If you struggle to understand German, you may not understand this beautifully written cabaret Das ist Berlin to full effect.
It was on show the 9th of March at the Sanlam nagKAT, as part of Stellenbosch University’s Woordfees. Directed by Niel Rademan, it stars Chris van Niekerk and Elizabeth Frandsen as husband and wife forced to separate during World War 2. The hidden talent is Rika Vermeulen, playing passionately on piano in the background.
Berlin was the centre of cabaret during Nazi rule in the Third Reich, inspiring movies like Cabaret (1972), starring Liza Minnelli. Frandsen’s voice, even when her mic failed her, had incredible power, bringing some audience members to tears. Both van Niekerk and Frandsen slipped from Afrikaans to English to German songs with ease.
Van Niekerk plays the torn soldier who must leave his wife to serve in Hitler’s regime. Even when they are alone, Hitler’s voice screams to them from the radio, foreshadowing the husband’s inevitable future. At first, their love seems unbreakable. In several scenes, they look lovingly into each other’s eyes for alternatives. There are none.
Instead, they are haunted by the words:
“Two moths around a flame,
If their wings burn,
I’m not to blame…”
They separate and the wife sings in the cabaret, dreaming of her husband’s return. He sends her a luggage case filled with gifts from cities the Nazis have invaded: lace from Brussels, a dress from Paris, new shoes from Prague and a black shawl from Bucharest, anticipating her role from wife to widow. She now sings about the children they never had, more soldiers that have gone to war and the graveyards being built in masses.
The cabaret features the works of Aucamp, Blumer, Hollaender, Weill and Brecht.