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					Angelika Hoelger
Department of History
Johns Hopkins University

               Abstract for Seminar at Sabanci University, April 12, 2011

  Between Commercial Freedom and Political Control: Popular Entertainment in
                            Berlin, 1869-1890

        In comparison with other major European and American cities, the development
of Berlin’s entertainment scene appears to be a typical case of metropolitan progress,
especially since the late 1860s. Just as in London, Paris, Vienna, and New York City, it
was around this time that Berlin witnessed the emergence of an increasingly important
leisure and consumption culture. The popularity of vaudeville and variety shows and the
crucial role of visual culture spoke to the new rhythm of city life and the ‘spectacular’
experiences of urbanites. However, Berlin was also a special case. Prussia was an
authoritarian state, the Chief of Police had a relatively powerful position, and the
ordinances and laws regulating the city’s public pleasures were deeply entrenched in a
conservative Protestant and class-biased belief system. It was only with the end of the
German Empire in 1918 that regulations pertaining to censorship either ceased to exist or
were adequately adapted to the pace and realities of a metropolis. The clash of
traditionalist notions of morality ‒ intensified at times by considerable political
repression ‒ and the city’s growing appetite for commercial amusements caused
considerable tensions between Berlin’s authorities, pressure groups (morality leagues, the
churches), providers of public entertainments, and their consumers throughout the
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Focusing on the development of Berlin’s public
entertainment scene between the advent of freedom of trade (Gewerbefreiheit) in 1869
and the dismissal of Bismarck in 1890, this paper addresses the significant expansion and
diversification of commercial amusements emerging after 1869 and the political and
cultural responses of the police, the state, and morality leagues to these developments. As
in a prism, the processes of urbanization, commercial freedom, and policing converged in
these two decades which provides us with compelling insights into the complexity and
paradoxical character of the history of popular culture in Berlin. Moreover, the case of
Berlin raises important questions about the extent to which we need to reappraise notions
of continuity and change (e.g. the longevity of traditional Prussian virtues vs. rapid
urbanization) as well as the role of the nation state (e.g. national developments in
comparison to European-wide processes) in order to further a historicized understanding
of popular culture.

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