Glossary for Cabaret



The first cabaret was Le Chat Noir, established in France in 1881 as an intellectual, artistic haven in which these people would discuss and perform their works, oftentimes with a satirical twist. People sat at tables, ate, and drank while these performances were going on. Yvette Guilbert, a French singer, went on tours which expanded cabaret around Europe. Four years after she visited Germany, the Uberbretti opened in Berlin in 1901 with more of a line-up focused show as opposed to beatnik performance sharing. The yes-man attitude in pre-Weimar Germany led to political disaffection and internal corruption, which led to cabaret becoming more political and served as an outlet for the community and became almost exclusively political and critical of social issues using cynicism, sarcasm, and irony.

However, there was strong censorship until the Weimar Republic. Cabaret had a cyclical sort of life – some became more popular, vaudevillian and low-brow while other cabarets attempted to maintain the literary and socially aware aspects it previously held. In performance, it focused more on diseuse (female monologue) as well as pioneered and perfected sprechstimme (speech singing). The Weimar Republic ended censorship and introduced more liberal and leftist politics which led to cabaret becoming more sexual and lewd with more sexual/gay themes and nudity. Cabaret was, again, a way to cope with the rapidly changing society. Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 ended cabaret due to his political censorship on freedom of thought and expression – cabaret’s main selling points.

WWI Germany:

Germany was Europe’s most rapidly growing industrial power, and therefore had a huge population increase (a rise of 50% from 1871 to 1910). Having this many people immigrating to Germany led to a lot religious and ethnic divisions (like those can still be seem in New York City) as well as different political viewpoints and strengths that threatened to change as the country moved from agriculture to industry and as people moved from the country into the cities. When the war broke out, and Germany entered, it seemed that all of Germany was united for this cause – an attitude known as Volksgemeinschaft, or people’s community (which was later adopted by the Nazis). However, the war exceed expectations in causalities, injuries, and length of time. Citizens were heavily affected by the allied blockade as well as hyperinflation which led to extreme dissatisfaction and the German Revolution, the outcome of which was a constitutional assembly which led to the creation of the Weimar Republic and the end of the imperial government. The Treaty of Versailles forced Germany to pay war reparations, limit their military, give up Poland and other colonies, and the willingness to be occupied by Allied troops to ensure the conditions were met.


Weimar Republic:

Established after the fall of the Germany monarchy, it was a short-lived parliamentary democracy due to political dissenters, dissatisfaction about the war, economic issues (hyperinflation, unemployment, the Great Depression), and internal, constitutional weakness (substitute emperor instead of a democratic president, for example). People continued to be dissatisfied and longed for that national community felt at the beginning of the war. There was also a period of economic recovery and political stability from 1925 – 1929 and it seemed that Germany was on the way back to being an important industrial power. Still, the pre-war divides and post-war modernism continued to lead to anxiety.

In its time, it gave women the right to vote and enter the working class, therefore beginning to changing ideas of traditional gender roles. There was a concern about women shirking national duties to reproduce and, interestingly, a 1927 Law for Combating Venereal Diseases decriminalized prostitution in places with a population over 15,000, outlawed brothels, but allowed prostitutes to rent their own room, was put in place partly to halt Germany’s demographic decline. The law also forced women to undergo medical tests and made medical treatment compulsory for those who obtained an STD (men included); public health offices were responsible for treatment and providing it to those who were economically underprivileged. There were also compulsory measures, such as the forced treatment, in a seemingly liberating piece of legislature, as well as a men-favoring side as opposed to equal treatment as claimed. The sexual reformation also led to feminists campaigning with other political groups to legalize abortion and lessen restrictions on birth control. In addition, there were 26 LGBTQIA+ magazines in the 1920s, perhaps as many as 80 bars catering to an exclusively gay clientele, and approximately 50 lesbian clubs (Storer 156). There was also an increase in urbanization and entertainment – for example, Germany’s film industry flourished under the banning of imported films – but there was still poverty, fear, and alienation in less affluent sections of the cities. Therefore, the 1920s in Berlin have been referred to as the “golden age of crime”, even with the decriminalization of sex work.

