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The book and exhibition at The Jewish Museum highlight leading cultural figures such as Max Liebermann, a founder of the Berlin Secession, and Herwarth Walden, who founded Der Sturm; artists such as Ludwig Meidner and Jakob Steinhardt; pioneers of cabaret, theater, and film, including Max Reinhardt and Ernst Lubitsch; art dealers, publishers, and writers; and leading intellectual and political figures such as Martin Buber and Georg Simmel. These and other fascinating individuals are represented by more than 200 diverse objects: paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, books, letters, posters, graphic arts, theater memorabilia, and film. The book includes eight essays by scholars of German and Jewish culture and art history that provide a truly interdisciplinary interpretation of the Berlin renaissance.
The period represented in Berlin Metropolis was a time when Jews were traditionally restricted from participating in major areas of German public life such as the army, government, and the university. But by turning to the "alternative public spheres" characteristic of urban society—galleries, cafés, journals, theaters, cabarets—they emerged as innovative cultural leaders whose intellectual and artistic impact is still felt today.
The exhibition, Berlin Metropolis: Jews and the New Culture, 1890-1918, will be at The Jewish Museum, New York, from November 14, 1999, to March 5, 2000; and the Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida, from April 1 to June 11, 2000.
(Detail ) Alexanderplatz, 1906
Photograph: Max MissmannIn the summer of 1882, Carl and Felicie Bernstein returned from Paris to Berlin with a group of Impressionist paintings. Advised by Carl's Parisian cousin, Charles Ephrussi, the editor of the Gazette des Beaux-Arts , the Bernsteins, who had originally immigrated to Berlin from Russia, had acquired works by Manet, Monet, Sisley, and Pissarro. These works formed the core of the first collection of Impressionist art in Berlin, and, indeed, in all of Germany. Had the Bernsteins been reclusive or aloof, their collection might not have had a significant impact; but the Bernstein home was the site of a weekly salon, frequented by artists such as Adolph Menzel, Max Klinger, and Max Liebermann, as well as by historians and critics such as Theodor Mommsen and Georg Brandes. A year later, in October 1883, the wider public had an opportunity to view these paintings when they were included in an exhibition of Impressionist works at the Berlin Galerie Fritz Gurlitt. Thanks to the Bernsteins' enthusiasm, many Berliners were afforded their first encounter with Impressionism.
Much of the creation and dissemination of modernism in Berlin between 1890 and 1918,the years encompassed by this exhibition and book, was characterized by personal convictions and passions expressed in semi-public salons, culturally dissident media, and alternative performance and exhibition spaces. Wilhelm II (18591941), who became emperor in 1888, had a deep personal interest in issues of art and culture. He exerted his power to its fullest in order to advance his own nationalist agenda and conservative cultural tastes. Though avid in his advocacy of modern science and technology, Wilhelm II (FIG. 1) fought vociferously against the new artistic movements. Berlin's extraordinary emergence as a significant capital of modernism during the reign of Wilhelm II must be viewed against the background of the regime's intense hostility and active struggle against cultural modernism.
How were dissident, unofficial artistic movements able to succeed in making Berlin so central a place of modern culture? Modernism's advocates devised inventive ways of circumventing the emperor's control, exemplified by the National Gallery's acquisition of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art during the directorship of Hugo von Tschudi. In 1897, Tschudi was the first museum director in the world to acquire a painting by Cizanne. Only a few years previously, in 1894, the French state had refused to accept a number of Impressionist works, including works by Cizanne, that had been bequeathed by the artist Gustave Caillebotte. Tschudi could not have succeeded without the financial backing of a critical group of patrons and collectors of modern art who purchased or donated artworks to the National Gallery that the state would never have approved.1 For example, the Manet still life visible on the left in the Bernstein's music room (see FIG. 165) was bequeathed by Felicie Bernstein (18501908) to the National Gallery. The Bernsteins were Jewish, as were many of the collectors and patrons of modern art in Berlin, notably the painter Max Liebermann and the industrialist Eduard Arnhold.2
Kaiser Wilhelm II , 1895
Oil on canvas, 51 15/16 W 35 7/16 in.
