Wagner for All:
KdF in Bayreuth “We National Socialists can rightly claim that there is nothing of beauty and greatness in Germany in which the working man cannot have a part.”1 Robert Ley’s proud 1939 claim praised his leisure organization’s activities in bringing culture to all strata of the German population, and referred in particular to the organization’s involvement with the Bayreuth Wagner Festival, the annual performance of Richard Wagner’s works in his opera house in Bayreuth, Bavaria.2 Starting in 1937, KdF sent workers to attend the prestigious opera performances in Bayreuth.3 It was a modest enterprise in the first year, but in 1938 3,500 KdF patrons visited Wagner’s “Green Hill,” attending special performances of Parsifal and Tannhäuser. 4 In the summer of 1939, KdF gave out 7,000 tickets discounted to a third of the regular price,5 and now there were four performances for the leisure organization’s patrons: Der fliegende Holländer, Parsifal and two stagings of Tristan und Isolde. 6 According to an article in the DAF newspaper Angriff, KdF brought an eclectic mix of people to Bayreuth, including plumbers, accountants, secretaries, farmers, pipe fitters, chemists, engineers, clerks, lathe operators, and bank assistants. Before seeing the opera performances, they were given an introductory lecture on Wagner’s works (in Bayreuth or, in some cases, previously in their hometowns).7 Making Wagner’s operas accessible in this way to this particular audience fitted two of KdF’s main goals. First, it corresponded with the organization’s agenda.
of bringing together Germans from different strata of society as a building block towards a unified Volksgemeinschaft.
Secondly, and ultimately in the same vein, KdF’s involvement in Bayreuth was driven by its ambition to give members of the lower classes access to Germany’s cultural life, especially its “high-brow culture.” Here, KdF’s functionaries had identified a disconnection that they believed would have dire consequences for Germany: the estrangement of German workers from the world of German culture was supposed to lie at the core of Germany’s class conflicts during the nineteenth and especially the early-twentieth century.8 In other words, they did not consider material needs to have been the reason for workers’ discontent during previous decades, but rather the workers’ lack of proper access to the world of arts and culture.9 KdF set out to remedy this. It promised that in Hitler’s Germany “it no longer depend[ed] on being poor or rich whether one can partake of Richard Wagner or Goethe or Schiller.”10 The organization diagnosed an “inferiority complex” with regards to the arts among those Germans who did not belong to the upper or middle classes,11 but its cultural events and performances were intended to help overcome this and to make culture accessible to everyone. Germans’ collective participation in such cultural events was considered an important step towards the building of a unified Volksgemeinschaft. 12 KdF’s activity at the Wagner Festival was undoubtedly an embodiment of the undertaking to bring culture to all strata of the German population. After the start of the war, the leisure organization’s involvement in Bayreuth increased. Hitler himself had decreed in April 1940 that the festival should continue to operate during the war under KdF’s aegis (alongside the continuing stewardship of Winifred Wagner), and is quoted to have said: “I want us to have the most beautiful and best culture. I do not want the German culture to be, like in England, only for the upper crust of society. I want it to benefit the entire German nation.”13 Accordingly, KdF thenceforth administered the entire festival, now called the “War Festival”. In this wartime version of the festival, Wagner’s operas were performed predominantly for audiences consisting of armament workers and German soldiers, especially those on convalescence, all who received free tickets. KdF also arranged their travel to Bayreuth and also their room and board during the festival.14 During the war years, KdF arranged visits to Bayreuth for approximately 100,000 people to see 70 performances,15 and all this despite increasing difficulties due to the ongoing war.16 These numbers represent.
