Iconic decadence is blast of the past
When we think of cabaret in Berlin, we think of the city in the ’20s and ’30s, full of politics, humor and sin.Berlin’s smoky nightclub stages were where the art and wit of poets and writers such as Walter Mehring, Kurt Tucholski, Klaus and Erika Mann and Bertolt Brecht mixed it up with the likes of Anita Berber and her Dances of Vice, a young and earthy Marlene Dietrich and lines of semi-nude chorines and erotic acrobats. It’s where Josephine Baker became the toast of the Berlin intelligentsia after being run out of Munich for “violations of public decency.” In fact, some shows were considered so totally indecent — sexually or politically — that patrons were known to attend wearing masks to protect their reputations. The city is still a pretty cool place, but those heady days are gone, and any performance of this kind of iconic decadence is going to be not the real thing but an incredible simulation. But say you’re with a couple of colleagues and you’ve had a couple of drinks and maybe you’re feeling a little perverse. Why not check out the Kleine Nachtrevue? Its offerings include re-creations of Berber’s dances; Brecht revue “Show Me the Way to the Next Striptease Bar”; “Die Enthüllung der Mata Hari” (Mata Hari Laid Bare); and drag Dietrich impersonations. And that’s the early show. The so-called “literarisches Kabarett,” otherwise known as “Naked Ballet Deluxe,” goes on late and lasts until 3 a.m. While the shows are well produced, one anticipates a certain degree of cheese factor here so you might want to take a tip from the old Berlin audiences and wear a mask, just in case. But if you want to play it a little safer, why not go postmodern? A popular supper club, the Bar Jeder Vernunft, has been running a new production of the Broadway musical “Cabaret.” The Kit Kat Club may be a Broadway fantasy of Berlin, but this is the real Berlin, an intimate art nouveau nightclub that is a short walk from where Christopher Isherwood lived when writing the “Berlin Stories” on which the musical is based. (The house still stands at Nollendorfstrasse 17, for those interested.) By all accounts it’s a greatproduction — the text is in German, but the accents are authentic and you know all the songs. Plus, the large drinks menu will help get you into the right mood. And if you’re still in the mood at show’s end, stick around for the midnight revue, “Tease Show Burlesque.” Any literary pretensions are totally abandoned, but there’s more music, more pretty girls and the bar is still open. You might want to keep your masks ready for this one, too. Now if you’ve survived all that, you might be ready to experience some real live Berlin decadence. All evening they’ve been singing about it, joking about it and teasing — now this is it. The real live Kit Kat Club — yes, there is one, named for the aforementioned “Cabaret” dive — in Berlin’s most notorious sex club, where any and all things are possible and, if you want, even permissible. Just make sure you bring that mask along. They have a dress code.