History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/German Pre-WWII

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Gerhart Hauptmann (1862-1946) continued to write dramas of the realist or naturalist type such as "Die Ratten" (The rats, 1911). Of note as well Marieluise Fleißer (1901-1974) with "Fegefeuer in Ingolstadt" (Purgatory in Ingolstadt, 1926).

The main dramatist in German-speaking theatre of the period before and during World World II is Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), whose major plays include "Die Dreigroschenoper" (The threepenny opera, 1928), "Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder" (Mother Courage and her children, 1939), "Der gute Mensch von Sezuan" (The good person of Szechwan, 1943), and "Der kaukasische Kreidekreis" (The Caucasian chalk circle, 1945).

German Expressionist drama holds no towering figure, but there are several playwrights of interest in work characterized by intense drama and black comedy. "Der bettler" (The beggar, 1912) by Reinhard Sorge (1892-1916) is a good example of Expressionist theatre, in which the dialogue tends to be farfetched or semi-poetical, the situations strange or dream-like, and persons struggle with deep inner turmoil that affects the environment they live in. One should also include the Hungarian dramatist, Ödön von Horváth (1901–1938) with "Geschichten aus dem Wiener wald" (Tales of the Vienna woods, 1931) and "Kasimir und Karoline" (Casimir and Caroline, 1932), Georg Kaiser (1878–1945) with "Von morgens bis mitternachts" (From morn to midnight, 1912), Ernst Barlach (1870–1938) with "Der blaue Boll" (Squire Blue Boll, 1926), Carl Sternheim (1878-1942) with "Die Hose" (The bloomers, 1911) and "Die Kassette " (The strongbox, 1912), Ernst Toller (1893–1939) with "Hoppla, wir leben!" (Hoppla, we're alive! 1927), and Ferdinand Bruckner (1891-1958), Austrian playwright, with "Die verbrecher" (The criminals, 1928).

Gerhart Hauptmann continued to excel in early 20th century German drama. Photograph by Charles Scolik (1854-1928)

"The rats"[edit]

"The rats". Time: 1910s. Place: Berlin, Germany.