the organization’s attempt to deliver on Ley’s
promise that KdF’s involvement in Bayreuth would “prove to the people and to the world that we carry the arts to the workers and to the soldiers, to the broadest masses of the people.” There could be no better place than Bayreuth, he argued, to act on the organization’s conviction that “culture and arts are not only for the few, and they are not closed off by a high wall from the people” and its concomitant “task to impart our great cultural treasure to the widest masses.”17 The first KdF-run War Festival, in the summer of 1940, received national and even international attention. The Chicago Tribune, for example, described the festival as a “spiritual reward to wounded soldiers and laborers employed at the front and in the armament industries, who will be honored guests of the ‘Strength Thru Joy’ [sic] organization.”18 The New York Times, too, covered the festival in an article that reads almost like an advertisement for KdF, informing its readers that the event was “produced on a scale as elaborate as in peace time” and drew an audience of “some 1,250 soldiers and workers.”19 Propagandistically, the Bayreuth War Festival was clearly a success. But what about the reaction of the “new” audiences KdF brought to Bayreuth? Pre-war articles in the DAF newspaper Angriff had emphasized how deeply moved those Germans, who bought discounted KdF-tickets to visit Bayreuth, had been.20 According to a post-war account, this positive reception was also shared by the workers and soldiers who attended the War Festival: their “eyes [were] shining” with joy, more affected than any previous audience in Bayreuth—“Soundlessly, deeply emotionally, they followed the plays
, in which the best German artists sought to give their best.”21 This description very much resembles those found in the news coverage of the event during the Third Reich. KdF’s magazine Arbeitertum chronicled workers and soldiers who were “enraptured and breathless” when listening, who were overwhelmed by the performances, and who reacted in “deeply moved silence.”22 Of course, all these sources have a propagandistic bias and are written more or less from the perspective of the festival’s organizers.23 However, reports by the SD, the intelligence agency of the SS, which were meant for internal use only and thus have no need for any emphasis on propagandistic “outreach” also include similar accounts of positive responses from participants.24 According to these reports, broad circles of the German population had taken notice of the festival, seeing it “as a new sign of the interior strength of Germany” and appreciating that it “particularly.
honored […] the class of manual workers.” The feedback the SD collected from participants was overwhelmingly positive.25 The event was described as “exemplary” and “fabulous,” the SD report concluding that the 1940 Bayreuth Festival not only “further[ed] the sympathy of the working population for […] Kraft durch Freude, but more generally for the [Nazi] party.”26 An SD report for a later festival, in 1943, also stated that guests “were completely enthused and satisfied.” This report cites a Reich Labor Service Leader who testified that she was “so happy to have experienced this,” and an East Prussian armament worker who stated that she would never forget her visit. A soldier, who had lost his eyesight in the war, claimed that he “could stay […] forever and listen to the sounds and the singing, which moved me into a different world.” The event seemed to have had the sort of motivational effects KdF hoped for: a woman from Düsseldorf who was mentioned in the report said that her visit to Bayreuth would positively affect her work life and productivity, since she was now provided with “new courage and strength for my coming work;” and a “heavily wounded soldier” exclaimed that the performance had made it clear for him that “It is worthwhile to fight until the end for a people that is capable of such cultural events in times of need.”27 However, there are also some reports that make KF’s work in Bayreuth sound less than successful. For example, the SD found that some guests resold the tickets they had received for free from the leisure organization in order to invest the profit “in alcohol or other scarce commodities.” Others “slept during the performances due to ignorance or lack of interest.”28 It appears that KdF’s project of “bringing culture” to Germans was not always reciprocated in ways the organization would have wished. The ambivalence in the overall reception of KdF’s activity in Bayreuth is exemplary of the mixed reception of KdF’s cultural programming nationwide.29 Symbolically, Bayreuth’s festival was certainly the pinnacle of KdF’s cultural work, and especially of its agenda to “bring culture to the people.” But in quantitative terms, the festival was just one among very many KdF programs set up by its “Leisure Time Department” [Amt Feierabend.]30 Millions of Germans participated in KdF-arranged theatrical and musical performances and attended its art exhibitions and vaudeville shows. These events, and in particular those that KdF staged directly on the shop floor, will be the focus of the remainder of this chapter.31 We will see how many of them were—unlike the Bayreuth Festival—very accessible, entertainment-focused affairs, despite increasing criticism from other agencies within the NS regime. The importance of “bringing culture.
