This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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A Man and his Dog

17 August 2012

So my nephew, he is in the army too. He writes to me from the front that his wagon horse has the cough. When he takes her to the company farrier, the chief mixes some schnapps with a little water. "Give this to your horse once each  morning and evening."

"Did it cure your horse?" I ask my nephew.

"No, no, but now everyone's horse has the cough twice a day."

My nephew, his candle wick is maybe not too long. He tells me that last week he lost  20 pfennig down the latrine hole. "So what did you do?" I ask.

"I tossed in my watch and fob, of course," says he.

"Why ever did you do such a thing?" I ask.

"Well I am not going to go hunt down there for just 20 pfennigs!"

 Now I will play a little tune for you fellows on my trumpet. 

"Yoooooww, Yoow, Yoww, Yowl !!!" 

Oh dear, Dieter does not like that song. No, no, no, Dieter. You must sing nicely and then you will get a good bone.

That was my imagined routine that Paul Pilz, Charakterkomiker, might have performed as a comic entertainer in the Wandertheater from 1916 wartime Germany.  Paul, whose name Pilz means mushroom in German, is dressed as a kind of hunter or rural rube, and he holds a trumpet and a small dog, whose real name is unknown. But Dieter sounds like a good name for a German dog, and I think s/he is a terrier, perhaps a Cairn Terrier. 

Ludwig von Falkenhausen

The Wandertheater was a traveling theatrical show attached to A. A. Falkenhausen or Armee Abteilung (Army Detachment) Falkenhausen which served on the southwestern German front in World War 1. A reserve group of the German Imperial Army, it was named after its commanding general, Ludwig von Falkenhausen (1844-1936), whose photo I include here because his slight resemblance to Paul Pilz may have been part of the humor. This army group saw action in Lorraine which was that contentious region of eastern France that Germany had controlled since the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. 

There is no stamp on the back of the postcard, but instead two postmarks. One marked: K.D. Feldpostexped. der 19 Ersatz Division, 14.4.16 - 14 April 1916. And the second: Sold. Brief * Gren. Landw. - Rgt  100 *  I. Bat. 2 Komp. which stands for Soldaten Brief (Soldier's Letter) Grenadier Landwehr Regiment Nr.100, an infantry battalion from Sachsen or Saxony. The handwriting is too difficult for me to decipher, but I think there may be a mention of the show along with another date of 12/4/1916 and an address in Dresden which is in Saxony.

There was also a Wandertheater Orchestra with 13 musicians and a conductor, a typical size for a music hall pit orchestra of this time. This small ensemble of 2 clarinets, trumpet, tuba, percussion and 8 string players is dressed in military uniform and seated in front of a theater stage. According to a book entitled German Soldier Newspapers of the First World War by Robert L. Nelson, the German army had 43 army theaters, 11 Regimental theaters, 8 on a battalion level, 2 on brigade level, and 7 independent itinerary theater shows like this one, called Wandertheaters.  For these musicians, this kind of work would have been just a continuation of their civilian careers in German cinema and opera theaters. I don't believe there were equivalent theatrical shows produced by the military and performed for the English, French, or Russian troops.

But this emphasis on entertainment was intended not just as an amusement for the Kaisers' army, but to be an essential part of both military and political propaganda. The great fear of all the governments at this time, but especially those of Germany and Austria was the threat of communism. Worker's strikes became more common as the war dragged on, and as happened in Russia with the rise of the Bolsheviks in 1917, social unrest could lead to the overthrow of a government and abolishment of a monarchy, or worse. Keeping the soldiers laughing and singing was preferable to allowing their discontent to breed revolution.

Until this story on Paul Pilz and his dog came together this week, I had not recognized that the two Wandertheater postcards were related more directly than just the title on the front.  This second Postkarte was written by the same person, to the same address, only two days later on 14/4/1916.  But again the cursive script proves too challenging to read. I would expect that the writer had attended a performance of Paul Pilz and the Wandertheater and these were free souvenir cards for the soldiers. Writing paper must have been very dear in some areas of the Great War.

The first two cards were sent from a unit within the Sächsisches Landwehr Grenadier Regiment Nr. 100.  The 2nd Landwehr  was a home guard division that at least initially in 1914, was ranked third behind regular and reserve army groups, and intended only for occupation and security duties. That rear line duty changed to front line combat as the war lengthened and fighting covered more territory.

This Ersatz or replacement division included the Regt. Nr. 100 from Saxony, and by chance, I have another photo postcard of 6 German army bandsmen who are also from Saxony - a horn player, a trumpeter, a piccolo, two clarinets and one musician without an intrument.  If you look closely the player 3rd from left has his piccolo tucked into the front of his tunic.

This card has another indecipherable cursive but has Soldatenkarte written under a faded postmark that I think dates from 1916 also. It is addressed to Arthur Rühl of Augsburg in Bavaria. I would guess that the writer is one of the bandsmen in the photo.