"The rats" text at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/9972

Human rats are gnawing on German idealism according to Hassenreuter

Mrs Jette John, housekeeper to Harro Hassenreuter, an ex-theatre manager, scolds the pregnant but unmarried Pauline for wanting to return to a worthless lover intending to forget about her. Childless after having lost Adelbert, her own baby, three years ago, Jette proposes to take care of it herself despite being forced to live under conditions of "mildew an' insec'-powder". To help Jette out, Harro brings her a milk-boiler. After the baby's birth, Jette notices that the boy's hair is of the same color and shade as Adelbert's and so she gives him the same name and designs to keep the boy as her own. When Pauline returns to find out how her baby is, Jette slaps her hard on the ear. Regretting that gesture, she slaps her own face. But when Pauline asks to see the baby a second time, she casts looks of hatred at her. Pressured by her landlady who knows about the birth, Pauline informed the registrar's office about it and now a man from the guardian office will come over. Harro's daughter, Walpurga loves her tutor, Erich Spitta, who has ambitions of becoming an actor and a dramatist. Unaware of her attachment, Harro gives him acting lessons along with two other pupils in Schiller's "Bride of Messina". Harro quarrels with Erich concerning forms of dramatic art, the former favoring Schiller, the latter Lessing. "You are a rat, so to speak," Hassenreuter asserts. "One of those rats who are beginning, in the field of politics, to undermine our glorious and recently united German Empire. They are trying to cheat us of the reward of our labors. And in the garden of German art these rats are gnawing at the roots of the tree of idealism." In his son's room, Pastor Spitta discovers a photograph of Walpurga and, not knowing she is his daughter, shows it to Harro. As a result, Harro warns his daughter to reject Erich, or else he will repudiate her. To keep Adelbert as her own, Jette steals a baby from Sidonie, an alcohol and morphine addict who has difficulties in taking care of it, and substitutes it in Adelbert's place while fleeing with Pauline's baby. Pauline returns and tells Harro that Jette has her baby, judged by the authorities to be neglected. A little later, Sidonie alerts the entire tenement by confusedly asserting her own baby was stolen. On seeing her baby at Harro's, she exclaims: "I swear by the holy mother of God, by Jesus Christ, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, that I am the mother of this child." Pauline denies this, thinking it is her own. When Hassenreuter looks down at it, the baby is found to be dead. "It seems that invisible to us, one has been in our midst who has delivered judgment, truly according to the manner of Solomon, concerning the poor little passive object of all this strife," he comments. "Invent something like that, if you can, my good Spitta," he challenges the potential dramatist. Jette convinces her husband, Paul, that she has given birth while he was out of town at work as a foreman-mason and has taken the baby to his married sister's home in the country. A friend of his, Emil Quaquaro, informs him about the death of Sidonie's baby, along with the doings of Bruno, her brother. "They knows at the police station that Bruno was seen in company o' the Polish girl what wanted to claim this here child, first right outside o' the door here an' then at a certain place on Shore street where the tanners sometimes looses their soakin' hides," he reveals. "An' now the girl's jus' disappeared. I don' know nothin' o' the particulars, excep' that the police is huntin' for the girl." Meanwhile, Erich quarrels with his father about Walperga and they part company. When Erich encounters Jette, she expresses herself incoherently. "I was talking to the woman what was struck by lightenin' jus' a short time before," she rambles on. "An' she says- now listen to me, Mr. Spitta- if you takes a dead child what's lyin' in its carridge an' pushes it out into the sun ... but it's gotta be summer an' midday ... it'll draw breath, it'll cry, it'll come back to life!- You don't believe that, eh? But I seen that with my own eyes." When the bewildered Erich leaves, Jette and Paul are visited by Bruno. Paul loads his revolver as a warning never to come back and then leaves. To Jette's dismay, Bruno reveals that, instead of scaring her off as planned, he has murdered Pauline. She refused to yield her baby. "An' all of a sudden she went for my throat that I thought it'd be the end o' me then an' there," he says. "Like a dawg she went for me hot an' heavy! An' then ... then I got a little bit excited too- an' then, well ... that's how it come ..." When Erich returns to the John home, he glances at Jette sleeping on the couch. "Great drops of sweat are standing on her forehead." he comments to Walpurga. "Come here. Just look at the rusty old horseshoe that she is clasping with both hands." Knowing that Erich and Walpurga love each other, Teresa, Harro's wife, tries to intervene on their behalf before her husband. Just appointed as manager of a theatre, he promises to express a more lenient view of the matter. He reveals to Jette that Sidonie's baby is dead, as well as the news that police officers have discovered that she never went with the boy to her husband's sister, having been seen by the park near the river. Paul is tired of living in a rat-infested house and decides to bring the baby over to his sister, but Jette reveals that the child is not his. Sidonie's daughter, Selma, arrives and informs them that the police have concluded that she brought down Pauline's baby from Harro's loft to her. Piece by piece, Paul discovers the truth about his wife's scheming. "So you bargained for that there kid someway an' when its mother wanted it back you got Bruno to kill her?" Mr John accuses his wife. "You ain't no husband o' mine. How could that be! You been bought by the police. You took money to give me up to my death. Go on, Paul, you ain't human even. You got poison in your eyes an' teeth like wolves'!" she counters. "Go on an' whistle so they'll come an' take me. Go on, I says. Now I see the kind o'man you is an' I'll despise you to the day o' judgment!" In a fit of rage and despair, Jette takes hold of the baby, but is prevented from leaving with him. She blindly rushes out and before anyone can prevent it, she kills herself in the middle of the street.

Bertolt Brecht was one of the major playwrights of the 20th century, 1956

"The threepenny opera"[edit]

"The threepenny opera". Time: 1837. Place: London.

Peachum, head of a large section of London beggars and robbers, makes sure that those under his area of influence pay him earnings in exchange for protection. When he notices his daughter, Polly, under the influence of the robber, Macheath, he is determined to hinder their relation. Macheath is preparing to marry Polly, though with no vows exchanged and no priest present. The chief of police, Tiger Brown, arrives, not to arrest him but rather to continue their amiable and fruitful relations. Polly defies her parents by announcing her marriage, though inadvertently revealing Brown's connection with Macheath. Warned by Polly, Macheath prepares to leave London, but stops at his favorite brothel on the way to see Jenny, bribed by Mrs Peachum to betray him. Athough Brown apologizes, he is forced this time to arrest Macheath. Another among Macheath's lovers, Lucy, Brown's daughter, quarrels with Polly over who should win Macheath. Lucy succeeds in helping him escape from prison. When Peachum finds out, he threatens Brown by saying he will let loose his beggars to ruin during the queen's coronation, likely costing him his position. When Jenny arrives to get paid, Mrs Peachum refuses to do so. Macheath hides at Suky Tawdry's house. Confirming the reality of Peachum's threat, Brown learns that the beggars are indeed about to spoil the coronation, so that he is again forced to arrest Macheath. To avoid execution, Macheath desperately tries to raise a sufficient bribe for Brown, but none can or are willing to help. As the gallows are assembled, a messenger arrives to announce that Macheath has been pardoned by the queen in the general jubilation.

"Mother Courage and her children"[edit]

"Mother Courage and her children". Time: 17th century. Place: Germany.

