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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Wandertheater der A.A. Falkenhausen

12 April 2013

Every General knows that success on the battlefield depends as much on a soldier's morale as it does on the quality of his weapons and equipment. That's why when the Great War of 1914 reached it's third year in 1916, the German Army assembled a special unit for entertaining the troops. It was called the Wandertheater der A.A. Falkenhausen or the Travelling Theater of Armee-Abteilung A.  which was the Division Falkenhausen of the German Army, named for its general, Ludwig von Falkenhausen (1844 – 1936), who was in command of the southern part of the Western Front in Alsace-Lorraine. Ludwig must have been fond of the music hall revue as these performers presented almost every kind of variety act.

The postcard was sent by Feldpost from France on 19 June 1916 to a Katrina Stumpf (?) in Würzburg. The high angle of the German cursive handwriting defeats my efforts to read it.

In this closeup we see that the entertainers stand behind the orchestra on a very small stage only a few meters wide. There is a ventriloquist with his dummy, two pairs of acrobats in leotards, a male vocal quartet in uniform, several comic characters, and one woman (looking rather masculine to my eye)

One of the performers you have met last August, when I introduced Paul Pilz, a Characterkomiker with his trumpet. Herr Pilz is on the left  with his dog, and undoubtedly was a popular act with the German soldiers.

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In the center are two clowns, Becker und Stössner, die beiden Spaßvögel or the two jesters. The German word Vögel means birds, which explains the feathers in their caps. A classic pair of jokers that look just as funny today as they must have been in 1916.

This postcard was again sent by Feldpost, the free postal service for the German military, on 24 Sept. 1916 to Fräulein Lotte Huf (?) of Ingelheim am Rhein.  All the military powers censored the letters and cards received and sent by soldiers, but the German army censorship was the most restrictive. Besides redacting any military information, they also monitored correspondence for any subversive or revolutionary communication. The censors must have developed great skill to read all the different handwriting styles.

I'm not certain if this gentleman, Tobinski, a komischer Rollschuhläufer  or comic roller skater, is either the man left or the man right next to the clowns in the group photo. But he appears to be another variation of the humorist with special skills. Before the war, the music halls and vaudeville stages had hundreds of acts like this, and Tobinski may have been a celebrated comedian. I would like to have seen how he managed to skate on such a small stage.

This postcard was also sent to Fräulein Lotte on the next day. The postcards were probably free or inexpensive, and served as reassuring propaganda for the soldier's families back on the homefront. Who wouldn't laugh at this zany fellow?

Every nation in the Great War struggled with how to control civilian anxiety over the war effort. The Russian Revolution of 1917 which overthrew the Russian Tzar was a serious concern for all the governments that had an investment in this horrific war. Keeping the troops happy with diversions of novelty music and cheerful clowns was seen as one way to pacify the servicemen and prevent unrest and rebellion.

This photocard of Das Orchester of the Wandertheater was in my earlier story on Paul Pilz. They are a typical small theater orchestra with strings and a few wind and percussion instruments. Their military uniforms mark them as bandsmen from one of the German regimental bands. It was, and still is, a long standing tradition for military bands to have smaller ensembles using string instruments for concerts and social events that were held indoors. 

Every theater manager knows that success on the stage depends as much on the backstage crew as it does on the performers in front of the lights. This last photocard shows Die Mitglieder des Wandertheater Armee-Abt.A. that is the Members of the Wander Theater of Armee-Abteilung A., posed outdoors. Paul Pilz plays a tune on his trumpet while someone holds his other dog. Becker and Stössner are next to him, along with all the acrobats, musicians, and road crew. And that manly woman is there too. Did they make General Falkenhausen laugh?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone is on the march.


21 Wits said...

Oh this was great, so interesting too, and I like how you kept such a happy theme to it all! Your photos are just great, and that doggie is adorable too. I think Alan's theme photo was just filled with the happiest group of folks, of course learning about what they were up to kind of makes sense that they would be just as happy as ever!

tony said...

Goodness! What A Surreal Collection of Photographs.Even From This Still Distance,They Amaze Me.I Cant Imagine The Reactions They Got At The Time!Wonderful.

Sean Bentley said...

Fascinating - what a collection of characters... slightly malevolent shades of "Cabaret" as well.

Lovely's Blot said...

I agree about the 'Cabaret' feel. I love the man with the dog but then I always was a sucker for a good animal act!

Postcardy said...

That is one of the most interesting groups of postcards I have ever seen.

Kathy said...

A side of war that I knew nothing about. What a great collection of postcards!

Liz Needle said...

Great cards and a fascinating theme. I think as a child I would have found those characters scary rather than funny.

Wibbo said...

That's a wonderful collection of characters in the first photograph. I agree with you about the woman looking masculine!

Little Nell said...

A strange but interesting collection of characters. I'm not a great lover of clowns, although I am interested in their place in the history of entertainment. How bizarre though that images of them should be seen as a salve to the anxiety of the domestic front.

Brett Payne said...

A happy theme indeed, but it must have been a difficult job to entertain or distract troops used to the rotten reality of life in the trenches. A fascinating group of postcards - I'd say you have been lucky to find them, but I suspect it has been a patient and long search. Those two clowns look like archetypal circus clowns.

Bruno Laliberté said...

The handwriting on that first card sure is "wavy"!! Didn't see a female in the group, just a guy with a bad wig!!
Fun post!!
Those clowns could be used again in 2 weeks[?!?]...
You'll understand why I say that,
in 2 weeks!!


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