However, amidst all this, Berlin was becoming known as a Mecca for literary, artistic individuals. Two major artistic forms were Expressionism, which had been around before the war, and New Objectivity, which was less a strictly defined form than “a style with no particular artistic programmes or manifestos (Storer 165)”. Bertold Brecht is an example of the Verist camp. Classicist art was the other major sector. There were also great strides in science, psychology (Freud, for example), and philosophy. The era also abolished censorship and therefore is well known for liberalism and “loose morals”.



Hatred or prejudice against those who identify as Jewish, either ethnically, religiously, or racially. Due to the increase in popularity and rise of the National Socialism party (Nazis), anti-Semitism and discrimination was very high in Berlin prior to, and continuing through, the Nazis reign. It culminated in the Holocaust as orchestrated by the Nazi party.


The Holocaust:

The genocide of 6 million (6,000,000) Jews, with up to 1.5 million children. This was an attempt by the Nazi’s to reach the “Final Solution” – the complete extermination of all Jews. By 1945, two out of every three European Jews had died; in a Jewish family of 6, there would only be 2 survivors. Some estimates guess that 78% of Jews in Europe were killed. In addition to the Jewish persecution, homosexuals, disabled persons, Social Democrats, Communists, unionists, and other people undesirable to Hitler were victims – estimates range up to an additional 5 million deaths. Systematic gassing and cremation were carried out in the six Nazi concentration camps. People also died of starvation, exposure, brutality, disease, and overwork. Other horrors occurred in the camps such as human experimentation and medical torture, most notably in the case of Josef Mengele’s twin experiments at Auschwitz. There were also experiments in transplantation, freezing, sterilization, and head injuries. After the Nazi’s occupied the Soviet Union in 1941, there were mobile killing units that would gun down “undesirables” in public. As liberators began to near concentration camps, the SS tried to dismantle and hide the evidence, therefore sending prisoners on death marches to other camps; these people were already extremely sick and weak and were forced to walk miles in the snow (without proper footwear or clothing) with no food, water, or shelter.

Although there are no statistics for how many gay men (and to a lesser extent, women) were persecuted in the holocaust, there are no doubts that they were. Nazis considered them racially dangerous as they would not be able to fight for Germany or produce children. In 1934, the Gestapo ordered police officers to keep lists of gay men – some had been doing this for years already – and used these lists to hunt them down. Of the 100,000 men arrested between 1933 – 1945, between 5,000 and 15,000 were sent to concentration camps to cure them through humiliation, work, abuse (by the SS and other interred people), and medical experiments.



In 1928, the Social Democrat party was not only the largest party in pre-WWII Germany, but was continuing to expand. However, the party lost control of the national government as the National Socialism party (Nazis) began winning more elections. Still, the Social Democrat party didn’t consider the Nazi party to be a major threat until it was too late and their momentum was rapidly increasing. Hitler felt that other nationalist parties were disconnected from the population at large, especially regarding lower and working-class youths. It seems that working-class members felt the same as they, and the middle class, were the Nazi’s strongest supporters. Traditionally, Nazism has been thought of appealing to the lower middle class, but this has been challenged in recent years and revealed that there was a strong pull from the upper middle class as well.

By 1932, Nazis occupied 319 out of 608 parliamentary seats. This increase in control led to Hitler’s ability to be appointed Chancellor via coalition between Nazis and National-Conservatives. Hitler began to push for consolidated power and convinced the Reichstag (parliament) to temporarily grant him plenary powers via the Enabling Act after arson on the Reichstag building. By mid-1933, the Nazi party had progressed to banning Social Democrat meetings and arresting and murdering the supporters, especially in Berlin.