German stamp representing the Berliner Ensemble production of "Mother Courage and her children", 1949

A canteen woman, Mother Courage, and her three children, Eilif, Kattrin, and Swiss Cheese, trade with Protestant soldiers to be able to survive during the Thirty Years War. While she negotiates with a sergeant, he cheats her by having Eilif secretly led off by a recruiting officer. Two years later, Eilif is praised by a general for killing peasants and slaughtering their cattle. For taking such risks that could have been avoided, Mother Courage scolds her son and slaps his face . Three years later, Swiss Cheese works as an army paymaster and hides the regiment's paybox before the arrival of Catholic troops, but he is captured by them. Although Mother Courage negotiates to free him, he is shot to death for theft. She is forced not to acknowledge him as he is unceremoniously plunged into a grave. By force of circumstances, she is now on the Catholic side. As General Tilly's funeral service is about to start, the chaplain asks Mother Courage to marry him, but she refuses. One day, she finds Kattrin disfigured after she managed to obtain some piece of merchandise. As Mother Courage departs for yet another town, Eilif is dragged in by soldiers and executed for killing peasants, without her even knowing about it. By force of circumstances, Mother Courage is now on the Protestant side again. She finds a cook to help start a new business at an inn in Utrecht, but he wants nothing to do with Kattrin and so she is forced to refuse his offer. When the Catholic army is about to attack the Protestant town of Halle with her mother away, Kattrin climbs on the roof, beats on a drum to warn the townspeople, and is shot to death by the soldiers. Mother Courage sings to her daughter's corpse and then hitches herself to the cart, much lighter now with the little merchandise left.

"The Caucasian chalk circle"[edit]

"The Caucasian chalk circle". Time: 1940s and Medieval. Place: Caucasus, Russia.

"The Caucasian chalk circle" text at http://www.archive.org/details/parablesfortheat00brec

A group of villagers settle their dispute about territories after the war and then sit together to watch a play entitled: "The Caucasian chalk circle", concerning events in the medieval period when a band of princes revolt against their arch-duke, killing his appointed governor, so that his wife, Natella Abaschvili, must flee at once. In the hurry of securing her dresses, she forgets to bring her baby along with her. The baby is found by a kitchen servant, Groucha, who decides to care for him as if he were her own. She and Simon intend to marry, though for now he must leave as a soldier in the civil war. On her way to safety, Groucha experiences hard times. She must negotiate with a peasant exorbitant prices for milk, is rejected from the company of ladies because of her hands, obviously a domestic's, hits from behind a suspicious police-sergeant looking for the governor's son, and crosses a dangerous bridge on her way to her brother, who, for the sake of appearances, in view of her carrying around an infant, advises her to marry a dying man, Youssup. But, to everyone's surprise, Youssup regains his health and so she is stuck with him. When Simon returns, he is disappointed to find her married. She explains the baby is not hers, but, when a soldier arrives to ask her who the baby is, she is forced to say it is hers. Unwilling to hear more, Simon leaves her, while the soldier, believing the boy to be the governor's son, takes him from her. In the new regime, a village scrivener named Azdak is appointed judge. He is a drunkard, as well as outrageously incompetent and unjust. Sitting before a dispute between Groucha and Natella, who returns and wants her boy back, he first demands money from both sides and then listens to a separate case at the same time. Unnerved that the richer Natella has two lawyers on her side and she none and that the odds seem stacked against her, Groucha calls Azdak a "wine sponge" and curses his style of justice. Azdak proposes to know the truth of the affair by drawing a chalk circle, outside which Natella and Groucha are to pull the child towards them. Afraid to hurt the child, Groucha almost immediately lets go while Natella pulls hard, whereby Azdak, considering Groucha the true mother, awards him to her.

"The good person of Szechuan"[edit]

"The good person of Szechuan." Time: 1940s. Place: Szechuan province, China.

"The good person of Szechuan" text at http://www.archive.org/details/parablesfortheat00brec

A water merchant scrambles to find a lodging for three gods descended on earth to examine the doings of men and women. After many refusals, he finds one who accepts, Shen Te, a prostitute, whom the gods reward with money for her goodness, which enables her to open a tobacco shop. But because of her goodness, she is quickly taken advantage of by a family of eight, who, after being lodged for free, destroy or steal a good part of her merchandise. Before Shen Te settles in definitely in her new lodging, Mi Tsu, the owner of the building, requires from her a letter of reference. She chooses a cousin of hers, Shui Ta, a man with a much different type of personality, who rids her of the lodgers, enabling his counsin to start business on a better footing. Shen Te befriends Yang Sun, an airplane pilot out of work who needs money to take advantage of a job offer in Peking. To pay her rent, Shen Te borrows money from a rug merchant next door, but then gives the money to Sun. In financial trouble again, Shen Te receives an offer from Mi Tsu to sell her shop. Sun wants that sum of money, too, but Shui Ta prevents that from happening. Shen Te decides to marry Sun, who insists on waiting for her cousin to get the rest of the money. But since the cousin never shows up, he leaves her. Impressed by her many charitable works, a barber gives Shen Te a large sum of money, with which she pays the rug merchant, but it is too late, his properties having been seized. A pregnant Shen Te needs help from her cousin again, this time to manage the barber's money, thanks to which the homeless find shelter, though with rotten floors, and the jobless a job, though grossly underpaid. Learning about Shen Te's pregnancy, Sun comes back and is given a post of superintendant. He proves himself to be a particularly exacting one. Shui Ta's ambitions increase to the point of wanting to open 12 tobacco shops, but neighbors becomes suspicious of Shen Te's prolonged absence. He is arrested on the suspicion of having murdered her and taken to court with the three gods acting as judges. Shui Ta is defended by the rich and accused by the poor and eventually forced to reveal himself as the disguised Shen Te. The gods wonder about their commandments to be good in such a society: "Is it possible that our commandments are murderous?" they ask themselves.

