Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
The photo above, taken by a photo-journalist Harry Croner and now part of the Stadtmuseum Berlin image collection, shows the legendary Marlene Dietrich leaving the Titania-Palast in Berlin-Steglitz through the backstage door after her first post-WWII concert in Berlin on May 3, 1960. She performed again on May 4-5 and left the city on May 6, 1960 – the short stay in her hometown was part of Dietrich´s first German tour.
Born Marie Magdalene Dietrich in Sedanstraße 65 (now Leberstraße) in the famous Schöneberg neighbourhood of the Rote Insel (Red Island), she left the city in 1931 to pursue a film career in Hollywood. During the war she actively supported the anti-Nazi efforts of the Allies and is even said to have planned assassinating Adolf Hitler – although as Karina Longworth, the author of the phenomenally interesting podcast YouMustRememberThis, showed in the episode on Dietrich, this might have not been a well-thought-through plan after all.
Her reception in Germany after the war ended was very ambivalent: loved on one hand for her unforgettable film roles as well as songs but hated on the other as an alleged traitor, someone who jumped the ship called Vaterland and added insult to injury by actually working against her own people (read: the Nazis among them). During the concerts she gave in Germany in 1960 she was spat at by little blonde girls, shouted at by young people holding “Go home, traitor!” placards and had eggs thrown at her when on stage. Any other artist might have been disturbed but Marlene Dietrich was not just an artist: she was a person of strong views, strong beliefs, a personality. And she had a big Berliner Schnauze (not beating about the bush) to boot. She survived.
Not only survived – she dazzled. And not only in Germany: Marlene Dietrich became the first German artist to perform in the USSR after the war (in 1964 she also performed in Poland) and the very first person to sing in German on stage in Israel. The significance of the latter only becomes clear when you realise that using German during public performances was in fact banned in Israel at the time. When told by her manager not to, Dietrich famously ignored the warning and announced it would not be one but nine songs she´d be performing in German that day. After the initial shock, the audience was thrilled to see and hear her sing. Their hearts were completely hers, though, when she performed Shir HaTan, an Israeli song about hunger and voices in the night she had picked up from a flight attendant on her way to Tel Aviv. She sang in Hebrew. All profits from that concert went to an Israeli military hospital.
Dietrich returned to Berlin several times after the 1960 tour but her last years she spent in Paris, where she also died on May 6, 1992 – exactly 25 years ago on Saturday this week.
It was her wish to be buried in Berlin, close to her mother, Josephine von Loesch (nee Felsing). Dietrich´s mother refused to leave Berlin before and during the war despite her daughter´s pleas to join her in the USA: she repeatedly said she would not go before Hitler did. She died in November 1945, half a year after the Nazi leader committed suicide. There is no doubt as to where Marlene´s strong-headedness and Berliner cheek came from.
Mother and daughter are both buried at the III. Städtischen Friedhof (3rd Municipal Cemetery) in Stubenrauchstraße in Berlin-Friedenau. Last August it took the author 30 minutes to locate Marlene´s grave: a huge storm broke out exactly the moment she did. How perfectly fitting.