A few highlights from our June show, including Isabel Cole and Binnur Çavuşlu, Bettina von Arnim, Halide Edip Adıvar, Anne Lister, and some of our gorgeous guests from the audience. Thanks to Rosalie Delaney for the photos.
Spring is upon us, so we’re celebrating renewal with a killer combination of dead dames. And this time, we reckon you’ve probably heard of at least one of them! We bring you a Berlin-born film director and animator, a translator of Dante who wrote a spot of classy crime fiction on the side, and a fairly famous Mexican artist, presented by journalist and podcast producer Susan Stone, your regular co-host Florian Duijsens, and storytelling shero Dorothea Martin. All kept on the rails by your other beloved co-host, Katy Derbyshire. Think fairytale outfits and a whole lot of skulls and flowers, as we raise a glass of something to three thrilling women at the ACUD STUDIO on 24 April, 8pm.
Presented in a messy mixture of English and German. €5 or €3 reduced entry. Now generously supported by the Berliner Senat. Doors open 7:30 pm – come on time to get a good seat!
LOTTE REINIGER was born in Charlottenburg in 1899 and went on to combine her two youthful passions, silhouette puppetry and cinema, making the world’s oldest surviving animated feature film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926). A whizz with the scissors, she made more than 45 films using her animated cutouts and special camera technique, most on fairytale themes. In 1933, she and her husband left the Germany of Bertolt Brecht, Max Reinhardt, and Fritz Lang and spent eleven years trying to get permanent residency in London, Paris, and Rome, before reluctantly returning to Berlin to care for Reiniger’s elderly mother. She won major awards for her life’s work, and also has her own star on the pavement at Potsdamer Platz.
DOROTHY L. SAYERS is probably best known for her crime novels featuring posh amateur detective Lord Peter Wimsey. But she also gave us an impressive English translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, much loved to this day. Something of a child prodigy, she learned Latin at six and studied at Oxford before women were actually awarded degrees. She made an early living in advertising and later wrote essays on both Christian and feminist subjects, including the fabulously titled “Are Women Human?” All this while publishing sixteen detective novels, plus numerous plays and short stories, and leading what might best be called a turbulent private life.
Does FRIDA KAHLO need an introduction? Probably every feminist’s favourite 20th-century folk-art-inspired Mexican Communist painter, she found a visual language for the pain of her physical and mental existence, using her art to raise questions about identity that don’t feel dated today. Her very face has become iconic – Fridamaniacs can buy Frida Kahlo socks, shoes, nail varnish, cookbooks, tarot cards, aprons, tequila, and anything and everything in between. In June, London’s V&A Museum will be showing her personal artifacts and clothing for the first time outside of Mexico. But who was she?
Dead Ladies Show number 14 brings you three out-and-out rebellious ladies who took their lives in their own hands and gave us great art: an East German writer who found recognition and then disapproval in the West, a painter who shaped both Surrealism and feminism, and one of the most influential blues musicians of all time. Presented by top Berlin writer ANNETT GRÖSCHNER, Australian author JESSICA MILLER, and your favourite regular, FLORIAN DUIJSENS. Co-host KATY DERBYSHIRE will be holding the reins and welcoming you all. So throw caution to the wind, embrace your inner rebel, and raise a glass to a trio of fabulous females with us in the ACUD STUDIO on 21 November, 8pm.
Presented in a messy mixture of English and German. €5 or €3 reduced entry. Now generously supported by the Berliner Senat. Doors open 7:30 – come on time to get a good seat!
Our dead Berliner this time round is CHRISTA REINIG, born right here in 1926. A working-class lesbian writer, her remarkable life took her from Trümmerfrau to floristry to museum curating, all the while refusing to conform to authority. Having been banned from publishing her work in the GDR, she got her poems and stories into print in the West. In 1964, she went to West Germany to accept a literary award – and never went back. The 1970s saw her discovering feminism, finding a sometimes satirical voice to articulate women’s experiences and ways to write poetry about lesbian love. But – surprise! – the literary establishment wasn’t much into that. Christa Reinig is remembered for her “life-affirming sarcasm” and brash, Berlin-style charm.
The painter and novelist LEONORA CARRINGTON was born in England but spent most of her adult life in Mexico. Even as a child, art offered her a way out of the constraints of her family’s expectations, and she was soon drawn to Surrealism – and the artist Max Ernst. Not one to settle for muse status, Carrington began painting and sculpting in the Surrealist style. She also wrote to deal with the blows life threw at her, from incarceration in an asylum to aging while female. In Mexico, she became a fêted political artist and helped begin the country’s Women’s Liberation movement. She received the ultimate posthumous honour in 2015, with a painting of hers made into a Google Doodle.
Tobacco-chewing blues singer MEMPHIS MINNIE ran away from home at the age of 13 and made a living off music from then on, from street performances supplemented by prostitution to hundreds of now classic recordings. It was said she never put her guitar down until she could no longer hold it in her hands, and she was known to use it as a weapon when required. Her songs were about the joys and hardships of everyday black life; according to the poet Langston Hughes, she played “music with so much in it folks remember, that sometimes it makes them holler out loud.” Largely forgotten for many years while white men covered her songs, she is now celebrated for her huge contribution to blues music and what came after.
