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A Musical Homage to Nazi Refugees

Marlene Dietrich, Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht – some of the artists who fled from Nazi terror and ended up in America. German rocker Udo Lindenberg pays tribute to them in his new musical “Atlantic Affairs”.


Many Germans fled to New York, taking bits and pieces of their culture with them.

On stage, twenty old suitcases. Simple containers with the hopes, dreams, fears and worldly possessions of their owners. Suitcases that made the voyage from Hitler’s Germany into self-imposed exile in the United States.

Now those suitcases have come home.

The new musical "Atlantic Affairs", which made its premiere in the port city of Bremerhaven on Sunday, uses the imagined contents of suitcases to tell the stories of the millions who left their home country because they could not live, or maybe even survive, in a Germany ruled by the Nazis.

Those millions included many of Germany’s best and brightest—artists, writers, actors, directors, composers. Many of them embarked on the journey to their news lives on ship sailing from Bremerhaven.

As the suitcases on stage are opened, out pour fragments of German culture of the time that could only survive beyond the reach of the Nazi’s choking philistinism. Songs from 1920s and 30s Berlin, stories of Jewish life, modernist films, music, literature – everything the Nazis had banned, or burned.

Cabaret meets Drum ‘n’ Bass

But German music icon Udo Lindenberg is not one to just put on a retrospective of classics from the Roaring 20s.

When he and other artists in "Atlantic Affairs" open up the suitcases and start singing what they find, they interpret it through their thoroughly modern sensibility. Lele Marlene is seen through a Hip Hop prism; Gershwin goes Drum ‘n’ Bass.

The entire production is a disconcerting mixture of the old and the new. The Berlin of the 20s, with its vamps and divas, experimentation and decadence clashes head on with the 21st century and its own brand of modernity and chaos.

"They sing from punk to panic, diva and drama, wearing dirty street shoes and dangling elegant cigarette holders from long, white kid gloves," writes Lindenberg on the "Atlantic Affairs" web site.

More than a Musical

Lindenberg, who sees himself as something of a cultural ambassador, hopes to make "Atlantic Affairs" more than a musical. He says he wants to open up a world-wide, multi-media dialog and take it to more than 25 cities around the world – from Berlin to Budapest, Hong Kong to Hollywood.

In addition to the musical performances and exhibitions of Lindenberg’s art, the tour will feature local artists whose performances would "illustrate a true dialog between cultures."

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