Radio in The Third Reich…

It was in the mid-1920s that a national broadcasting network, Grossdeutscher Rundfunk (Greater German Radio), was established in Germany and Funkstunde Berlin, was the first regional station to begin broadcasting on the 29th October 1923…and Berlin’s ‘Radio Hour’ became the first well-known programme of this new medium, with some 500 Berliners registered to receive it.The following year saw a number of regional radio stations (Reichssender) set up on medium wave under the Grossdeutscher Rundfunk umbrella in the cities of Leipzig, Munich, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Königsberg & Münster.

Two years later Berlin found itself with a second radio station, Deutsche Welle, established in 1926 and this expansion in radio broadcasting captured the imagination of the German public and the number of registered & licensed radio listeners soon rose to an incredible 500,000. By the end of 1926 this figure had risen to well over one million Germans who were eagerly paying their 2 Reichsmarks (2 shillings or ten pence) a month to receive regular radio broadcasts in their own home!

Though the art of radio broadcasting & programme production was still fairly primitive, music was very much at the heart of this new fledgling form of entertainment, and there was a good variety & mix: from opera & operetta  to symphony orchestras & solo recitals which filled the regular evening broadcasting slots.

Then on January 30th 1933, Berlin radio carried a news-flash stating that Leipzig, Munich, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Königsberg & Münster. leader, Adolf Hitler, had been promoted to the position of Reich Chancellor. With this brief message, radio broadcasting in Germany moved into a whole new era, to become a vital tool in the hands of the new propagandists! The following day, January 31st, Reichskanzler Hitler made his inaugural national radio address to the Third Reich, the first of some 50 broadcasts that he would make in his first year of office!

On March 15th 1933, the German Government assigned all broadcasting rights to the newly-formed Ministry for Education & Propaganda under Minister-in-Charge, Joseph Goebbels, who viewed radio as ‘the eighth wonder of the world’. He triumphantly declared: ‘We will create the first modern broadcasting system in the world has ever seen…and so take our National Socialist demands to the people…’ 

However the Nazi take-over did not, as one would have imagined, immediately change the tone of broadcasting from entertainment to blatant political propaganda; the reason for this can be attributed directly to Goebbels, who was not a stupid man and, along with Adolf Hitler, had quickly realised the power of radio & its influence over a population.

He was determined to ensure that radio retained its impact on the German people and not lose the appeal of National Socialism. He therefore issued an order at a conference of radio officials in March 1933 that radio output should….‘never become boring! Avoid dreariness and don’t put your convictions on the turntable, Do not think that you can serve the our government best by the sound of blaring marches evening after evening! Broadcasting should never suffer from the misused word!’

Nevertheless, Goebbels managed very successfully to balance entertainment with the political message, and in April 1933 he introduced a new programme called ‘Stunde der Nation’ (Hour of the Nation), which was relayed to all German regional radio stations each evening between 7 & 8 pm. Containing a professional mix of lectures, radio plays and politically inspired music and opera, it fulfilled Goebbel’s desire that radio should also:“saturate the people with the spiritual content of National Socialism!”

Two very astute observations from the Minister for Propaganda, but his approach seemed to work, for later that same year, at the tenth Broadcasting Exhibition in Berlin the People’s Receiver, the Volksempfänger 301 (derived from the date of the Nazis’ ascension to power on January 30th 1933), was launched, selling a staggering 100,000 sets on the first day at a cost of 76 marks (£5.8s.10d or £5.44p), almost half the cost of its nearest rival!

Radio broadcasting in Germany had certainly come of age, and by the following year an incredible 5 million German radio listeners were registered and though home ownership of the new radio receivers was growing rapidly, Goebbels was anxious that all Germans had access to radio broadcasts. He therefore ordered that radio loudspeakers be immediately installed in all factories and on street corners across the Reich to ensure that the political speeches of the nation’s leaders would reach the widest audience possible…

Under the slogan ‘a radio in every home’, he also decided that a low- cost radio set should now be made available to the German masses.

Technical & programme production development continued apace,and in 1936 a new and improved version of the VE301 was introduced at a lower cost of 65 marks (£5.5s.4d or £5.27p), followed in 1938 by the smaller Deutscher Kleinempfänger (German Compact People’s Receiver), which was introduced to great acclaim and (and no little excitement!), at an even lower and much more affordable price of just 35 marks (£2.17s.7d or £2.88p).