to the worker” as an element of realizing the Nazi vision of a harmonious, class-less “racial community” was thus more or less superseded for KdF by the organization’s commitment to “joy production.” In what follows, I examine how KdF’s cultural practices vacillated between “bringing culture” and “entertaining.” While this is not a development with distinct phases and a clear-cut outcome, I would argue that overall, amusement and entertaining took center stage—a tendency that scholars have also found in other areas of Nazi Germany’s cultural policy.32 Bringing Culture and Community to the Shop Floor (Classical) music performances on behalf of KdF were not limited to Wagner’s Green Hill; in its brochures, the leisure organization boasted that “the best orchestras and the most famous conductors” performed at its behest,33 including the prestigious Berlin Symphony Orchestra,34 which put together a special KdF concert series. Subsidized by the German Labor Front, the Nazi party, and the Reich Culture Chamber,35 KdF’s Leisure Time Department was able to offer discount tickets to the symphony for less than one Reichsmark.36 In 1937, the KdF reputedly staged 3,760 concerts all over Germany; in total, 1,903,271 people attended these, with many of the concerts also simultaneously broadcast on the radio. By 1938, KdF’s Leisure Department had succeeded in reserving contingents of tickets for its organization for selected concerts at every single German concert hall.37 For smaller cities that did not have their own municipal orchestras, KdF organized performances of touring orchestras, especially the Nazi Reichs-Symphonieorchester.38 Additionally, KdF arranged for musicians to perform in German factories. The renowned conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, for example, led one such “factory concert” [Werkkonzert] in March 1943; a photograph from the event shows him conducting next to heavy machinery for an audience of workers39 (see Fig. 3.1) Also a photograph album from the Osram company in Berlin depicts a concert by a Wehrmacht orchestra in August 1938.40 The photograph shows a factory courtyard full of people standing closely around an orchestra in the center of the space. From the clock on the building wall, we can tell that it is almost 12.30 pm: like many of these events, this concert took place during the workers’ lunch break.41 As the picture illustrates, it drew quite a number of listeners.42 It is interesting to see that KdF’s underlying.
goal with these events—the creation of a close-knit Volksgemeinschaft, here between soldiers and workers—was already spatially enacted by the performance: The soldier-musicians performed in the middle of the Osram workers; the photograph, taken from a high-angle, reveals a huge mix of people, soldiers and workers, men and women, unsegregated and standing closely together.43 KdF’s concerts in factories, however, were not always received in the way the organization had hoped for. For example, a concert for the female workers of a large textile factory in Saxony left many in the audience disgruntled. The folk music concert was performed by a student choir and took place during the workers’ lunch break, which had been moved for the occasion from noon to one o’clock, meaning there were quite a few “rumbling stomachs” in the audience. After lunch, according to report about the event by Sopade, the (exiled) Social Democratic Party, the workers “were given the opportunity to dance with the students […] so that in this way the Volksgemeinschaft could find its expression. [But] they
had to make up for the lost hours of work by working 15 minutes longer for a few days.”44 For many of the workers, this decision led to a considerable loss of free time as the quarter-hour delay meant they missed
their trains; they were consequently quite unhappy about the event and, according to the Sopade report, did not agree with the local press that this concert embodied “Socialism of the Deed”45 The event thus did not bring the happiness KdF desired to the women workers, instead it disturbed their lunch and brought about an enforced sacrifice of free time.46 In addition to concerts, KdF also transformed the German shop floor into a venue for visual and sculptural art.47 The leisure organization mounted exhibitions inside German factories—by May 1938, 1,574 of them had been set up in the factory halls or break rooms of industrial plants, viewed by over 4 million German workers.48 Bringing exhibitions directly to the workers’ sites of labor allowed them see items normally only found in museums, thus saving workers the time, courage, and financial outlay that visiting a museum would otherwise have entailed.49 Without ever having to enter the “temples of the bourgeoisie,” German workers could now savor visual arts directly at work—although this had to happen outside work hours, of course. KdF publications celebrated the fact that workers could now go to exhibitions during their lunch break, “without having to put on a new collar.”50 Transferring the museum experience onto the shop floor corresponded neatly with KdF’s agenda of bringing culture and arts into the everyday lives of German workers; as KdF propaganda put it, “arts [had now] descended into the daily routine of the worker.”51 On display in a factory exhibition might be art pieces by the workers themselves or more or less professional art works. The former would have been produced with KdF’s stimulation and assistance, for example, in arts classes run by the organization’s educational branch, the Volksbildungswerk. The latter were meant not only to edify, but also to motivate the workers to make art themselves; the objectives of KdF’s factory exhibitions were not limited to the passive display of art before the eyes of a perhaps unappreciative audience. Rather, KdF wanted to “establish the prerequisites for the acquisition of a deeper understanding of art” in this new audience of workers. A KdF brochure thus suggested that an exhibition would make apparent “the creation of sculpture from a stone block to a monument or the erection of a building from the early sketches until the final plan and the actual execution.”52 Visiting these exhibitions was to be a learning experience for workers, who were assumed to be unfamiliar with such things. At times, this educational project was pushed even further: not only were paintings and sculptures brought into the factories, but sometimes also the artists themselves, who would explain their pieces and their work processes and answer questions from the workers.
