Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Friedrich Ebert and his glass of Berliner Weisse

A bit of light relief in between the recipes today. If you call war, food shortages, revolution and counter-revolution light relief, that is.

I came across these drawings when I found a reference to Berliner Weisse in the artist George Grosz’ autobiography.

Grosz produced these two portraits of Ebert, the first president of the Weimar Republic. Anyone with knowledge of beer will recognise the bowl-shaped glass in the drawings – it’s Berliner Weisse.

The radical left, to which Grosz belonged, despised Ebert for supporting the war and suppressing the revolution afterwards. So it’s not accidental that he’s shown enjoying Berliner Weisse. Because that was the drink of reactionaries.

The “Berlin white beer philistine” (Weißbierphilister or Spiessbürger) is a common stereotype of the nineteenth century (and even Marx mocks him in passing in a polemic in The German Ideology). He represents narrow-minded, ignorant and obsequious conservatism, kind of the equivalent of today’s Daily Mail reader:
A peculiar vision is the Berlin Spiessbürger: generally a man between forty and seventy of respectable, clean-shaven appearance, who day in, day out in every season and any weather appears in the same pub at the same time, takes the same seat, to drink the same quantity of Weissbier, smoke the same number of pipes and occasionally mouth platitudes or jokes. When it comes to politics, art and literature, he plays in tune with the public opinion. He goes on holiday in the country, to the hills near Spandau. If he goes to the theatre, it is because he has obtained a free ticket. He is everywhere, as his means allow, sometimes better off, sometimes worse; but invariably he drinks good Weissbier with the proper small caraway schnapps. He drinks Weissbier, as his father did and his grandfather; and he never drinks Bavarian [i.e. lager], as the Revolution lies sleeping therein.
Friedrich Heinzelmann, Das deutsche Vaterland in Reisebildern und Skizzen, Leipzig 1858, p.322 (my translation)

In showing Ebert with a glass of Weisse, Grosz is saying that Ebert the Social Democrat has thrown his lot in with the grotesque and decadent capitalists that Grosz famously portrays in his other works. While other plutocratic accessories like the cigar and monocle are more universally understandable, the Weisse says specifically to the German public of the 1920s: Ebert is a Spiessbürger.

Whether Ebert actually drank Berliner Weisse, I have no idea.

1 comment:

  1. He may not have drunk Berliner Weisse, but he definitely threw his lot in with the capitalists.