Berlin’s long-lost cabaret
Berlin and its pre-war cabarets are, of course, the stuff of legend. Symbolic of a raucous, hedonistic, life-loving party scene that flamed with ferocity before it was swept away by one of the darkest episodes in history.
And yes - we’ve probably all seen that movie in which Liza Minnelli delivered a performance so enthralling that she’s remained a super-star ever since.
Imagine, then, pushing open a door that had been locked for over half a century to discover this …
OK. It’s pretty obvious that this recently re-discovered music hall isn’t in the best condition (even though, having been cleared of 30 tonnes of rubbish and rubble, it’s looking better now than it had done for decades); but it’s still an incredibly rare and precious find.
The area of Berlin in which it’s located was once home to hundreds of bars, restaurants and other entertainment venues. Just a tiny slice, in fact, of the city’s legendary Weimar-era nightlife, although virtually none survived the Nazi crackdown on ‘decadent’ living or the later devastation of World War Two bombing.
It was established in 1905 as a restaurant and entertainment venue named – rather matter of factly - “Fritz Schmidt’s Restaurant and Festival Halls” and soon became a fixture on Berlin’s party circuit.
Here’s what it looked like soon after it was first opened, with its ceilings intact, stage set for a performance, and dozens of tables awaiting the arrival of no doubt rather raucous guests.
In 1919, the building was expanded and refurbished, more imaginatively renamed the “Kolibri”, and continued to cater, throughout the 1920s, to Berlin’s fun-loving crowd.
It’s probably safe to assume that the variety shows in which it specialised were a little on the risque side, because from 1934 – the year Hitler seized power in Germany – all records for the nightclub abruptly cease.
And that, basically, seems to have been the last of the Kolibri, which ended up in East Berlin after the war and was first used as a metal working shop, then a rubbish dump, before being locked up and forgotten entirely.
It was finally rediscovered by a Berlin property developer in 2008, who happened to be walking past the dilapidated building and was curious to know more about it. Following his amazing discovery, he spent many years negotiating a sale with the building’s Czech owners, who had inherited the property but never once set foot inside.
It’s only recently that his extraordinary find has been made public, and although council regulations mean it will never be transformed back into the nightclub it once was, all efforts will be made to preserve the interior.
What that really means remains to be seen, and these publicity shots, distributed before the building was once again sealed to await renovation, may be the only glimpse we’ll ever have of a dusty, dirty, beautiful space that provides one of Berlin’s few remaining links to its glamorous hey-day.
So if you ever happen to be in Berlin and pass a crumbling building that looks something like the one below (and yes, there are still many of them) – this is where Berlin’s lost cabaret was discovered. So take a peek inside. You never know quite what you’ll find.
Image credits: Moritz Gruppe GmbH/Ronny Goyn
Bonus viewing: a taste of Berlin night-life in the 1920s (the toned-down version).