Although KdF sought to activate understanding and appreciation of visual art among workers, the “cultural learning” experience provided through these factory exhibitions (and musical performances) was still essentially passive in the sense that the workers were the audience for the artistic endeavors of others. But passive listening and watching was not the final stage in KdF’s scheme. The Nazi effort to bring together arts and the workers on a regular and, if possible, even daily basis went further. For the Nazi leisure organization, the ultimate goal was to involve its participants actively in its events. That is, in the organization’s thinking, people enjoying something passively, as an audience, was fine (especially as part of group, in line with KdF’s other main principle, that of communitybuilding), but the joy and happiness would be of a higher quality if it was evoked through an activity, through active doing rather than passive consuming. This fundamental principle was also applied to factory exhibitions. Workers were not to stop at merely viewing art they were encouraged to produce art. Visiting factory exhibitions were meant to inspire such artistic activity.54 “Bringing culture to the workers” thus also meant motivating workers to be artistically productive, creating things themselves, which could then be showcased in turn in the factory exhibitions. The presence of workers’ own art in the factory exhibitions was believed to have an even greater motivational effect, demonstrating that workers could produce art and so inspiring yet more workers to do so.55 In line with KdF’s focus on community building, the exhibitions also set out to bridge the gap between professional artists and workers. The announcement for a factory exhibition of contemporary drawings, watercolor, and oil paintings in Berlin claimed that visiting the exhibition would give workers “an understanding of the methods of a visual artist” and help them “realize that for his creative work he [the artist] also requires craftsmanship.”56 This text brings out clearly the constant link between KdF’s educational urge to bring culture to workers and the leisure organization’s broader goal of building a Volksgemeinschaft. While the goal of holding a concert at Osram by the Wehrmacht orchestra was to bring soldiers and workers together, this art exhibition aimed to bridge the gap between workers and artists. Artists, too, according to KdF’s message, were “handworkers,” and thus shared much with industrial workers. KdF hoped therefore to prompt both groups, particularly the workers, to recognize this kinship. Both producers and consumers of art were considered equals—as were all other members of the Volksgemeinschaft—and were.
consequently interchangeable. KdF’s project to “bring high art to the workers” was, as we can see here in the case of factory concerts and exhibitions, understood quite literally in terms of space; at the same time, it also tried to motivate workers to be artistically active. The leisure organization attributed equal value to both professional and amateur art; in fact, it constantly, and apparently consciously, blurred the line between them. For KdF, the output of “joy” was important, and since artistic activity of any kind was potentially enjoyable, the leisure organization valued amateur activities as highly as professional ones.57 Interestingly, in these factory exhibitions we can detect acts that could be described as displays of Eigensinn—not unlike those identified in Chap. 2, in the sporting and social activities of leftist workers utilizing KdF’s framework of sports activities. In the case of factory exhibitions, however, these eigensinnig actions were not usually about maintaining socialist networks. Instead, we find attempts to promote avant-garde modernist art, defying the official agenda of the Nazi regime. Important instigators of such actions were Hans Weidemann, a painter who was, in 1934, head of KdF’s “Culture Department,” (a predecessor of the Leisure Time Department), and his deputy, Otto Andreas Schreiber, also a painter, and the head of the department’s Fine Arts section.58 They put on shows for KdF, mostly in factories, and included works by artists that would later be officially deprecated by the Third Reich’s infamous “Degenerate Art” exhibition, such as Max Pechstein, Karl SchmidtRottluff, or Otto Pankok.59 The presence of work by these artists in a KdF exhibition was, however, not widely advertised.60 And of course, this type of action was an exception. The case points, nonetheless, once again to the lack of micro-managing on the part of the leisure organization when it came to the execution of events, which meant that spaces were sometimes opened up that allowed for diverging and deviant activities within the framework of KdF programs, by either participants or even, as in this case, middle-level executives. There is also some evidence that another facet of KdF’s cultural programming was availed of for eigensinning activity. On the shop floor, KdF hosted so-called “Comradeship evenings” (Kameradschaftsabende.) These were get-togethers for employees of a given company that took place on or near the factory grounds; the evenings might involve performances of all kind and were often accompanied by free drinks and sometimes even food.61 According to Sopade reports, these comradeship evenings were at times transformed into spaces where old networks could be maintained.
