German Cabaret (ca. 1900–1932) Note

The Fortune-teller

She gazed into the coffee-ground
Where the rich husbands would be found,
She lived in a dingy basement cellar,
The Fortune-teller.

Her help could readily be bought
For a poor girl, what had been “caught.”
Don’t worry, she’d say. I’ll do it, Honey,
Give me the money.

She kept a goldfish and a cat
And a strong-box beneath her bed
In her dingy, smelly basement-cellar,
The Fortune-teller.

Elli, the slut, came late one night
“Bloody Tommy done it,” she cried.
“I won’t carry his bastard. It’s no good
I dread motherhood.”

The greedy witch told her at once
To come without her cruel ponce
She would help Elli, down in her cellar,
The Fortune-teller.

That night there was a dreadful sound,
The pussy-cat went round and round,
Then it chose the empty money-casket
As sleeping basket.

Three days passed. They broke in and found
Tied like a parcel, gagged and bound
In her smelly, dingy basement-cellar
The Fortune-teller.

Before the judge the cruel pair
Denied the deed—it wasn’t fair.
When the victim’s wounds re-started bleeding
There was no pleading.

Justice was done. Remains to tell
They all met merrily in hell
Which she found much hotter than her cellar,
The Fortune-teller.

Walter Mehring (1896–1981)
Tr. Dorothea Gotfurt



Es braust ein Ruf wie Donnerhall:
Spekulieren! Spekulieren!
Es fuchteln Hände überall,
Den Kurs zu dirigieren …

Es klingt durchden Verzweilflung noch,
Mag der Borsianer toben;
O Dollarkurs, wer hat so hoch
Dich aufgebaut da droben!

Gehts auf und ab in dem Gewuhl
Gewinnen und Verlieren,
Uns eint doch alle ein Gefuhl:
Spekulieren! Spekuieren!

Walter Mehring (1896–1981)


Song of the Stock Market

Hear it roaring through the nation
Speculation, speculation!
Hands shoot up and men despair
Speculation everywhere.

In the general desperation
One thought penetrates the nation:
Why does the dollar, why oh why—
Climb up right into the sky?

Despondency and desperation
Are now sweeping through the nation
In the grip of the inflation.
What keeps them going? Speculation!
Speculation, speculation!

Walter Mehring (1896–1981)
Tr. Dorothea Gotfurt


While I’m Sitting on the Fence

Mum lies upstairs in the bedroom,
Being in the family way.
Sister Ann, who’s got religion
Goes to church where she will pray.
I keep moping in the back-yard,
Tearful and a little tense …
And my legs are gently swaying
While I’m sitting on the fence.

Yesterday in Piccadilly
I spoke with a real gent,
One who has a Morris-Minor
And a weekend place in Kent.
Well, he offered me some lolly,
And his fortune was immense…
Cor! My legs are gently swaying
While I’m sitting on the fence.

Dad was caught when pinching bracelets,
Now he’s doing time once more.
Nell, his slut, went back to Soho,
Mum is crying as before.
Dad himself is not complaining—
All this grumbling don’t make sense …
And his legs are gently swaying
While he’s sitting on the fence.

Sometimes, when the moon is shining,
I am crying in my heart.
When I’m thinking of me Charlie,
Who has robbed and killed a tart.
They will lead him to the gallow,
They will string him up and thence …
While his legs are gently swaying
I keep sitting on the fence.

Klabund (1890–1928)
Tr. Dorothea Gotfurt


And What Then?

A happy end—eternal bliss
The picture fades—a final kiss.
For the last time, with much panache
He seals her lips with his moustache.
Now she has hooked her gentleman—
Well—and what then?

Then obviously they’ll hit the hay.
That’s quite all right—why shouldn’t they?
But then—I wonder what they do
When they don’t cuddle, kiss and coo.
You can’t always … nobody can …
Well—and what then?

Then comes the spring, the wind is mild,
Then the young couple have a child.
Then she boils milk, upsets the pot
Then he is cross, calls her a clot,
She cries and brandishes a pan—
Well, and what then?

Their baby’s ill, life’s pretty hard,
They stick it out, they do not part
For years they’re suffering the bond,
He yearns for something young and blonde—
He wants a chick and not a hen…
Well—and what then?

Then they are old. The son’s away.
Dad’s not so strong—he’s had his day.
The time to cuddle and to coo
Has gone for ever—sad but true.
The thought of making love to Mum
Seems most ridiculous and rum.

Then Dad is contemplating life.
Has he been happy with the wife?
He sighs—their marriage was no more
Than burned milk and an endless bore.
And that explains the filmworld’s trend
To fade out with the “Happy End.”

Kurt Tucholsky (1890–1926)
Tr. Dorothea Gotfurt


Ragoût fin de siècle

Here specialists can hardly say who’s who
Or tell the kidney from the heart.
Here women are an all-male crew,
Here all men play the woman’s part.

Here young lads dance the latest hits
At ease in gowns and rubber tits.
While in falsetto they descant.
Here women in tuxedos groan
With Santa-Claus-like baritone
While lighting up—Havana brand.

It’s men who occupy the ladies’ room here
Putting powder gaily on their skin.
No woman looks for bridegroom here
Since each one’s got a bride with whom to sin.

Some here, from sheer wish to be perverted
Found they had to the norm reverted.
And if Dante had this place to visit
He’d take poison just to miss it.