By 1938, light entertainment music, so-called ‘Unterhaltungsmusik’, was accounting for nearly two thirds of all music output, and in this pre-television era, German radio was winning the plaudits of its listeners for its variety of music from opera to musicals and for its willingness to experiment and play the latest in the new dance music, such as that of Barnabas von Geczy.

Broadcasting hours had risen from 14 hours a day in 1932 to 20 hours in the year before the outbreak of war, and with the expansion of the whole German broadcasting network, Berlin’s own ‘Radio Hour’ developed into a programme called ‘Germany’s Hour’ which was broadcast on the national network. In addition, each regional station in the German broadcasting network hired its own professional musicians, with the Berlin Funkstunde, for example, employing a 75-strong radio orchestra, a chamber orchestra of twenty-eight musicians and a twenty-five man choir.

By the outbreak of war in 1939, the number of domestic German listeners had risen to some 10 million, and with the extension of broadcasting hours, the demand for Unterhaltungs musik grew to such an extent that Goebbels actively ordered more of it be played on the radio. In September 1941, with a total audience of just over 50 million listeners now tuning in to some 15 million sets, he went a step further in establishing a Deutsches Tanz und Unterhaltungs Orchester.

Throughout the war years, Joseph Goebbels, as Reichspropagandaminister, continued to personally vet all musical content and weed out any records or performances that he thought inappropriate, but rather surprisingly, however, was how little Adolf Hitler actually interfered or meddled within the field of German civilian & military musical entertainment.

During his leadership of the Reich, he appeared to have issued only two direct music-related dictums, both on February 6th 1939: firstly that the infamous Horst Wessel Lied, (the alternative Nazi anthem), be played at a faster tempo… and that his beloved German National Anthem (Deutschlandlied) be played at crochet = 80..!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2014

 

Collecting Third Reich Signalhorns…

I must admit that, many years before I penned my book The Military Music & Bandsmen of AH’s Third Reich 1933-45, I’d always had a bit of soft spot for the German signalhorn or bugle having, in my own time, been a bit of a whizz on my old Potters of Aldershot cadet bugle when I was a Petty Officer in the Royal Naval Section of the CCF back at my old Grammar school in Winchester. As such I could often be heard belting out a fair rendition of Reveille or The Last Post through my bedroom window, (embarrassingly much to my poor old neighbour’s on-going distress!)

But it was to be many moons while later, when I had graduated to the world of documentary  Film & TV and was running Tomahawk Films here in Twyford that the alluring aspect of historical German military music would fully emerge ’front & centre’ in my professional life and the engaging world of the bugle would happily re-appear on my radar in the shape of the German Infantry Signalhorn from the Third Reich and the earlier era of the Kaiser and the Great War of 1914-18.

So it was that over the last 20 years or so this lovely but often overlooked battlefield signalling instrument from the German military inventory became something of a passion for me and, as a result of acquiring all of the stunning Third Reich-era military musical instruments that can be seen in my book, many of the infantry signalhorns have since gone into my own personal collection, where today they take pride of place on display in Tomahawk Films’ production offices here on the UK’s beautiful South Coast…

Indeed the whole office used to be crammed full of Third Reich military-musical militaria as I sought out anything & everything in Germany to photograph and illustrate in the instrument chapter of my book, though many of those wonderful instruments now happily grace similar  enthusiastic Musiker collections here in the UK, over the Channel in France and with a number of great collecting mates ‘across the pond’ over in the US where they are similarly treasured as the terrific historical artefacts they undoubtedly are…

But the long search in various nooks, corners & crevices of Germany, (and their subsequent handling by myself and others), over many years has certainly added to my own personal compendium of knowledge of this, hitherto, unsung area of militaria collecting. For it is a matter of recorded fact the military band of the Third Reich was certainly well placed in terms of equipping itself, for not only was that nation renowned for its expertise in the manufacture of certain specific and highly technical items such as optical instruments and cameras, but Germany was also, historically, a major designer & producer of high quality musical instruments.

