Berlin’s historic ’creatives’
are relevant again today

These are the stories of German-speaking artists and writers in Berlin — of musicians, theater-, and film-producers — who fought German fascism long before 1939. Drawing from years of research, labor-historian Topper Sherwood takes a "deep dive" into the little-known, long-suppressed works of these brave individuals of the past, uncovering new details of how they did their remarkable creative work despite some very high barriers.....

What you’re getting:

Beginning in 2012, Topper Sherwood has “haunted” countless European libraries, historical archives, and private collections to uncover surprising stories about cutting-edge revolutionary writers, artists, and musicians of Germany’s Weimar Time (1918-1933). These are the stories of the most “radical” German-speaking artists — working in literature, theater, film, music and the visual arts. Their best work was feared, politicized, and vilified by “old-school” authoritarians, including the emerging National Socialists (‘Nazis’) with their hate-filled propaganda.

These English-language “Berlin Stories” describe the experiments of these revolutionary artists in Berlin and elsewhere, who struggled to do their own courageous work before the Nazis took power in 1933. In some remarkable cases, these young, talented thinkers were able to continue their “subversive” artist-activism secretly in Berlin and elsewhere during World War II.

Ingeborg Franke von Wangenheim

The earliest readers who subscribe to Berlin Stories on Substack are getting a weekly series of 35 translated and re-edited, never-before-published essays, originally written secretly by actress Ingeborg Franke (1912-1992) in 1934. Read together — and running from June 2023 into the start of 2024 — these 33 numbered columns comprise Franke’s personal narrative about the nuts-and-bolts labor behind three “activist” political plays, produced by herself and her friends under the direction of Franke’s future husband, the actor/director Gustav von Wangenheim (1895-1975). Their collective theater ensemble, Truppe 1931, was forced to shut down its operations (and run for cover) in 1933.

Actor/director Gustav von Wangenheim

So, the first six months of weekly “Berlin Stories” is Topper Sherwood’s English interpretation/adaptation of 22-year-old Igeborg Franke’s rare, never-before-published “Troupe31” narrative. Readers will see Franke’s strong determination to share the details of her theater collective’s work on three Truppe31 activist theater productions — all of which were successful “hits” before the emergent Nazis shut them down.

“The lives, work and stories of yesterday’s creative ‘idea workers’ (geistige Arbeiter) hold countless lessons for creative people around the world today,” Sherwood noted.

If you are an “idea-worker” in publishing, theater, film, music, or the graphic arts today — or especially if you are teaching art history — PLEASE JOIN US AS A PAID SUBSCRIBER. (Alternatively, you can just check out the ‘cost-free bits’ which are also fun….) Whether you work on the big, loud stage/screen or a small quiet one, WE INVITE YOU to find new and stirring inspiration from “Berlin Stories.”

Author’s note: While grounded in solid research, some of these stories benefit from my use of narrative fiction, better to render these subjects in three dimensions. All the names are real (unless otherwise stated) and these stories are very strongly based upon little-known, original work by some of the most amazing artists working in the German language.

Some of this material is necessarily my own fiction-nonfiction hybrid, or ‘factual fiction’ (tatsächliche Fiktion). In such cases, I will try to give readers and researchers the necessary details (including original-source material) via footnotes, Substack Notes, etc.

Paid subscribers get this valuable and rich collection of ‘Berlin Stories’, plus the accumulating archive. Non-paying subscribers will get parts of each essay — the first few paragraphs — as well as occasional Notes, standard e-mail notifications of new material, etc.

Thank you for taking a look at ‘Berlin Stories’! This post is public, so feel free to share it!


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Practical Stories of 'Radical' Art and Literature from Early 20th-Century Berlin JETZT AUF DEUTSCH --


Topper Sherwood

Veteran journalist for Associated Press, TIME, BusinessWeek, Boston Globe, Smithsonian pubs & other US/German clients, Sherwood writes about courageous thinkers of 20th-century art and literature, including “activists” of the Avant Garde/Modern.