Dead Ladies Show #11

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.

Dead Ladies Show #10

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 WaldoffLucia 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.

Claire Waldoff
Zentralbild Berlin

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.

Dead Ladies Show #9

Feeling poor and powerless? On 22 November, our ninth Dead Ladies Show resurrects three awe-inspiring women who battled poverty and patriarchy to achieve great things. Join us in your finest rags at 8 pm in the ACUD Studio to hear their amazing stories (in German and English) over a drink or two (alcoholic or non-). Entry will be €5 (€3 for the financially challenged), and, as always, invite your friends!

Your beloved co-host Florian Duijsens presents artist Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, writer and translator Amanda DeMarco brings you director Barbara Loden, and filmmaker Marlene Pardeller shares the story of Tina Modotti. We expect you to go home feeling rebellious, riotous, righteous, and ready to change the world yourselves.

ELSA VON FREYTAG-LORINGHOVEN was one of those eccentric dames we know you just love to love. A Dada artist who married a penniless busboy baron and lived in grinding poverty in New York and Paris, she is now thought to be the real inventor of the famous “readymade” claimed by Marcel Duchamp. One of her outfits consisted of a bra made from two tomato cans and green string, a small birdcage complete with canary hung around her neck, a large number of stolen curtain rings worn as bracelets, and a hat decorated with vegetables, all worn with a red coat over the top. Elsa was art.

BARBARA LODEN was an ace movie director.

TINA MODOTTI, as a teenager, left behind the shoe factory in Udine where she had started working at the age of 8, and set off to San Francisco to become a silent-movie star. Soon the camera itself attracted her, and she ended up photographing the Mexican revolution. From there, she moved on to the Soviet Union and then the Spanish Civil War, only to mysteriously abandon photography and become a nurse and war reporter. Returning to Mexico a convinced revolutionary, Modotti died under unclear circumstances but is widely remembered both there and abroad. 

Dead Ladies Show #8

Autumn’s arrival brings a fresh abundance of dead ladies to ACUD’s Studio. Join us at 8pm on Tuesday, 20 September for the eighth Dead Ladies Show – this time featuring no fewer than four fascinating women of yesteryear: a pair of American abolitionists, an English avant-garde poet, and a Franco-German photographer. All enthusiastically introduced in German and English by book blogger Sandra Höhne, translator Frances T. Provine, and co-host Katy Derbyshire, with Florian Duijsens at the hosting helm.

Come find out all kinds of things you never realized you wanted, nay, needed to know. Hang out with other dead-lady fans, enjoy the special cocktail available from the bar, show off your favourite headgear, and generally have a rollicking good time while remembering some pretty impressive dames.

We look forward to seeing you there and (in a newsletter-only exclusive) urge you to also pencil in our next edition for 22 November!

Sarah & Angelina Grimké were sisters who rebelled against their slaveholder father in South Carolina. The first female public speakers in the United States during the 1830s, they lectured and wrote against slavery and racial prejudice. In response to the criticism this provoked, the sisters became active feminists. In later life they taught at a school within a utopian community in New Jersey, passing on their principles and knowledge. “All I ask of our brethren,” Sarah Grimké wrote in 1838, “is that they will take their feet from off our necks and permit us to stand upright on that ground which God destined us to occupy.” They also both rather rocked the lace-trimmed day cap.

Edith Sitwell is known as an eccentric genius. Born to uncaring aristocratic parents who would have preferred a boy, she escaped to London and poetry during WWI. She published twenty collections of poems during her lifetime and fostered many other writers and artists, even knitting socks for Alec Guinness. Six foot tall in her own stockinged feet, Sitwell was an imposing figure with a style all her own, including some truly remarkable hats. She was fiercely criticized for her work – a series of poems set to music and recited through a megaphone from behind a mask causing particular ire – but gave as good as she got. With a penchant for gay men and VD sufferers, she may not have had a happy life – but it was certainly not uneventful.

Gisèle Freund took her earliest photos on the streets of Frankfurt as a student of sociology, snapping both Nazis and communists before emigrating to Paris in 1933. Having befriended Walter Benjamin at the Bibliothèque Nationale, she moved into portrait photography, capturing a tangible essence of each of her celebrated subjects. From Adrienne Monnier and Sylvia Beach, to James Joyce, Sartre, and de Beauvoir, she sought out the greats of her time and place, and shot them in relaxed situations on brand-new colour film. In Britain, Latin America, then postwar Paris, she went on working and was heaped with accolades. Freund died in Paris at the age of 91. She was not known for her millinery.

Dead Ladies Show #7

It’s practically summer! And to ring in this wonderfully sunny (and thunderstormy) season our very special literary cabaret is heading to Gay Paris – although not literally. Tuesday, 14 June, 8pm sees the seventh Dead Ladies Show at ACUD, featuring three fascinating women of yesteryear: Louise MichelDjuna Barnes, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe! From communard to bohemian writer to gospel legend, each of them rocked the city in their very own way.

As always, we will be celebrating them in German and English, with this edition’s presenters being author and journalist Jan Groh, translator Laura Radosh, and your co-host Florian Duijsens – all held together by Katy Derbyshire, of course.

By popular request we’ve moved upstairs to the ACUD Studio, where there’ll be a special drink available at the bar as ever. So whether you come say “Bonjour Paris” in your best Audrey Hepburn/Fred Astaire threads or pick a more down-and-out look, make sure you join us. It’s only €4 on the door – come on time to get the best seats!

p.s. Should you require a daily dose of dead-lady magic, check us out at @deadladiesshow.

LOUISE MICHEL (1830 – 1905) was an anarchist and animal lover, a feminist, a romantic, a passable writer and a teacher. Known as “the red she-wolf”, she was famed for attaching a protest poster to a policeman’s back and rescuing a cat from a hail of bullets mid-street battle. She fought for the Paris Commune and survived various prison sentences and exile in New Caledonia, where she became a fan of Kanak quarter-tone music. On her return to France she was lauded and lambasted as an agitator for freedom, equality and social justice. Her funeral drew a hundred thousand mourners onto the streets.

In 1912, DJUNA BARNES (1892 – 1982) walks into the Brooklyn Eagle office and declares: “I can write and I can draw and you’d be a fool not to hire me.” Thus began the literary career of the writer of one of *the* modern novels, Nightwood. From an unhappy childhood in a highly unconventional dysfunctional family, via the 1930s Parisian lesbian literary bohème, to a misanthropic recluse in the West Village, Djuna Barnes’ life was certainly never dull. Plus she was one of the only people in the famous circles she moved in who actually had to earn a living as a writer, illustrator, first-wave feminist, bisexual, and alcoholic.

Called the godmother of rock ‘n’ roll, SISTER ROSETTA THARPE (1915 – 1973) was a guitarist and gospel singer with a profound influence on musicians like Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Aretha Franklin. She took to the stage at the age of four and never really left it. Sister Rosetta Tharpe made the first gospel record to hit the charts, played with Cab Calloway at the Cotton Club, attracted 25,000 paying customers to her third wedding, got in trouble with gospel purists and recorded a live album in Paris in 1964. “With a Gibson SG in her hands, Sister Rosetta could raise the dead. And that was before she started to sing.”

Dead Ladies Show #6

We are proud to announce that Monday 11 April, 8pm, will bring you a triple-A Dead Ladies Show, your favorite literary cabaret dedicated to ladies who were once wonderfulJoin our sixth extravaganza and come celebrate three fascinating women: Special guests Lucy Renner-Jones and Fabian Wolff spill the beans on Annemarie Schwarzenbach and Alma Cogan, while regular Katy Derbyshire parts the mists of time to tell us all about Aphra Behn—all held together by your beloved co-host Florian Duijsens.

Come along in your finest finery or your raggedest rags for an evening full of fabulous facts and females, with a special drink on offer to suit the occasion. Entry is €4 on the door, and as always we’re at ACUD, Veteranenstrasse 21, in the back of the courtyard; come on time to get the best seats!

As always, the evening will be presented in English and German (Bitte scrollen für die deutsche Version) for your delectation and inspiration, so tell your German and your Anglo friends!

p.s. Should you require a daily dose of dead-lady magic, check us out at @deadladiesshow.

Annemarie Schwarzenbach was a Swiss photojournalist and writer. Addicted to morphine from her early 20s, she was the first woman to drive from Geneva to Kabul (in the 1930s!) and had stormy relationships with Carson McCullers and Erika Mann. Thanks to her pioneering reportage and famously androgynous style, Schwarzenbach has in recent years been rediscovered as a true lesbian icon.

Alma Cogan, “the girl with the giggle in her voice”, was a Jewish girl from London and briefly England’s biggest pop star, fifty years before Amy Winehouse. She had hit after hit in the 1950s and knew everyone who was anyone, playing host to Audrey Hepburn, Noel Coward, Sammy Davis, Jr. and John Lennon. Alma’s career ended as the 1960s began – her friendly pop tunes went out of fashion. By the time she died, aged 34, she was little but a memory, long due a revival.

Aphra Behn was one of the first women ever to make a living as a writer. She wrote plays, novels, poetry and translations, was probably also a spy and may have travelled all the way to Surinam – all this in Restoration England during the late 17th century! Famously praised by Virginia Woolf as a role model for women, Aphra came out of obscurity to lead a “life dedicated to pleasure and poetry” and has inspired writers for hundreds of years.

Lucy Renner Jones was born in England and did several jobs before becoming a translator. Up until 2004, she worked in Barcelona, Hamburg and Berlin as a photographer. Then she returned to her roots in literature and founded the translator’s collective Transfiction. She has a BA in German and Film from UEA, where she was taught by W. G. Sebald, and an MA in Applied Linguistics. She has translated Annemarie Schwarzenbach, Silke Scheuermann and Brigitte Reimann, writes book reviews for CULTurMAG and Words Without Borders, and hosts a series of events under the label The Fiction Canteen for writers and translators in Berlin.Fabian Wolff is an author from Berlin. He writes for newspapers, is occasionally on the radio and is working on his first novel. He writes in German and in English about old books and new music and vice-versa. A man of few words and great knowledge, might we add.

Annemarie Schwarzenbach war Schweizer Fotojournalistin und Schriftstellerin. Ab Anfang 20 morphinsüchtig, sie war die erste Frau, die eine Automobilreise von Genf nach Kabul machte – in den 30er Jahren! – und hatte stürmische Beziehungen mit Carson McCullers und Erika Mann. Dank ihrer bahnbrechenden Reportagen und ihres androgynen Stils ist Schwarzenbach in letzter Zeit als lesbische Ikone wiederentdeckt worden.

50 Jahre vor Amy Winehouse war ein anderes jüdisches Mädchen aus London kurz der größte Popstar Englands: Alma Cogan, “the girl with the giggle in her voice”, landete in den Fünfzigern Hit nacht Hit und war Dauergast der BBC. Alma kannte jeden, in ihrer Wohnung gingen Audrey Hepburn, Noel Coward, John Lennon und Sammy Davis, Jr ein und aus. Mit dem Beginn der Sechziger endete ihre Karriere – ihr freundlicher Pop-Schlager war nicht mehr gefragt. Als sie mit 34 starb, war sie nur noch eine Erinnerung.

Aphra Behn war eine der ersten Frauen, die sich vom Schreiben ernährt hat. Sie schrieb Theaterstücke, Romane, Lyrik und Übersetzungen, war vermutlich auch Spionin und reiste vielleicht bis nach Surinam – all das Ende des 17. Jahrhunderts in England! Von Virginia Woolf als Vorbild für schreibende Frauen gepriesen, kam Aphra aus unbekannten Verhältnissen, um ein „dem Pläsier und der Poesie gewidmetes Leben“ zu führen.


Lucy Renner Jones stammt aus England und hatte einige Berufe, bevor sie Übersetzerin wurde. Bis 2004 arbeitete sie als Fotografin in Barcelona, Hamburg und Berlin. Dann kehrte sie zu ihren literarischen Wurzeln zurück und gründete die Übersetzungskollektive Transfiction. Sie übersetzt u.a. Annemarie Schwarzenbach, Silke Scheuermann und Brigitte Reimann, schreibt Kritiken für CULTurMAG und Words Without Borders und organisiert eine Berliner Veranstaltungsreihe für Schreibende und Übersetzende mit dem Namen The Fiction Canteen.

Fabian Wolff ist Autor aus Berlin, er schreibt für Zeitungen, ist manchmal im Radio und arbeitet an seinem ersten Roman. Er schreibt auf deutsch und englisch über alte Bücher und neue Musik, und umgekehrt. Sagt hier wenig, weiß sehr viel, fügen wir hinzu.