Magazine article History Today

The Barbed Wit of Weimar: Mark Bryant Continues His Exploration of Significant Cartoons and Caricature with a Look at a German Magazine That Published Some of the Bravest Satirical Critiques of Hitler, Bitterly Attacking Nazism until 1933, and Still Published to the Last Years of the War

Magazine article History Today

The Barbed Wit of Weimar: Mark Bryant Continues His Exploration of Significant Cartoons and Caricature with a Look at a German Magazine That Published Some of the Bravest Satirical Critiques of Hitler, Bitterly Attacking Nazism until 1933, and Still Published to the Last Years of the War

Article excerpt

FOR REASONS THAT ARE UNCLEAR, the British have always felt that the Germans as a nation lack a sense of humour or wit--whether formal, militaristic Prussians from the north or jolly, bohemian Bavarians from the south. Also, it has frequently been claimed--and notably in this the year in which the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War was commemorated--that the great mass of the German people had been keen supporters of Hitler and the Nazi movement from the beginning.

Neither of these statements is true. Not only do the Germans have a long history of cartoons and caricature going back to such eighteenth-century masters as Daniel Chodowiecki and Johann Ramberg, but they even have a national cartoon museum--something we still don't have in Britain--named after another of their great comic artists, Wilhelm Busch. As for lampooning Hitler and his followers, one only needs to look at the cartoons of the Munich-based weekly magazine Simplicissimus--one of the world's foremost journals of satirical art--during the formative years of the Nazi movement in the 1920s and 1930s. One of its greatest artists of this period was Karl Arnold who drew the biting satires, 'Munich Man'--published on December 3rd, 1923, shortly after the Nazis' so-called 'Beer Hall Putsch'--and 'Hail Prussia', lampooning Adolf Hitler himself, which appeared on the front page of the issue for May 15th, 1932, eight months before Hider became Chancellor.

Simplicissimus (or Der Simpl as it became known for short) was founded by the Antwerp-born book publisher Albert Langen, son-in-law of the Norwegian playwright Bjornson. Its first issue appeared on April 4th, 1896, and the title derived from the character Simplicius Simplicissimus in Grimmelhausen's classic seventeenth-century German novel series. At first primarily a literary journal featuring writers like Rainer Maria Rilke, Arthur Schnitzler and Thomas Mann, it later became celebrated more for its pictorial satires by George Grosz, Olaf Gulbransson, Karl Arnold, Erich Schilling and others. For almost half a century it provided an outspoken commentary on German politics and social mores. No topic--from prostitution, homosexuality and religious hypocrisy to royalty, the idle rich and the horrors of war--was safe from its barbed wit. Indeed, in 1898 one of its founder cartoonists, Thomas Theodor Heine--who had designed the magazine's masthead and created its famous unchained red bulldog mascot--was even imprisoned in the fortress of Konigstein near Dresden for six months for lampooning the Kaiser. (Heine, who had an English mother, became Editor of Simplicissimus in 1906 and after Langen's death in 1909 the magazine's subtitle read 'Founded by Albert Langen and Th. Th. Heine'.) Simplicissimus was particularly successful during the period of the Weimar Republic between the two world wars.

Karl Arnold was the son of a toy manufacturer who was also a deputy (MP) in the German Reichstag (Parliament). Born, perhaps appropriately enough, on April Fool's Day, April 1st, 1883, in Neustadt near Coburg, he moved to Munich aged seventeen and studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in the city. He first began contributing to Der Simpl (and then Jugend) in 1907 at the age of twenty-four and his work was accepted immediately. During the First World War he was conscripted into the German Army, drawing for field newspapers, but continued to work for Simplicissimus. In 1917 he became a shareholder in Der Simpl, and at the same time was appointed as the editor responsible for pictorial ideas and texts. …

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