As one report pointed out, these comradeship evenings were “the best meeting points for old comrades [socialist workers] and their families. The stupid Nazi-guff is tolerated, [so that workers are able] to, at least sometimes, meet up in a social context.”62 Another report claimed that KdF’s events provided “the opportunity to very casually meet up with good old friends and animatedly discuss, with a glass of beer, exactly the opposite of what the evening’s organizers had aimed for.”63 However, there are also reports that illustrate that KdF’s comradeship evenings were indeed quite successful in achieving what the organization had aimed for. As the name of the event denotes, a Comradeship Evening was intended to foster a feeling of community and equality amongst the workers within one factory. With these factory evenings, KdF sought to initiate a family-like bonding between employees and employers. Briefly put, both were to party cheerfully together. And indeed, the evenings were successful in “making an impression on the workers,” as one Sopade report put it.64 Comradeship evenings were especially popular with workers due to the material incentives they offered; for example, a participant in such an event recounted, in a November 1935 report for the Marxist opposition group Neu Beginnen, that the event provided “good food and abundant drinks” as well as “cigarettes and cigars,” and that the majority of the workers subsequently referred to it as a nice evening.65 And a Sopade report from the same year quotes a worker who, together with his colleagues, had received food and drink coupons at the Comradeship Evening of his company; in addition, women were given a chocolate bar and men five cigars or a packet of cigarettes.66 Alcohol consumption, based on free drinks, played a crucial role, and contributed to the success of the evenings; as Sopade noted bitterly, “in the end, the number of beer coupons is pivotal” to the workers.67 At a Comradeship Evening in Silesia each participant was gifted a bottle of wine, causing “carousal and uproar” the entire night and much enthusiasm.68 And the frequent Comradeship Evenings at the Berlin Telefunken Company were reported to typically become “big benders,” with some workers partying and drinking all night only to “arrive in a barely tolerable state at work in the mornings.”69 KdF was probably not very happy that in this case its event ended up draining workers’ productivity, but overall, having created a platform for workers’ collective celebration was certainly something that gratified the organization. If the Comradeship Evenings were supposed to further KdF’s agenda of community building, then in fact, many participants appreciated the sentiment of community evoked by these events, as, for.
