The dada movement was born in February 1916 in neutral Zurich, out of disgust for the obscene slaughter on the battlefields of Europe and the rabid nationalisms that had caused and were perpetuating the so-called Great War (see The War). In founding the satirical Cabaret Voltaire (named after the eighteenth-century French philosophe who symbolizes intellectual tolerance and the fight against all forms of “superstition,” including religion), the aim of German poet Hugo Ball (1886–1927) was to “remind the world that there are people of independent minds—beyond war and nationalism—who live for different ideals” (Dada Zurich Paris 1916–1922, 21). The Cabaret quickly became a meeting-ground for disenchanted, often pacifist or draft-dodging radical intellectuals from many countries and of many political persuasions, including Richard Huelsenbeck (1892–1874) from Germany, and Rumanians Marcel Janco (1895–1984) and Tristan Tzara (1896–1963), who grouped themselves under the name Dada, chosen because it meant nothing (or nothing significant) in many languages. The dadaists did not regard themselves as artists; instead, they wanted to change Western civilization by means of violent provocation calculated to expose the bankrupt values of a decadent and sclerotic society.
With the approaching end of the war the dadaists left Switzerland and dispersed around Europe. Amid the social chaos of a defeated Berlin, Huelsenbeck and others joined up with the lingering expressionist fringe to form an overtly political movement in unstable alliance with the Far Left. Part of Berlin was declared an independent Dada Republic, ephemeral publications (Club Dada, Der Dada, Jedermann sein eigner Fussball (Everyman His Own Football), Dada Almanach) came and went, while the hard-hitting caricatures of Georg Grosz (1893–1959) and photomontages of John Heartfield (1891–1968) and Raoul Hausmann (1886–1971) satirized the decadent foibles of Weimar society. When the revolution fomented by the spartakist (communist) movement was put down in 1919, some Berlin dadaists adopted more orthodox types of political action while the rest moved on to alternative pursuits. Meanwhile in Hanover, Kurt Schwitters (1887–1948) was making visual and verbal collages out of everyday ephemera (buttons, scraps of newspaper text, tram tickets, etc.); rejected by Berlin dadaists for having a bourgeois face, he created a one-man movement which he called Merz (an ironic fragment of the word “Kommerzbank,” commercial bank), and set about turning his whole life (including successive residences in Germany and abroad, which he gradually filled with proliferating sculptural installations largely made of junk) into a Merz work. In Co-