The Dead Ladies Show is a series of entertaining and inspiring presentations on women who achieved amazing things against all odds. Every two months, the show hosts three passionate cheerleaders of too-oft forgotten women, inviting its loyal audience into a sexy séance (of sorts) celebrating these impressive icons, their turbulent lives, and deathless legacies.
Our 13th event showcases three such extraordinary ladies who pushed the boundaries of their times: a poet and Afro-German activist, a pioneering doctor who took a liberal view of female sexuality, and a silent movie star who wowed crowds in a lavish 1917 version of Cleopatra, now lost for all eternity. Our presenters are the award-winning German writer DAVID WAGNER, Dublin/Berlin-based columnist ALIX BERBER, and your beloved co-host KATY DERBYSHIRE. And of course our master of ceremonies, FLORIAN DUIJSENS, will ensure the evening’s entertainment runs smoothly. So put on your glad rags and raise a glass with us in the ACUD STUDIO on 26 September, 8pm.
Launching our year of dead Berliners is MAY AYIM, who made our fine city her home in 1984. She was a founding member of the Initiative of Black People in Germany a year later, and published the groundbreaking book Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out soon afterwards. Ayim trained as a speech therapist and taught at university level, but she’s remembered for her work on Afro-German history and her unmasking of racism – and for her moving poetry which explores her own memory and identity and those of others.
ANNA FISCHER-DÜCKELMANN was one of the first women to study medicine, running a clinic for women and children in Dresden for many years. She wrote books on reforming women’s clothing, women’s sexuality, and gynecology, plus a popular illustrated guide to medicine for women. Keeping her maiden name after marriage, Fischer-Dückelmann championed both natural remedies and women’s rights. “Women’s equality,” she wrote, “is the key to a new heavenly realm of love.”
The silent movie actress THEDA BARA rose to become Fox Studios’ biggest star prior to the 1920s, often cast as a vamp. Yet she also played Shakespearean roles like Juliet and Cleopatra. In pre-code Hollywood, she was known for her skimpy costumes and early sex-symbol status. Criticized for her dark roles – from gang moll to Princess Zara of the South Seas – she responded: “I will continue doing vampires as long as people sin.” Although she made more than 40 silent films, very few of them have survived.
Presented in a messy mixture of English and German. €5 or €3 reduced entry. Now generously supported by the Berliner Senat. Doors open 7:30 – come on time to get a good seat!
On May 30th, we’re throwing our 12th Dead Ladies Show, proudly presenting three very different 20th-century women, all of whom made waves doing things they weren’t supposed to do: a multiple medal-winning runner, a Hollywood writer, and a gun-toting suffragette socialist – brought to you by translator and adventurer Sarah Fisher, writer and dramaturge Antonia Roeller, and your beloved co-host Katy Derbyshire.
With Florian Duijsens to keep the show on track, you can look forward to a riotously riveting evening. Put on your running shorts, your diamonds, or your sturdiest boots, swing on over to the ACUD Studio, and raise a glass of our special drink to toast these three fine dead ladies.
Presented in a messy mixture of English and German. €5 or €3 reduced entry. Doors open 7:30 – come on time to get a good seat!
The athlete Fanny Blankers-Koen was 30 years old and had two kids when she won four gold medals at the 1948 London Olympics. The mayor of Amsterdam kindly presented her with a bicycle on her return. She held 58 Dutch titles and set or tied 12 world records during her athletic career – all while putting up with patronizing nicknames like “the flying housewife” and “the flying Dutchmam”. Treasuring her Jesse Owens autograph, which she got when she competed in the Berlin Olympics at the age of 18, she lived to the ripe age of 85 and was named Female Athlete of the Century in 1999. Fanny Blankers-Koen ran like a woman.
Dubbed “the soubrette of satire”, Anita Loos wrote hundreds of film scripts with names like A Temperamental Wife, A Virtuous Vamp, A Perfect Woman, Polly of the Follies, and Biography of a Bachelor Girl. Plus of course her most famous book, the short story collection Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and a decent handful of memoirs, novels, and non-fiction. She hung out in Paris, New York, and Hollywood with writers, actresses, and chorus girls, put up with and then divorced a hypochondriac husband, and worked incredibly hard to become one of America’s most feted screenwriters.
Constance Markievicz was an Irish revolutionary, suffragette, and socialist, and the first woman elected to the British parliament (although she never attended). From a landowning background, she became a landscape painter and socialized with Dublin’s intellectuals before joining Sinn Féin and the Daughters of Ireland, attending her first meeting in a ball-gown and tiara. Later, though, she advised women to “dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots, leave your jewels in the bank and buy a revolver.” Markievicz fought in the 1916 Easter Rising, narrowly escaping a death sentence, and became the first woman cabinet minister in the Irish Republic.