Indeed the modern brass instrumentation of today’s military bands the world over can be traced directly back to the Germany of the 16th & 17th century, and in particular to the ancient town of Nuremberg which boasted some twenty to thirty small companies who were actively involved in the manufacture of brass musical instruments and their accessories; whilst around Markneukirchen in southern Saxony, a whole host of musical instrument and associated parts makers also thrived. Other towns and cities operating similar thriving instrument ‘cottage industries’ included Augsburg, Vienna, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Munich, Dresden, Breslau, Leipzig, Graslitz (now post-war Kraslice), Linz, and Adolf Hitler’s beloved Berchtesgaden.

The highly skilled manufacture of musical instruments in Germany was very much a family-run affair, often handing down skills and expertise over three and four generations of craftsmen, all working in small companies, many employing no more than eight or nine employees, each producing the various different parts and components, such as valves, bells & decorations required to produced the finished instruments, often put together elsewhere.

Not only was Germany credited with producing the first true brass musical instruments, but it was also the nation that, in the late 18th century, started their mass-production at about the same time that many German instrument-manufacturing families began to spread their wings and move across Europe and further afield to the United States. Kohler and Metzler were two such instrument families who chose to move and they set up businesses in England, where they continued the strong tradition of excellent instrument workmanship, before sadly finally going out of business altogther in the early 1900′s. 

Meanwhile, back in Germany, the instrument families and their cottage-industry continued to flourish, with Kruspe of Erfurt excelling in the manufacture of the ‘Rolls Royce’ of all trombones, cornets and trumpets, whilst Germany’s oldest brass instrument manufacturer, Gebrüder Alexander, established in Mainz in 1782 by Franz Ambrose Alexander, concentrated on producing superior examples of flugelhorn, French horn, tuba & euphonium, creating and introducing many of the skills and techniques that continue to be utilised in instrument manufacture today. Tragically some of these old companies, like signalhorn-maker Oskar Ullmann of Leipzig, were literally blasted out of existence by the Allied bombing campaigns of the RAF & USAAF in the years 1943 to 1944…

Historically, probably the most famous of all musical instrument producing dynasties was the Denner family of Nuremberg, though similar other large scale family firms followed hard on their heels including the Moritz family of Berlin, (manufacturers of desirable and very high quality signalhorn for the Imperial Army of Kaiser Wilhelm), the Heckel & Grenser families of Dresden and the Adler family of Markneukirchen and Leipzig.

Of the many innovations in musical instrument production credited to German craftsmen, perhaps the most revolutionary was the rotary-valve, which they employed with great enthusiasm on their all trumpets, trombones, cornets, French horns and Wagner tubas. So whilst the bands of other European military armies evolved with the piston-valve, German military bands stuck rigidly to their beloved and, some say, superior rotary-valve. This is a very good rule of thumb when trying to identify German military musical instruments from a photograph or at a some distance! 

In addition a great many German-made brass instruments, particularly my beloved Deutsche Signalhorn, were often distinguished by the manufacturer’s practice of embellishing their instruments with the addition of an inch wide nickel silver plated brass collar or band around the bell-end, known as a ‘Girlande’ or garland.

Traditionally a Bavarian and Austrian deluxe adornment, this metal reinforcement fulfilled two roles: that of strengthening the bell of the instrument in the days when metals and manufacturing techniques could not always guarantee a consistent thickness of the bell, so giving a more ‘rigid’ sound to the instrument as a result, and secondly, providing an area of the instrument, upon which engravings or personal and regimental details could be etched by the manufacturer or the musician himself.

So whilst many brass instruments encountered sporting a garland will be of German & Austrian origin, a number of nations took note and subsequently copied this design feature, including early French produced instruments. Indeed, in American musical circles, the addition of a garland on instruments produced between 1920 and 1940 was considered a rather swanky personal customisation, and was a sure sign of the owner’s affluence!

However, on close inspection of a garland, those emanating from German craftsmen will traditionally be seen to have the lower edge of the silver band actually wrapped around the rim of the instrument’s bell to become slightly tucked under. Non-Germanic garlands will generally be affixed in the opposite manner with the rim or lip of the bell rolling back over the garland and effectively holding it down. In addition, certain manufacturers could be identified by the specific ornamentation and engraving etched onto their garlands.

Another sign of Teutonic origin is that all German-produced silver used in the manufacture of garlands & instrument parts contained a much higher nickel content in their alloy mix; as a result Germans refer to nickel-silver simply as ‘German silver’ even today.

