The Lipsi wasn’t just another Fifties dance craze. It was a political statement, not by unruly teenagers but by the 66-year-old leader of post-World War II East Germany, Walter Ulbricht. The promotion of the Lipsi as a youthful dance was a cramped attempt from the communist regime to restrict the influence of Western music. Ulbricht abhorred gangs of youths who glorified rock ’n’ roll and wanted to swing wildly.
In 1959, just two years before he would build the Berlin wall, Ulbricht declared that in order to counter Western excesses “It is not enough to condemn capitalist decadence in words, to battle against pulp literature and bourgeois habits and to criticise ‘hot music’ and the ‘ecstatic songs’ of a Presley. No, we have to offer a better alternative.”
It was orchestra leader and composer René Dubianski who came up with that politically correct alternative by merging a Latin-American cha-cha-cha with a German waltz. The dance teachers Christa and Helmut Seifert created suitable and easy steps so that everyone could follow them. They named the dance by adaptingthe Latin name for Leipzig: Lipsia.
Ulbricht hoped that the Lipsi would not only put an end to the supposed western decadence but also would become an international success. That’s why the regime strongly promoted the new dance and —anticipating a huge success— even patented it worldwide. Eine tolle Idee!
In an attempt to appeal to the German youngsters the DDR authorities produced an animated promotion of the Lipsi. In it the American Mister Brown, upon his return from the Leipzig Fair, enthusiastically started to teach young people in the US how to dance the Lipsi.
In reality, however the Lipsi did not catch on among the youth. Also in other Soviet-sphere countries like Estonia and Czechoslovakia it did not achieve its purpose. Possibly only the apparatchiks and the Politburo danced the Lipsi with enthusiasm.
A parallel story of an old, male world leader trying to stop the youthful urge for liberty, happened 45 years earlier, when popePius X failed to launch the Furlanaas a safe but boring alternative to the tango.
To illustrate the fierceness of the attacks against Western music in general and Elvis Presley in particular, here is a quote from Junge Welt, the official newspaper of the Central Council of the communist youth organisation: “His ‘singing’ resembled his face: stupid, dull and brutal. The boy was completely unmusical (… ) and roared like a shot deer, just not as melodiously.”
The French painter F. Hugo d’Alesi (1849 – 1906) was born as Frédéric Alexianu in Transylvania. Although he originally trained as an engineer, he was best known for his large number of imaginative and brightly coloured travel posters for railway companies at the end of the 19th century. He also illustrated sheet music, mostly in the 1880-1890s.
Almost forgotten is his creation of one of the first amusement attractions that triggered all senses of the spectators: the Maréorama. Olivier Castel, who previously diverted us withVenetian gondola prows, will embark with you on this fascinating journey.
The Maréorama was one of the flagship attractions at the 1900 Paris Exposition. Maréorama simply means sea panorama. It faithfully reproduced the deck of a steamer, pitching and rolling while crossing the Mediterranean Sea.
Apart from the movement of the ‘ship’, other effects ensured the illusion of a sea trip: there was the sound of rain or thunder, mist, iodized and saline sea breezes that blew over the deck, undulating ‘waves’ of blue cloth all around, special lighting for creating night- and daytime atmospheres, and even the odour of seaweed. All this made the Maréorama the first ‘4D’ attraction ever. For the price of a cab ride, the seven hundred passengers embarked on a fast-track cruise that promised the same sensations as from an actual voyage on the Mediterranean. At that time travelling was a privilege for the aristocracy and the emerging high bourgeoisie.With the Maréorama almost everyone could now afford an exotic boat trip.
The moving platform of the ship (30 metres long and 9 metres wide) rested on a pivot supported by four hydraulic pistons which imitated the motion of the sea. After the ‘trip’ visitors could go downstairs to admire the imposing machinery.
For the record, “maréo” also means “seasick” in Spanish …
The Maréorama was built in a large palace located in the amusement section of the World Fair on the Champ-de-Mars next to the Eiffel Tower, itself a reminder of the previous exposition in 1889.
While on board ‘passengers’ could send postcards from the Maréorama, just as if they had actually sailed the Mediterranean Sea. The ‘sea trip’ departed from Villefranche-sur-Mer, a commune on the French Riviera near the French-Italian border. As soon as the siren of the ‘ship’ sounded the departure signal, two immense canvasses of825 meters long and 15 meters high started to unfold simultaneously on either side of the ship. Each of the two canvasses was attached to two huge rollers driven by hydraulic motors on either side of the ‘ship’. The upper edge of the canvas was hooked to a rail and reinforced to prevent sagging.
