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Satire and Society in Wilhelmine Germany

Satire and Society in Wilhelmine Germany: Kladderadatsch and Simplicissimus, 1890--1914

Ann Taylor Allen
Copyright Date: 1984
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Satire and Society in Wilhelmine Germany
    Book Description:

    The reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II was a transitional period in German history when the traditions of the nineteenth century were coming into conflict with the emerging cultural, social, and political patterns of the twentieth century. The resulting tensions were clearly reflected in the period's leading satirical journals,KladderadatschandSimplicissimus.

    Both journals appealed to a diverse middle-class readership and attracted widespread attention through their flamboyant and sometimes scurrilous attacks on authority. Their satire, expressed through cartoons, anecdotes, verse, and fiction, ranged across nearly every aspect of German life and employed the talents of some of the period's most important writers and artists. That their purpose was essentially serious was shown by the frequent seizures of offending issues and the jail sentences meted out to satirists whose jabs struck too near home.

    Kladderadatsch, founded in Berlin in 1848, was liberal politically but generally mild in its social satire. It remained forSimplicissimus, founded in Munich in 1896, to launch a more radical critique of bourgeois culture. The primary target of both journals was the absurdities of an essentially weak monarchy personified in a Kaiser who seemed always to be "on stage."Simplicissimus, in addition, delighted in ridiculing a military establishment dominated by class, a repressive educational system, and a hypocritical religious hierarchy. Even the family came in for satirical treatment.

    Through the history of these two periodicals, Ann Taylor Allen demonstrates the uses of humor in a society that offered few effective outlets for dissent. She also provides important new insights into the role of popular journalism in this critical period.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6196-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 A Playful Judgment: The Social Function of Humor
    (pp. 1-13)

    Kuno Fischer defined wit as “a playful judgment.” As buffoon and as critic, the humorist performs an essential function in the development of culture. By debunking old beliefs, humor helps to clear the way for new ideas and perceptions. Thus in every society it sensitively reflects the tension between old and new, between conservatism and radicalism, between conformity and rebellion. “The antagonism between a philosophy consolidating the absolute and a philosophy questioning the accepted absolutes appears to be incurable. . . . It is the antagonism of the priest and the jester,” stated one perceptive analyst, “and in almost every...

  6. 2 Kladderadatsch, Simplicissimus, and German History
    (pp. 14-47)

    The tavern whereKladderadatschwas born in 1848 was in Berlin. The founding fathers were Albert Hofmann, later publisher of the sheet, and David Kalisch, the popular author of many light comedies, who wrote the early issues almost single-handedly. It was Kalisch who named theWitzblattas (or so goes the tale) a dog scampered through the room, bumping into tables and upsetting the many glasses and bottles. “ ‘Kladderadatsch!’ cried Kalisch suddenly, in a voice which could be heard throughout the place. ‘Kladderadatsch!’ echoed his two boon companions as the fragments of the glasses which they had dropped in...

  7. 3 Politics as Theater: The Satirical Portrait of the Kaiser and His Subjects
    (pp. 48-102)

    Wilhelm II opened the era which was to bear his name with the promise to lead his subjects “onward to glorious days.” The winter of German discontent, he asserted, was made glorious summer in an Empire now prosperous and stable, secure and splendid. “What our fathers struggled for, what dreaming German youth has hoped and sung, has now come to pass. . . . Germany has become a world Empire.. . . German knowledge and German industry are now spread around the world.. . . I lift my glass to toast our beloved Fatherland.... Long live the Empire!” Some received...

  8. 4 Köpenick Revisited: The Satirists Look at War and Militarism
    (pp. 103-137)

    When the shoemaker and ex-convict Wilhelm Voigt, disguised in a cast-off captain’s uniform, succeeded both in arresting the mayor of Köpenick, who yielded to military authority without even asking for a warrant, and in confiscating the city’s treasury, a few contemporary observers saw the tragic side of this seeming farce. “Germany laughed—Europe shuddered,” recollected Walther Rathenau. But some Germans shuddered too, including Ludwig Thoma, who wrote from the fortress of Stadelheim, “Militarism has never looked more ridiculous, not even in all ten volumes ofSimplicissimus. . . . Let the age of Wilhelm II be forever remembered for this...

  9. 5 Sex and Satire: Simplicissimus Looks at Family Life
    (pp. 138-168)

    At the turn of the twentieth century, social critics leveled sharp attacks on the institution of the family and its traditions. Feminists challenged the family’s legal basis, socialists its economic structure, psychologists its sexual norms, artists and writers its ideals of respectability and good taste. “It was an era of hope and action,” wrote one contemporary observer, Holbrook Jackson, of the decade of the 1890s. “Dissatisfied with long ages of precedent and of action based upon precedent, many set about testing life for themselves. The new man wished to be himself, the new woman to lead her own life. The...

  10. 6 The Assault of Laughter: The Satirists versus the Establishment
    (pp. 169-200)

    The humorists’ comments on the German educational system contributed to a widespread, often heated national debate which continued throughout the Wilhelmine period. Few issues reflected the conflict between tradition and modernization so clearly as that of school reform. In the school controversy the kaiser, in whose genuinely split personality the reactionary tendencies usually triumphed over the modern ones, emerged in the unusual role of a reformer. Recalling the dryness of his own classical education, he supported the substantial segment of professional and public opinion which advocated a curriculam more relevant to the culture and interests of German pupils. “Whoever has...

  11. 7 Kladderadatsch, Simplicissimus, and the Weimar Republic
    (pp. 201-221)

    At the close of World War I bothKladderadatschandSimplicissimusfaced a major problem of readjustment. Appealing to the sense of political unity in the face of a common enemy, theWitzblätter, which had been widely distributed in special editions at the front, had maintained and increased their readership during the war years. But as first war-weariness and then defeat plunged the nation into bitter internal strife, both magazines returned to political partisanship. The purpose of this chapter is not to analyze the humor of this period in depth (a task too complex for a short space) but merely...

  12. 8 Protest and Innovation: Satire and Social Change
    (pp. 222-229)

    In all Germany,” wrote historian Friedrich Meinecke, “one can detect something new around 1890, not only politically, but also spiritually and intellectually.” Meinecke’s intuitive sense of cultural transition has been borne out by most historians of the period. “It was as if the world were teetering on the brink,” states one recent work, “uncertain whether it ought to climb higher still or descend, an epoch in the true sense of the word.Fin de siècle: the great turning point.” Most analyses of this cultural and intellectual “revolution” have focused either upon the high culture produced by the intellectual elite—a...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 230-254)
  14. Bibliographical Essay
    (pp. 255-260)
  15. Index
    (pp. 261-264)