example, when a company director would give a speech that emphasized how all employees of a factory were equally valued members of the company.70 KdF’s Comradeship Evenings helped overcome workers’ negative feelings towards their management, and fostered the belief that comradeship between workers and management could actually be realized. As a Sopade report admitted: “Especially in smaller companies […] the illusion of true comradeship emerges easily from these comradeship evenings. But even in bigger firms one can hear the opinion that it will do no harm to a manager if he has once to dance with a female factory worker.”71 In the light of such developments, some Sopade reports assumed a disillusioned and somewhat cynical tone, lamenting that KdF had apparently managed to mute much of workers’ previous class-militant attitude: “In the past, workers went on strike for weeks because of a 2 cents wage decrease; today they are [already] happy when they have the chance to get drunk together with their director.”72 Overall, many Sopade reports and those by the Marxist opposition group Neu Beginnen, stand as evidence for the popularity of KdF’s comradeship evenings, and also suggest that these events functioned beneficially towards the Nazi goal of a unified Volksgemeinschaft. The reports do not suggest, however, that these events did much in terms of explicit political education or even indoctrination. A 1937 Sopade report, referring to a KdF evening that included a vaudeville performance, stated: “The event lacked any political touch. […] The evening was a success in terms of the atmosphere, but hardly in a political respect,”73 and another report from 1938 asserted vehemently that workers’ participation in KdF events did not mean that they were pro-Nazi.74 While the programs of some Comradeship Evenings included speeches by representatives of the German Labor Front or its leisure organization, Sopade described these as not much more than a “a nuisance for workers, which they put up with in order to enjoy KdF’s materialistic offers.”75 Another report suggested that workers were willing “to swallow a lot of Nazi-nonsense” in order to enjoy “inexpensive opportunities to find easy relaxation” and the “light entertainment” provided.76 Workers happily came along to these evenings despite their potential Nazi political content. They enjoyed KdForganized performances, a lot of beer and, in some cases, appreciated getting a glimpse of the Nazi-promised Volksgemeinschaft. 77 KdF’s cultural and entertainment events on the shop floor were, needless to say, significantly affected by the beginning of the war. For one thing, the war brought about a change in the composition of Germany’s.
workforce. Many German workers became soldiers, and to replace them, German companies relied on foreign forced laborers in large numbers.78 KdF adapted to these changing realities and began to offer recreational programs to these foreign workers. “Everywhere German and foreign workers are at work to contribute to the ultimate victory, KdF is willing to provide the necessary compensation for their tireless producing,” stated a 1944 text by the German Labor Front.79 The emphasis here on the general goal—contributing to Germany’s Endsieg—is less surprising than the means DAF and KdF were willing to employ. The so-often celebrated “joy-giving” was consciously not limited to Germans, but extended also to foreigners working for the Germans. While this might seem somewhat paradoxical given Nazi ideology’s belief in the racial inferiority of foreign workers, it fitted into the organization’s underlying assumption that “joy giving strength” was a necessary element of the industrial production process. KdF was willing to make “inferior” foreigners happy if this would boost their productivity and help the German cause.80 Of course, none of this could be described as anything but cynical, as many, if not all, foreign workers had not actually elected to help the Germans, but rather were forced to do so. KdF either simply ignored this, or, more likely—and more tellingly—believed that it did not matter for its project. In other words, KdF’s belief in its own work and its effects was so total that KdF functionaries were convinced that its “joy-production” would work in any case, even if “applied” to non-willing participants. In practice, this meant that labor camps in Germany also became the site of recreational events, including social evenings, movie screenings, concerts, and sports.81 Some of these events addressed certain nationalities in particular among the foreign workers; for example, at the camp set up for the workers of the Herman-Göring-Werke (HGW) in Salzgitter, some movies were screened in Czech82 and others in Italian.83 In Nuremberg, KdF hosted events for French and Walloon workers,84 while a “social afternoon” at the Eastern Worker Camp in Karlshorst near Berlin was advertised under the title “Ukrainian songs, melodies and dances.”85 A 1944 leisure event for foreign workers at Berlin’s Borsig Company is recorded in a photo album. The pictures from the event, which took place at the workers camp, markedly resemble those of a prewar Comradeship Evening for German workers. The first shows a musician, most likely himself one of the foreign workers, playing a guitar on stage, while the audience of men, who appear to be rather well-dressed, look on. Another photograph displays a man in a Nazi uniform giving a speech on a lectern decorated.