No pig could find its way around this sty.
What’s true is false, what’s fake is not,
And everything is stewing in the pot,
And pain’s a laugh, and pleasure makes ’em cry,
And up is down, and front’s behind.
Just shake your head—or lose your mind.

For all I care—be your own self’s concubine,
Or if you like them strong ’n hairy
Pick a mate from Barnum’s bestiary.
As far as I’m concerned—that’s fine.

Only stop the squealing that you’re wicked,
Mad and grand because of where you stick it.
All that traffic from behind
Hasn’t much improved your mind.
That’s that—for all your kind.

Erich Kastner
Tr. Koka Koala



Don’t recoil from sins and vices,
Sin makes you enjoy your lust—
Fragrant with Arabian spices
Will it raise you from the dust.

Don’t despise your body’s pleasure—
Have a tumble on the straw.
Kisses are your only treasure
And there is no moral law.

If men die because they love you
Then, my child, you must be brave,
With your lucky star above you
Jump across their open grave!

Frank Wedekind (1864–1918)
Tr. Dorothea Gotfurt


The Bloom is Gone

Show me your leg, dear! Your fish-net stocking
Of black Fil d’Ecosse is rather shocking.
It goes right up to your knee and I
Might even pull it over your thigh.

Your thighs are your most enticing feature,
I could die for them, you lovely creature.
Your skin shimmers whitely through the black net,
Delicious—I’d like a nibble, my pet.

Daintily you put your feet together
And your shiny shoes of patent leather.
To tie them for you would be bliss indeed,
A tremendous thrill, a heavenly feat.

Your curly black hair and your cheeks pale-white
And your stark-naked mouth are my delight.
I like your anxious dark eyes, my lad.
However, they would not drive me mad.

I fall for your legs—they make me crazy,
They move me to tears—I feel quite hazy.
The way you walk and lift your knee
Attracts me irresistibly.

For memory’s sake, if you don’t think me bold,
I’ll give you lilac garters, with crests of gold.
Because you are both—it must be said—
A girl and a young aristocrat.

If you dress up as a girl it won’t harm
Your virtue, your looks and your boyish charms.
But your mother says, and she must be right,
That you’re noble and good—a valiant knight.

As a scholar you have a fine reputation,
And you look at the ladies with adoration.
Nobody believes that this makes me glad
Yet, I’m awfully proud of you, my lad.

You still are a cherub—a few weeks and then
The bud will have opened and you are a man
And then you will grimly look down at me,
Who used to caress you so tenderly,

A pity that beauty fades so quickly,
Puberty comes—and soon you look sickly.
The bloom has gone, you scream and shout
And look like any other lout.

Frank Wedekind (1864–1918)


Ich hab meine Tante geschlahtet

Ich hab meine Tante geschlahtet,
Meine Tante war alt und schwach,
Ich hatte bei ihr übermachtet
Und grub in dem Kisten-Kasten nach.

Da fand ich goldene Haufen,
Fand auch an Papieren gar viel,
Und hörte die alte Tante schnaufen
Ohne Mitleid und Zartgefühl.

Was nutzt es, das sie sich noch härme—
Nacht war es rings um mich her—
Ich stiess ihr den Dolch in die Därme,
Die Tant schnaufte night mehr.

Das Geld war schwer zu tragen,
Viel schwerer die Tante noch.
Ich fasste sie bebend am Kragen
Und sties sie ins tiefe Kellerloch.

Ich hab meine Tante geschlachetet,
Meine Tante war alt und schwach,
Ihr aber, o Richter, ihr trachtet
Meiner blühenden Jugend—Jugend nach.

Frank Wedekind (1864–1918)


I’ve Murdered Auntie

I have murdered dear Auntie Alice,
My Auntie so old and so frail.
Motivated by greed and malice
I went straight on the treasure trail.

Her little house was simply seething
With banknotes, with shares and with gold.
I heard my Auntie’s heavy breathing
But that left me perfectly cold.

I just followed my intuition,
In the dark I opened her door
And knifed her without inhibition—
My Auntie sighed and breathed no more.

The golden coins were weighing me down,
Her body was heavy as lead,
But I dragged Auntie without a frown
Through the garden and into the shed.

I have murdered dear Auntie Alice,
My Auntie so old and so frail.
I’m young, so young, yet out of malice
They’ve sentenced me to life-long jail.

Frank Wedekind (1864–1918)
Tr. Dorothea Gotfurt



The translations by Doroethea Gotfurt come from While I’m Sitting on the Fence: Songs from the German by Dorothea Gotfurt, introd. Martin Esslin (1967). Who she was I do not know, though probably she was a refugee in England from Hitler’s Germany. A translation like “Sitting on the Fence” has a Thirties feel to it, the Morris Minor back then being the nearest thing to a British Volkswagen, a people’s car. Cars of any size were still a luxury, and very few houses had garages. 35mm cameras (to add another cultural note) were out-of-sight rarities. A camera then was the kind of box camera into which you peered through a ground-glass viewer smaller than a penny postage stamp, and tilted it this way and that in an effort to get a vertical image, while the sun struck your stiffly waiting human subjects full-face. Photographs were black-and-white.

Lisa Appignanesi’s The Cabaret, revised and expanded (Yale U.P., 2004), is a treat. Jonathan Miller is quoted on the dust-jacket as saying, “Wonderfully researched and beautifully illustrated, it is an admirable supplement to the history of the twentieth century, ” while John Lahr finds it, in The New Yorker, “as frisky, smart, mischievous and high-stepping as the art form she comprehensively chronicles.”