Each of the eight major revue-theatres had its own distinct appeal and style of presentation. One was noted for its exquisite dance numbers and kaleidoscopic scenery; one hired better composers and Schnauzer lyricists; another veered to the experimental or hot topical issues; still another was famed for using only glamorous Girl-Groups from aboard. But no revue-producer was more detested by his colleagues or more beloved by the voyeuristic public than James Klein, who excelled in mounting season after season of hit shows blanketed with excessive amounts of gratuitous female nudity.
A typical James Klein Revue began with a simple dramatic premise: an obese Oriental prince learns that he will be disinherited in five years if he does not marry and produce male heirs. (Big naked harem number.) The chubby, disgruntled simp immediately enlists his lackey Cohen (incidentally all the revue directors were Jewish) to find the finest specimen of raw feminine beauty on the entire planet. Cohen then subcontracts the onerous task to two Berlin playboys, who obediently traverse the world’s fleshpots in order to win the million (post-inflationary) mark reward. Their journey takes them to every continent, although the nude aboriginals are always milky-white and look suspiciously French, with stopovers in Berlin’s Kietz and a heavenly apparition of 74 perky, rouged breasts. (Count ’em!)
The 1929 depression brought down the curtains on Klein’s erotic dreamscapes. His last show was titled Goddamnit! 1,000 Naked Women!, which might have been a tad ambitious. Klein remained in Berlin in the Thirties, contented that he avoided his creditors and bankruptcy proceedings. Nothing is known about his fate afterwards. It was assumed that he fell victim to the Nazi genocide.
Klein’s fellow revue-directors lost their theatres as well during the economic tailspin. Yet the hard-partying denizens of Berlin were unfazed. They discovered a new venue for their pursuit of the extraordinary: environmental restaurants and Gargantuan nightclub retreats.
Theme Restaurants and Pleasure Palaces
In 1932, the city of Berlin approved licenses for 119 “luxury-class” nightclubs, 400 bars or Dielen, and 20,000 restaurants. This meant Weimar Berlin had one dining establishment for every 280 residents (the ratio in New York City in that year was 1 to 433). For the most part, the food in Berlin was not of great interest to the non-German tourists; Paris, Vienna, and Rome satisfied that craving in spades. Instead, Berlin had dozens of “theme” and “event” restaurants. They rivaled the cabarets and revue-houses in popularity.
One unusual joint was the “Hackepeter,” north of the Alex. Named after the Rheinish specialty (chopped raw pork and minced onion drizzled in hot, bubbling lard), the restaurant featured a “Hunger Artist.” Encased in a sealed glass booth, Jolly sat in his underwear and chain-smoked cigarettes. Two funeral-attired “observers” alternated during the 24-hour proceedings, ensuring no food ever graced the hunger artist’s lips. During dining hours, a midget announced the number of days and hours that Jolly fasted in his binge of voluntary starvation. Usually the Hackepeter regulars showed their appreciation by tapping against beer steins with their greasy utensils.
Besides being an object of carnival-like fascination, Jolly was also considered a romantic idol. Starry-eyed Nuttes came to the Hackepeter just to marvel at their unshaven prince-in-a-cage. (Male columnists thought he looked more like a frozen lizard than a hunk.) Among the worshipping female hordes was the young American heiress, Evelyn Rockefeller. In a lovesick plea leaked to the press, Evelyn proposed immediate marriage, a Monte Carlo honeymoon, and eventual retirement on her New York estate.
In March 1926, Jolly completed a 44-day fast, surpassing all known records. To celebrate, Lotte Schulze, the Hackepeter’s owner and a war widow, invited the entire corps of city-desk editors to a sumptuous banquet of Rheinish delicacies. Jolly’s observers and the midget joined in the festivities but the champion hunger artist absented himself. He was with Evelyn.
At the end of the month, Jolly rejoined his place at the Hackepeter and issued a public statement, rejecting the millionairess’ marital offer. Jolly maintained that he had fallen into a deep “spiritual depression” after his 44-day ordeal, which was why he foolishly agreed to the engagement in the first place. Jolly since realized that no hunger artist can both wed and be true to his calling.
The Berlin journalist Adolf Stein (a.k.a. Rumpelstilzchen) thought Jolly changed his mind once more, years later, and followed Evelyn to her Long Island mansion. Where Jolly—and Evelyn—really wound up is unclear, since Evelyn’s name does not show up in the Rockefeller dynasty’s family tree (as far as I can tell) or in the New York Social Registry of the period.
The theatricalization (or eroticization) of Berlin restaurants took many peculiar forms. “Heaven and Hell” dropped the two afterlife locales side by side, like movie-sets, within a single restaurant-nightclub, supplying separate menus and styles of service. “Café Braun” masqueraded its help as world leaders and show-business personalities. The “Quick Bar” brought a bit of exotic Americana to European shores. At its oval counter, one could order just milkshakes or Martinis from a toothy, white-capped soda-jerk. In the Quick dining hall, breath-taking beauties, incongruously dressed in Puritan-Shaker outfits, took orders for dubious Blue Plate Specials.
Theme-restaurants, nightclubs, and dance halls began to overlap in the Twenties to form the newest enclaves of Berlin’s nonstop action. But among the fortresses of Girl-Culture, still anoaher modern concept was added to the glamorous melange, the department store. Instead of cabbing from Diele to restaurant to nightclub, one could experience everything in a single, multi-leveled building. Two of these Pleasure-Palaces became world-renowned, “Haus Vaterland” and the “Resi.”
Occupying an entire city block, Haus Vaterland radiated modernism. Like a still from Metropolis, the domed roof of Vaterland was crowned with a Futuristic ring of neon bands. The arresting sight was said to resemble the head of a giant phallus. Inside its five floors were twelve restaurant-“environments” and a separate variety house. The Vaterland issued its own magazine, The Berolina, and could accommodate 6,000 patrons at any given hour.