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Von Pop bis Poesie - Music and Poetry in Germany, Austria and Switzerland

Slam Poetry

Slam poetry originated in America but is now big in Germany. It combines voice, sound, rhythm and choreography to produce energetic - often electrifying - live performances. Bas Böttcher is credited with introducing slam poetry to the German-language scene, and is still the best known performer. Read an English interview with Böttcher here, and watch him perform live here.


Swiss-German writer Nora Gomringer is another star of the spoken-word scene in Germany, using language in inventive, exciting and often hilarious ways. A true wordsmith, her performances are spellbinding. A number of her poems have also been set to to music by the Wortart Ensemble, and you can watch them all in action here.










Kinderlieder and Volkslieder
















'Auf der schwäbischen Eisenbahnen' (1872), single-sheet print from the series Neuruppiner Bilderbogen (click image to enlarge)

Many children's nursery rhyme songs that continue to be popular today - such as 'Summ summ summ', action or game songs like 'Alle meine Entchen' or 'Es tanzt ein Bi-Ba-Butzemann', 'Hoppe hoppe Reiter, and lullabies such as 'Weißt du, wieviel Sternlein stehen?' and 'Maikäfer flieg!' (sung to the same tune as 'Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf') - go back to anthologies of children's songs and folksongs published in the 19th century. Poets like August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben (1798-1874) wrote several hundred children's songs (von Fallersleben also wrote 'Das Lied der Deutschen' (1841), the third verse of which is still used in the German national anthem).











[Title page of Das Knaben Wunderhorn (1808) - click image to enlarge]

One of the most famous anthologies is that by Achim von Arnim (1781-1831) and Clemens Brentano (1778-1842): Des Knaban Wunderhorn (1805-1808), a collection of folktales and folksongs from the middle ages to the 18th century.

Kabarett and Operette

German and Austrian cabaret theatre began in the late 19th century, inspired by the French cabaret. Venues such as Kabarett Hölle and Kabarett Fledermaus in Vienna, Die Katakombe and Klaus and Erika Mann's Die Pfeffermühle in Berlin, the Münchener Lach- und Schießgesellschaft (in Munich), the Nebelhorn in Zürich, and Die Distel and the Leipziger Pfeffermühle in the former GDR span a century of rich - if often tense - tradition in German-language cabaret. The 'Kabarett' became known for its satirical, parodical, and ironical performances, which could be in the form of sketch, stand-up, monologue, or song. A classic song form for Kabarett artists was the 'Couplet', a two-line rhyme that formed the ironic refrain in a song, for example, the socio-political satire, 'Der Papa wird's schon richten', sung in 1958 by Austrian 'Kabarettist', Helmut Qualtinger (1928-86). Claire Waldoff (1884-1957) was a famous lesbian and feminist artist of the Berlin cabaret, singing 'Gassenhauer' (popular street songs) and chansons in Berlin dialect. Some of her most popular songs were 'Wer schmeißt denn da mit Lehm?' and 'Nach meene Beene is ja janz Berlin verrückt'. Karl Valentin (1882-1948) directed the Munich cabaret 'Wien-München' and worked closely with Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) (Brecht's songs, written with Kurt Weill (1900-50), from his play Die Dreigroschenoper (1928) are well-known in many languages, in particular 'Die Moritat von Mackie Messer', which has become a jazz standard for artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, and Michael Bublé).

[Image above: Poster by J. Steiner advertising the Linden Cabaret, featuring Claire Waldoff (1914)]

A wide range of writers and artists have been involved in German and Austrian cabaret, including Kurt Tucholsky and Erich Kästner, Werner Finck, Lore Lorentz, Heinz Erhardt, Hermann Leopoldi, Ottfried Fischer, Mela Mars, Helge Schneider, Hella von Sinnen, Simone Solga, and Bodo Wartke, among many others.