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
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

Artists of Das Wandertheater

24 February 2017

It's 1916, and the Kaiser's generals maintain that the war could end with just one more offensive push. But the common soldiers don't believe it. They see war from a different perspective that has endured two years of military drudgery interspersed with moments of intense terror. Their long separation from family and civilian life has created fatigue, boredom, and disgust. And the generals begin to recognize that this restlessness within the army breeds discontent, even mutiny.

So they decide to improve the troops' morale by putting on a variety show. A proper military entertainment that will engender patriotism and respect for the homeland.  

This disheveled character was one of those entertainers who appeared with the traveling theater. He was called:

Wandertheater der Armee-Abt. A.
Johann Lumpensammler
al Maler

{Johann Rag Collector
as a Painter}

Johann poses next his easel which has a crude landscape of a distant village, which looks like it's done in chalk. He likely told a funny story while quickly sketching his cartoon.

* * *

Johann the tramp belonged to Wandertheater der Armee-Abteilung A, or A. A. Falkenhausen, named after Ludwig von Falkenhausen, the general in charge of this sector of Germany's Western front. Since 2012 I've posted three stories about this traveling show and its artists. Here is a postcard of the full ensemble on stage with their orchestra.

This image is slightly different from the one featured in my April 2013 story entitled Wandertheater der A.A. Falkenhausen as several heads have turned and a few arms are rearranged. The postcard was sent on 10 June 1916 by a soldier to Fräulein Gretchen Hopfmann(?) of Nürnberg in northern Bavaria.

Getting closer to the cast we can recognize
Johann Lumpensammler's crumpled hat and tattered coat.
He is marked #1.

The figure marked #2 is Paul Pilz, Charakterkomiker, a comic musician who was featured in my first story on the Wandertheater from 2012, A Man and his Dog, Herr Pilz is dressed in a kind of forester's outfit, a rural fashion that was likely familiar to many soldiers. Pilz is also the German word for mushroom. In both his individual promotional postcard and the group photo, he holds a trumpet and a small dog, a terrier with white paws that I named Dieter, 

* * *

Of course any army would want to promote manly virtues, and what better example could there be than celebrities from the sporting world. Marked #3 in the cast group, these two athletes dressed in tights and high top shoes are:

Max Furtwengler,
Deutscher Rekordmeister

Carl Oechsler,

They look like wrestlers to me as
both men wear prize belts around their waists. Max, the German Record Champion, has an impressive sash of medals and a larger German star and ribbon medallion. Carl, the smaller man and yet the Heavyweight Champion, has just two small medals. Behind them on a carpeted floor are numerous iron balls, presumably to demonstrate their great strength.

* * *

This postcard was sent by a soldier to Frau Mathilde Bader of Landsberg am Lech in Bavaria. The postmark is dated 13 October 1916.

* * *

This postcard from Wandertheater A. A. Falkenhausen shows five vignettes of the same man,

Willy Eckhardt's Charaktertypen.

Willy appears in formal high collar and white tire with a large corsage, but each inset has him in a different hat and false mustache. Closer examination reveals that these are all crudely drawn and printed onto his portrait. I suspect that at top left Willy Eckhardt portrays a Frenchman; top right a Scotsman or maybe an Englishman; bottom left a Russian; and bottom right a Belgian. The center figure with close cropped hair is his normal self which we can recognize at figure #4 in the Wandertheater group.  

* * *

This genial looking fellow is Zithermeister Fraas. He sits at a table with a Zither, an instrument associated with Bavarian and Austrian alpine folk music. It typically has 5 melodic strings over a guitar-like fret board with another 20 strings spread out like a harp. Before the war, Zithermeister Fraas most likely wore a Tyrolean hat and lederhosen when he performed. Here he is in military uniform but without medals or insignia as he was the contrabass player in the Wandertheater orchestra marked #5 with his distinctive smile and receding hair line. 

Once again a soldier used this postcard to send a message home on 6 November 1916.

* * *

These next characters appeared in my April 2013 story on
Wandertheater der A.A. Falkenhausen. This pair of clowns dressed in wild circus costumes called themselves:

Becker u. Strössner,
die beiden Spaßvögel
{the two Jokers}

The feathers in their caps allude to Spaßvögel which translates directly as Fun Birds. (Also Birds of Prey for some reason.) They look capable of provoking some outrageous and irreverent humor that would surely amuse their audience of common soldiers. They are easy to spot at #6 in the Wandertheater troupe.

