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Excerpt: From Morning To Midnight, by Georg Kaiser

A 1912 German expressionist play contains a key scene set in Berlin's Sportpalast during one of the city's Six Day races.

A scene from Karlheinz Martin's 1920 film of Georg Kaiser's play
A scene from Karlheinz Martin's 1920 film of Georg Kaiser's play

Following on from Graham Davis's new translation of Egon Erwin Kisch's Elliptical Treadmill I've been reading around on the subject of the Berlin Six and stumbled upon a play by the German dramatist Georg Kaiser which features a scene set during one of the Berlin Sixes: Von Morgens bis Mitternachts (From Morning to Midnight). Kaiser's play was written in 1912 - by which time the Berlin Six was into its fourth year and already popular enough to be staged twice in the one year - but was not performed until 1917. Three years later it was filmed by Karlheinz Martin.

Set over the course of a single day, the play tells the story of a cashier in a provincial bank who - in an effort to impress a beautiful customer - steals sixty thousand marks. When he discovers that she has a son he rejects her and returns home. There, he rejects his family and flees to an unidentified metropolis, where he attempts to use his new-found wealth to buy passion. Along the way the cashier attends a Six Day bike race, where he offers unprecedented primes in an effort to inflame the passions of the spectators. The text of that scene - from a 1922 American translation - is offered below. As with Kisch's Elliptical Treadmill the scene is not about the bicycle race itself, but rather the crowd's response to it. As with Kisch, this is sport as spectacle.

In a 2007 article about sport and cultural debate during the years of the Weimar Republic - where I first found mention of Kaiser's play - John Hughes noted that Berlin's Sechstagerennen "was amongst the best-known and most commented-upon sports events of the Weimar Republic." But, despite its mass popularity, Hughes found an abundance of critics of Six Day racing. As well as Kisch and his Elliptical Treadmill there were Joseph Roth (1922), Victor Aubertin (1923), Hannes Küpper (1927), Alfred Polger (1930), Willy Meisl (1928), Hermann Sinsheimer (1931), and Paul Kornfield (1933). As with the scene from Kaiser's play below, many of these writers preferred to observe the actions of the crowd, not those of the riders, rejecting the sport as a product of the new machine age.

Put men like Kisch or Kaiser - or even a woman like Colette, who reported on the crowds attending the final stage of the 1913 Tour de France - on Mont Ventoux or l'Alpe d'Huez today and you can imagine them still saying the same things they said a century ago. As it was then, so too today is cycling still reported by many as a spectacle more than a sport, particularly where the Tour is concerned.

* * * * *



SCENE: The steward's box of a velodrome during a cycle race meeting. Jewish gentlemen, stewards, come and go. They are all alike; little animated figures in dinner jackets, with silk hats tilted back and binoculars slung in leather cases. Whistling, catcalls and a restless hum from the crowded tiers of spectators unseen, off right. Music. All the action takes place on the platform.

From Morning To Midnight
A scene from a US stage production of the play

FIRST GENTLEMAN: [Entering.] Is everything ready?

SECOND GENTLEMAN: See for yourself.

FIRST GENTLEMAN: [Looking through glasses.] The palms -

SECOND GENTLEMAN: What's the matter with the palms?

FIRST GENTLEMAN: I thought as much.

SECOND GENTLEMAN: But what's wrong with them?

FIRST GENTLEMAN: Who arranged them like that?


SECOND GENTLEMAN: Upon my soul, you're right!

FIRST GENTLEMAN: Was nobody responsible for arranging them?

THIRD GENTLEMAN: Ridiculous. Simply ridiculous.

FIRST GENTLEMAN: Whoever it was, he's as blind as a bat!

THIRD GENTLEMAN: Or fast asleep.

SECOND GENTLEMAN: Asleep. But this is only the fourth night of the races.

FIRST GENTLEMAN: The palm-tubs must be pushed on one side.

SECOND GENTLEMAN: Will you see to it?

FIRST GENTLEMAN: Right against the wall. There must be a clear view of the whole track. [Exit.]

THIRD GENTLEMAN: And of the royal box.

SECOND GENTLEMAN: I'll go with you. [Exit.]

FOURTH GENTLEMAN: [Enters, fires a pistol-shot and withdraws.]

FIFTH GENTLEMAN [Enters with a red lacquered megaphone.]

THIRD GENTLEMAN: How much is the prize?

FIFTH GENTLEMAN: Eighty marks. Fifty to the winner, thirty to the second.

