Karl Valentin

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Karl Valentin
Karl Valentin by Eugen Rosenfeld (1870 - 1940).jpg
Valentin Ludwig Fey

(1882-06-04)4 June 1882
Died9 February 1948(1948-02-09) (aged 65)
Nationality German
Occupation Comedian, Author, Film producer
Known forhis sketches and poems

Karl Valentin (born Valentin Ludwig Fey, 4 June 1882 in Munich – 9 February 1948 in Planegg) was a Bavarian comedian, cabaret performer, clown, author and film producer. He had significant influence on German Weimar culture. Valentin starred in many silent films in the 1920s, and was sometimes called the "Charlie Chaplin of Germany". [1] His work has an essential influence on artists like Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Beckett, Loriot and Helge Schneider.

Munich Capital and most populous city of Bavaria, Germany

Munich is the capital and most populous city of Bavaria, the second most populous German federal state. With a population of around 1.5 million, it is the third-largest city in Germany, after Berlin and Hamburg, as well as the 12th-largest city in the European Union. The city's metropolitan region is home to 6 million people. Straddling the banks of the River Isar north of the Bavarian Alps, it is the seat of the Bavarian administrative region of Upper Bavaria, while being the most densely populated municipality in Germany. Munich is the second-largest city in the Bavarian dialect area, after the Austrian capital of Vienna.

Planegg Place in Bavaria, Germany

Planegg is a municipality in the district of Munich, in Bavaria, Germany. It is located on the river Würm, 13 km west of Munich (centre).

Bavaria State in Germany

Bavaria, officially the Free State of Bavaria, is a landlocked federal state of Germany, occupying its southeastern corner. With an area of 70,550.19 square kilometres, Bavaria is the largest German state by land area comprising roughly a fifth of the total land area of Germany. With 13 million inhabitants, it is Germany's second-most-populous state after North Rhine-Westphalia. Bavaria's main cities are Munich and Nuremberg.


Early work

Karl Valentin came from a reasonably well-off middle-class family; his father had a partnership in a furniture-transport business. Valentin first worked as a carpenter's apprentice, and this experience proved useful in the construction of his sets and props later in life. In 1902, he began his comic career, enrolling for three months at a variety school in Munich, under the guidance of Hermann Strebel. His first job as a performer was at the Zeughaus in Nürnberg (Nuremberg). In the wake of his father's death Valentin took a three-year break from performing during which he constructed his own twenty-piece one-man band (with which he eventually toured in 1906). [2] Valentin also took musical studies, learning the guitar with Heinrich Albert.

Zeughaus museum building in Berlin

The Zeughaus in Berlin, Germany is the oldest structure at Unter den Linden. It was built by Frederick III, Elector of Brandenburg between 1695 and 1730 in the Baroque style, to be used as an artillery arsenal for the display of cannons from Brandenburg and Prussia. The first building master was Johann Arnold Nering. After his death in 1695, he was followed by Martin Grünberg, then Andreas Schlüter and finally Jean de Bodt. Andreas Schlüter designed the keystones above the round-arch windows in the form of heads of giants. Georg Friedrich Hitzig (1811-1881) constructed the monumental flight of steps to the upper floor of the north wing and also a roof over the courtyard.

Nuremberg Place in Bavaria, Germany

Nuremberg is the second-largest city of the German federal state of Bavaria after its capital Munich, and its 511,628 (2016) inhabitants make it the 14th largest city in Germany. On the Pegnitz River and the Rhine–Main–Danube Canal, it lies in the Bavarian administrative region of Middle Franconia, and is the largest city and the unofficial capital of Franconia. Nuremberg forms a continuous conurbation with the neighbouring cities of Fürth, Erlangen and Schwabach with a total population of 787,976 (2016), while the larger Nuremberg Metropolitan Region has approximately 3.5 million inhabitants. The city lies about 170 kilometres (110 mi) north of Munich. It is the largest city in the East Franconian dialect area.

One-man band

A one-man band is a musician who plays a number of instruments simultaneously using their hands, feet, limbs, and various mechanical or electronic contraptions. One-man bands also often sing while they perform.

