This photo collage by Albert Vennemann conveys the buzz of a dynamic, modern city. We recognise the famous light traffic tower from Potzdammer Platz, the Brandenburg Gate, the Rotes Rathaus, the radio tower, the ubiquitous cars and a bus with an advertisement for the Scala, a very successful variety hall internationally reputed during the Golden Twenties.
Vennemann was a Berlin photographer, who is now almost forgotten. He made pictures of everyday street life, capturing the idyll of the city and the (new) charms of illuminated advertising. He became an expert at photomontages of contemporary architecture and technology. Thus, Vennemann provided the visuals for the first Berlin city marketing campaign Jeder einmal in Berlin, meaning everybody should be at least once in Berlin.
It is also thanks to another artist, Walter Ruthmann, that we can witness the industrial, technical and cultural modernity that emanated from Berlin at that time He created his avant-garde film Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (Berlin: Symphony of a Great City) in 1927. It is an invaluable time capsule of a Berlin that —fifteen years and 350 air raids later— would be dramatically destroyed.
The popular march for the Jeder einmal in Berlin campaign was composed by Hugo Hirsch, a composer of well-received operettas. He left Germany in 1933 to escape Nazi anti-Semitism, and was able to survive the war by staying in France.
We wonder if Hirsch’s march could have lured you you to Berlin…
The promotional slogan Jeder einmal in Berlin was picked up by the Residenz-Casino, nicknamed the Resi: Jeder einmal im “Resi“!
The Resi was a vast dance-hall whereeverything seemed bigger and more luxurious than in any other dance venue. Each table had a connection to a pneumatic table-mail-service post. Using the pneumatic post, a patron could send intimate messages to revellers at other tables along with small presents: cigarettes, cigars, chocolates, pens, perfume, matches or tiny manicure pouches. There was a long list of gift items to choose from. Moreover, each table had its own telephone with a clearly visible table number on top. Above it was a lightbulb that could give one of three signals: dancer wanted, female dancer wanted or do not disturb. This technology must have given plenty of opportunities for romantic thrills and flirts with complete strangers. Everybody —at least once!— at the “Resi“.
A mousse is the French word given to apprentices carrying out chores on a ship. They used to be young boys, usually 12–16 years old but sometimes as young as 7-8 years old, when they were called a mousaillon. It is only by a decree from 1852 that the boys had to be at least 10 years old to enlist on a ship.
The mousse‘s tasks consisted of cooking meals, sweeping the deck, cleaning the chicken coops, tending the animals, scratching the rust, serving the crew. One other important (and dangerous) duty was to scramble up the rigging, in all kinds of weather, whenever the sails had to be trimmed. It is in this particular role —alone high up in the mast— that the mousse is represented iconographically, time and again.
Tales of spectacular shipwrecks and martyred mousses inspired a certain kind of literature, romantic and moralistic novels with a generous portion of melodrama. Also contemporary songs and magazines mawkishly lamented the miserable existence of these children at sea. In these sentimental stories the mousses were either real examples of virtue who earned a living for their family, after their father, a sailor, had perished at sea or had spent everything on booze. Or they were pitiable martyrs who were treated very badly on board: they were caned, flogged or shackled with the rats.
In the Revue des deux Mondes from 1903 an extreme case of maltreatment is described. Amousse was punished for being seasick. He had to stand on deck, with a heavy wooden bar on his shoulders, and was left there for days on end. The child, at the slightest roll, stumbled, slipped on the deck, got soaked to the skin and shivered from the cold. Then, as he did not toughen up quickly enough, his hat and muffler were cut off. The sleeves of his jacket and shirt were lifted up to his elbows, and his trousers up to his thighs. By temperatures below zero his skin turned bluish. He was kicked and clubbed there where wounds began to form. He was deprived of food, and, not surprisingly the poor mite died. In the same magazine, another mousse accused his captain of sexual abuse but as it could not be proven the captain went free.
The normal life for most of the mousses was not as horrendous. Although it was absolutely not an easy living. No laws regulated their working conditions. Captains, usually with a drinking habit, were quite often uneducated and brutal. Luckily for some of the mousses, especially those on local fishing boats and small coasters, the crew knew each other and in many cases the captain, or someone in the crew, was related to the mousse.
Nevertheless this kind of apprenticeship was much too harsh and rough for such young boys. They had to act as adults much too early. There were frequent cases of sexual abuse and allegedly a lot of the mousses had syphilis. They smoked and drank alcohol: typically a mixture of coffee, cider, eau de vie and lots of sugar. Apart from a few initiatives in the first half of the 19th century to provide a minimal education, it was not until the 1950s thatmousses got a proper schooling.
Now comes the story of the heroic petitmousse Marcel Rioual. While writing this story, I’m looking at a painting depicting Marcel’s real-life tragedy at sea.
The sixteen-year old Marcel had registered on board of a dundee called the ‘Bon-Retour’. A dundee was a fast tuna boat with an over-extended stern typical for Brittany. In September 1930 a fierce storm hit Brittany, brutally exposing the weakness of the dundee. Like so many other boats, the ‘Bon-Retour’ was in distress and two sailors were swept away. The water filled the boat but the pumps were broken. The rest of the crew desperately tried to empty the hold with buckets. When Marcel saw that the ship’s wheel was abandoned, he attached himself to it and clang to it during twenty-four hours, thus hoping to survive the raging sea.
At some point the Bon-Retour —I don’t know how— finally touched the port of Concarneau. It was devastated by the storm and its deck was strewn with ropes, pieces of sail and wood. Only its mast was still standing, the flag at half-staff. After being treated by a doctor, Marcel modestly said “I just did what I had to do”. Marcel was also greeted by the Minister of Merchant Marine. That encounter was related in the press, together with a photograph of the embrace.
Clearly that picture inspired our amateur painter to represent the fatherly embrace in the clouds of the deadly storm.This naive work by an amateur painter may seem clumsy and funny. However it is testimony to the pain and mourning of the whole Finistère region, as 207 sailors died in that storm of 1930.
Stories of spectacular shipwrecks and heroic mousses have inspired young adult novels in pulp magazines, even as late as the fifties.
In Ambleteuse, the small French coastal village facing the English Channel where I am writing this story, there is this fast-food ‘restaurant’. Au Petit Mousse offers typical French cuisine: pizza, Welsh and kebab.
Although their logo on the menu might be politically offensive, they were perhaps inspired by an old sheet music cover…