The father of the Berlin operetta and the creator of Berliner Luft ("Berlin Air"), the unofficial anthem of Berlin, would have turned 155 on the 7th of November.
Photo by: Memorial plaque, Paul Lincke, Oranienstraße 64, Berlin-Kreuzberg, Germany
Not to be confused with a peppermint liqueur that's the toast of the German capital, Berliner Luftis a march song that appeared and was premiered in a burlesque of the same name by Paul Lincke in 1904. For many readers, this name would, probably, mostly resonate with the Paul-Lincke-Ufer, a street in Berlin running along the Landwehr Canal in Kreuzberg, but at the beginning of the 20th century, Lincke belonged to the most popular composers and even got himself a nickname "father of the operetta.”
Paul Lincke was born in Berlin on November 7th, 1866. His father August Lincke was a magistrate and played as a violinist in several small orchestras. He obviously bequeathed his son's musical talent, but, sadly, died when Paul was only five years old. After graduating from the Wittenberger Stadtkapelle (a city orchestra of Wittenberg, southwest of Berlin), where he learnt to play several instruments, Paul’s dream was to become a military musician.
Photo by: The Paul-Lincke-Haus in Hahnenklee. Paul Lincke spent the last days of his life in this house.
Photo by: Grave of Paul Lincke in the cemetery of Hahnenklee, in the background the large crane pond
Upon his return to Berlin in 1884, he had to be bitterly disappointed, being denied the desired position because of his narrow-chested condition. Paul then began his professional career as a bandmaster at the theater. His passion for entertainment music grew during his time at the theater, and in 1897 he wrote the one-act play Venus auf Erden. With this piece he heralded the beginning of the Berlin Operetta.
Lincke’s hits of the following years for various theaters, springing up all over Friedrichstrasse, were beloved by the Berliners of all ages. With Frau Luna and Im Reiche des Indra in 1899, Fräulein Loreley in 1900 and Lysistrata in 1902, the spectators were dreaming of flights to the moon (like the main character of Frau Luna), great love, and adventure. The audiences were awed by improvisation and composer’s innovation to turn everything upside down, trying something else, exactly in the schemes of what was happening in the city at that time.
Photo by: Title page of the sheet music "Die Meistersinger von Berlin", vocal potpuorri by Paul Lincke
Photo by: Paul Lincke (1886–1946), compositeur allemand, German postal service
Photo by: Stamp for 10 years of death of Paul Linke (1866-1946)
Lincke's brilliant melodies and his musical flexibility have spread far beyond Germany. He got a two-year engagement in Paris, where he conducted the famous orchestra of the Théâtre Folies Bergères. During these years, Berlin had blossomed into a truly cosmopolitan city, so Lincke was eager to return. For more than 30 years he lived at Oranienstrasse 64, where his own publishing house was also located.
During the 1930s and early 40s, Lincke kept his position and was even feted by the current regime. On his 75th birthday, he was the 63rd citizen to be awarded honorary citizenship by the city of Berlin. In 1942 he received the title of professor. Then again, he had his luck in 1943. When Berlin was bombed, Lincke’s house and the publishing house were completely destroyed, while the composer himself was in Marienbad, conducting his operetta.
The end of the war brought him to Hahnenklee in the Harz Mountains. Here, despite his old age and poor health, he was eager to move back to Berlin, his beloved Heimat and the place of his inspiration. Lincke returned to the bombed-out city, fighting for living space and finally getting a permit. After much effort, the apartment allocation arrived on September 4, 1946, one day after the composer died in a hospital.
What’s left behind is the eternal Berliner Luft. Listen to the piece and feel the allure of Berlin's air, of course, not being the oxygen, but being this kind of intangible essence of Berlin that once you breathe it, that it draws people in; once you get a sniff of the Berliner Luft, you know, it's intoxicating.