(132 W 90 cm)
Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen
The elective affinity between Jews and modern culture has been a controversial subject since the last third of the nineteenth century, and continues to provoke debate. The representation of Jews engaged in modernist movements in numbers far exceeding their proportion of the population has served both as a rallying cry for anti-Semites and a source of ethnic pride for Jews. The fantasy that modern culture is dominated by Jews was a centerpiece of anti-modern and anti-Semitic thought at the turn of the last century; it reached its obscene conclusions in Nazi cultural policy. The perception of an innate connection between Jews and modernism resulted in many non-Jewish modernists being labeled as Jewish—for example, in the "Degenerate Art" exhibitions mounted during the Third Reich. In contemporary America, where religious practice is no longer the lodestone of Jewish identity for many Jews, pride in the cultural and artistic achievements of Jews in the past provides a vehicle for a positive Jewish identification.
It is thus not surprising that this subject arouses passions on many fronts. Scholars, including those represented in this book, rightly point out that most Jews were not modernists and that many modernists were not Jews. Peter Gay made this point and cautioned against the reading of the Jew as the archetypal modernist in 1978: "It is sheer anti-Semitic tendentiousness, or philo-Semitic parochialism, to canvass the great phenomenon of Modernism from the vantage point of the Jewish question."3 Moreover, the very terms used in the discussion are seen as problematic. In a recent exchange on the role of Jews in modernism in fin-de-sihcle Vienna, Ernst Gombrich expressed his discomfort with the classification of people as "Jews" or "Gentiles," lamenting that "we lack a term to designate all individuals of Jewish ancestry, and thus we cannot but use basically racist terminology." Gombrich cited a text where the art writer and gallerist Serge Sabarsky imagined that Jewish patrons of art in Vienna "would turn in their graves if they knew of this classification, however well intentioned."4
How can we evaluate the role of Jews in modern Berlin culture without employing tainted discourse and at the same time avoiding a celebratory display of self-congratulation? And why venture into this minefield at all? First of all, it is important to state that there is nothing innately Jewish about an attraction to modernism; the role played by Jews in the creation and dissemination of modernism is rather a function of specific historical and sociological circumstances. Although these conditions are discussed in a number of the essays in this book, it seems worthwhile to outline them briefly here.
The emancipation of German Jewry—the granting of civic equality, although Jews were still excluded from certain professions, including the civil service—was a slow and gradual process, beginning in the late eighteenth century, and essentially complete only during the Weimar Republic. Furthermore, Jews were integrated into German society not through the political system, butthrough their economic success as well as their interaction with German culture. The ideology of this kind of cultural integration was known as Bildung , the individual pursuit of humanistic culture as an ideal. In contrast to the slow process of Jewish emancipation, the process of economic modernization in German society was the most rapid the world had seen up to that time. An essentially agrarian society in 1850 was transformed into one of the world's most advanced industrial nations by 1890. Because they had left their villages for the cities approximately one generation before other Germans, Jews played a central role in this process, and some Jews had become quite prominent in German economic life by the 1890s.
Despite the many opportunities available to Jews during this period, there were still important areas of German public life from which they were excluded, such as the court, the military, the state bureaucracy, and, to a large degree, the universities. Thus Jews tended to gravitate to the free professions. Denied access to the official public spheres, they turned to the less organized alternative public spheres that characterize urban life, such as the newspaper, the journal, the art gallery, the cafi, the theater, and the political group. At this juncture in German history, Jews were fully Germans, yet still social outsiders. The men and women involved in modernism were members of the transitional generations of German Jewry: far enough removed from the insular life of the traditional Jewish community, well-versed in German culture, yet not completely assimilated into German society. As Frederic Grunfeld has written:
. . . it was precisely this problematic stratum of "marginal Jews"—the so-called Grenzjuden —which supplied most of the artists and intellectuals who helped to create the most exciting epoch in German intellectual history. The very precariousness of their position astride the two cultures gave them an extraordinary vantage point from which to survey the European cultural landscape.5
Georg Simmel offers an illuminating perspective on this issue in his essay "Der Fremde" (The Stranger) of 1908, defining the stranger "not . . . as the wanderer who comes today and goes tomorrow, but rather as the person who comes today and stays tomorrow." Simmel writes about the stranger as an individual who, although a full-fledged member of the group, is both "outside it and confronting it," and, as a result, attains a particular kind of objectivity that constitutes "a positive and specific kind of participation."6
Those Jews who embraced modernism certainly demonstrated an open-mindedness and a cosmopolitan attitude, perhaps resulting from an exposure to diverse cultures. Carl and Felicie Bernstein came from Russia, lived in Berlin, and had family in Paris, embodying a cosmopolitanism that was not unusual in Jewish families, which often included branches in different countries. This kind of internationalism was not common in Germanyduring that period, especially outside the aristocracy. Furthermore, any new movement provides an entry point for those members of society outside the elites. In Germany, a Jew could rise to full professor in the university only in the newest disciplines. In the United States, similar forces were at work; for example, until quite recently, Jews were well represented on the boards of museums of modern and contemporary art, but much less so on those of the major traditional art museums.