with the symbol of the German Labor Front, while a young man with an accordion, probably another foreign worker, sits next to the same guitar player and looks directly into the camera.86 The album also contains a photograph showing a group of young women, most likely female workers from the East [“Ostarbeiterinnen”] who appear to have received an award. Some of them wear what look like traditional costumes. This again shows that the event was organized in a way that allowed foreign workers to express themselves according to their own traditions and cultures, and not so that it could function as a tool for making these workers familiar with German language and culture. In other words, these leisure events were less concerned with political education or demonstrating German superiority, but were more interested in achieving relaxation and cheerfulness, even for foreign workers. Of course, as Shelley Baranowski has pointed out, KdF’s programs for foreign workers in Germany were not on par with the organization’s programs for Germans. In comparison, “foreigners received short shrift. [… and] KdF entertained foreign workers separately and belatedly”87 Some recreation activities were hosted for foreign workers, but the emphasis during the war inevitably remained on German workers. Apart from the aforementioned activities for foreign workers that KdF arranged in the Hermann-Göring-Werke in Salzgitter, film, vaudeville, and cabaret events were also staged for the company’s German workforce during the war. There were even guest performances by famous artistes such as actresssinger Marita Gründgens or comedian Heinz Erhardt.88 Other companies also hosted elaborate, often circus-like events with performances of all kinds by musicians, acrobats, dancers, and comedians.89 These leisure activities on the shop floor were only one aspect of KdF’s wartime work. The leisure organization was very concerned in its propaganda to demonstrate the necessity of this continued “joy production” despite the ongoing fighting. Robert Ley stated in 1939: “When arms speak, the muse must remain silent: this used to be the saying. Today, however, we are convinced that the noise of arms and arts are no opposites.”90 In Ley’s use of this image, KdF would make the “muses” sing in order to provide the necessary support for “arms,” that is, Germany’s war effort. In 1940, Ley added that, in times of war, “all sources for the preservation and development of the nation’s complete strength must be opened up.” He claimed that KdF’s wartime work came out of a lesson learned in World War I: “In 1914, any kind of joy was forbidden; today the temples of art are open and one finds that the nation is drinking to the.
fullest from its culture’s wellspring and enjoys it decently.”91 In such statements, Ley was attempting to fend off potential attacks that might argue that in such a difficult period there was no time and money for these kinds of activities: in opposition, Ley and other KdF functionaries claimed that entertainment and “providing happiness” for Germans was indispensable for a German victory.92 Ley’s allusion to 1914, and the supposed neglect of happiness in that war, yokes KdF’s role tightly to the general Nazi promise of overcoming earlier German failures in World War I.93 A 1940 article in the Nazi weekly Illustrierter Beobachter demanded that “joy should not get a raw deal, especially now, in a time that requires more strength than ever before.”94 And in 1943, a KdF social evening in the North-West of Germany was given the somewhat defiant sounding title: “Man muss sich nur freuen können.” [“One just must be able to enjoy oneself.”] This title seems to imply that happiness, or rather retaining the capacity for happiness, was considered every German’s duty. In other words, Germans had to be willing to be entertained (and to be made “happy”)—and then the rest would be taken care of by KdF. And once such amusement and happiness was “activated,” neither Germans nor Germany had reason to be concerned. As long as Germany’s population was (able to be) happy, the message suggests, there was no doubt of a glorious German future, including victory in the war. In this sense, a willingness “to be happy” emerges as a leitmotiv, and as a demand KdF and the Nazi regime made of every German. A similar sentiment is also included in a song by comedian Udo Vietz, called “Laughing is healthy.” Vietz was one of the many entertainers who performed for KdF during World War II and, in this song, he summons his audiences to “laugh in spite of it” and to “laugh in
enemy’s eye” in order to win. By always laughing, went the song’s message—which was underlined through several expressions of laughter (“hihihi,” “hohoho,” and “hahaha”) throughout the song—those laughing “can make the impossible possible.”95 Just by “acquiring laughter,” as Vietz’s song put it, Germans could successfully face the particular challenges posed by the war. In other words, there was a requirement for Germans to be generally willing to be cheerful and “entertainable.” The war in fact meant a more exigent demand for happiness, health, and strength. KdF was to be the supplier of this—and the population had to step up and play the part of willing receiver. As Corey Ross has pointed out, “the very years in which the Nazis unleashed the most destructive war in history actually marked a high point in the legitimization and popular consumption of public amusements.
