Faultlessly fitting tuxedo, hair slicked back, a cheeky look on his face. German singer Max Raabe revives popular and cabaret songs of the Twenties and early Thirties.

His sell-out shows include songs, hits and couplets of the time, Cuban rumbas, cheerful foxtrots and elegant tangos. In the concert halls of New York, Shanghai, Paris, Berlin and Moscow, in Tokyo, Los Angeles, Vienna, Amsterdam and Rome Max Raabe and his famous Palast Orchester have brought back to life the Berlin of the Twenties. QueensOfVintage takes a closer look.

Even a good twenty years after the founding of the Palast Orchester and after countless performances  at home and abroad, the singer – who is always perfectly attired – astounds his contemporaries with an amazing old-fashionedness. Raabe peforms his songs with such precise, dry and down-to-earth perfection that the eighty-year-old songs sound as fresh and vivid as they did at their very first performance.

It is, unsurprisingly then, that his vision is to keep the unique music of the Twenties and Thirties alive, not as museum pieces, but rather as timeless entertainment whose skewed humor and mocking irony have no match in contemporary German music.

During the Weimar Republic revues, variety shows, cabaret and dancing halls had sprouted up everywhere. The Charleston became the hip-swinger of the season, and an indispensable part of the great revues and Berlin’s glittering Friedrichstraße was the hundred-meter-long chorus line of legs of the Tiller Girls’, which seductively swung along to the beat of jazz.

Jazz, swing, slowfox, foxtrot were the rhythms of the time and composers such as  Walter Jurmann, Friedrich Hollaender, Willy Rosen, Theo Mackeben and Werner Richard Heymann wrote their melodies for operettas and musicals as well as revues, cabaret, dance houses and theaters. Many became evergreens, especially once the Weimar Republic, Germany’s first attempt at democracy, failed.

After 1933 Germany robbed itself of its culture, its talents were exiled or killed. But the lyricists and composers, whose names were to be made forgotten, celebrate a quiet triumph today. They have found a new, young audience which has discovered  the skewed humor and mocking irony and the melancholy of these superficially harmless songs and their amusing nostalgia.

_C3P9598_03[1]Raabe’s own career started with the children’s church choir of the Westphalian small-town of Lünen where he was born in 1962. In the third grade he was impressed by the operas of Wagner and Beethoven’s 9th symphony simply floored him: “From this moment onwards I knew that I wanted to become a singer.”

Later on, in the church choir of his boarding school, he developed his love for the music of the Roaring  Twenties. This new-found love made him leave for Berlin where he has lived since he was twenty. In order to finance his seven-year studies of opera at the renowned Berlin University of the Arts, Raabe started to consider the idea of founding a  “palace orchestra” to perform the hits from the Twenties and Thirties he so loved.

After digging though archives, flea markets and antiquarian bookshops and collecting old records and films he and some of his fellow students finally managed to recreate the authentic polyphone sounding orchestral arrangements.

Rehearsals went on for an entire year, but the orchestra finally premiered at Berlin’s Theaterball in 1987 . They were so well-loved that they had to perform their program twice in a row.

Over a decade later, the Palast Orchester’s ‘Super Hits’ kicked the Beatles’ ‘No.1’ album of the first place in the charts and in 2002 the Palast Orchester had the honor of opening the Viennese Festival Weeks for an audience of  40.000.

At the moment Raabe and the orchestra, consisting of 11 men and their 25-year-old gorgeous violinist Cecilia Crisafulli, are on tour again around the globe. Don’t miss them – they are the closest thing to a time machine to a Weimar Berlin cabaret evening there is!

images: Frank Eidel

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