The initial impetus for this exhibition and book was a fascination with those Jews in turn-of-the-century Berlin who had an enormous impact on the creation and dissemination of modern art, literature, theater, and film, and our desire to make their work better known to an American audience: the work of artists Max Liebermann, Lesser Ury, Ludwig Meidner, and Jakob Steinhardt; Liebermann's role as founder of the Berlin Secession; the diverse activities of the cousins Paul and Bruno Cassirer as gallerists, publishers, and leaders of the Secession; the publisher, art dealer, poet, composer, and cultural impresario Herwarth Walden (born Georg Lewin), who promoted avant-garde art and literature through his journal Der Sturm , exhibitions mounted at his gallery of the same name and elsewhere in Europe, and through numerous publications, postcards, and performances; the poetry, dramas, prose works, and paintings of Else Lasker-Sch|ler (Walden's first wife), who stood at the center of a group of avant-garde artists and writers who met, performed, and exchanged ideas in the cafis of Berlin; the theatrical innovations of directors Otto Brahm and Max Reinhardt; the pioneers of early film, such as Ernst Lubitsch; and the quest for a modern Jewish art and culture undertaken by the philosopher Martin Buber and artists like Lesser Ury and E. M. Lilien. Whereas culture during the period of the Weimar Republic exerts a great deal of fascination in the United States and has been the subject of many exhibitions and publications, the Wilhelmine period, which was the true birthplace of German modernism, remains little known.
But as research progressed, the story that emerged was not one of solitary pioneers of modernism, but rather one of groups of talented individuals who had a passionate commitment to what was innovative and interesting, and, above all, to what represented quality in the arts; and who were determined to further that art and bring it to a wider public. In this project, Jews and non-Jews were partners, forming close professional and personal relationships. The Berlin Secession would hardly have been possible without the efforts of Max Liebermann and Paul and Bruno Cassirer, but it also would have been inconceivable without Walter Leistikow and August Gaul. Thus an effort was made in the exhibition and publication to show and discuss works of art that demonstrate the achievement of these artists and also document their close ties with one another; a good example is the intimate scene of the daughters of Paul Cassirer and Walter Leistikow drawing together, observed and recorded by Max Liebermann (FIG. 2).
Suse Cassirer and Gerda
Leistikow , n.d.
Charcoal on paper, 4 3/4 W 7 5/16 in.
(12 W 18.5 cm)
Collection of Peter Paret
It became apparent that modernism in Berlin was the product of many unofficial places of cultural creation and presentation, where people worked together to advance a shared goal. These alternative spaces became sites in which individuals of disparate backgrounds and inclinations would meet and exchange ideas. Perhaps the most striking example of such an encounter is that between the Jewish artist E. M. Lilien and the German nationalist writer Bvrries Freiherr von M|nchhausen in the context of the group Die Kommenden (see FIG. 144); M|nchhausen was looking for an illustrator for his book of poems Juda (1900), and engaged Lilien, who had recently arrived in Berlin from Munich. It is one of the paradoxes of the Wilhelmine period that Lilien established his reputation as the Zionist artist par excellence by illustrating the ballads of a right-wing writer with anti-Semitic leanings.
