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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 October, 2004, 11:40 GMT 12:40 UK
Berliners come back to the Cabaret
By Ray Furlong
BBC correspondent, Berlin

The musical Cabaret is being performed in Berlin, the city that inspired it, this weekend - for the first time in decades, and in a new German-language version.

Cabaret, Berlin 2004
Cabaret portrays the decadence of pre-war Berlin
Based on the writings of the British author Christopher Isherwood, it portrays the wild Bohemian nightlife of Berlin and its destruction after the Nazis seize power in the early 1930s.

The show is expected to be a sell-out in a city that still looks back fondly on a decadent era.

"This is a spectacular play," said director Vincent Paterson, who has worked as a producer with Madonna and Michael Jackson. "It's got as much humour as pathos, as much tragedy as comedy. It can work for everybody."

This project is decidedly smaller-scale: the venue is the tiny Berlin nightclub Bar Jeder Vernunft, an intimate but glamorous location with red velvet and crystal mirrors.

Cabaret, Berlin 2004
Cabaret was based on a book by Christopher Isherwood
It is just a few streets away from where Christopher Isherwood once lived in a boarding house - tempted to Berlin by the thriving gay scene that was unprecedented in its time.

"Berlin meant boys," he noted later in his autobiography, although the city also gave him to inspiration to write.

Joe Masteroff, who wrote the 1960s Broadway musical of Cabaret, said: "Life was very free sexually. There were a lot of drugs and a lot of liquor, and people had a wonderful time - as they often do in doomed places."

Masteroff's script was to become the foundation stone for the 1977 film that entrenched a mythology which still attracts thousands of tourists to Berlin - in search of the hedonistic world it portrays. But can they find it?

Cabaret, Berlin 2004
The show's action takes place inside the fictional Kit Kat club
The action in Cabaret is centred on the Kit Kat club, based on a real club called Heaven and Hell that was frequented by Christopher Isherwood. The writer wouldn't recognise it today though - it's an H&M clothes shop.

Other Isherwood haunts have also gone for ever. The Cosy Corner, for instance, a working-class gay bar on the other side of town, is now a dentist's.

But something of the spirit of Berlin celebrated in Cabaret lives on. "Isherwood would definitely appreciate the openness of the city, which is similar to the openness of the 20s," says Hania Siebenpfeiffer, a leading Isherwood scholar.

"For instance there is the parallel of the homosexual artist's life in Berlin, which is more vivid and lively now than when the city was divided."

The Schoenefeld area, where Isherwood lived, is still the centre for gay life in the city.
Cabaret, Berlin 2004
The Cabaret era was renowned for its liberal sexual attitudes

"Berlin is the gay capital of Germany," says Chantal, a transsexual artist who has just celebrated the fifth anniversary of her nightclub show The House of Shame.

"It's completely different from the cabaret of Isherwood's time," she says, as Gloria Viagra takes to the stage - two metres tall in high-heels and curly blonde wig.

But arguably, Chantal lives a modern-day version of the Cabaret lifestyle.

"For the last 20 years I've been living only for nightlife. During the day I sleep and all week long I party, party, party."

Chantal will taking an evening off, however, to see the new production of Cabaret - a show that has become intimately bound-up with Berlin's identity.

Scenes from the new German production of Cabaret

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