Odon von Horvath wrote about social upheavals in Germany of the 1930s, 1919

"Tales of the Vienna woods"[edit]

"Tales of the Vienna woods". Time: 1930s. Place: Vienna, Austria.

Alfred tells his mother that he renounces the option of steady ordinary work, because in his view "work is no longer profitable". Instead, he wants to make a living at placing bets at horse-races on behalf of Valerie, a fifty-year-old owner of a tobacco-shop. During an excursion in the Vienna woods, Alfred meets Marianne, who works in her father's toy-shop and confesses without knowing why to an almost complete stranger that she does not love her betrothed, a man named Oscar, owner of a butcher's shop, whose point of view is that "tradition is the only thing that matters". When Oscar senses her lack of enthusiasm for their relation, he brutally tries out a jiu-jitsu move on her before a company of friends. Farther off in the woods, Valerie, after quarreling with Alfred, starts to flirt with Roimage, Marianne's father. On thinking of her age, she comments: "What does man know of woman's tragedy?" She timidly asks whether she can be permitted to place her head on his knees. "Nature knows no sin," Roimage answers. Their conversation is interrupted by his nephew, Eric. When Roimage leaves them, she flirts with him as well. Beside the banks of the blue Danube, Alfred encounters Marianne as eoncd time. They kiss. "You fell on me like thunder, splitting me," she says. They are surprised by her father in a compromising position and in front of the rest of the company. In defiance, she throws her engagement ring on Oscar's face. Alfred runs away with Marianne, an event which leaves Oscar depressed for an entire year. During that time, Alfred becomes bored with their relation. He arranges for her to accept a position at a ballet company in the hope of eventually ridding himself of her. His grandmother, who raises Alfred and Marianne's baby, proposes that if he succeeds in ridding himself of her, she will lend him even more money than she has already, despite his having failed to pay back the previous sum. Meanwhile an old-world major, a customer at the butcher's shop, quarrels with Eric. The major suggests that they spend an evening at Maxim's nightclub, having seen Marianne work there. After consuming a large portion of salami, Eric leaves the nightclub, in ill humor with everyone, while Valerie flirts with a gentleman from America, a childhood friend of the major's brother. Valerie is shocked to see Marianne perched half-naked on top of a golden ball, and disturbs the show, at which the irritated gentleman from America punches her on the breast. Marianne pleads with her father to leave the place, but he refuses to hear. She is arrested for clumsily trying to rob the gentleman from America. Alfred returns to his grandmother's house after having wasted her money at the races. After getting out on bail, Marianne accuses the grandmother of deliberately pushing her baby's landau in a draft after opening two windows to make him catch cold. Marianne receives a suspended sentence and is forced to ask Valerie for food. Since Roimage is unable to continue in his business affairs without his daughter's help, Valerie attempts a reconciliation between them. She succeeds. Marianne also becomes reconciled with Alfred as do Valerie with Oscar. When Marianne returns at the grandmother's house, she discovers that the landau has disappeared. The neighbors suspect that the baby's death was caused by her negligence. In frustration, Marianne tries to hit her with her zither. The grandmother hits her on the face. Crying, Marianne swears revenge. Now that her baby is dead, Oscar wishes to take her back. And the blue Danube continues to flow...

"Casimir and Caroline"[edit]

"Casimir and Caroline". Time: 1930s. Place: Munich region, Germany.

