Else Lasker-Schuler: The New Generation

The break with bourgeois convention was typical for many of the young Berlin Jewish intellectuals who rose to prominence in the years following 1900, especially during the "Expressionist decade," from 1910 to 1920. They fought against everything the earlier generation had considered desirable — upward mobility, social status, and prosperity.[1] Young Jews were especially attracted to the "new direction," that is, to Expressionism, for a number of reasons. Their fathers were members of the complacent bourgeoisie. Their families practiced a faith that had become superficial through assimilation, or they continued to adhere to a constricting religious orthodoxy. Both forms of religious observance were entirely unsatisfactory for a new generation that confronted daily the astonishing changes taking place in politics, the economy, and art.

In a Berlin cafe

These changes strengthened their belief in progress for all humankind, including the Jewish people. Participation in modern culture promised an end to cultural and social marginalization and to the isolation inherent in religious orthodoxy. It meant not having to identify with the empire by assimilation or with the conservative, Romantic "organic" Judaism of Eastern Europe."[2] The best possible means of escape form the position of outsider in German society was found by many in the Expressionist movement, where "the German-Jewish symbiosis seemed to have come closest to being realized."[3] Indeed, the "cohabitation" and mutually beneficial collaboration among Jewish and non-Jewish artists, writers, critics, collectors, and promoters of modern art during this period could make one believe in this debated symbiosis.


footnotes [1] Hans Tramer, "Der Expressionismus: Bemerkungen zum Anteil der Juden an einer Kunstepoche," Bulletin des Leo Baeck Instituts 2, no. 5 (1958): 33-46.

[2] Jon Milful, "Marginalität und Messianismus: Die situation der deutsch-Jüdischen Intellektuellen als Paradigma für die Kulturkrise 1910-1920," in Expressionismsus und Kulturkrise, ed. Bernd Hüppauf (Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1983), pp. 347-357.

[3] Hanni Mittelmann, "Expressionismus und Judentum," in Conditio Judaica: Judentum, Antisemitismus und deutschsprachige Literatur vom Ersten Weltkrieg bis 1933/38 (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1997), pp. 302-3.


Barnes & Noble linkFrom: Bauschinger, Sigrid. "The Berlin Moderns: Else Lasker-Schüler and Café Culture" in Berlin Metropolis: Jews and the New Culture 1890-1918. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999,. p. 63.




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