A theatre rich in tradition
Glamorous and surrounded by scandal, indulging in luxury, yet threatened by bankruptcy – the first curtain call in 1896 becomes a classical drama in itself. Even the means for buying the red carpet are only borrowed! The much-praised “Schwanthaler Passage” quickly becomes the “Schwanthaler Disgrace”, turned to ruin by the “Schwanthaler Rabble”. The name “Deutsches Theater” was given when the Passage opened as a theatre, following the role model of Naturalism in Berlin. Since the New Year’s Eve Ball 1896, the Deutsches Theater has also become Munich’s top location to celebrate carnival. The theatre turns into Europe’s most beautiful ballroom every year in January and February.
Artistic director Meßthaler has hardly opened the doors to the Deutsches Theater when a new scandal is about to begin: The psychological drama, Mr Meßthaler’s genre, turns out to be unsuitable for the house. When Mr Meßthaler leaves, the architect Alexander Bluhm has to leave as well. Both successors, Viktor Naumann and Emil Drach – who was appointed in 1897 and later founded the Münchner Kammerspiele – are dismissed due to financial flops.
From now on, the fate of the theatre is controlled by Hugo Oertel, a man of the cabaret. From the turn of the century up to the Roaring Twenties, the Deutsches Theater is the “most noble cabaret of the whole kingly residence” and offers a full range of European comedians, acrobats, dancers, character actors and entertainment musicians – all without gaining any profit though.
In 1900 the brewery “Spatenbrauerei” takes over the desolate assets of the theatre and brings it back into the blacks by combining light entertainment with a gastronomic concept.
During the first year of World War I, the Deutsches Theater is shut down for two months in 1914. When reopening, the program was aligned to a complete German approach – every bit of internationality is frowned upon.
After the Bavarian national congress turned the theatre into a revolutionary parliament for a one year term of office in 1918, Hans Gruß – a Saxon – takes over the lead of the theatre and presents revues with opulent settings. The Tiller Girls from New York perform as well as “beauty dancers” and Karl Valentin with his bizarre parodies. In 1922, Peter Kreuder – who later became a hit- and film music composer – becomes musical director and conductor of the theatre. He had already worked for director Gruß before that and set the mood as piano player in the Silbersaal (silver hall) at the age of 16. The greatest box office success, however, turns out to be brute entertainment: The Deutsches Theater transforms into a site for international boxing and wrestling competitions.
Josephine Baker (Stage ban in 1929)
In 1929, director Hans Gruß engages the American dancer Josephine Baker. But the performance is forbidden by the authorities – and this turns out to be a precursor of the new understanding of culture promoted by the Nazis. The planned performance of the “Negro Naked Dancer” is considered a violation of Common Decency. Church authorities also welcomed the stage ban which was sharply criticized by Mr Gruß in a letter: “Today I am denied my ability to decide whether and how I let an artist act on stage, so that the decency of the visitors is not to be harmed”, he writes. “I consider myself to be able to decide how the claims of art are to be reconciled with those of morality, without official regulations. I leave it to every thinking resident of Munich and to every citizen of Bavaria to form an opinion of their own. Audiatur et altera pars.”
In 1935, Hans Gruß crosses the field of fire of the Nazis by bringing pieces to stage written by Jewish authors. This, combined with financial problems, marks the end to his career as director of the theatre. His successor, Paul Wolz, mostly keeps up the programme planning of Mr Gruß. Revue and cabaret continue to bring entertainment to the city during World War II, until the theatre is heavily damaged during a bomb raid on Shrove Tuesday in 1943, right after a performance of Willy Reichert. The very next day, Paul Wolz already relocates operations to the Theater Colosseum. From 1946 on shows take place in the convention hall of the Deutsches Museum.