Never before were Germans so encouraged to indulge in light entertainments, […] the regime placed the greatest emphasis on pleasure.”96 KdF played a prominent role in this undertaking. During the war, coverage of KdF’s leisure activities in the press and elsewhere was rooted in—and expressed—faith in an eventual German victory, a victory which, furthermore, would then be beneficial for the next phase of the leisure organization’s ambitions.97 Limitations in KdF’s current activities were even acknowledged, but were always connected to the promise that the war would eventually lead to a greater range of leisure activities and even more happiness for the German population. KdF’s happiness was thus not only the means to gain a German victory; a victory for Germany would, it was believed in turn, result in even greater happiness—again also provided through KdF; as Ross has put it, “The wages of victory would be enjoyment.
Putting on a Show: KdF’s Theater and Bunte Abende [Social Evenings] Beyond the shop floor, KdF’s Leisure Department was especially active in the realm of theater.99 Here, too, the organization was driven by the goal of making available previously exclusionary aspects of (Germany’s) culture to not-so-well-off “Aryans;”100 in the analysis of Konrad Dussel, “theater politics mutated into integrative social politics.”101 KdF’s Leisure Department succeeded in significantly raising the number of theatergoers in Germany after 1933. As one scholar has put it, visiting the theater was transformed into a “national duty” in the Third Reich, a duty Germans seem to have eagerly assumed, the number of theatergoers dramatically climbing from perhaps as low as half a million in 1932 to as high as 14 million in 1938.102 Robert Ley claimed in 1935 that millions of Germans, who before 1933 had never seen the inside of a theater, had now begun to visit theatrical performances.103 These high numbers were the outcome of a large amount of advertising and propaganda, but even more so of pricing policy. KdF signed contracts with German theaters all over the country, allowing the organization to buy tickets en bloc; this block buying and the fact that KdF was subsidized by the German Labor Front then enabled the organization to resell these tickets at a cheaper price than the regular admission.104 These agreements with theaters also meant that special performances only for KdF were KULTUR FOR THE VOLK 88 staged. In some cases, KdF even took over the running of entire theaters or founded new ones. One of these latter KdF ventures was the Theater des Volkes [Theater of the People] in Berlin, a predecessor of the Großes Schauspielhaus.105 Opening in 1934, it performed theatrical and musical works in order to “bring art to the people and the people to art.”106 In its first months of operation, entrance for all members of the German Labor front was free; later, tickets would range between 50 and 75 Pfennig, an amount still about half the price of regular tickets.107 The Theater des Volkes opened with a performance of Schiller’s play Die Räuber, starring Heinrich George as the protagonist Franz Moor. In addition to KdF’s head Robert Ley, both Joseph Goebbels, the Propaganda Minister, and Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess were present at the premiere; Hitler himself would attend several performances at the theater in the following years.108 Other theaters that KdF acquired or rented included the Theater am Nollendorfplatz and the Volksoper (formerly: Theater des Westens) in Berlin, the Mellini Theater in Hanover, the Friedrich Theater in Dessau, the Apollo Theater in Cologne, and the Zentraltheater in Magdeburg. From 1940 on, KdF also ran the Märchentheater der KdF [Fairy Tale Theater of the KdF] in Berlin.109 An emphasis on light entertainment is apparent when looking at the programs of these theaters.110 The Theater des Volkes’ first production may have been a Schiller drama, but in 1935 it started to move away from performing serious plays from the classical canon. Instead, lighter pieces were more often performed, and, beginning with the 1936–37 season, the Theater des Volkes exclusively staged light-hearted operettas.111 In the Mellini Theater, KdF had taken over a theater that had been considered one of the leading vaudeville theaters around the turn of the century,112 and Magdeburg’s Zentraltheater was also popular for its vaudeville performances and operettas.113 The Apollo Theater troupe, when performing in occupied Paris in 1941, put on a show consisting of dancing and acrobatics.114 KdF’s widely promulgated ambition to bring more culture to Germany was, in its implementation in the theatrical realm, more like an ambition to entertain; during the war, especially, the sources suggest that when KdF said “theater,” it meant mostly “vaudeville theater.” In this period, as Richard Evans has pointed out, “most theatre-goers, especially the new ones, were in search above all of entertainment.”115 KdF delivered on that. An impressionistic, but nonetheless interesting, insight into KdF’s theater can be gained from the personal diaries of, and post-war interviews.