Casimir and Caroline quarrel during a Beerfest. He is particularly touchy, because having recently lost his job, the case of many during the economic crisis, he expects Caroline to leave him. Walking out, he sees a zeppelin in the sky, "When we see that, we think we are also flying," he comments, "but our lot is shoes with holes in them and a table border to break our jaw on." Casimir's friend, Franz, tries to cheer him up, but without success. When Carole meets a man named Schürzinger, they amuse themselves in amusement-park rides. Rauch, head of a company, and his friend, Speer, peek at the underclothes of women sliding down toboggans. They join Caroline and Schürzinger. By chance, Casimir encounters Caroline with these three men. When asked what is she doing, she replies that she hopes thereby to reach a higher social level. In a freak-show, the public is entertained by a man with a bulldog face who cannot open his mouth and a gorilla-woman "with all internal parts like those of an animal". Schürzinger warns Caroline about Rauch and Speer, who seem like disreputable fellows, but she ignores him. Sensing trouble, Schürzinger leaves Caroline with them. Meanwhile, Franz suggests to Casimir that they should embark on some illegal activities to supplement their meager income, but he refuses. Caroline amuses herself in the company of Rauch and Speer. She accepts Rauch's proposal to leave the park in his car after he quarrels with Speer, who accosts two women for the purpose of engaging sexual favors. Rauch suffers an epileptic seizure in the car, so that Caroline talkes him to an infirmary. Despite her kind gesture, he rejects her after being treated and goes away. Back in the park, a huge melee ensues after two young persons object to Speer taking the two women along with him, in the midst of which he suffers a fractured jaw. Franz is arrested. Casimir ends the evening with Franz' girlfriend, Jenny, though they do not have much to say to each other.

Marieluise Fleißer described how the troubles of youth seem like a purgatory. Honorary stamp

"Purgatory in Ingolstadt"[edit]

"Purgatory in Ingolstadt". Time: 1920s. Place: Ingolstadt, Germany.

Ingolstadt in the 1910s

Peps asks his girlfriend, Olga, whether she has had her abortion yet. She answers no. "Do what you must," he threatens, "or else you'll know who I am." One of her acquaintances, Protasius, asks her to use her influence on their mutual friend, Rolle. He wants Rolle to continue submitting his body to a doctor who engages in secret human experimentations. Despite her boyfriend's threat, Rolle convinces her to keep the child. As a safeguard to her reputation, he proposes to pay her stay at a countryside house. When schoolmates learn that Rolle has been spreading rumors that he receives the visits of angels from heaven, they tease him and then strike his head with stones. Rolle informs Olga he has obtained the money she needs, but she refuses to accept after finding out he stole it from his mother. Olga's sister, Clementine, in love with Rolle, complains that he always used to follow her but now only follows Olga. Amid a drunken rout of teenagers, Clementine and other schoolmates remove his clothes and throw him in a basin of water. Their cruel games are interrupted by Olga and her father. When Olga confesses to him she is pregnant, he falls on the ground in a grieving stupor. Not knowing what to do, Olga attempts to drown herself in the Danube, but is saved by Rolle. To keep the high-school students off his back, he must pay protection money. Hearing about the rumors concerning he and Olga, the students surround and threaten them. He mitigates their anger by declaring he is not the father of her unborn child. When they let Rolle and Olga go, he takes out a knife and asks her to stab him, but she refuses. Considering she has waylayed her son, his mother curses her, but she denies having done so. When he confesses to his mother he stole her money for protection against the students, she moans and looks about for a priest to guide her. Rolle also seeks guidance, but on reading a religious tract concerning confessions, in frustration he starts eating the paper.

Reinhard Sorge described how a poet turns into a beggar, 1915

"The beggar"[edit]

"The beggar". Time: 1910s. Place: Germany.

"The beggar" text at ?

A poet encounters difficulties in having his plays accepted in the theater. A friend advises him to ask his patron for a lump sum for living expenses, which will permit him to write in tranquillity. Instead, the poet boldly requests his own theater. The patron refuses. "You have killed your last opportunity," his friend cries out. The conversations between the two are overheard by a girl interested in meeting the poet. She leaves the attending nurse in charge of taking care of her illigimate baby to accost him. "I must speak to you, wondrous stranger," she starts by saying. Since first meeting her, the poet gradually becomes more secretive towards his mother. He deplores the fact that his father's sister has forced her to nurse with the help of an attendant his demented father at home instead of an institution. During the night, the father beats a drum. Having dreamt of canal-building on Mars, he considers himself on the road to recovery with detailed blueprints in hand. "And my brain was like a gigantic spider," he enthuses, "embracing Mars and inserting his proboscis into it, a sharp pointed sting, and sucking out all its secrets, all." His life-work done and the earth about to be fertilized, he requests poison from his son. The girl succeeds in obtaining a position, but, with her small salary and following her uncle's advice, she feels obliged to give up the baby to adoption. The poet thinks this move may be a mistake, but she argues that without that tie she is now free to love him exclusively. "I fear your matricide," the poet counters, who thinks she should love both of them. "Fear is past and gone," she retorts. In despair over his condition, the father throws the blueprints in a fire and burns his head. After recovering, he nails the blueprints on the trunk of a beech tree and requests red ink to cover them, but the stores are closed on Sunday. He notices a fledgling bird on the ground after falling from the nest and pierces its body with a compass to use its blood as a the ink he needs. Distressed at his father's condition, the poet pours poison into his wine and leaves. The father drinks half the glass. By mistake the mother also picks it up. The poet returns and is confused at seeing broken glass at her feet. The father covers the blueprints with bird-blood while the mother lies contented as both lay dying. "For a long time, I have been wishing myself into the grave," she wearily confesses. To make ends meet, the poet accepts a position at a newspaper but soon quits. He at last accepts that the girl abandon her previous child when she is pregnant with his.

