Florian Illies

DECEMBER: THE POEM “CITY CHRISTMAS” BY KURT TUCHOLSKY

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On 25 December, issue 52 of Die Schaubühne published the poem ‘City Christmas’, by Kurt Tucholsky, alias Theobald Tiger. It portrays Christmas as a bourgeois drama in which people no longer have feelings, only roles.

City Christmas

The Christ Child comes! We young ones listen
To quiet, holy gramophone.
The Christ Child comes, prepared to swap
New ties, dolls and lexicon.

And if the bourgeois sits with family
In his chair, at half past nine,
At peace with life and with the world
‘Yes, Christmas certainly is fine!’

And cheerily he speaks of ‘Christmas weather’,
Rain today, or snow perhaps.
Smoking as he reads his paper,
Tales of famous girls and chaps.

So does the Christ Child’s flight encounter
Purest bliss down here below?
Good God, they’re playing Christmas peace out …
‘We’re all acting. The clever ones are those who know.’

Taken from: Illies, Florian (2012): 1913 – The Year Before the Storm.
London: Profile Books Limited. 256f.

Florian Illies


1913 heralds a new age of unlimited possibility. Kafka falls in love; Louis Armstrong learns to play the trumpet; a young seamstress called Coco Chanel opens her first boutique; Charlie Chaplin signs his first movie contract; and new drugs like cocaine usher in an age of decadence.

Yet everywhere there is the premonition of ruin - the number 13 is omnipresent, and in London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Trieste, artists take the omen and act as if there were no tomorrow, their brief coincidences of existence telling of a darker future. In a Munich hotel lobby, Rilke and Freud discuss beauty and transience; Proust sets out in search of lost time; and while Stravinsky celebrates the Rite of Spring with industrial cacophony, in Munich an Austrian postcard painter by the name of Adolf Hitler sells his conventional cityscapes.

1913 - The Year before the Storm (Clerkenwell Press, 2013)