FIRST GENTLEMAN: [Re-entering.] Three times round, no more. We're tiring them out.

FOURTH GENTLEMAN: [Through megaphone.] A prize is offered of eighty marks. The winner to receive fifty marks, the second thirty marks. [Applause.]

From Morning To Midnight
A scene from Karlheinz Martin's film

SECOND AND THIRD GENTLEMAN: [Return, one carrying a flag.]

FIRST GENTLEMAN: We can start them now.

SECOND GENTLEMAN: Not yet. No. 7 is shifting.


SECOND GENTLEMAN: [Lowers his flag. The race begins. Rising and falling volume of applause, with silent intervals.]

THIRD GENTLEMAN: The little fellows must win once in a while.

FOURTH GENTLEMAN: It's a good thing the favorites are holding back.

FIFTH GENTLEMAN: They'll have to work hard enough before the night's over.

THIRD GENTLEMAN: The riders are terribly excited.

FOURTH GENTLEMAN: And no wonder.

FIFTH GENTLEMAN: Depend upon it, the championship will be settled to-night.

THIRD GENTLEMAN: The Americans are still fresh.

FIFTH GENTLEMAN: Our lads will make them hustle.

FOURTH GENTLEMAN: Let's hope his royal highness will be pleased with the victory.

FIRST GENTLEMAN: [Looking through glasses.] The box is still empty. [Outburst of applause.]


FOURTH GENTLEMAN: Prizes in cash - 50 marks for No. 11, 30 marks for No. 4.

[SEVENTH GENTLEMAN enters with CASHIER. The latter is in evening clothes, with silk hat, patent shoes, gloves, cloak, his beard trimmed, his hair carefully brushed.]

CASHIER: Tell me what is this all about?

SECOND GENTLEMAN: I'll introduce you to the stewards.

CASHIER: My name doesn't matter.

SECOND GENTLEMAN: But you ought to meet the management.

CASHIER: I prefer to remain incognito.

SECOND GENTLEMAN: But you seem interested in these races.

From Morning to Midinght
A scene from Karlheinz Martin's film

CASHIER: I haven't the slightest idea what it's all about. What are they doing down there? I can see a round track with a bright moving line, like a snake. Now one comes in, another falls out. Why is that?

SECOND GENTLEMAN: They ride in pairs. While one partner is pedalling-

CASHIER: The other blockhead sleeps?

SECOND GENTLEMAN: He's being massaged.

CASHIER: And you call that a relay race?


CASHIER: You might as well call it a relay rest.

FIRST GENTLEMAN: [Approaching.] Ahem ! The enclosure is reserved for the management.

SECOND GENTLEMAN: This gentleman offers a prize of a thousand marks.

FIRST GENTLEMAN: [Change of tone.] Allow me to introduce myself.

CASHIER: On no account.

SECOND GENTLEMAN: The gentleman wishes to preserve his incognito.

CASHIER: Impenetrably.

SECOND GENTLEMAN: I was just explaining the sport to him.

CASHIER: Yes, don't you find it funny?

FIRST GENTLEMAN: How do you mean?

CASHIER: Why, this relay rest.

FOURTH GENTLEMAN: A prize of a thousand marks! For how many laps ?

CASHIER: As many as you please.

FOURTH GENTLEMAN: How much shall we allot to the winner?

CASHIER: That's your affair.

FOURTH GENTLEMAN: Eight hundred and two hundred. [Through megaphone.] An anonymous gentleman offers the following prizes for an open race of ten laps : 800 marks to the winner; 200 marks to the second; 1000 marks in all. [Loud applause.]

SECOND GENTLEMAN: But tell me, if you're not really interested in this sort of thing, why do you offer such a big prize?

CASHIER: Because it works like magic.

SECOND GENTLEMAN: On the pace of the riders, you mean?

CASHIER: Rubbish.

THIRD GENTLEMAN: [Entering.] Are you the gentleman who is offering a thousand marks ?

CASHIER: In gold.

SECOND GENTLEMAN: That would take too long to count. . . .

CASHIER: Watch me. [He pulls out the money, moistens his finger and counts rapidly.] That makes less to carry.

SECOND GENTLEMAN: I see you're an expert.

CASHIER: A mere detail, sir. [Handing him the money.] Accept payment.

SECOND GENTLEMAN: Received with thanks.

FIFTH GENTLEMAN: [Approaching.] Where is the gentleman? Allow me to introduce -

CASHIER: Certainly not!

THIRD GENTLEMAN: [With flag.] I shall give the start. [General movement from the stand.]