The decision thus was made to organize the exhibition and catalogue around the "alternative" public spheres and spaces where this culture was created and presented: art galleries, the Berlin Secession, artistic and literary journals, the cafis, the cabarets and experimental theaters, and the new medium of film. Furthermore, Berlin itself, the recently emerged metropolis, became a character in the drama of the exhibition. From the mid-nineteenth century, Berlin experienced both physical and population growth at a dizzying pace. (The population grew from 412,154 in 1849 to 825,937 in 1871, when Berlin became capital of the Reich. By 1895 its population had more than doubled to 1.7 million; and in 1905 the population had reached 2,040,148.) Alluding to the instability and dynamism of the times, Karl Scheffler concluded his 1910 book on the city with the critical observation that Berlin was fated "always to be in the process of becoming and never to be."7 Both the turbulent atmosphere generated by such rapid change and the physical features of the new city, as well as the way in which urban dwellers interacted with their environment, exerted a profound influence on the creation of modern forms in the arts. The vitality and energy of urban life, its heterogeneity, and the rapid and manifold stimuli assaulting the city dweller in the form of crowds, urban transportation, and the barrage of images and texts from store displays, kiosks, newspapers, advertisements, and posters are reflected in the art and literature of Berlin during these years. The German sociologist Max Weber posited a connection between the technology of the modern city and modern artistic forms when he declared in 1910 that "the distinctive formal values of our modern artistic culture could only have come to be through the existence of the modern metropolis, the modern metropolis with its tramways, underground railways . . . display windows, concert halls, and restaurants, cafis, smokestacks . . . and the wild dance of impressions of sound and color."8
In the exhibition galleries of The Jewish Museum, we wanted to create spaces that suggest something of the flavor of the gallery, cafi, cabaret, and theater spaces of turn-of-the-century Berlin. The essays in this book also examine these spheres of cultural activity from multiple perspectives, exploring the development of new art and cultural forms, the role of Jews in Berlin's modernist movements, and their partnerships with other modernists—Jewish and gentile, German and non-German. A number of important figures are viewed in various contexts in different essays. Indeed, given the polymath talents as well as various cultural projects of people such as Liebermann, Cassirer, and Walden, the reader may gain a sense not only of the wide range of their activities, but also of the fluid network of relationships that supported the growth of modernism. For example, Max Liebermann is presented as a founder and organizer of the Secession, as an artist, and as one whose work was evaluated in the Wilhelmine era in terms of his identity as a Jew.
Paul Mendes-Flohr's essay, "The Berlin Jew as Cosmopolitan," analyzes the cosmopolitan culture of Berlin, examining the role of Jewish intellectuals and the ethic of Bildung in the emergence of modern ideas and the modern metropolis. His presentation of the discourse current at the time about Jews and modernism, particularly the debate surrounding Moritz Goldstein's article "The German-Jewish Parnassus" re-creates the context in which Jewish engagement with modernist movements occurred. Peter Paret's essay, "Modernism and the 'Alien Element' in German Art," explores the complex issue of Jews and German modernism from the standpoint of both critics and supporters. His nuanced discussion of what constituted modernism in the fine arts brings to light the cultural politics and critical aesthetic issues of the day, focusing on individuals and institutions that were leading creators or disseminators of modern art—in particular, the Berlin Secession and its president, the artist Max Liebermann, as well as the gallerists and publishers Paul and Bruno Cassirer. SigridBauschinger discusses the Cassirers from a slightly different perspective, that of modernism in literature—particularly its creation and promotion in Germany. Her essay also presents the extraordinary activities of the cultural impresario Herwarth Walden, through his journal and gallery Der Sturm , and examines the work and life of the poet Else Lasker-Sch|ler. The important roles of alternative groups, such as Die Kommenden and the Neue Gemeinschaft, as meeting places for artists and writers creating the new culture and the significance of the cafi as a site for artistic and intellectual exchange are major themes woven through her essay, "The Berlin Moderns: Else Lasker-Sch|ler and Cafi Culture." In "Images of Identity and Urban Life: Jewish Artists in Turn-of-the-Century Berlin," I discuss the Jewish and urban works of Max Liebermann, Lesser Ury, Ludwig Meidner, and Jakob Steinhardt in an attempt to understand the interaction between urbanism and Jewish identity in their artistic expression. In her essay, "Max Liebermann as a 'Jewish' Painter: The Artist's Reception