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Revisit the heyday of Berliner glamour - ‘Berlin tanzt in Clärchen Ballhaus’ by Marion Kiesow

Dear readers, back in few years ago after I returned from a trip to Berlin, I have written a blog about one of a rarely-talk-about historic landmark in that city, the dance hall that once reflects the flamboyant Berliner life and glamour – the Clärchen Ballhaus (in case if you would like to re-read about the blog I have written, please click here), I have never forget about this place since I got back, in fact, there’s one thing that I regret during my visit, is that I saw a book that titled ‘Berlin tanzt in Clärchen Ballhaus’ (English as ‘Berlin dances in Clärchen Ballhaus’, published in 2013), written by a history-obsessed writer Ms. Marion Kiesow, when I stumbled across a bookstore near the Sony Center at Potsdamer Platz, I didn’t buy it back then as I tried to avoid burdening the weight of my luggage, and I thought that I can always get it online. Time flies and after gone through so much things in the past few years, I decided to do myself a little favor to get this book, only by now it isn’t as easy as I thought to get this book online as this book is no longer printed; in the midst of the search, somehow it took me to the writer herself back in months ago, and eventually, with her sincere assistance, I finally got my wish to get this rare copy of book!

During my communication with Marion, I have told her about how impressed and thrilled I was when paying my visit to the Spiegelsaal at Clärchen Ballhaus, and this book has completely fulfilled my craving to learn more about this once a fabulous dance hall for the gorgeous Berliners, men and women, to go and spend their fun time also meeting some chic and stylish people, in their most amazing clothing and grooming. With her enormous interest and curiosity of the past, Marion has been very resourceful to gather all the history pieces about Clärchen Ballhaus, from the story of the Founder, Ms. Clara Mixdorf, and her marriage with her 2 husbands, Mr. Fritz Buehler (who founded Clärchen Ballhaus with Clara together) and then subsequently, Mr. Arthur Habermann (who supported Clara for her passion about running her dance hall).

Despite it’s all in German which I can only understand a fraction of it with my minimal German knowledge, this book literally appeals me a lot as it portraited the whole story in detail, from how the lifestyle of the Berliner in the past looks like, what kind of dancing style and the music that used to play in this dance hall, decade by decade, to show the readers the evolvement of the fashion and life of the Berliner. If anyone of you have watched the German TV show ‘Babylon Berlin’ before, perhaps you might have a better idea about how the fashion looks like which I pretty much believe it’s almost the same as the scenario that once happened in Clärchen Ballhaus, from the recession, social unrest and hyperinflation from the late 20s, then entered to the dark time of the dictatorship and traumatic WW2 during the 40s, then the GRD (in German it’s ‘DDR’), cold war and espionage era during the 60s and 70s, Berlin has not been an easy place even to the dance hall itself, by reading this book, it gives me a much better picture about how the place changes as well as the Berliner fashion and lifestyle.

Another thing that I find this book so fascinating, is that I can able to see the original state of Clärchen Ballhaus in the past, before it went through the vandalization from the social unrest and barbarism, the bombardment during WW2, and subsequently, the negligence during the cold war and divided Berlin period, also the several changes of the ownership that eventually become what we can see today. Throughout my communication with Marion, I realized that we have (at least) one thing in common, and that is our eagerness of going back in time, to really see and interact with the people back in almost a century ago in this very place, and see how their life and fashion are. To me, it is also an irony of how contradictory it is that beneath the veneer of the glamour and joy back then, there were so much trauma, darkness and restlessness that Berlin has undergone, the decadence of civilization and stability, the life-threatening livelihood, the down-drive of the economy and inflation, which in a way it feels like history is reoccurring its own again in our time now.

Yes I can understand that not everyone can relate in such deep level like the writer herself nor me about Clärchen Ballhaus unless you are very obsessed with Berlin history or fashion, but to me it’s worthwhile to explore, especially for those who enjoy the German modern history, or the old European fashion history from early 20th century onwards up til the late 1920s, in particular about gentlemen’s fashion and their entertainment style with the ladies, it is pretty fascinating to see the comparison and difference though.

Along with this book, Marion has been very kind to offer me a little unexpected gift, it is a bookmark that made of a paper fragment from a map, which comes from the Clärchen Ballhaus during the war period in the 40s, it’s a map that was being used by German officer back then for war planning purpose, and Clara the owner used them as table cloth after the war due to the lack of resources back then; in a way I do wish this piece of memorabilia can talk, and tell me a more vivid story about what’s happened with the dance hall on top of what I can read from the book as well as my visit.

I don’t know when I can be able to revisit this dance hall after all these years, but one thing for sure is that my memory of Clärchen Ballhaus will not be diminished, instead, it bonds even stronger to me now with the presence of this book, while I am happy to visualize the fashionable Berliner days back in the late 1920s, with a splash of a Berliner fragrance which I got from one of Berlin’s historic perfume house, Harry Lehmann, I am truly thankful to have the writer’s kindness and sincerity, to eagerly sold me a copy of her rare-kept book with a surprising ‘souvenir’, which reignites my memory about this beautiful Berliner dance hall that I once spent a beautiful morning at, and her resourceful history about Clärchen Ballhaus which makes this experience of mine comes in a full circle.

P.S. Clärchen Ballhaus is one of the last remaining dance hall and historic monument from early 20th century Berlin, nowadays it also hosts different dancing programs and events apart from its F&B services.


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