As she was name-checked just a couple of days ago when we were looking at the Diversity Destroyed programme, and because she is a prime example of the Weimar diversity we were discussing, a look today at cross-dressing cabaretiste Claire Waldoff.
Although she hailed from Germany’s industrial Ruhrgebiet, Waldoff was inseparably linked with Berlin. She generally left nuance and sophistication to others, spitting her songs out in unvarnished dialect, the garrulous humour of her lyrics accompanied by acute observation and scathing commentary. As in her voice so too in her appearance; Waldoff aimed not at a dandyish elegance but pan-gender directness, assuming the look and persona of a particularly mouthy newspaper boy. And she was similiarly disinclined to draw a veil over her own life, living openly with her partner Olga von Roeder.
One of her songs told of Hannelore, a bobbed, coke-snorting, monocle-sporting androgyne (“Hannelore, Hannelore, loveliest child of Hallesches Tor!”). Her depiction, which involved no little self-mockery, was clear enough. But to the more knowing members of her audience the song spoke of a whole subculture, Hallesches Tor being at the time one of Berlin’s major hubs of gay and lesbian life. The surrounding streets offered everything from huge dance halls hosting single-sex balls to dive bars such as Isherwood’s beloved Cosy Corner.
Waldoff remained in Germany under the Third Reich, but her career took a dramatic downturn. Singled out by Goebbels as an unhealthy reminder of Weimar depravity, she nonetheless sang for Nazi troops in occupied Paris in 1942. It was possibly because of this equivocal status that Waldoff failed to revive her career after the war. She died in 1957 and shares her grave with Olga. As ever in these cases I defer to the far greater knowledge of Cabaret Berlin in completing the Claire Waldoff story, but for now, a look at the suited and booted star of Weimar song.