The pickelhaube  that these musicians wear was the most distinctive part of the Imperial German Army uniform. It started as the helmet of the Prussian military tradition but was adopted in the 1870s by all the armies of the German States. The Wappen or helmet plate is a coat of arms that is unique to each army unit. The Spitze or spike could be removed and changed for a Trichter or parade plume, which these fellows probably had ready in their kits. There were several different shapes: smooth or fluted; pointed or rounded; and different bases that indicated rank, regiment type i.e. infantry, cavalry, or artillery, and division and corps. Officers had even more extra details of rank added on their helmets.

This plate taken from an official book on German Military Uniforms shows the distinctive 8 pointed star Wappen for the Sachsen or Saxony Regiment (2nd row left). The Nr. 100 Regt. Wappen was described as gilt on silver, the opposite of the other Saxon regiments of silver on gilt.

The countless different insignias of rank and unit are positively medieval and would have required an encyclopedic knowledge to distinguish one from another even in this era.

Fortunately in today's internet world that information can be found on several websites of collectors of this iconic headgear of the German Empire. Here are two sites I have used:
Colonel J.'s Puckelhaubes
and The Kaiser's Bunker .
Both have fascinating photos, stories and details on the army uniforms of this now forgotten military history.

It did not take long for the shiny glitter of the Pickelhaube to become a target for enemy sharpshooters. Photos of German and Austrian soldiers from late in the war usually show them wearing olive drab uniforms and headgear with cloth covers that fit even around the Pickelhaube spike.

This is only the first part of the Wandertheater story,
so stay tuned for more in a future post.  

Let's have Paul Pilz have the last word with one more joke.

So you like Dieter's singing? Yes, he has a wonderful voice but alas his speech is still not so good. What little he knows, he knows well, but you should hear my cousin's dog. Now that was a smart dog. That dog could talk. My cousin Otto tried to sell him to me once.

"So tell the truth. You have a real talking dog for sale?" I ask when I go over to Otto's house.

"Yah, I will sell him for 5 marks," says Otto. "If you want to see him, he is just outside."

So I go outside and there is this mutt not much taller than Dieter. "Are you the talking dog?" I ask.

"Yes, I am," replies the dog. "Very pleased to meet you,"

I am thunderstruck. "How did you ever learn to speak German?"

"Oh German was easy," says the dog. "I learned that when I was a guard dog for the Kaiser in Berlin. After that he promoted me to the diplomatic corps and I picked up Swedish at our embassy in Stockholm. Now when the war started I became a courier dog and French was hard. Too many vowels. And then in the last year, the high command assigned me to the Navy and I had to learn Turkish while guarding the submarines in Istanbul."

Now my head is spinning, so I go back inside to sit down.  "Otto, that dog is amazing! But why would you sell him for only 5 marks?" I ask.

"Because he is a horrible liar! He never did any of those things."

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where this weekend you might hear more dog stories
than you could shake a bone at.


Wendy said...

I can't decide which was more enjoyable -- the jokes or the history. But I must admit I expected the cough cure would include something about being "a little hoarse" (horse? get it?) - maybe much too obvious, eh?

Christine H. said...

What a fun post. The comedian reminds me a little of Karl Valentin, a Bavarian contemporary. They don't look a bit alike, but their style was somewhat similar. In terms of humor, well how seriously can you take anyone wearing a Pickelhaube?

I may take a look at the writing later and see what I can make of it.

Peter said...

I admire you for your ability to tell us so many interesting things about your orchestral cards (if that is an expression).

Brett Payne said...

Excellent post which I enjoyed reading very much, thank you Mike. I've been away for a few weeks, so now I'll have to go back and read your previous contributions too.

I suspect you are wrong about the entertainment for the British forces during the Great War. Certainly, the CEF (Canadian Expeditionary Force) had a number of troupes entertaining the troops, including a cross-dressing ensemble called the Dumb Belles/Bells.

21 Wits said...

You always have such an interesting style in delivering history to us. I very much enjoy your posts and especially your photos. I can't get over how and where you managed to find it all! Bravo!

Little Nell said...

Another superb post Mike. That first postcard is an absolute gem, not just for the expression on the musician's face, but for the presence of the dog. Your imagined routine was very funny and of course all the interetsing details about the wandertheater and the pickelhaube.

Postcardy said...

I think this is one of your best posts. It is both funny and informative, and the postcards are very interesting.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Mike, and I laughed out loud at the talking dog joke! Jo :-D

Bob Scotney said...

A fun post from the start with history thrown in. Now I could use a talking dog like that, especially at such a low price.

Sheila @ A Postcard a Day said...

I love both the jokes and the history. I've just come back from the Belgium-France border which saw so much of the 1914-18 war so your post ties in well with that.

Alan Burnett said...

Strangely enough (appropriately enough) I always find your posts very musical - like a fine piece of music, they move forward using different tones and tempos making something which is an entity in itself - a symphony.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting and enjoyable. Thanks for the entertainment!

Bruno Laliberté said...

I've certainly enjoyed the humour here, especially the lying talking dog... and much appreciate the research in those helmets. I always found them interesting. But it is the political connection you made when you mentioned it was an attempt to ward off communism. I wouldn't have seen that, but it is a logical idea, even if I'm not sure it would be the most efficient... but never having known such times, one cannot understand truly the mood of the times.


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