in His Time," Chana Sch|tz addresses Liebermann's art in the context of the discourse current at the time on the nature of a "Jewish" artist and the relationship between art and Jewish identity. The notion of a modern Jewish art and culture, the movement supporting its emergence—the Jewish cultural renaissance—and the relationship of this movement both to Zionism and to German modernism is the subject of Inka Bertz's essay, "Jewish Renaissance—Jewish Modernism." One of the least-examined alternative spheres in the Wilhelmine period has been that of the salon, the subject of Barbara Hahn's essay, "Encounters at the Margins: Jewish Salons around 1900." Led primarily by cultivated Jewish women of the upper bourgeoisie, the salons presented an opportunity for artists, writers, and intellectuals to congregate and exchange ideas. Women played a prominent role in the organization and activities of these cultural spaces, which provided a significant alternative to formal sites, such as the university, from which women were excluded by virtue of their gender or religion. Finally, Peter Jelavich's essay, "Performing High and Low: Jews in Modern Theater, Cabaret, Revue, and Film," focuses on pioneers of the performing arts such as Otto Brahm, Max Reinhardt, and Ernst Lubitsch. In addition to exploring issues of modernity within these innovative forms of art and entertainment, Jelavich considers the ways in which themes of the metropolis and Jewish identity were expressed in these media. Jelavich's discussion of Jewish theater audiences, who supported modernist performances regardless of whether they actually liked the results, offers another important gloss on the relationship of Jews to German modernism.
Throughout the book, the tensions in Wilhelmine culture between Jewish assimilation and anti-Semitism, between opportunity and restriction, between acculturation and a lingering sense of "otherness" and difference, are brought to light.
In the final analysis, the Jewish support and engagement in modernism may not have been primarily an issue of modernismper se, but rather of a personal commitment to quality and to the art that moved and inspired. This is evident in Paul Cassirer's response to the painter Carl Vinnen's pamphlet Ein Protest deutscher K|nstler (1911), a protest of German artists against what they viewed as the manipulation of the German art market in favor of modern French art. In his contribution to the pamphlet entitled Deutsche und franzvsische Kunst (German and French Art, 1911), Cassirer replied:
Why did I have to speculate with French paintings? Tell me that, Herr Vinnen. Why not just as easily with German works? Wouldn't that have been more pleasant for me? I'll answer the question: because I regard bringing French art to Germany as a cultural deed. But even that wasn't the real reason. Simply, because I loved Manet; because I recognized Monet, Sisley and Pissarro as powerful artists, because Degas was among the greatest masters, and Cizanne the bearer of a philosophy of life.9
Apart from the public advocacy of personal artistic passion and taste, another theme that can be traced through this book is the struggle to define Jewish identity in the modern period and to find an appropriate artistic language with which to express this modern identity. It could be argued that an attraction to modernism was itself an expression of the new possibilities available to Jews in post-emancipation Germany, and that embracing the new art constituted a rejection of tradition that was also a declaration of emancipation from the bonds of traditional Judaism and the Jewish community. Yet it is noteworthy how much of the work produced by Jews during this period explicitly addressed the issue of Jewish identity. Else Lasker-Sch|ler used word and image to construct elaborate Orientalist fantasies in which she and her friends are the dramatis personae. The artists E. M. Lilien and Hermann Struck also looked to the East—to the people and landscapes of Palestine—for images of authentic Jews. Lesser Ury mined the Hebrew Bible for models of a new heroic Jewish type. Max Liebermann's few paintings with Jewish themes portray the intimate sphere of family life or capture the bustling activity of the Jewish Quarter in Amsterdam. Each of these artistic idioms found its inspiration in a distant time and place. It was only in the "popular" arts of film and cabaret that artists seemed ready to construct a Jewish identity of the here-and-now. In his directorial debut, Schuhpalast Pinkus (Pinkus's Shoe Palace , 1916), Ernst Lubitsch stars in the role of Sally Pinkus, a Jew in contemporary Berlin who employs his wits and a keen understanding of marketing to make his fortune in the retail shoe business. Lubitsch's characterization of Sally Pinkus incorporates gestures, language, and types of behavior that were part of the repertoire of Jewish stereotyping; it is Lubitsch's genius to turn these negative stereo-types on their head by presenting them as positive traits. Lubitsch demonstrates a self-confidence that is familiar from our owntime: Sally Pinkus in 1916 Berlin would not have been out of place in one of the "Jewish" skits of "Saturday Night Live" shown in New York in the 1980s.