FIFTH GENTLEMAN: Now we shall see a tussle for the championship.

THIRD GENTLEMAN: [Joining group.] All the cracks are in the race.

FOURTH GENTLEMAN: Off! [Outburst of applause.]

CASHIER: [Taking FIRST GENTLEMAN and SECOND GENTLEMAN by the collar and turning them around.] : Now I'll answer your question for you. Look up !

SECOND GENTLEMAN: But you must keep your eye on the track, and watch how the race goes.

CASHIER: Childish, this sport. One rider must win because the other loses. Look up, I say ! It's there, among the crowd, that the magic works. Look at them - three tiers - one above the other - packed like sardines - excitement rages. Down there in the boxes the better classes are still controlling themselves. They're only looking on but, oh, what looks wide eyed - staring. One row higher, their bodies sway and vibrate. You hear exclamations. Way up - no restraint ! Fanatic - yells - bellowing nakedness - a gallery of passion. Just look at that group! Five times entwined; five heads dancing on one shoulder, five pairs of arms beating time across one howling breast ! At the head of this monster is a single man. He's being crushed . . . mangled . . . thrust over the railing. His hat, crumpled, falls through the murky atmosphere . . . flutters into the middle balcony, lights upon a lady's bosom. There it rests daintily ... so daintily ! She'll never notice the hat ; she'll go to bed with it ; year in, year out, she'll carry this hat upon her breast ! [The applause swells.]

From Morning To Midnight
A scene from Karlheinz Martin's film

FIRST GENTLEMAN: The Dutchman is putting on speed.

CASHIER: The second balcony joins in. An alliance has been made; the hat has done the trick. The lady crushes it against the railing. Pretty lady, your bosom will show the marks of this ! There's no help for it. It's foolish to struggle. You are pushed to the wall and you've got to give yourself, just as you are, without a murmur.

SECOND GENTLEMAN: Do you know the lady?

CASHIER: Look ! Some one is being pushed out over the railing. He swings free, he loses his hold, he drops - he sails down into the boxes. What has become of him? Vanished! Swallowed, stifled, absorbed! A raindrop in a maelstrom!

FIRST GENTLEMAN: The fellow from Hamburg is making up ground.

CASHIER: The boxes are frantic. The falling man has set up contact. Restraint can go to the devil! Dinner-jackets quiver. Shirt fronts begin to split. Studs fly in all directions. Lips are parted, jaws are rattling. Above and below - all distinctions are lost. One universal yell from every tier. Pandemonium. Climax.

SECOND GENTLEMAN: [Turning.] : He wins ! He wins ! The German wins ! What do you say to that ?

CASHIER: Stuff and nonsense.

SECOND GENTLEMAN: A marvelous spurt!

CASHIER: Marvelous trash !

FIRST GENTLEMAN: [About to leave.] We'll just make certain -

CASHIER: [Holding him back.] Have you any doubts about it?

SECOND GENTLEMAN: The German was leading, but -

CASHIER: Never mind that, if you please. [Pointing to the audience.] Up there you have the staggering fact. Watch the supreme effort, the lazy dizzy height of accomplishment. From boxes to gallery one seething flux, dissolving the individual, recreating-passion ! Differences melt away, veils are torn away; passion rules ! The trumpets blare and the walls come tumbling down. No restraint, no modesty, no motherhood, no childhood - nothing but passion ! There's the real thing. That's worth the search. That justifies the price!

THIRD GENTLEMAN: [Entering.] : The ambulance column is working splendidly.

CASHIER: Is the man hurt who fell?

THIRD GENTLEMAN: Crushed flat.

CASHIER: When life is at fever heat some must die.

FOURTH GENTLEMAN: [With megaphone.] Result; 800 marks won by No. 2; 200 marks won by No. 1. [Loud applause.]

FIFTH GENTLEMAN: The men are tired out.

SECOND GENTLEMAN: You could see the pace dropping.

THIRD GENTLEMAN: They need a rest.

CASHIER: I've another prize to offer.

FIRST GENTLEMAN: Presently, sir.

CASHIER: No interruptions, no delays.

SECOND GENTLEMAN: We must give them a chance to breathe.

CASHIER: Bah ! Don't talk to me of those fools ! Look at the public, bursting with excitement. This power mustn't be wasted. We'll feed the flames ; you shall see them leap into the sky. I offer fifty thousand marks.

SECOND GENTLEMAN: Do you mean it?

THIRD GENTLEMAN: How much did you say?

CASHIER: Fifty thousand. Everything.