Soon Valentin was performing regularly in the cabarets and beerhalls of München (Munich). He developed a reputation for writing and performing short comic routines, which he performed in a strong Bavarian dialect, usually with his female partner, Liesl Karlstadt. Valentin also made numerous films, both silent and with audio; [3] but it was as a stage performer in cabarets that Valentin built a reputation as one of the leading comic performers in Germany during the Weimar Republic. [4]

Liesl Karlstadt German actress

Liesl Karlstadt was a German actress and cabaret performer. Alongside Karl Valentin, she set the tone for a generation of popular culture in Munich. She appeared in more than 75 films between 1913 and 1960.

Weimar Republic Germany state in the years 1918/1919–1933

The Weimar Republic is an unofficial historical designation for the German state from 1918 to 1933. The name derives from the city of Weimar, where its constitutional assembly first took place. The official name of the republic remained Deutsches Reich unchanged from 1871, because of the German tradition of substates. Although commonly translated as "German Empire", the word Reich here better translates as "realm", in that the term does not have monarchical connotations in itself. The Reich was changed from a constitutional monarchy into a republic. In English, the country was usually known simply as Germany.

With Bertolt Brecht

In 1923, Valentin appeared in a half-hour, slapstick film entitled Mysteries of a Barbershop (Mysterien eines Friseursalons). [5]

<i>Mysteries of a Barbershop</i> 1923 film

Mysteries of a Barbershop is a comic, slapstick German film of 33 minutes, created by Bertolt Brecht, directed by Erich Engel, and starring the Munich cabaret clown Karl Valentin and leading stage actor Erwin Faber. Brecht reportedly did not write a complete shooting script, but rather produced "notes" and "parts of a manuscript" for this short, silent film and intended the actors to improvise the action. Although the film was not considered a success by any of its creative team, and consequently never released as a profit making film to the public, it has been recognized and acknowledged—since its re-discovery in a Moscow archive in the 1970s—as a considerably important German film.

The film script was written by Bertolt Brecht, directed by Erich Engel, and also featured Valentin's cabaret partner, Liesl Karlstadt, as well as an ensemble of stage, film, and cabaret performers, including Max Schreck, Erwin Faber, Josef Eichheim, and Blandine Ebinger. Although the film was not immediately released after it was completed in February 1923, it has come to be recognized as one of the one hundred most important films in the history of German filmmaking. [6]

Bertolt Brecht German poet, playwright, theatre director

Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht, known professionally as Bertolt Brecht, was a German theatre practitioner, playwright, and poet.

Max Schreck German actor

Friedrich Gustav Maximilian Schreck, known professionally as Max Schreck, was a German actor, best known for his lead role as the vampire Count Orlok in the film Nosferatu (1922).

Erwin Faber German actor

Erwin Faber was a leading actor in Munich and later throughout Germany, beginning after World War I, and through the late-1970s, when he was still performing at the Residenz Theatre. Born in Innsbruck, Austria, Faber remained in Germany during the Third Reich, emerging afterwards as a prominent actor in the Federal Republic of Germany. He died in Munich in 1989, only two months after his last performance at the Residenztheater, at age 97.

The previous year, 1922, Bertolt Brecht, had appeared with Valentin and Karlstadt in a photo of Valentin's spoof of Munich's Oktoberfest. [7] Brecht regularly watched Valentin perform his cabaret routines in Munich's beerhalls, and compared him to Chaplin, not least for his "virtually complete rejection of mimicry and cheap psychology." [8]

Oktoberfest worlds largest Volksfest

Oktoberfest is the world's largest Volksfest. Held annually in Munich, Bavaria, Germany, it is a 16- to 18-day folk festival running from mid or late September to the first weekend in October, with more than six million people from around the world attending the event every year. Locally, it is often called the Wiesn, after the colloquial name for the fairgrounds, Theresa's meadows (Theresienwiese). The Oktoberfest is an important part of Bavarian culture, having been held since the year 1810. Other cities across the world also hold Oktoberfest celebrations that are modeled after the original Munich event.

Charlie Chaplin British comic actor and filmmaker

Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin was an English comic actor, filmmaker, and composer who rose to fame in the era of silent film. He became a worldwide icon through his screen persona, "The Tramp", and is considered one of the most important figures in the history of the film industry. His career spanned more than 75 years, from childhood in the Victorian era until a year before his death in 1977, and encompassed both adulation and controversy.