Apart from making the material much stronger, this had the beneficial effect of giving the silver finish a much brighter, polished feel, whilst other manufacturers around the world using a lower nickel content in the mixes had to make do with their silver-plated instruments having more of a greyish quality in their finishes. Thanks to their stronger nickel-silver mixes, German manufactured musical instrument parts, particularly nickel-silver tubing used for the sliding parts, were very much in demand the world over, especially from American manufacturers… and this is very much the case today.

The actual range of instruments in a Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS military band, (as opposed to just the bugles, fife & drums of the spielleute), depended primarily on the overall manpower of the band in question, and on whether it was employed on standard & ceremonial duties or required to perform in a concert situation. These further matters I detail in my Tomahawk Films’ published book: The Military Music & Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-1945

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

The Music of Third Reich Favourite Mimi Thoma…

When it comes to evocative female singers from those dark days of World War Two that were tasked with keeping up the spirits of war-weary nations, there will always be those that are instantly remembered and recalled: for the Allies it will always be Vera Lynn & Ann Shelton, for the Americans, The Andrews Sisters and for the Germans it will forever be Lale Andersen and Zarah Leander… but what about those other ‘literally un-sung heroines’ that were deemed their equals at the time, but since 1945 have almost fallen into total obscurity?

For Germany one such singer, popular throughout the years of the Third Reich, but barely a musical footnote after, is Mimi Thoma: born in Munich in 1909 the young Mimi originally set out on a medical career, successfully working in the nursing profession in pre-war Germany and at the time she had set out for herself a long-term game-plan to specialise in Paediatrics, (or the care of children). However fate had different plans in store for her and, as a very talented amateur singer in her spare time and blessed of a superb & quite distinctive voice, she was very soon noticed and then signed-up by music agents in the 1930s when as she was performing part-time in some of the many small nightclubs that were dotted around her home city.

With a wonderfully wistful & quite moody delivery that was so en vogue in the pre-war German cabaret scene in both Munich and the capital, Berlin, Mimi very soon built up a massive and loyal following right across Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich so much, in fact, that it put her up on a then par with, and ranked equally alongside, the likes of the similar voiced, but the more famous aforementioned cabaret singers, Lale Andersen & Zarah Leander.

Proclaimed on each & every concert-hall bill-board across Germany as: ‘A voice that everyone knows’ Mimi also became a great favourite with Joseph Goebbels and the Reich’s Nazi propagandists and as such throughout her burgeoning career she was variously signed to the German Grammophon, Telefunken & Polydor recording labels. Additionally, as with Zarah Leander, she also found herself acting in several important Berlin-produced movie-musicals that were shot at the famous Ufa-Babelsburg studios later on in the Second World War.

Surviving war’s eventual end in May 1945 Mimi, like her compatriot Lale Andersen, was also asked to perform for an Allied Red Cross concert in late 1945, before then embarking, again like Lale, on several years of touring across post-war Germany. However, very sadly, she was never able to recapture her terrific war-time success or indeed build upon her amazing pre-1945 popularity in Germany and tragically died in Cologne in 1968 at the tender age of just 59; even worse, she died alone and totally forgotten by her once adoring country..!

And that is how matters would have remained, had it not been for American movie mogul & director, Steven Spielberg, who would come to use Mimi’s very evocative children’s song, ‘Mamatschi’ on the sound-track of his Hollywood blockbuster movie Schindler’s List

It is a real tragedy that Mimi would have died believing her singing career had passed into obscurity and that she had been completely forgotten and thus unaware that, through Mr Spielberg years later, a welcome spotlight would once again be shone on her former war-time singing career as a Third Reich favourite and indeed that a new younger generation would come to hear her distinctive voice, whilst her past fans would be happily reminded just why they originally adored her voice the first time around…

Not surprisingly, we were delighted here at Tomahawk Films when our further searches in Germany uncovered, by chance, a small but perfectly preserved haul of pre-Second War schellack 78rpm records containing some of Mimi’s best known former songs…

Included was her own theme tune, Mamatschi, so allowing us to shine a small light on this once famous, but long-forgotten female voice of the Third Reich recording & radio industries through the release of our CD: Mamatschi..! The Songs of The Third Reich’s Favourite Cabaret Singer Mimi Thoma 1935-1941 …

 Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013