Ghosts of German history haunt Berlin dance hall
By Deborah Cole ,AFPBERLIN -- It has survived two world wars, communist spies and a Quentin Tarantino movie production and at the ripe age of 100, Berlin's most legendary dance hall is also among its most unlikely success stories.
August 24, 2013, 12:00 am TWN
As Claerchens Ballhaus (Claerchen's Ballroom) prepares to fete its centenary next month, the fabled venue still sees hordes of party-goers young and old queue up in front of its crumbling facade.
White-haired ladies in tiaras and dancing shoes wait to gain entry with hipsters in skinny jeans in a courtyard under a canopy of mature trees, strings of lights and a giant mirrored disco ball.
“Under the kaisers, the chancellors and the chiefs of the (communist) state council, in times of upheaval and social experiments, divided and united again — everybody on one and the same dance floor of history — every political system left its traces,” Marion Kiesow writes in her new book timed for the anniversary, “Berlin Dances at Claerchen's Ballroom.”
Kiesow argues that in a city that has seen a century of turmoil and reinvention, Claerchen's is a remarkable constant.
Combing through the building from the basement to the attic, she uncovered decades of relics including love letters, sepia photos and even ripped military maps left behind by Nazi officers during World War II to help her tell Claerchen's unique story.
In the heyday of German ballrooms around the turn of the last century, Berlin alone had about 900 venues like Claerchen's, fixtures of every neighborhood.
Many were destroyed during World War II air raids and those remaining fell out of favor in the 1970s and 1980s as revelers flocked to discos and later the techno clubs that cropped up in the city's abandoned industrial spaces.
Only three of the imperial-era ballrooms in the city centre remain and Claerchen's is seen as the most authentic, with nightly dancing.