Georg Kaiser showed that one moment's impulse can ruin a man's life, 1921

"From morn to midnight"[edit]

"From morn to midnight". Time: 1910s. Place: Germany.

"From morn to midnight" text at http://www.archive.org/details/frommorntomidni00dukegoog

A lady wishes to withdraw 3,000 marks from a bank, but the manager informs her she must wait for confirmation that this sum is available from her Italian bank. "Please tell me, would it be possible for me to leave you the letter of credit for the whole sum, and to receive an advance of 3,000 in part payment?" she pleads the bank-teller. "I should be willing to deposit my diamonds as security, if required." As an added attraction, she leans on the counter and puts her hand on the cashier's. With no one looking, he crams his pockets with 60,000 marks and leaves as the manager comes in with the confirmation. The lady's son wants the 3,000 marks to buy Lucas Cranach's painting of Adam and Eve. When the bank-teller arrives at her hotel to take her away with him, she hangs back. "Unless I am to consider the whole thing a joke, you gave way to a foolish impulse," she says. "Listen. You can make good the loss. You can go back to your bank and plead a passing illness- a lapse of memory. I suppose you still have the full amount." She takes no further interest in the matter when the bank confirms she may pick up her money. At his house, the bank-teller's talk begins to meander. "The dead lie at the usual depth- three yards," he tells himself. "The living keep on sinking deeper and deeper." When about to go out before his chops are fried, his mother's arms beat the air as she falls and dies. "For once in his life, a man goes out before his meal and that kills her," he wrily comments. The bank-manager has not yet pressed charges, refraining to make the matter public in the hope that his employee will come to his senses and return. Instead, the employee enters a velodrome. In a steward's box, he offers prize money at the rate of 1,000 marks, then augments the sum to 50,000 marks, but when the king arrives, he changes his mind. In a private supper room of a cabaret, the teller leads in a woman masked like a moth. She falls asleep. He wakes her up by throwing champagne on her face. He then proposes a beauty context between two other masked women, but when they show their faces, he pushes them out. He next leads in a woman in a Pierrette costume and asks her to "spin her bags of bones". But she has a wooden leg. "I'll water it for you," he proposes. "We'll make the buds sprout." Thinking he is mocking her, she exits angrily. He eventually leaves the place after depositing 1,000 marks for the bill. But to the waiter's despair, customers pounce on the money. "The champagne- the supper- the private room- nothing paid for. Five bottles of Pommery, two portions of caviar, two special suppers- I have to stand for everything." the waiter complains. "I've a wife and children. I've been four months out of a place on account of a weak chest. You won't see me ruined, gentlemen?" They do. He threatens to throw himself into the river. Led by a lass in the hall of the Salvation Army and after hearing different people on the penitent bench, the teller confesses his crime and throws bank-notes at the crowd, whereby a skirmish ensues. At least the Salvation Army lass remains with him, until she opens the door. "There he is! I've shown him to you! I've earned the reward," she cries out to the people. "From morn to midnight, I rage in a circle...and now your beckoning finger points the way...where?" the teller asks himself. At the end of his tether, he shoots himself in the breast in public view, but the event goes unnoticed because of a power failure.

Ernst Barlach mixed realism and fantasy in troubled settings. Self-drawing 1928

"Squire Blue Boll"[edit]

"Squire Blue Boll". Time: 1920s. Place: Sternberg, Germany.

Grüntal is looking for his wife, Greta, who has abandoned him and their three children. Squire Boll, a landowner, hides her in a tower, where she asks him to find poison for her children, to liberate them from the influence of the flesh. Although he promises to do it, he does not. Holtfreter the shoemaker looks for a missing leg and thinks to have discovered it on a unnamed gentleman, who goes off to drink with him, Boll, Boll's wife, Martha, and his cousin, Otto. Holtfreter is led to think that this gentleman is God. "I accept the name 'Lord', in the sense I may be a weak and humble reflection out of eternity, a faint, scarcely perceptible shadow of God," he says, to which Otto replies: "I always pictured God quite differently," considering this gentleman an imposter. "From this morning on, becoming has been proceeding quite gloriously in our city," affirms Holtfreter. Otto advises Boll to "renounce the state of all change" and to "stand fast in the state of no-responsibility". Greta turns up at the 'Devil's Kitchen Inn', greeted by the proprietor, Elias, and his large wife, Doris. She is under the delusion that Elias is about to place her children's feet inside a cauldron filled with hot coals, but then the couple calm her down. Three dead men suddenly show up to speak with her. "We must move off again right away with the children,", one of them says, to which she replies: "For you to keep- and then they must turn to apparitions, too, in your fine company- and you must be starving, too, you lot, you've lost a lot of flesh and your hollowed-eyed look certainly means hunger." After they leave, Greta sees Blue Boll standing in the hot cauldron, while the children play with a golden ball. When she sees Boll walking away, she follows him, waking up the following morning in his company inside a church, where he says the children played with the orb all the way back home. While Greta prays, Martha weeps because Otto has had a stroke. Unexpectedly, Otto returns, affirming strange views such as "The new Boll has triumphed" and that "becoming is fulfilled out of time." Boll wonders: "Boll must? Must? I will."

