Abstract: The Impact of Commercial Freedom on Berlin's Entertainment Scene, 1830-1918

Angelika Hoelger


Until the mid-nineteenth century, Berlin's entrepreneurs of commercial and public entertainment were considerably hindered in their endeavors by police ordinances and lack of commercial freedom. Two main reasons account for the rationale behind stringent policies. First, Berlin's police and Prussian state officials sought to limit the number of theaters in order to "protect" theater, an institution of high artistic value, from profit-oriented amateurs. Second, ordinances were informed by a strong class bias that pertained both to audiences and prospective businessmen. Venues attended and/or operated by Berliners who were either deemed to indulge in "excesses" (a catch-all phrase for transgressions, such as drinking, rowdy behavior, prostitution, or gambling), or where performances were said to lack any artistic value, faced much harsher restrictions than middle- or upper-class venues. This situation changed dramatically in 1869 when freedom of trade was promulgated, removing previously existing barriers to licensing and repertories. As a result, Berlin's entertainment scene experienced an unprecedented boom. The newly emerged competition intensified debates about professional training and integrity among entertainment providers, and subsequently a number of artistic and theater associations were founded in order to separate the "wheat" from the "chaff." The immediate decades after freedom of trade were thus characterized by a fulminant expansion of Berlin's entertainment scene, but also by increased attempts to "professionalize" amusement businesses.