Hugo d´Alési himself created the views of the different cities. He had spent a year travelling to draw all the stages of this journey on a series of notebooks. On his return, he hired ten painters to reproduce the landscapes on the canvasses.
After about half an hour, the ‘ship’ made its first stopover in Sousse on the Tunisian shore, then left for Naples and arrived in Venice by ‘nightfall’. Leaving the peaceful Venetian lagoon the ship soon was caught in a terrifying storm but safely reached its final destination, Constantinople, at the crack of dawn. For the following session, the canvasses were then unrolled back to their starting point, and thus showing the return trip from Constantinople to Villefranche.
Actors and dancers complemented the nautical experience, portraying deck hands, the captain and his officers, pirates or indigenous people. Folk dancers performed a tarantella in Naples or a belly dance in Constantinople.
To heighten the sensorial experience during the trip Hugo d’Alesi had asked the eminent Henri Kowalski to compose a symphony: Illusion d’un voyageen mer. The orchestra was hidden below the deck and directed by the composer himself. It was a work in four parts: Sousse, Naples, Venice and En vue de Constantinople.
The score was adapted in 1901 by Victor de Courmont for piano solo, and then illustrated with lithographs by d’Alési. With his drawings of the French vessels anchored in the harbour of Sousse —accompanied by a the firing of a salvo and the Marseillaise— Hugo d’Alési clearly wanted to emphasize that Tunisia was part of the French colonial empire.
Alas, the story of the Maréorama ended sadly. Normally, it was to stay put for a year after the end of the exhibition, and then even make a tour of the world. But despite the undeniable public success of the attraction, the company Maréorama – Hugo d´Alési went bankrupt as early as December 1900. The shareholders of the company sued him for reimbursement of the subscribed capital. Their claim was dismissed by the court.
The Nota’s from America is a Dutch song written in pidgin English. The title sarcastically refers to the notes (nota’s in Dutch) which U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sent to the German government in 1915 to criticise their sinking of the Lusitania.
The Lusitania was an ocean liner owned by the famous British Cunard Line. When the Lusitania came into service in 1907, she was an extraordinary ship in every way. With a length of 240 meters the vessel was not only the largest, but also the fastest passenger ship up to that time. The ocean liner sailed regularly from Liverpool to New York and back.
On 17 April 1915, the Lusitania left Liverpool on her 201st transatlantic voyage, arriving a week later in New York. Before her return to Liverpool, the German Embassy placed a warning advertisement in 50 American newspapers, including those in New York. This warning was printed adjacent to an advertisement for Lusitania’s return voyage on May 1. Two months before, Germany had declared the waters around the British Isles a war zone and warned that its U-boats would sink any ship entering the zone without notice.
On May 7, 1915, the German submarine U20 hit the Lusitania with one torpedo. The ship sank in less than twenty minutes about 18 km off the coast of Ireland. Nearly 1,200 people were killed including 114 Americans.
At the start of the war, President Woodrow Wilson had declared that the United States would be neutral. That neutrality however was challenged and fiercely debated in the U.S. after the sinking of the Lusitania.
But president Wilson decided to remain neutral and to keep out of the war. Instead he issued a first note to the German government urging it to abandon its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare against commercial ships of any nation, and to pay reparations.
Wilson then issued a second note rejecting Germany’s accusation that the Lusitania had been carrying munitions.
The third Wilson note was a warning that the United States would consider any subsequent sinking of merchant vessels with Americans aboard as deliberately unfriendly.
In 1916 the Dutch painter and illustratorJan Sluijters created the cartoon Slachterij “der Hochkultur“ (Slaughterhouse “High Culture“): Woodrow Wilson, his gun at the ready, shows his notes to Emperor Wilhelm dressed as a butcher. What seems a human torso hangs by the door.
In January 1917, German U-boats resumed attacking ships in the Atlantic Ocean and the British disclosedthe Zimmermann telegram to the American government. This telegram revealed a German proposal for a military alliance with Mexico against the United States. After the American press published the Zimmermann telegram, Wilson got enough public and political support for a declaration of war on Germany on April 6, 1917. This inspired a series of patriotic and belligerent sheet music covers…