Lubitsch created the character of Pinkus in the midst of the First World War, which irrevocably brought Wilhelmine culture to an end. Wilhelm II's Jewish subjects greeted the outbreak of the war with the same enthusiasm and patriotic fervor as other Germans. The small number of pacifists notwithstanding, most Germans saw the war as an opportunity to unify a society that had become divided along class, economic, and ideological lines. For Jews in particular, the war promised to eliminate the remaining barriers to their complete integration into German society; Jews fighting alongside their fellow Germans, they believed, would eradicate lingering anti-Semitism. Max Liebermann signed the "Declaration of the Ninety-Three," which rejected the Allied charge of German aggression, and subsequently received his first decoration from the Prussian state. Despite his age and deteriorating health, Paul Cassirer volunteered for military service in August 1914 and received the Iron Cross for bravery the following month; he is depicted as the officer on the right in Max Beckmann's Two Officers of 1915 (FIG. 3).
The artists associated with the Berlin Secession expressed their allegiance to the national cause in a new journal foundedby Cassirer in August 1914—Kriegszeit (Wartime)—in which artists interpreted the war. As the war progressed, Kriegszeit depicted the horrors endured by the soldiers and the anxieties of those on the homefront; yet it retained its patriotic tone. But by 1916 the stalemate on the Western Front, the mounting casualties, and the growing economic crisis had produced a shift in mood. Demobilized and returned to Berlin in 1916, Cassirer
Two Officers [Zwei Offiziere] , 1915
Drypoint, 4 1/4 W 7 in. (10.8 W 17.8 cm)
Collection of Peter Paret
Dona Nobis Pacem!
From Der Bildermann 18,
20 December 1916
Lithograph, 16 W 13 1/4 in.
(40.6 W 33.6 cm)
Print Collection, The Miriam and
Ira D. Wallach Division of Art,
Prints and Photographs.
The New York Public Library.
Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations
decided to replace Kriegszeit with a new periodical, called Der Bildermann , that would communicate a desire for peace. Der Bildermann included a variety of works depicting daily life in Germany, pacifist appeals, and trenchant social commentary. Eventually it ran into trouble with the censors; the issue of 20 December 1916, with Ernst Barlach's poignant prayer for peace "Dona Nobis Pacem!" (FIG. 4), was the last to appear.
The war decimated the ranks of the avant-garde in Europe; Franz Marc and August Macke, who had been closely associated with Der Sturm , were both killed on the Western Front. Ludwig Meidner and Jakob Steinhardt returned from active duty, but their wartime experiences left an indelible impression (see FIG. 198). Meidner's Battle of 1914 (PLATE 7) is a scathing critique of the war. For many Jewish soldiers who served on the Eastern Front, the war unexpectedly brought German Jews into direct contact with the shtetl communities of Eastern Europe. This encounter with an unassimilated Orthodox Jewish community served as a catalyst for a return to more traditional forms of Jewish expression, especially pronounced in the art of Jakob Steinhardt. (Compare, for example, FIG. 114 with FIG. 156.)
For the Jews of Germany, the greatest disillusionment was caused by the 1916 census of Jews serving in the army—the Judenzdhlung . Ostensibly taken in response to allegations that Jews were shirking military service, the census confirmed that Jews were in fact performing their patriotic duty. When the army refused to release the exonerating data, German Jews experienced a profound sense of betrayal. It was as if the bubble of the Jewish-German symbiosis had been burst.
The end of the war ushered in a new chapter in German history and in the relationship of Jews to their country. On the one hand, with the end of the empire and the introduction of democratic reforms, the last legal restrictions to the full participation of Jews in German society were lifted; it was only in the Weimar period, for example, that Liebermann could be elected president of the Prussian Academy of Arts. On the other hand, political divisions and extreme nationalist tendencies had been exacerbated by the war and by Germany's defeat; expressions of anti-Semitism became increasingly virulent and violent. These developments would have severe repercussions for the Weimar Republic and for the future of Germany and the Jews.
Excerpted from Berlin Metropolis by Emily Bilski Copyright © 2000 by Emily Bilski. Excerpted by permission.
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