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Deutsche komische Zylinder
(German Comic Cylinders)

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Like the myriad vaudeville and comedy sketches that were all-pervasive in the early days of the American music industry, Germany similarly produced its fair share of humorous recordings. The following sixteen cylinders (all recorded between the dates of 1904 to 1909) all hail from Edison's Berlin operations and were distributed under the "Edison Goldguss Walze" label. They nonetheless illustrate several distinct dialects prevalent at the time. The majority are performed in "standard German," with maybe even with a hint of local Berlin color. On the other hand, "Beim Hundemetzger" and "Auf der Isartal-Bahn" are strongly Bavarian, while "Der Balzer beim Sachsenhäuser Aebbelwei" is representative of the Frankfurt [Main] dialect. Still, and in spite of the dialect and language differences, a cursory listen will show that German comedy, at least that represented by commercial cylinder recordings, wasn't really that much different from its American counterpart. We'll leave it to the scholars to determine whether these cylinders reflect regional or peculiarly German comedic sensibilities, but in style terms alone they all are of the familiar solo "standup" or song and music comedy kind. Therefore, any overarching theme that one hears here is purely speculative. If anything, these cylinder recordings are solely unified by their popular comedy bent, low-brow humor and corny jokes. - Ursula Clarke and Noah Pollaczek, UC Santa Barbara

 

A man initiates several calls, and through the intervention of the switchboard operator, "Fräulein vom Amt," he is connected to a series of wrong numbers, each time managing to stick his foot in his mouth. Expecting to be connected to the fancy restaurant "Hiller" for a dinner reservation, he ends up speaking to his irate tailor, to whom he owes money. A call is then placed to what he believes is his good friend. He immediately offers an invitation to dinner, and with the promise of a cute dancer. The response, of course, comes not from his friend, but from his furious wife.

A happy clown presents various instruments-trumpet, sleigh bells, a wooden box that makes noise-and sings German folks songs such as "Mein Hut, der hat drei Ecken, drei Ecken hat mein Hut" (I have a hat that has three corners, three corners has my hat). Each enthusiastic demonstration is punctuated by the refrain "Schön, was?" (nice, isn't it?).

The scene is a dog butcher's store. A man, the butcher, and a woman, the customer, carry on a conversation. Although initially requesting a fillet of the finest St. Bernard, the customer then angrily accuses the butcher of purloining her missing puppy, which she believes he has surreptitiously ground up into sausage.

A jolly drinking song in the Frankfurt [Main] dialect. Sachsenhäusen is a town near Frankfurt, Germany, famous for its Aebbelwei (apple-wine), and hence, the recording is a musical homage to this famed libation.

A man goes to a tailor for a specially made suit. Its exaggerated length and ill-fitting qualities on the man, however, cause all those who encounter it to exclaim, "Mensch, hast du 'ne Weste an." After enduring several episodes of this kind of reaction, the man ends up at the funeral of his friend, who has just recently died of the drink. There, a preacher offers such a touching tribute that he himself begins crying. It is precisely at this point that, noticing the dead man's friend through his welling tears, the preacher cries out, "Mensch, hast du 'ne Weste an!"

A song in the wander-lied tradition. In the late 19th and early 20th century, a common rite of passage amongst young German men was traversing the countryside and apprenticing for a trade en route. In the same vein, these men humorously pay tribute to this practice, in such lines as "long live wandering; and never mind if it's raining or if the sun is shining, for we are the true gentlemen of this party."

A man, the dog, and a woman, the cat, are talking to one another. The dog sweetly calls out, "My dear little kitty, why don't you come down?" To which the cat responds, "I shall stay up here!" He barks, she mews, and the animal shtick continues.

A father, his wife, and son are at the zoo. The son, encountering numerous animals for the first time, pelts his father with queries. "Is it true that we all originated from the monkeys?" he asks. To which his father sharply replies, "You stupid boy, perhaps you did, but not myself!" The tongue lashing continues, with the son asking more and more questions and the father becoming increasingly exasperated.

A drunk is picked up off the Berlin street by the police and ultimately lands himself in court. There, the judge presses the man to address the charges against him. The judge and the working-class mensch then proceed to verbally joust, and the Berliner consistently one-ups his social superior in a series of snappy rejoinders. Judgment is ultimately passed, and the man is given the choice between a fine of ten marks or two days in jail.

The setting is at "am Stammtisch," a table with a hoary tradition. For it was here at this table, typically in one's local pub, where a group of friends would frequently gather for food and fellowship. In this scene, two men trade a series of jokes, each attempting to outdo one another. One asks, "Who was the happiest couple? Adam and Eve, for they didn't have any parents-in-law!" The other throws back: "How can an old woman with one tooth still make money? She can bite the holes into Swiss cheese!"

This comedy sketch takes place on a train, or perhaps a streetcar. The conductor loudly proclaims, "Get on now and show me your tickets!" A man then pleads to be let on, but is immediately denied entrance by the conductor, who responds, "No, it's too late, take the next train!" And so it goes, again and again-a demand for tickets, the request for passage, and a quick passing of judgment.

The scene begins with two woman telling stories to one another. One notes that her husband constantly mixes up "mir" and "mich" [two words meaning "me," depending on the grammatical context]. Her friend replies, "Well, that's not so bad, for my husband mixes up our maid and me!" The transition between each story is interrupted by the phrase "Schingdarasse bum" (think "ba-da-bing," or "dum-dum crash").

A student comes out of a pub at night and spots a beautiful woman walking across the street. Running over, he invites her to Hiller (hear "Am Telephon"). She obliges, and inside the restaurant the two of them dine on a marvelous meal of champagne and oysters. Shortly thereafter, the student falls asleep at the table, at which point the waiter comes to present him with the bill. Lacking any money, the student is then seized by the collar and thrown out into the street, the waiter yelling after him, 'Raus mit dem Schuft"(out with the scoundrel).

A visitor arrives at his friend's new apartment. There he finds a series of musical neighbors, each of which are in the process of playing three different instruments-a violin, a flute, and a trumpet. The friend, upon touring the place, hears various musical selections from each neighbor, and after each piece attempts to identify the work in question. Although his guesses are correct, following each suggestion his apartment owning friend flippantly replies, "NO, that's the Böhmnerwald." The recording ends with the two friends at loggerheads.

A naïve man enters a photo studio and requests to have his picture taken. The photographer responds by offering a series of possible poses- chest up or closeup, for instance. Misunderstanding these suggestions as the photographer's amorous advances, the man turns increasingly irate. Feeling likewise, the photographer heatedly shows his potential customer the door.

An ode to one's bed. A speaker poses a series of questions - "What is the most wonderful thing in our world," "Where have we all been born," "Where are you protected from the weather," and "Where are the little creatures running around by the thousands?" All are immediately answered with the simple yet heartfelt statement-the bed.


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Featured Cylinder

Träumerei - Hans Kronold. (Edison Gold Moulded Record: 9149), [1905].


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Edison's first two cylinder phonographs were the "New" and "Improved" models of 1887.

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