- Kriegsbühnen. Theater im Ersten Weltkrieg. Berlin, Lissabon, Paris und Wien by Eva Krivanec
World War I was nearly a century ago, but Europe has never fully recovered from the battles of the Somme and Verdun, and the ghosts of the so-called Great War haunt us still. The ghosts’ stories are multitudinous, which is why each succeeding generation of historians finds more stories to tell. Eva Krivanec’s Kriegsbühnen returns to well-traveled terrain, but the perspectives she offers and the discoveries she has made make Kriegsbühnen a signal contribution to both theater history and to the cultural history of the Great War. As the title suggests, Kriegsbühnen investigates theatrical life in Berlin, Lisbon, Paris, and Vienna during World War I. One of Krivanec’s key insights is that the war was not simply a caesura between “prewar” and “postwar,” but instead was itself a distinctive cultural moment. Krivanec’s focus is not so much a critique of individual plays or theatrical genres, or a study of the business of theater, but rather on the theater’s cultural Alltagsgeschichte. What plays played in these four capital [End Page 198] cities? Which plays did theatergoers attend? What sorts of themes did those plays develop? What were the continuities and ruptures in those themes during the war?
Kriegsbühnen develops its argument through seven chronologically arranged chapters. The first chapter surveys theater life in Berlin, Lisbon, Paris, and Vienna before the war. The second concentrates on theatrical life during the frenetic mobilizations of the first months of the war. Chapter 3 examines the rapid development of war propaganda in the theater, while Chapter 4 considers the seeming return to “normal” theater life during the war. Chapter 5 investigates the “Ungleichzeitigkeiten am Theater,” i.e., the contradictions and ruptures in theater that reflected the contradictions and ruptures occurring in the wider wartime societies themselves. Chapter 6 discusses the ways in which wartime exhaustion began to appear in the theater toward the end of the war, and the final chapter traces the ways in which both social collapse and new beginnings appeared on stage at the war’s end. In a brief conclusion, Krivanec locates her work within literary and cultural history, and identifies some of the questions for further study suggested by her research.
The architecture of Kriegsbühnen is familiar and some of Krivanec’s discoveries confirm what has long been known about the war. She traces the arc from emotional mobilization in 1914 to the rowdy hyperpatriotism of 1914 and 1915, to exhaustion and panicked chaos—especially, though not exclusively, in Germany and Austria—by 1917. It is no surprise that actors and plays were a part of this general trajectory. What makes this an especially striking work is that within this familiar Great War narrative, Krivanec identifies and discusses a range of new ideas about the topic, which, as she writes, is still largely unexplored though not totally unknown. Krivanec notes, for instance, that wartime city life and mass entertainment have been discussed in studies such as Jay Winter and Jean-Louis Robert, eds., Capital Cities at War: Paris, London, Berlin, 1914–1919 (Cambridge, 1997), but that comparative studies of wartime theater remain rare.
Both Krivanec’s method and her empirical discoveries in this comparative European history are impressive. Based on her compilation of an exhaustive data bank of theater notices, for example, she demonstrates that theater was immensely popular during World War I. In fact, the study suggests that theater was the single most important mode of cultural expression in all four capital cities, and perhaps across all of Europe, during the conflagration. In methodological terms, Kriegsbühnen remains true to Alltagsgeschichte, yet works hard to locate its research within a wide array of other concepts, including ideas about trauma and crisis, as well as Ernst Bloch’s famous notion of the Ungleichzeitigkeiten des Gleichzeitigen. Especially intriguing is Krivanec’s exploration of the relationship between the boulevard theater’s revues and vaudeville shows, on the...