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The translation of the entire website of the German Cabaret Archives will start in 2018. Meanwhile here you find a brief description.


Documentation Center for German-Language Satire
Since 1961



The playful, satirical form of cabaret and its literary, philosophical, and poetic qualities are the focus of our documentary interest.  The central task of the German Cabaret Archives is the continuous collection and the availability of these materials to academics and historians.

Queries are answered on a daily basis, and scholars visit from around the world.  First of all the archives serve as a research site and source for studies, dissertations, and theses in the fields of Literature and Theatre, as well as Musicology, Linguistics, Cultural History, and Politics.

Exhibits of the archives’ collections tour Germany regularly.  They have been seen in Switzerland, Austria, Luxemburg, France, Poland, Israel, Japan, and Australia. The six-part series “100 Years of Cabaret” was opened in 2001 in Berlin’s Academy of the Arts. In light of the huge demand, two versions of this touring exhibit are now available, and with help from the Maison Dijon de Rhénanie-Palatinat part of the material is being translated into French.

A special exhibit on the theme of “Cross-German History in the Mirror of Political Cabaret: Divided Mockery, Shared Laughter” was commissioned by the Federal President on the occasion of the National Day of Unity.

A Cultural Foundation

Over eighty artistic estate collections and material on more than eighty thousand names spanning the history of the cabaret and its predecessors comprise the core of the German Cabaret Archives.  Founded in 1961 by Reinhard Hippen in Mainz, the private collection transferred to the city of Mainz in 1989.  Meanwhile, under the direction of Jürgen Kessler, the archives have been transformed into a cultural foundation subsidized by several public institutions.  Since 1999, in recognition of their national importance, the Cabaret Archives have been supported by funding from the Cultural and Media Deputies of the Federal Government.  The collections moved to the historical Proviant-Magazin warehouse building in Mainz in 2004.


The Bernburg Collection

A second branch in Bernburg on the Saale River documents the history of the cabaret in the German Democratic Republic.  This project is supported by the city of Bernburg and the Federal Government.  The archives are located next to the “Eulenspiegel Tower” in the Christiansbau of the Bernburg Palace.


Stars of Satire

In their museum areas, both branches of the archives memorialize major figures of the cabaret in the twentieth century and present the “Stars of Satire” in their permanent exhibits.  Mainz has honored the “immortals” of history in a cabaret “Walk of Fame” that runs between the Proviant-Magazin and the Unterhaus Theater, while a “Hall of Fame” in the Bernburg Palace has a similar mission.


For further information please contact:

Eingang: Neue Universitätsstraße 2
55116 Mainz am Rhein
phone: +49 (0)6136 – 144730 Telefax 231675

Opening hours: Monday to Thursday 9 am  – 4.30 pm , Friday until 2 pm


Bernburger Sammlung

Schloss Bernburg, Christianbau,
06406 Bernburg an der Saale
phone: +49 (0)3471 – 621754 Telefax 622271


Opening hours: Wednesday to  Friday  9 am -  4 pm

Translation : Alan Lareau



Cabaret in Germany officially began on January 18, 1901.  The German Cabaret Archives document its history:
What the cabaret was, what it became, and what it is.  And what it can be, even in systems of oppression and intolerance. The year 2018 is the eightieth anniversary of the so-called “Night of Broken Glass,” a euphemism for the night of November 10, 1938.   And 85 years ago, May 10, 1933, was the day when books burned in Berlin.  Shortly thereafter, on June 23, they burned in Mainz as well.  In his memoirs, “Defying Hitler: A Memoir”, Sebastian Haffner describes what literary-political cabaret could be during the years of the National Socialist reign of terror:…read more



Till Eulenspiegel, the German jester, survives the
Turn of the Century

100  Years  of  Cabaret  in  Germany

The first German cabaret was born on 18 January 1901 in Berlin in the form of Baron Ernst von Wolzogen’s Buntes Theater (Colorful Theater), which was nicknamed the Über-Brettl or “Super-Music-Hall” in homage to Nietzsche’s Übermensch.  This entertainment hall with 650 seats was followed five days later by Max Reinhardt’s Schall und Rauch (Sound and Smoke), and then in April 1901 by Munich’s Elf Scharfrichter (Eleven Executioners), both offering a more impudent and critical version of cabaret.  Frank Wedekind, an outstanding satirist of the Wilhelmine Era, sang his lute songs attacking prudish morality and philistinism here and also in the Munich Simpl, the longest-lived cabaret of the early years, which was run by Kathi Kobus.

This great art of the small form was modeled after Paris, where the first cabaret, the Montmartre artists’ pub Chat Noir, had opened twenty years earlier.  The early cabarets were dominated by young, bohemian artists and intellectuals; literary cabaret was all the rage.  In Germany, it soon appeared as “Kabarett” and became the experimental battlefield of café poets, dadaists, and expressionists–for instance Jakob van Hoddis.

Kurt Tucholsky and Walter Mehring, bitterly mocking satirists who also penned lyrical or delightfully comical texts to entertain their audiences, were among the outstanding cabaret authors of the exciting 1920s.  The secret was getting the right blend.  It is no coincidence that the word cabaret is derived from the salad tray, divided in different sections–always available for a colorful mixture, juxtaposition, and contrast of different forms for various tastes and temperaments.  And in the middle of the platter was a dish for the sauce that connected everything.  This was the role of the conférenciér or emcee; Rudolf Salis, the founder of the Chat Noir, was the first member of this guild.