THIRD GENTLEMAN: It's an unheard of sum -

CASHIER: The effect will be unheard of. Warn your ambulance men on every floor.

FIRST GENTLEMAN: We accept your offer. The contest shall begin when the box is occupied.



FOURTH GENTLEMAN: This is a profitable visitor.

FIFTH GENTLEMAN: [Digging him in the ribs.] : A paying guest.

CASHIER: [To FIRST GENTLEMAN] What do you mean - when the box is occupied?

FIRST GENTLEMAN: We'll talk over the conditions in the committee room. I suggest 30,000 to the winner ; 15,000 to the second ; 5,000 to the third.


THIRD GENTLEMAN: [Gloomily.] : Downright waste, I call it.

FIFTH GENTLEMAN: The sport's ruined for good and all.

FIRST GENTLEMAN: [Turning.] As soon as the box is occupied.

[All go out, leaving CASHIER alone. Enter SALVATION LASS.]

SALVATION LASS: The War Cry! Ten pfennigs, sir.

CASHIER: Presently, presently.

SALVATION LASS: The War Cry, sir.

CASHIER: What trash are you trying to sell?

SALVATION LASS: The War Cry, sir.

CASHIER: You're too late. The battle's in full swing.

SALVATION LASS: [Shaking tin box.] Ten pfennigs, sir.

CASHIER: So you expect to start a war for ten pfennigs?

SALVATION LASS: Ten pfennigs, sir.

CASHIER: I'm paying an indemnity of 50,000 marks.

SALVATION LASS: Ten pfennigs.

CASHIER: Yours is a wretched scuffle. I only subscribe to pitched battles.

SALVATION LASS: Ten pfennigs.

CASHIER: I carry only gold.

SALVATION LASS: Ten pfennigs.



CASHIER: [Seizing megaphone, bellows at her through it.] Gold! Gold! Gold!

[SALVATION LASS goes out. Many GENTLEMEN enter.]

FOURTH GENTLEMAN: Would you care to announce your offer yourself?

CASHIER: No, I'm a spectator. You stun them with the 50,000. [Handing him the megaphone.]

FOURTH GENTLEMAN: [Through the megaphone.] A new prize is offered by the same anonymous gentleman. [Cries of "Bravo!"] The total sum is 50,000 marks. 5,000 marks to the third, 15,000 to the second. The winner to receive 30,000 marks. [Ecstasy.]

CASHIER: [Stands apart, nodding his head.] There we have it, the pinnacle. The summit. The climbing hope fulfilled. The roar of a spring gale. The breaking wave of a human tide. All bonds are burst. Up with the veils - down with the shams ! Humanity - free humanity, high and low, untroubled by class, unfettered by manners. Unclean, but free. That's a reward for my impudence. [Pulling out a bundle of notes.] I can pay with a good heart! [Sudden silence. The GENTLEMEN have taken off their silk hats and stand with bowed heads.]

FOURTH GENTLEMAN: [Coming to CASHIER.] If you'll hand me the money, we can have the race for your prize immediately.

CASHIER: What's the meaning of this?

FOURTH GENTLEMAN: Of what, my dear sir?

CASHIER: Oh this sudden, unnatural silence.

FOURTH GENTLEMAN: Unnatural? Not at all. His Royal Highness has just entered his box.

CASHIER: Highness . . . the royal box . . . the house full.

FOURTH GENTLEMAN: Your generous patronage comes at the most opportune moment.

CASHIER: Thank you ! I don't intend to waste my money.

FOURTH GENTLEMAN: What do you mean?

CASHIER: I find the sum too large ... as a subscription to the Society of back benders !

FOURTH GENTLEMAN: But pray explain . . .

CASHIER: This fire that was raging a moment ago has been put out by the boot of his Highness. You take me for crazy, if you think I will throw one single penny under the snouts of these grovelling dogs, these crooked lackeys ! A kick where the bend is greatest, that's the prize they'll get from me.

FOURTH GENTLEMAN: But the prize has been announced. His Royal Highness is in his box. The audience is showing a proper respect. What do you mean?

CASHIER: If you don't understand my words, let deeds speak for me. [With violent blow he crushes the other's silk hat down upon his shoulders. Exit. FOURTH GENTLEMAN rushes after him, but is restrained by the others.]


* * * * *

Two more scenes follow as the play heads for its midnight denouement. You can discover for yourself how that turns out: the text of From Morning To Midnight can be found on or can be bought from Oberon Books. Karlheinz Martin's film version can be bought on DVD or is also available on YouTube.