Brecht wrote:

But the man he [Brecht writes of himself in the third person] learnt most from was the clown Valentin, who performed in a beer-hall. He did short sketches in which he played refractory employees, orchestral musicians or photographers, who hated their employer and made him look ridiculous. The employer was played by his partner, a popular woman comedian who used to pad herself out and speak in a deep bass voice. When the Augsburger [Brecht] was producing his first play, which included a thirty minutes' battle, he asked Valentin what he ought to do with the soldiers. 'What are the soldiers like in battle?' Valentin promptly answered: 'They're pale. Scared shitless.' [9]

This anecdote has become significant in the history of German theatre, since it was Valentin's idea of applying chalk to the faces of Brecht's actors in his production of Edward II that Brecht located the germ of his conception of 'epic theatre'. [10]

Performance style

Valentin's naïve sense of humour produced sketches that in spirit were loosely connected to dadaism, social expressionism and the Neue Sachlichkeit . Along with Karl Kraus, he is considered a master of gallows humor. [11] His art centered mostly around linguistic dexterity and wordplay—Valentin was a linguistic anarchist. His comedy would often begin with a simple misunderstanding, on which he would insist as the sketch progressed. [12] The notable critic Alfred Kerr praised him as a Wortzerklauberer, or someone who tears apart words and language to forcefully extract and dissect its inherent meaning.[ citation needed ] His sketches often parodied and derided "shopkeepers, firemen, military band players, professionals with small roles in the economy and the defence of society". [13]

Many contemporary artists, including film-maker Herbert Achternbusch and Christoph Schlingensief ("Valentin is one of the greatest for me!"), trace their artistic roots back to Karl Valentin.[ citation needed ]


Karl Valentin's grave in Planegg. Karl Valentin - Grabstatte.JPG
Karl Valentin's grave in Planegg.

Available works

Films on DVD

Complete Works

Complete Works in 8 volumes. Edited by Helmut Bach Maier and Manfred Faust. Munich: Piper.

Works cited

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  1. Michael Glasmeier, Karl Valentin: Der Komiker und die Künste (Munich: Carl Hanser Verlag, 198Michael Glasmeier, Karl Valentin: Der Komiker und die Künste (Monachium: Carl Hanser Verlag, 1987), str. 37.7), p. 37.
  2. Kurt Horwitz, "Karl Valentin in einer anderen Zeit," Stürzflüge im Zuschauerraum (Munich, Piper Verlag, 1970), pp. 16-17.
  3. Karl Valentin in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten. Michael Schulte. (Reinbeck bei Hamburg: Taschenbuch Verlag, 1968), pp. 130-133.
  4. Calandra (2003).
  5. "A Brecht-Valentin Production: Mysteries of a Barbershop", W. Stuart McDowell, Performing Arts Journal, Vol. 1, No. 3 (Winter, 1977), pp. 2-14.
  6. "Acting Brecht: The Munich Years," by W. Stuart McDowell, in The Brecht Sourcebook, Carol Martin, Henry Bial, editors (Routledge, 2000) p. 71 - 83.
  7. Brecht is shown participating in the Valentin sketch Oktoberfestschaubude (Octoberfest entertainment booth) in a photograph reproduced in Willett (1967, 145).
  8. Quoted by Willett and Manheim (1970), p. 112,
  9. Brecht (1965, 69-70).
  10. Benjamin (1983, 115).
  11. Marmo, Emanuela (March 2004). "Interview with Daniele Luttazzi". Archived from the original on May 6, 2006. Retrieved May 6, 2006. Quando la satira poi riesce a far ridere su un argomento talmente drammatico di cui si ride perché non c'è altra soluzione possibile, si ha quella che nei cabaret di Berlino degli Anni '20 veniva chiamata la “risata verde”. È opportuno distinguere una satira ironica, che lavora per sottrazione, da una satira grottesca, che lavora per addizione. Questo secondo tipo di satira genera più spesso la risata verde. Ne erano maestri Kraus e Valentin.
  12. Schechter (1994, 70-71).
  13. Schechter (1994, 70).