Bertolt Brecht drew inspiration from the cabaret for his theory of the Epic Theater.  Cabaret reached into huge revues and variety theater stages in the form of chansons by Friedrich Hollaender and Rudolf Nelson, and it even spread into the seedy honky-tonk, on the edge of respectability.  The popular Bavarian comic Karl Valentin, on the other hand, cut an absurd, estranged, and ultimately melancholy figure.  And Werner Finck, whose artistic estate is held by the German Cabaret Archives in Mainz, found like many others that this double-edged humor could become a risky, even fatal business. The books of many satirists fell victim to Nazi bonfires on 10 May 1933, and countless cabaret artists and satirists spent the so-called “Thousand-Year Reich” in exile, or worse yet, in concentration camps.

The cabaret was reborn after the Second World War.  In the western zones, it sang of the survivor’s joy in defiantly melancholy tones, as in Düsseldorf’s Kom(m)ödchen the cabaret set new standards for political and literary fare, and in Berlin it saw the Insulaner (Islanders) launch into the Cold War with their swinging melodies.  On the stage of Wolfgang Neuss, the cabaret drummed the bitter lessons of the economic miracle into the West German consciousness, and soon it celebrated the new year on television with the Munich Lach- und Schießgesellschaft and Berlin’s Stachelschweine (Porcupines).  Here, a broad middle-class audience became acquainted with the cabaret.  In the sixties, the cabaret sang out against the resurgence of Neo-Nazis in the person of Franz-Josef Degenhardt alias Väterchen Franz, while it agitated in the streets alongside the extra-parliamentary opposition, and, as Hanns Dieter Hüsch’s Hagenbuch, declared everything and everyone sick and insane.

The main target of the cabaret’s satire in the eighties was Helmut Kohl; through Richard Rogler it unmasked the cynicism of the new brands of intellectual and moral “freedom.”  And with the rise of commercial television in Germany, cabaret discovered its own marketability.
Meanwhile, politically committed cabaret has taken a back seat to entertainment, although this applies not just to the nineties and certainly not to all performers.  The cabaret forms have been pepped up for television tastes; farces have become sitcoms, satirists have turned into comedians.  Everyone raves, no matter how banal or coarse it is.  “Nowadays you need a sense of humor to endure what others see as humorous,” Wolfgang Gruner said. 

At its best, it has inspired stylish, clever television entertainment for amusement-seekers.  Nobody is quicker than Harald Schmidt, who uses cabaret-style quickies in his evening show to parody and mock everything and everyone.  For many writers, producing jokes on the assembly line for television stars has become an attractive source of income.  And the juicily egocentric, sometimes morbid and nihilistic performances of Josef Hader, who stands out in the Austrian creative scene of the Nineties, revolve around the old question, “why bother?” and invite the audience to join the Josef Hader Fan Club on the Internet.

German unification has revealed how different the cabarets of the two societies were–and how different they remain within the realm of the former borders.  This is a chapter in its own right.  Ensemble cabarets can be found mainly in the East, while evenings of cabaret songs survive more or less in the shadows across the country.  It has not become any easier to launch political cabaret in the comedy circus of the Nineties, especially on television.  Making the transition from the little cabaret stage, that forum for fresh talents, to the big TV screen works best if the young performers generally avoid real problems.  What counts here is fun and money, cults and ratings.  People are annoyed if causes and effects are analyzed too deeply–jokes about the superficial symptoms are enough.  Throw those punchlines for all they’re worth.  The story, our history, is no longer in the spotlight, but instead the performers; not their ideas count, but rather their gimmicks.  Whoever combines a good delivery technique with stage presence and a good appearance fits into the media world just fine and is welcome there. 

The new “Kom(m)ödchen”, under the direction of Kay S. Lorentz, is resisting this trend and resurrecting the old traditions.  The former comedy ace Dieter Hallervorden is trying to bridge the gap between grotesque, comic performance and socially critical contents.  As the classic old man of the political cabaret, Dieter Hildebrandt still stands under the protection of the ARD television network for his “Scheibenwischer” (Windshield-Wipers), filled with the charm of the studio cabaret. Hanns Dieter Hüsch reflects that his public reflections in entertaining form still give rise to hopes–but nobody wants them anymore.  Has the bell tolled for thought and depth, for poetry and politics in the cabaret?  Will the idealists give way to the cynics, the analytical thinkers bow to the populists, the individualists cave in to the marketing strategists?  In any event, it’s time for a new generation in the cabaret.

And yet there is hardly a community in which one doesn’t find cabaret events offered for those interested in culture, and never have there been so many performance opportunities.  The stage is the freedom of the cabaret.  Let us hope that today’s young artists never lose their courage and their commitment.  This will be all the more likely if today’s star television performers still remember their roots and remain faithful to the cabaret scene. It’s so basic…

Written by Jürgen Kessler, Director of the German Cabaret Archives, Mainz, translated by Alan Lareau, Feb. 2000