On 28 March, our 11th Dead Ladies Show brings you a congenial constellation of shining female stars from the past millennium and a half. Revisiting the fascinating lives of a mathematical genius, a literary legend, and a star of stage, screen, and espionage will be writer and translator Karen Margolis, thespian Gabi Hift (who so wonderfully shared her love for Unica Zürn back at our 5th show), and DLS-regular Florian Duijsens, all held together by co-host Katy Derbyshire.
Back at our beloved ACUD Studio, we’ll be imbibing a special drink or two and generally enjoying ourselves – so whether you favour a toga, a pantsuit, or a slightly fruitier outfit, come along and join the feminist fun.
Presented in a messy mixture of English and German. €5 or €3 reduced entry. Doors open 7:30 – come on time to get a good seat, and please do share this invite with your friends!
In 1927, US-born activist, singer, and spy Josephine Baker was the first black person anywhere to star in a major motion picture – that same year she was Europe’s highest-earning entertainer. During WWII she used her fame to gather intelligence and her sheet music to transport secret messages for the Resistance. In France, she lived in a chateau with her 11 adopted children, while in the States she was banned by the FBI right after being named the NAACP’s “Woman of the Year” for her anti-segregation articles and campaigns. All, of course, after having brought jazz and banana-garnished dancing to Europe.
Our oldest dead lady yet, Hypatia of Alexandria was a Greek mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher in Byzantine Egypt. Widely admired for her self-possession, she is considered a universal genius and headed a school of philosophy, teaching Platonist ideas to pagans, Christians, and foreigners. This being around the year 400, no one knows exactly what she wrote, but it was probably her astronomical research on the vernal equinox that got her brutally murdered in the end. A lady who lived and died for science.
Writer Harper Lee is famous the world over for To Kill A Mockingbird. After publication in 1960, she decided “it’s better to be silent than to be a fool” and withdrew from public life. Having started writing as a child on a typewriter shared with her neighbour Truman Capote, they went on to work together on his In Cold Blood and later had his-n-hers alcohol problems. Despite allowing her novel Go Set A Watchman to be published seven months before her death last year, Harper Lee maintained a strictly protected private life almost unimaginable for writers today.
With the greatest pleasure we announce that 24 January will see the 10th Dead Ladies Show, which will both explore new territory and revisit more familiar dead ladies of yore. For this august occasion, dedicated to the lives of Claire Waldoff, Lucia Berlin and Dorothy Parker, the Literary Colloquium Berlin will open its hallowed halls to celebrate three admirable women of yesteryear. PLUS our show kicks off a special exhibition by our friend Martina Minette Dreier spotlighting dead lady artists. A real special snowflake of a hum-dinging Dead Ladies Show, in other words.
Your beloved hosts will return to two of their absolute favourites, writer Dorothy Parker and singer Claire Waldoff. (Only we’ll be doing it better this time.) Then we have one of Berlin’s best writer-translators, Antje Rávic Strubel, to introduce a rediscovered mistress of the short story, Lucia Berlin. All wrapped up by a special guest performance by the wonderful Sigrid Grajek, chanteuse extraordinaire, with live piano accompaniment.
For one night only, and an entry fee of €8/€5, please join us on the shores of the Wannsee for entertainment, enlightenment, art, song, literature, socializing, food, drinks of both persuasions, and three fabulous dead dames. If ever there was an occasion that called for overdressing, this is it – but, of course, feel free to wear any old thing as long you as make the journey out west to help us celebrate!
Does DOROTHY PARKER even need an introduction? Everyone’s favourite witty woman gave us poetry, criticism, short stories, satire – and screenplays, until she made it onto everyone’s favourite blacklist for her political activities. Never out of print to this day, she was one of the original members of the board of the New Yorker in 1925. This was a lady so cool she bequeathed her estate to Martin Luther King. Florian Duijsens has been studying her life for years, ready to give us all the juicy details in English.
LUCIA BERLIN has been making posthumous waves after a selection of her stories hit the New York Times bestseller list in its second week of publication two years ago. Growing up in mining camps and working as a cleaning woman and switchboard operator, among other jobs, Berlin raised four sons and struggled with her health – all the while writing eight volumes of short stories and eventually teaching creative writing. Her work garnered huge critical acclaim but little financial success, so her rediscovery is a vindication of sorts. Antje Rávic Strubel recently translated her selected stories and gives us the low-down in German.
In 1906, singer CLAIRE WALDOFF pawned her gold watch and moved to Berlin to become a star, and that’s just what she did. A truly beloved icon with her own street name, she’s still remembered for her comic songs and for appearing on stage in trousers. She coyly chronicled lesbian life in Weimar-era Berlin in her autobiography, learned the local dialect from painter Heinrich Zille, helped out a young Marlene Dietrich, and portrayed strong working-class women with a risqué sense of humour. Katy Derbyshire introduces her in English, with live renderings by Sigrid Grajek.
The show also sees the opening of an exhibition by MARTINA MINETTE DREIER, entitled “I am no bird, no net ensnares me” and depicting her ancestors from art history, portraits of women scratched out of old wood with ballpoint accents. Dreier’s sketches of writers from the LCB’s “Sensitivities” festival will be on display as well – along with one very special portrait of a living lady.