Nazism is usually considered a far-right, fascist political party. Ideologically, the members were proponents of nationalism and the idea that the Aryan race was the master race, therefore superior to all other peoples. In striving for a people’s community, they excluded and discriminated against those consider less pure, such as Jewish people. This is evident in the Nuremberg Laws, which prevented marriage and sexual relations between Germans and Jews (but was later expanded to include many other people). These laws allowed non-Aryans to be legally punished. To maintain this purity, the Nazi party began to find an interest in eugenics which culminated in the sterilization or euthanasia of disabled people. Sterilization was also required for those who showed forms of social deviance, such as alcoholism. Homosexuality was also considered undesirable, but since the men were considered valuable breeding stock, there were efforts made to force them into social compliance before sending them to concentration camps.

With regards to women, Nazis felt they should only be involved with children, kitchen, and the church (kinder, küche, kirche). Women were needed to preserve the purity of the race and so programs were instilled to support them and give them more incentive to have children. Birth control was discouraged and abortion was illegal (unless the child was “racially unpure”). Most Nazis were Christian, although Hitler often disregarded the Old Testament as it portrayed Jesus as a Jewish man and close to Jewish people. They also used Martin Luther pamphlets. Also, Catholics were forbidden to vote for the Nazi party until the state and church came to an agreement in 1933. In addition, they disregarded the concept of an internal class struggle, as that would go against their attempts to unionize the entire nation, but supported it across national borders. The Nazi party did have social welfare policies, but they were mostly used to help “pure” Germans.


Mein Kampf:

Published in 1925, Mein Kampf is Adolf Hitler’s autobiographical manifesto in which he discusses his political leanings and future plans for Germany. His main point is about the apparent “Jewish peril” in which Hitler believes that the Jews are involved in a conspiracy to gain world domination and keep the racially and culturally superior Aryans away. He feels that subjugating the weak is best because they will assimilate to Aryan culture but remain racially distanced. Due to the Aryans superiority, he feels they should obtain more Lebensraum, or living space, which explains his later military conquests. He also discusses his hatred towards communists and desire to abolish the parliamentary government of Weimar Germany and reestablish a unification of Germans. The book was given to graduates, newlyweds, and for other milestones, even if few Germans read it cover to cover.


Exchange rate of USD to Marks:

In 1930, 4.2 German marks to every $1.



worth a 10 pfenning coin.



In the Schöneberg district of Berlin; the area near the south is the most prominent gay town in Berlin, beginning around the 1900s.



The subway of Berlin, built in 1902.



Also known as a lime tree, it is symbolic of protection. In Germany, many towns had linden trees growing in the town center, most notably on the Unter den Linden in Berlin, which had trees since the 16th century. The current trees at that location were planted in the 1950s due to the loss of the originals in World War II. The tree was also important to pre-Christian Germany as it was associated with the goddess Freyja, associated with love, beauty, and war.



The longest western European river, it is a major economic, agricultural, and defensive figure. It defines the Swiss-German and Franco-German border with a flow through the Rhineland (a large area of Germany). It is strongly tied to Germany, with myths, songs, and stories about it, such as Die Wacht am Rhein — a near-national anthem — and Das Rheingold –the first of four operas in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. It has served as a symbol of German nationalism since the formation of the German state in the 19th century. The Rhineland was occupied by allies due to the Treaty of Versailles, which caused a lot of resentment and may have helped Hitler’s rise to power due to his belief in German nationalism.


Hotel Adlon:

One of the most famous and lavish European hotel and gathering spot in Berlin. It remained popular through Nazi Germany, although the Nazis attended the Hotel Kaiserhof more frequently. It survived the war, but a fire started by Red Army soldiers burned it down in 1945.


Harrisburg, PA:

Suffered from industrial decline and shift from the city to suburbs from 1920 – 1970.

Gary Cooper:

Hollywood actor active from 1925 – 1961 with a screen presence that appealed to both men and women. He had affairs with many leading ladies and was a friend of Hemingway. He was politically conservative and dedicated to American way of life (disliked communism and fascism). With such an extensive career, he is known for many films, such as The Virginian (1929), Sergeant York (1941), For Whom The Bell Tolls (1943), and High Noon (1952). During the height of his career, during WWII, he played common men folk-heroes.

Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821 -1888):

Russian author whose works studied the effect of troubled political, social, and spiritual attitudes on the human psyche, believed liberalism/degradation was a move away from God, displayed some anti-Semitic sentiments but campaigned for their equal rights. He is best known for “Crime and Punishment” and “The Brothers Karamazov.”

Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961):

American author with a writing style influenced by modernism and his experience in the World Wars. His works often focuses on themes of love, loss, war, wilderness, and emasculation. He’s received criticism that his work is homophobic, misogynistic, and somewhat anti-Semitic (due to Cohn in “The Sun Also Rises”).

Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910):

Russian author that became a Christian anarchist and pacifist. He is best known for “Anna Karenina” and “War and Peace.” A writer of realistic fiction that attempted to explain and reflect the society around him, he is often considered one of the most talented authors of all time.


Marcel Proust (1871 – 1922):

Gay French writer, best known for “In Search of Lost Time” – a seven volume novel. The work has themes of sexuality, memory, separation anxiety, and the nature of art. It is also notable for breaking the trend at the time of realistic, plot-driven narratives, instead focusing on many perspectives and experiences.


Christopher Isherwood and “I Am A Camera”:

Christopher Isherwood was an English writer who moved to Berlin in 1929 after abandoning his doctor training to join a poet friend, W.H. Auden. Auden and Isherwood went to Berlin for intellectual and physical stimulus. Also, the city was considered far more liberal and accepting of gay men. While there, he taught English and wrote about what was going on around him in that unique time and place. Writings from this time have themes of hysteria, persecution, and loneliness.

The first version of this story that would become Cabaret is from Isherwood’s somewhat autobiographical The Berlin Stories about his time in Berlin, the people he meets, and the political uprisings going on around him. He conflated people he knew with artistic licenses, even with his own characterization in which the fictional Isherwood is a detached observer, or, in his own words, “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking”, although the real Isherwood was more involved. He highlights the clash in social class, language, and status with questions about how much people will put up with as things fall apart and how desperately people will attempt to normalize awful conditions.

John Van Druten, adapted Isherwood’s original work into the play, I Am A Camera, which had its Broadway premiere in 1951. It ran for 214 performances and won the New York Drama Critics Circle for Best American Play as well as Tony Awards for Best Leading Actress in a play (Julie Harris) and Featured Actress (Marian Winters). The work itself focuses more on Sally Bowles, who was loosely based on the real life Jean Ross, than any of the other characters in Goodbye to Berlin, one of The Berlin Stories.

Cabaret (musical):

This piece is interesting in that the producer-director Harold Prince was a major driving force in getting the show made – he acquired the rights to the original Isherwood story as well as the Van Druten play, hired composer John Kander, hired lyricist Fred Ebb, and hired librettist Joe Masteroff. Kander noted that the work was really created, invented, by Prince and his vision to bring a darker show to the mid-20th century Broadway scene. Masteroff he had doubts about the show and its appropriateness for Broadway at the time – mainly that it featured homosexuality, abortion, and a downer ending. However, these difficult aspects served the show well due to its current time and place. The work was heavily inspired by the current Civil Rights Movement, since the circumstances that led to it mirrored many aspects of society before Nazi Germany. It served to bring awareness to these comparative events – keep in mind the Holocaust was only 20 years prior. The influx of political activism led to Prince’s desire to make a socially relevant piece – leading to the concept musical in which the story is second to the central message. So, some people felt they were getting two plays – the concept and the book scenes, or the Kit Kat Klub and the other of German society. The musical premiered in 1966 starring Jill Haworth as Sally, Bert Convy as Cliff, and Joel Grey as the Emcee. It won eight Tony Awards over 1,165 performances in three years. The film adaptation starring Liza Minnelli won eight Academy Awards.

Cabaret would go to open in London with Judi Dench as Sally before returning for a 1986 revival. It then moved to Broadway in 1987, still with Joel Grey as the Emcee. Arguably, the most well-known production since the original was the 1993 London revival directed by Sam Mendes and starring Alan Cumming as the Emcee, Jane Horrocks and Sally, and Adam Godley as Cliff; this version took a darker, highly sexualized route with the Emcee in portrayal and his ending, more references to Cliff’s bisexuality, and a better integration of the concept with the book scenes performed on the empty club stage. Alan Cumming went to Broadway in the 1998 revival and played opposite Natasha Richardson as Sally and John Benjamin Hickey as Cliff; this was the third longest-running revival in Broadway musical history. It returned yet again in 2014 with Alan Cumming and Michelle Williams as Sally. Williams was replaced with Emma Stone, then Sienna Miller. The work has also been staged internationally on all six continents.



