cabaret voltaire

  • A somewhat unexpected announcement appeared in the Zurich press on 2 February 1916: "The Cabaret Voltaire. Under this name a group of young artists and writers has formed with the object of becoming a center for artistic entertainment. In principle, the Cabaret will be run by artists, permanent guests, who, following their daily reunions, will give musical or literary performances. Young Zurich artists, of all tendencies, are invited to join us with suggestions and proposals." [Hugo Ball, La fuite hors du temps ([1946], 1993) 111].
    When Hugo Ball, a German poet and playwright, exiled in Switzerland since 1915, wrote these words he couldn’t have imagined they would spearhead an adventure that would cross national borders. The Cabaret was inaugurated three days later in the back room of the Holländische Meierei, a popular tavern located in a seedy section of Zurich. Jan Ephraïm, the owner of the establishment, turned the job of emcee over to Ball with the hope of attracting a large audience. Ball took as his model the Parisian cabaret tradition, born with the Chat Noir in 1881, which he associated with the cabaret spirit that had existed in Berlin before the war. For him, no one other than the emblematic figure of Voltaire could play the role of godfather for his association. It was from the pamphleteer and master of satire that he drew his vision of a reality radically out of step with its time.
  • Refugee artists from all over Europe quickly besieged the scene at the establishment. Emmy Hennings, a German singer and Hugo Ball’s partner, sang her own songs as well as many from the repertoires of Aristide Bruant, Erich Mühsam and Frank Wedekind. Those individuals, who were to become the "hard core" of Dada, were present from the beginning of the Cabaret: the Alsatian artist, Hans Arp and the Romanians Tristan Tzara and Marcel Janco. Richard Huelsenbeck joined the festivities on 11 February 1916 at the behest of Ball, who had met him in Munich in 1912 in connection to the Der Blaue Reiter group.
  • Read more
    Nadia Ghanem, 'Cabaret Voltaire', translated from the French text, published in the catalogue Dada (Editions du Centre Pompidou : Paris 2005) 202-207. The translation was part of the Press Pack, published by MNAM Centre Pompidou 2005, p. 56-58 [Courtesy MNAM Centre Pompidou].
    Cabaret Voltaire, Spiegelgasse 1, Zurich [photographed in 1935; collection Baugeschichtliches Archiv Zürich].
  • top
    banner: (detail) Raoul Hausmann, 'Mechanischer Kopf' (Der Geist unserer Zeit), 1918 [Collection Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris].