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Kurt Tucholsky, "Berlin and the Provinces" (1928)

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The exceptions, however, are usually powerless. Opposition camps do exist in literally every provincial city, but they have a very difficult time and we in Berlin fail to support them adequately. Shocking letters prove this, as well as brochures and articles in little newspapers no one reads—consider, for example, the informative pamphlet “Würzburg—A Provincial City?” (from the press of the Würzburg Working Group, 1927). How they struggle, how they attempt to adopt the good from without while preserving their own. And how hopeless it all is, how fragmented, how permeated by romanticism, empty talk, and surreptitious Catholicism (which is more dangerous than the open variety). These small, impotent groups are bled to death by the municipal and provincial powers.

The provincial bourgeois press is not responsible for this, as the credulous zealots would like to believe; it is only a symptom and expression of the ruling caste, which uses all available means—boycotts, firings of editors, withdrawals of advertising—to make the newspapers what they are: a nearly invulnerable bulwark of reaction. A truly grave responsibility falls on the provincial Social Democratic press. Aside from a few exceptions (for example, in Zwickau), they are all busy emulating Vorwärts [the paper of the Social Democratic Party]. No problem is thought through to the end; nothing appears there without qualification. All too rarely do these papers break out of the narrow party tracks, with the result, just as in Berlin, that the local equivalent of the Morgenpost gets the masses and social democracy is left behind. Bellowing “keep bourgeois papers out of the housel” is of no use; as long as the workers’ papers do not appeal to the youth and the women, without whom success is inconceivable, then the others will simply remain ahead.

Now, however, all the panels, nearly without exception, are artistically reactionary: those made up of city representatives, party secretaries, or members of regional committees or citizens’ boards. Whether it is a question of art or culture, these pompous conferees will always decide against the intellect. They can do so because they have power. Theegg dances of these “intendants,” as the city theater directors are fond of calling themselves today, the compromises forced upon liberal experimenters, amply testify to this. So does Berlin signify freedom? That would be a severely mistaken impression.

Berlin is merely a big city. And in a big city the individual disappears; groups are able to work with less interference, because here those involved number in the tens of thousands, while in Cologne they encompass only eighty or a hundred people; everything is simply multiplied by a hundred. Nor does it amount to more than that. For as considerable as negative freedom is in Berlin (“Here you can do what you want and ignore the rest”), the positive is just as limited. One need only go to where power is truly exercised—to the building authorities, to court, to schools—and there, with the exception of numerous enclaves of freedom, one confronts the provincial swamp, prejudices of a nearly diluvial sort, unlikely sorts who have been co-opted into the governing bodies and flourish there. You all went to school with a sour, rather humorless, not so well-washed fellow, usually to be found among the top ten—and you could swear that he sits there today and runs the show. His is the illegible signature on official decrees; he commits all the nearly incomprehensible chicanery in the administration; he and none other. In Berlin as well.

The provincial reproach that the tumult of Berlin is not Germany is justified to the extent that the prestige of large democratic newspapers, of artists, and of liberal associations in fact bears no relation to their actual power. On the other hand, the power of reaction—always there and working more skilfully and, above all, less respectfully—functions almost silently. It is supported by the pious wishes of the stock market and the merchant class, who lend their applause to those innocuous performances at the Berlin premieres.

But in the provinces, in a hundred different places, our people continue the struggle: for light and air and freedom. I do not believe that a new “National Association for ...” can help them. If there were, however, an intellectual Reichsbanner, then they would be helped. As long as there is no such thing, it seems to me a duty and the commandment of good sense for everyone who holds a position of power in Berlin to radiate energy into the provinces instead of patting them on the back. To the outcry of the provinces against their own capital, there is only one answer: Speak out with the power of Berlin, which is light, to the provinces, where it is dark.

Source of English translation: Kurt Tucholsky, “Berlin and the Provinces” (1928), in The Weimar Republic Sourcebook, edited by Anton Kaes, Martin Jay, and Edward Dimendberg. © 1994 Regents of the University of California. Published by the University of California Press, pp. 418-20. Reprinted with permission of the University of California Press.

Source of original German text: Kurt Tucholsky (published under the pseudonym Ignaz Wrobel), “Berlin und die Provinz,” Die Weltbühne 24 (March 13, 1928), pp. 405-08.

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