Carl Sternheim was an astute critic of early 20th century German society. Lithography by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880–1938)

"The bloomers"[edit]

"The bloomers". Time: 1900s. Place: Germany.

Trouble starts when Louise's bloomers drop in plain view on the pavement of a busy street

Theobald beats his wife, Louise, with a stick then knocks her head against the kitchen table for accidently dropping her bloomers in public view. The dropped underclothes attracted the notice of a gentleman, Scarron, who professes himself enchanted by the sight and wishes to rent two rooms in the couple's apartment to be near her. Mrs Deuter, her neighbor, is thrilled by this new development, promising to fit her so that underneath she will be "a white dream, with a few brightly colored bows in memory of this day. Theobald brings in Mandelstam, a barber and another renter. As he secretly whispers to Louise's disgust, he is another admirer of the dropped bloomers. The couple agree on taking both. In view of Louise's negative reaction to him, Mandelstam threatens to expose Scarron. "Why should that fop concern me?" she retorts. Nevertheless, after Mrs Deuter shows her material for new bloomers, she tells Scarron: "I am yours." They are interrupted by Mandelstam's arrival. She slaps his face, then notices a pointed thing showing from his pocket, a drill, with which he intends to pierce a hole in the wall to spy into Scarron's room. A disciple of Nietzsche, Scarron challenges Theobald by rhetorically demanding: "Should not the presence of a noble woman at your side inspire you to the greatest achievements?" But, as a civil servant, Theobald has a different view. "My freedom is lost if the world pays any particular attention to me," he says. A discussion on the effects of illness causes acute discomfort in Mandelstam's disposition, who ties a scarf around his neck and complains about the north-east position of his room, attracting ironic remarks from Louise when they speak apart. Did he not say he would remain with her whatever the consequences? Nevertheless, he negotiates his rent with her husband. Mrs Deuter arrives with the new bloomers and shows them to Theobald, at the sight of which he begins to court her. They go off together in his room. Meanwhile, Scarron waxes enthused by his encounter with a whore on the previous evening. He pays Theobald a year's rent for the room but chooses to go to her. "Unheard of pleasures may await me," he says. He is replaced by a lodger of a more serious aspect as Theobald and Louise settle down quietly to married life again.

"The strongbox"[edit]

"The strongbox". Time: 1910s. Place: Germany.

"The strongbox" text at ?

Trouble starts when Aunt Elspeth places a considerable sum of money inside her strongbox

When Heinrich Krull, a schoolmaster, and his second wife, Fanny, return from their honeymoon, he learns from a female servant that in their absence a heavy strongbox was taken up by his wealthy and unmarried Aunt Elspeth and has since disappeared. Dissatisfied about the quality of photographs taken of her person, partly because of Fanny's criticisms, Elspeth asks Heinrich to inform the photographer, Alphonse, a tenant in their house, that she refuses to pay for them. When he hesitates, she insists on it and promptly adds: "Rest assured, the report on what takes place determines the decision in regard to my last will and testament." Elspeth resents Fanny's presence in the house. Putting her ear on their bedroom door, she spits in disgust. Fanny unexpectantly comes out and, noticing her position at the door, complains of her to Heinrich, who merely pretends to scold his aunt. He feels all the more his conflicting situation on being shown the strongbox, laden with state bonds and then reading her will in his favor. On seeing Alphonse distraught at the news of the rejected pictures, Lydia, Heinrich's daughter by his first wife, proposes to pay for them. "Even if I were finally to get my fee," he asks rhetorically, "how could I make up for the story of the rejected pictures around town?" Lydia then proposes to have her own pictures taken by him. Alphonse accepts but, in view of the risk involved in exciting the aunt's ire, specifies it must be done secretly. After taking the pictures, Alphonse and Heinrich agree, all the easier in that the former wishes to marry Lydia and enjoy part of the contents of the aunt's riches. But when Elspeth discovers that her nephew removed the pictures from her private drawer to give them to Alphonse, she is offended and wants them back. They exchange angry words. Yet Heinrich feels obliged, despite Alphonse's reputation as a philanderer, to ask his wife to get them back for him. Pretending to be reconciled, Elspeth gives him the strongbox, but, unknown to everyone, changes the will in care of the local pastor of the church. Late at night, Alphonse swears to Lydia he loves her but soon flirts with Fanny. He is caught in a compromising position by Heinrich and asks for his daughter's hand. After their honeymoon, Lydia is miserable, certain that he cheats on her. Heinrich refuses to give Alphonse an allowance necessary for him to become a painter. Alphonse consoles himself by flirting with Fanny, who seems willing to pursue the matter.

