Valeska Gert(Gertrud Valeska Samosch)

Valeska Gert, dance-pantomime
Valeska Gert in the dance-pantomime Vergnügte Verzweiflung (Satisfied Despair), photographed by Alexander Binder, late 1920s
Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Valeska-Gert-Archiv, Nr. 252

Valeska Gert(Gertrud Valeska Samosch)

Tanzte Valeska Gert? Daß sie es kann, steht außer allem Zweifel. Daß sie viel mehr kann, auch. Sie benutzt die Technik – wie sich’s gehört – als reale Unterlage der Phantasie. Nein, sie tanzte nicht nur. Sie schüttete ein Füllhorn voll Menschen vors Parkett: Japaner und Seiltänzer und Jongleure und Zirkusreiterinnen und Ringkämpfer und Kuppelmütter und Spanierinnen und wer weiß wen noch alles. […] Eine dolle Nummer, eine hervorragende Tänzerin, eine außerordentliche Frau.

[Does Valeska Gert dance? That she can is beyond doubt. That she can do much more besides is also beyond doubt. She uses technique – as is appropriate – as the real foundation of fantasy. No, she doesn’t only dance. She pours out a cornucopia of people before the stalls: Japanese people and tightrope walkers and jugglers and circus riders and wrestlers and bawds and Spaniards and who knows what else. […] A great routine, an excellent dancer, an exceptional woman. (ed. trans.)]

Kurt Tucholsky, Valeska Gert, in Die Weltbühne, 17 February 1921

Bornon 11 January 1892 in Berlin, Germany
Diedbetween 15 and 18 March 1978 in Kampen, West Germany
ExileGreat Britain (United Kingdom), United States of America, Switzerland
RemigrationFederal Republic of Germany
ProfessionActress, Dancer

In 1936, when Valeska Gert went into exile in London, she could look back on an impressive career. She came from a Jewish family in Berlin, received her training in theatre from Maria Moissi, and was engaged in the Deutsches Theater Berlin and the Münchner Kammerspiel. Since the beginning of the 1920s she had appeared with solo numbers and grotesque dances. She could be seen in Friedrich Hollaender’s theatre Schall und Rauch (Sound and Smoke), in Werner Finck’s Catacombs and in her own cabaret Kohlkopp, in guest performances from Paris to Moscow.

In 1933 she was forbidden from performing. Her husband divorced her in 1936 and the Englishman Robin Anderson helped her, through marriage, to go into exile. In 1938 she reached the USA where, with the help of refugee committees, she struggled along as a model in an art school. From 1941 she ran the Beggar Bar cabaret in New York. She also opened more cabarets after her return to Europe: the Café Valeska, with its kitchen staff, in 1947 in Zurich, the Hexenküche (Witches’ Kitchen) in 1950 in West Berlin, and in 1956 the Ziegenstall (Goat Stable) in Kampen. With texts referring to recent history, she found only a small public in post-war Germany. In one song she lamented: “Don’t come back, if you’ve already been forgotten.”

Before emigrating, she had performed in films by Georg Wilhelm Pabst: Die freudlose Gasse (1925, Joyless Street), Tagebuch einer Verlorenen (1929, Diary of A Lost Girl) and Die Dreigroschenoper (1931, The Threepenny Opera). From 1965 to 1977 she worked with Federico Fellini, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Volker Schlöndorff.

Further reading:
Gert, Valeska: Ich bin eine Hexe. Kaleidoskop meines Lebens. München: Droemersche Verlagsanstalt Th. Knaur Nachf. 1989
Schlöndorff, Volker: Nur zum Spaß, nur zum Spiel – Kaleidoskop Valeska Gert. Dokumentarfilm, 1977
Kotowski, Elke-Vera: Valeska Gert. Ein Leben in Tanz, Film und Kabarett. Berlin: Hentrich & Hentrich 2012, S. 52