A Brief History of Cabaret. “A Brief History of Cabaret.” Hartnell College. Web. 31 Aug. 2015.

Bucknell, Katherine. “Biography.” The Christopher Isherwood Foundation. The Christopher Isherwood Foundation, 2012. Web. 3 Sept. 2015.

Bulow, Louis. “The Holocaust.” The Holocaust. Web. 10 Sept. 2015.

Burrows, Candice S. Cabaret: A Historical and Musical Perspective of a Struggling Era. Order No. 3434128 The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 2010. Ann Arbor: ProQuest. Web. 31 Aug. 2015.

Druten, John, and Christopher Isherwood. I Am a Camera: A Play in Three Acts. [Fireside Theatre Book Club ed. New York: Random House, 1952. Print.

Dowd, Vincent. “Berlin through the Eyes of Christopher Isherwood.” BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation, 19 Mar. 2011. Web. 10 Sept. 2015.

Harsch, Donna. German Social Democracy And The Rise Of Nazism. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1993. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 3 Sept. 2015.

Henig, Ruth B. The Weimar Republic, 1919-1933. London: Routledge, 2002. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 31 Aug. 2015.

Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf. Trans. James Vincent Murphy. 1st ed. London: Hutchinson & Company, 1939. Print.

Jelavich, Peter. Berlin Cabaret. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993. Print.

“Linden Lore.” The Dreaming Wood. 1 July 2012. Web. 10 Sept. 2015.

Miller, Scott. “Inside Cabaret.” An Analysis Of. New Line Theatre, 2002. Web. 10 Sept. 2015.

“Persecution of Homosexuals in the Third Reich.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. United States Holocaust Memorial Council, 18 Aug. 2015. Web. 10 Sept. 2015.

Roos, Julia. “Prostitution Reform and the Reconstruction of Gender in the Weimar Republic.” Scholarworks.iu.edu, 22 Sept. 2006. Web. 31 Aug. 2015.

Simonson, Robert. “From “Goodbye to Berlin” to I Am a Camera, A History of Cabaret’s Journey to the Stage.” Playbill.com. Playbill, 11 Apr. 2014. Web. 3 Sep. 2015

Stern, Fritz Richard. Cultural despair and the politics of discontent: a study of the rise of the ‘Germanic’ ideology. Order No. 0006716 Columbia University, 1953. Ann Arbor: ProQuest. Web. 3 Sep. 2015.

Storer, Colin. Short History of the Weimar Republic. London, GBR: I.B. Tauris, 2013. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 31 August 2015.

“The History Place – Rise of Hitler: Hitler’s Book “Mein Kampf”” The History Place – Rise of Hitler: Hitler’s Book “Mein Kampf” The History Place, 1996. Web. 10 Sept. 2015.

“The Rhine.” HowStuffWorks. 2015. Web. 10 Sept. 2015.

Tukas, Tamas. “”I Am a Camera”: Melancholia in Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin.” Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies 17.2 (2011): 263-81. Print. 3 Sep. 2015.

Wikipedia contributors. “Cabaret (musical).” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 11 Aug. 2015. Web. 3 Sep. 2015.

Wikipedia contributors. “Hotel Adlon.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 30 Aug. 2015. Web. 10 Sep. 2015.

Wikipedia contributors. “Rhine.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 1 Sep. 2015. Web. 10 Sep. 2015.

Wikipedia contributors. Nazism.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 3 Sep. 2015. Web. 3 Sep. 2015.

“Writing Views, News and Reviews: A Discussion about Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood.” Writing Views, News and Reviews: A Discussion about Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood. 10 Jun. 2012. Web. 10 Sept. 2015.