Ernst Toller wrote about rebels cast in prison, 1917

"Hoppla, we're alive!"[edit]

"Hoppla, we're alive!". Time: 1919 and 1927. Place: Germany.

Five prisoners are condemned to death for left-wing revolutionary activities. They try to escape, but are unable to. At the last moment, they are reprieved and sent to an internment camp, all but Wilhelm. Bursting into unrestrained laughter, Karl is sent into a mental asylum. What the other prisoners do not know is that Wilhelm was judged to be involved in the group against his will and set free. When Karl is liberated from the asylum 8 years later, he visits Wilhelm and is astonished to learn that his friend is now a minister. He is even more astonished to learn that the minister has repudiated their revolutionary principles. Karl and Eva, another ex-prisoner, are lovers, but she wants him to quit his revolutionary activities and find a job. She also repudiates their revolutionary principles, although active on the subject of workers' rights. Karl explains his principles to the landlady's children, and even they find them stupid. Eva loses her job because of her sympathies towards a group of women on strike. Karl then learns from Albert, another ex-prisoner, that Wilhelm has prevented workers on strike from voting. But yet, beginning to be discouraged, Karl asks himself: "What does it matter?" Wilhelm is re-elected in his ministerial position. After sleeping with his wife, and distressed by his re-election, Count Lande uses a disgruntled student to try to assassinate Wilhelm for political reasons. Submitting to Eva's view, Karl obtains a job as a waiter in a restaurant, but intends to kill Wilhelm as well. After killing Wilhelm in the restaurant, the student runs into Karl. When the student tells Karl he did it because he considered Wilhelm a Bolshevik selling out the country to Jews, Karl shoots at him but misses. The police find Karl and conclude he is the minister's killer. An examining magistrate sends him back to the asylum, where he is examined and sent back to prison, where he finds Eva and Albert. The prisoners try to communicate between cells, but Karl's is silent.

"The criminals"[edit]

"The criminals". Time: 1920s. Place: Vienna, Austria.

"The criminals" text at ?

Josef Berlessen warns Alfred, a lodger at his mother's house, to stop courting her. Alfred is offended but does not deny the charge or retaliate. Ernestine, a cook at the Berlessen apartment, tries to dissuade Olga, a secretary, to work so hard in her typing while in the eight month of pregnancy, being especially concerned about the baby's health, since the two agreed that the mother will relinquish it to her. Alfred is unable to reveal to Frank, his best friend and Josef's brother, about the nature of his troubles, but to Ottfried, a fellow homosexual, he reveals he is in danger of being called to testify in a case of blackmail and homosexuality, fearing the case might lead to his own culpability. The accused, Imanuel, is blackmailing him in exchange for not calling him as a witness. Moreover, Frank sent a compromising letter to a man named Oskar that may lead to further blackmail. Ottfried promises to find the letter. Ernestine discovers a watch inadvertently left by her lover, Gustav, an unemployed waiter, in the back-room of a bar. Seized in a fit of violent jealousy against the bar-owner, Karl, Ernestine strangles him to death. Ottfried's mother receives the unwelcome visit of her dead husband's wealthy brother, Dietrich, who, before leaving for South America, gave her for safe keeping a chest of costly jewels. Instead, she sold them to pay for the education of her son and daughter. In only three days of knowing each other, the uncle and her daughter decide to marry. Meanwhile, Ernestine bursts into Olga's room to say that she and her lover, Kummerer, may now keep the baby for themselves. Olga faints in distress at the loss of money. After delivering the baby, she attempts to drown herself with the baby, but while in the water, she changes her mind and reaches shore. However, the baby dies and she is accused of murder. After hearing her testimony, the authorities also accuse her of attempting to sell a baby and investigate the role of Kummerer in both crimes. However, he is released. Police inspectors discover that the watch in the dead woman's room belongs to Gustav, who, unaware of Ernestine's guilt, is accused of Karla's murder. Imanuel is declared innocent, Olga condemned to 8 years in prison, and Gustav condemned to death. Frank is still worried about a possible accusation of homosexuality, but Ottfried is unable to help. Alfred suggests that they leave together, but he says he must first see Oskar. Soon after, he is arrested. After waiting to hear of Gustav's condemnation, Ernestine,in the throes of regret, commits suicide.