromisable individuals in Berlin's cultural scene. As long as the American cultural officers could not grasp the situation directly, Gericke played the role of scout for them. The more insight and perspective they achieved in the course of the summer, the more their enthusiasm for him dissipated. They opposed his plans to make the Kammer into a suprazonal cultural institution.

Hence toward the end of the summer it did not look good for Gericke and the Kammer. Relations with the Magistrat and the Popular Education department had also cooled. To the extent that Otto Winzer's office consolidated as the central cultural administration of Berlin, it lost interest in the Kammer, which it began to see both as superfluous because it was "completely up in the air"[28] and as a kind of damaging competition. What no one had bothered about in the first weeks of May now attracted notice and criticism: the allotment of positions among prominent figures of Berlin's cultural scene; the "secret cabinet politics" of the circle around Wegener and Legal;[29] the unregulated appointment of other colleagues, mostly as personal favors, who were then paid from municipal funds. There were also rumors of dark deeds and dubious intrigues, like the unexplained and possibly criminal appropriation of paintings from the collection of the Jüdische Gemeinde by members of the Kammer.

Erich Otto had meanwhile left the Kammer and entered into open battle against it, using all of the influence he retained in his double function as director in the Popular Education department and head of the newly established Theater Guild. Winzer and Otto may not have been able to stand each other personally and politically, but in this matter they had a confluence of interests that, it would soon bear out, was by far more effective than that of Wegener and Gericke on the opposing side. The final phase of the Kammer's history began in September 1945, when Winzer had a plan for its reorganization drawn up. The central points were:

1. the renaming of the Kammer as the Advisory Council for Artistic Affairs to the Magistrate of Berlin;


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2. the reduction of personnel to a third of its previous size;

3. Gericke's dismissal.

Decoded, this was nothing other than the liquidation of the Kammer as an autonomous institution. The first step was taken with Gericke's dismissal, which Winzer—threatening for the first time to tighten the financial screws—carried through against Wegener's only halfhearted opposition. But Winzer again shrank before further steps when it became clear that the Kammer had found unexpected support in the Berlin press. The summer months saw a string of newspapers established, and many of the young men who had been active at Schlüterstrasse in the spring had become editors, critics, and reporters. In this capacity, they were now prepared to support the institution in which they had begun their careers: Wolfgang Harich at the French-licensed Kurier, Friedrich Luft at the American Allgemeine Zeitung, and Hans Schwab-Felisch at the American-licensed Tagesspiegel . After Gericke's removal, so much confidence returned to Schlüterstrasse that the plans to make the Kammer into a national institution were taken up again and elaborated. The new managing director, theater director Herbert Maisch, himself a man from the circle of the establishment, presented the Americans early in 1946 with a program that stated:

The validity of our efforts is of significance for all of Germany, and even beyond. That is why we are seeking connections to the intellectual forces outside of Berlin; that is why we want to move beyond this restricted sphere to arrive at an intellectual exchange, at a circulation of new ideas that will extend across all of Germany. These efforts have nothing to do with attempts at a new centralization. We do not wish to become a new center, we want to work together in absolute equality with artists in Munich, Dresden, Hamburg, etc. We want to create bonds between art and the public, bonds within Germany and—what matters most to us—create intellectual bonds outside of Germany, with the entire democratic world. We want to bring together selected representatives of German artistic life in a council of the arts in order to create an exchange of ideas among them, and to present them to the German people as models and ideals, as an alternative to the bravado and war heroes of the past.[30]

The chances for realization were slim. The Americans showed even less interest than Winzer. Moreover, an institution with the express objective of morally purifying German culture had been established in the meantime. The Kulturbund zur demokratischen Erneuerung Deutschlands resided in the same house on Schlüterstrasse. And within the ranks


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of Berlin's cultural elite, the need for a moral institution had subsided to the extent that cultural figures had been absorbed into other newly established institutions.

Upon Allied order, on April 30, 1946, one year after the first occupation of No. 45 Schlüterstrasse, the Kammer der Kunstschaffenden ceased its activities. Both its functions and its bequest of personnel and possessions were divided up. Part of it moved to the newly created Council of the Arts in the Magistrat, part to the new District Council of the Arts of Charlottenburg. The Vogel-Schmidt group and the files of the Reichskulturkammer remained in the building and thenceforth formed the Spruchkammer für Entnazifizierung of Berlin's artists. With the permission of the Allies, this archive was put under Schmidt's leadership and made into an archive for all German Spruchkammern . Thus the building on Schlüterstrasse did become, though in a way other than what Wegener and Maisch had foreseen, an institution of national significance extending across zonal borders. It is worthwhile noting that the liquidation of the Kammer also meant a loss for Winzer. The duties of the new Council of the Arts were taken out of his Popular Education department, which became a strictly educational office.

The period in the Kammer's history truly significant for Berlin's cultural life—the three or four months in the spring and summer of 1945 when Schlüterstrasse became a gathering and meeting place for artists, intellectuals, and cultural politicians in Berlin who had come, often literally, crawling out of the rubble—was shorter than the period of its existence. Strictly speaking, the Kammer's significance concerned first and foremost the theater—the simple reason being that the most qualified and active individuals at Schlüterstrasse were theater actors and directors, or critics and writers attached to the theater. Also, the cultural public of the time regarded the theater as the central artistic genre. Arriving in Berlin from London in 1946, theater critic Hilde Spiel described how Berlin's postwar theater assumed this function:

The Reich Chancellery has been swept away, but the theaters remain. In the middle of the most desolate metropolis in the world, still standing amid the gray washed-out skeletons of buildings, rising up again, they are of a magnificence Londoners can search for in vain at home.... Are they false facades, Potemkin villages, and behind them ... the attempt to feign healthy bourgeois life? No, they are not. They are reality itself, the only one that remains. The set has replaced life. That gigantic nonsense of war has brought down with it the tables and beds, clothes and pots, pianos and tennis rackets, department stores and restaurants where people once enjoyed


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themselves. What remains is the world of the theater. Only here do they continue to eat and drink, love without worry and die without cause, swagger, croon, charm, laugh. Only here do the porters still strut about and the candles still flicker in ornate chandeliers, only here do the cigars glimmer and the wines flow.[31]

In an altogether different way, the Berlin theater had functioned as a substitute in the Third Reich, a fact that, as always in times of transition, would lead to misunderstandings, miscalculations, and conflict.


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