* * *

* * *

This next jester
from the Wandertheater der Armee-Abteilung A.
called himself:
Tobinski, komischer Rollschuhläufer 

{comical rollerskater}

With his top hat, polka dot tie, and monocle
Tobinski presents the air of a carefree man-about-town.
I believe he is #7 in the group photo.
No doubt he performed acrobatic tricks of skating skill,
possibly chasing after our next artiste.

* * *

The only female entertainer in the Wandertheater troupe was this elegantly dressed artiste named: 

al Fritzi Jose

(S)he appeared in my story Theatrical Ladies pictured on a different souvenir postcard in a more provocative pose but with the same Grecian-urn gown and hair style that matches the person marked #8 in the Wandertheater photo. On that card the caption simply read: José? ? ?.

Cross dressing entertainers were a kind of musical/dramatic act that was quite popular in European music halls in the 1910s. It was a kind of double-double entendre that both impersonated a famous female singer and left the audience  marveling at the questionable sexuality of the performer. It's difficult to know how the Kaiser's soldiers interpreted Fritzi Jose part of the show. The generals certainly ordered that the Wandertheater's variety show conform to German standards of wholesome decency. I suspect this performer added gentle humor to a beguiling display of vocal talent that endeavored to show that beauty was always in the eye of imagination.

This postcard was sent by the same soldier that wrote the postcard of the Wandertheater troupe. It was posted on 12 May 1916 to the same Fräulein Gretchen Hopfmann(?) of Nürnberg.

* * *

Source: The Internet

I do not actually own these last two postcards. Yet. When I first discovered that the Wandertheate produced individual postcards of the entertainers, it became a personal quest to acquire each player without really knowing who the entire team was. Eventually I'll collect them all but it seems a shame to leave them out of this story when I know that these postcards exist.

The Wandertheater acrobatic act was:
 Winkler, Loos
die 3 Kunstturner
[the 3 artistic gymnasts}

Three men are lined up in descending order of height, but Loos the middle man is actually standing on a small platform that adds another 5 inches to his height. Winkler and Loos are dressed in fancy circus tights while Heizelmann wears the uniform of a hotel bellhop, I think. Are they tumblers? Did they work on the rings or high bar? And how did a hotel bellhop fit into this act? They are lined up again at #9 in the Wandertheater photo.

* * *

Source: The Internet

This quartet of entertainers is actually just one man with his three puppet friends. He is:

Edgar Blank,


One dummy is female, and the other two are male. The one on the left looks to be in military uniform and the middle one looks to have a dark complexion, possibly African. In 1914 Germany did have African colonies that became entangled in the war, though I don't think any of those colonial soldiers were brought to the European fronts.

Edgar Blank's postcard seems to be the rarest of the Wandertheater set. Perhaps ventriloquists were not a big hit with the troops. He sits on the Wandertheater stage at #10.

* * *

Das Orchester of the Wandertheater has two versions of their postcard. The one I featured in the 2013 story on Wandertheater der A.A. Falkenhausen is the most common. Recently I acquired this second postcard which shows 15 musicians and their director, who sits on the left in the same cross-legged posture as in the larger group photo. Zithermeister Fraas stands center with his contrabass, and the first violinist and first cellist are recognizable in all the photos.

Des Mitglieder des Wandertheater Armee-Abt. A. gathered outside for a second group photo, less formal than the one taken of the stage show. Johann Lumpensammler lies prone in front on his canvas. Paul Pilz plays his trumpet while the orchestra director holds Dieter. Zithermeister Fraas strums his zither rather than his bass. And Fritzi Jose ??? puts her arms around two of the road crew. 

They look like a merry troupe of players,
and for the brief time that they performed
a soldier's thoughts of war
were banished
by wonder, laughter, and music.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where there's never a shortage of artistic photos.


Jofeath said...

My favourite is Edgar Blank and his ventriloquist dummies. What a shame he wasn't popular.

La Nightingail said...

A wonderful and totally interesting post as usual. Music and comedy go together so well. In more recent times, The Canadian Brass do a fine job of matching the classics and comedy. And, of course, Victor Borge with his piano brought forth all manner of hilarity. Closer to home, one of our local high school bands has dancing tuba players who delight the crowd during football season and marching events.

Alex Daw said...

Max may have an impressive sash of medals but I also think he has a very impressive moustache!

Little Nell said...

Those postcards did a double job of entertaining; once to the soldiers who purchased them as souvenirs, and again to the recipients, their friends and families. Good Luck in completing the set!

ScotSue said...

You have such an impressive archive to draw on, and never fail to create an absorbing post. I had not heard if this angle on raising the morale of the German troops in the First World War and it made fascinating reading.


  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP