Some people left this mortal world, but their work makes them immortal. Karl Valentin is probably the best example of it. The Charlie Chaplin of Germany is that star in the sky that can never be faded even after ages.
Born as Valentin Ludwig Fey on 4 June 1882 in Munich, Germany, Karl Valentin, was a Bavarian comedian and cabaret performer. He also had a vast experience in film production. Moreover, Karl proved himself as an incredible author, too. To put in a nutshell, he was among the most versatile influencers in Germany.
Karl’s family was a moderately prosperous middle-class one. His father, Johann Valentin Fey, had left his hometown, Darmstadt, in 1852, and found a job in the suburb of Munich, Au.
Karl Valentin’s father started working with an upholstering company in the new location. After twelve years, Johann had got the license of the company. Later, the emphasis of the business switched to furniture transport from upholstery under his ownership. After settled down, the elder Valentin got married in 1869 with a widower, Johanna Maria Schatte. She was a baker’s daughter from Saxon, a city in Zittau.
Karl was born in a Munich neighborhood, Au. He was the only son of his parents. His sister, Elizabeth, died in 1871 due to an unrecorded ailment. His two brothers, Karl and Max, were born in 1873 and 1876, respectively. Both left this world due to diphtheria in 1882. Valentin was only a few months old when this tragedy occurred.
Later, he caught the same disease, but thanks to an old lady in Au, he was saved. Her herbal juice worked like magic for Karl, and he became healthy within days. He was the only hope left for his parents, and that’s why they fulfilled every wish of him. Karl was the apple of their eyes, and especially, his mother was sensitive towards him.
No doubt, Karl loved to engage with the popular entertainment in Munich, because he had a great interest in bicycle racing, electricity, and fire-fighting. However, he often visited circuses that set up their tents in the city. The singers, jugglers, and clowns fascinated him a lot. Sometimes, he tried to grab a ticket for a circus show. Little did he know he was going to be one of the most renowned comedians of his time?
In 1996, when Karl was about fifteen years old, he completed an apprenticeship as a carpenter. It helped him a lot in later years when he started film production as he built his scenes all by himself. Along with carpentry apprenticeship, Karl also took lessons in playing the zither.
At that time in Germany, Volkssänger (folk singer) and stand-up comedians were all over the country. People loved to adopt these professions, and Karl’s passion wasn’t any different. To fulfill his dream, he joined comedian Hermann Strebel’s variety school from May to July in 1902.
Struggling Time of His Career
Karl Valentin’s favorite influential was none other than Karl Maxstadt. The style of Maxstadt was incredible. He sang original couplets, and he presented imitations before audiences in Europe. Karl wanted to become as spontaneous in his profession as he was.
In 1902, Karl had acted in the Variete Zeughaus in Nuremberg, where he performed under his stage name, Karl Valentin, for the first time. Later in the same year, on October 7, his father died. He had to stop his activities for a while. With the help of his mother, Karl managed the shipping company of his father, Falk & Fey, for three to four years (1902-1906).
Along with the father’s business, he never missed any chance to appear as a music comedian at different events and clubs. Meanwhile, he established his musical apparatus, Living Orchestrion. Keep in mind that the first daughter of Karl was born in 1905, and he named her Gisela. The mother of the baby girl was Gisela Royes (1881-1956), and she was the later wife of Valentin.
In 1907, he had traveled through numerous cities under his pen name, Charles Fey, with his musical apparatus. He wasn’t alone, and Leipzig, Bamberg, and a few other people were also with him. However, the tour was an utter failure, and he had to come back to Munich without a single penny. His life became hard after that trip, but he kept working as a zither player and comedian.
Though that wasn’t enough to earn a decent lifestyle, however, he managed to survive crucial situations. Throughout the tough times (the era of 1907-1908), he had been supported by the comedian and printer owner, Franz Erlacher. Along with Franz, the innkeeper and artist of Munich Ludwig Greiner also helped Karl. Greiner also gave him an idea of using his lean body on the stage as a skeleton gig.
After struggling for many months, he finally got his breakthrough in 1908. His first success was to perform on the Volkssanger stage of the Frankfurt Hof in Schillerstrasse Street in Munich. It was a great achievement to prove himself as a comedian. Later, he regularly performed with success at the same place for a while.
When his lifestyle changed, he shifted to Ackermannstrasse. In 1910, his youngest child was born. Her name was Bertl.
Karl Valentin and Liesl Karlstadt
The year of 1911 had proved more fortunate because he met Elizabeth Wellano, who joined Frankfurt Hof as a soubrette. Karl immediately found the talent of the beautiful young lady. Later, she worked many films with him under the stage name of Liesl Karlstadt.
Karl married his long-time girlfriend, Gisela Royes, in the Saint. Anna Church in Munich on July 31, 1911. Gisela was also the maid of Fey House, and she was the mother of Karl’s beloved daughters.
After the marriage, he focused on his career, and in 1912, he planned to try a new style of cinema. To blow life into his plan, he set up a film studio in his hometown, Munich. The purpose was to shoot his first silent movie, Karl Valentin’s Hochzeit. It was released in 1913. In the same year, he emerged on the stage with the then 21-year-old Liesl Karlstadt. Their stage partnership endured 26-year long. He also moved to his new flat in Kanalstrasse 8.
In 1914, his next movie released, The New Desk (Der Neue Schreibtisch), which was the first version of Tingeltangel. He went to the army at the beginning of WWI, but he was exempted from the military due to severe asthma disease.
From the era of 1915-1921, he performed in almost all the famous cabarets in Munich.
Berlin, Bert Brecht, Kammerspiele, and the Decade of Achievements
Karl came up with another hit flick, Mysteries of a Barbershop, with the help of Bertolt Brecht (theatre practitioner) and Erich Engel (director). Bert also performed a parody of one part of the film in the night show of his premiere, Drums in the Night. It was held at the Kammerspiele Theatre in Munich. Moreover, Karl made a guest appearance of one of the prestigious shows in Zurich.
In 1923, Karl had lost his mother. She was 78 when she died. Later, he had appeared not only in Zurich but Nuremberg and Vienna, too. The theatre play, Robber Barons before Munich, was performed by Karl with positive reviews in the Munich Kammerspiele in 1924. Later, he gave a successful guest appearance in Berlin’s show, Neue Operettenhaus. He also appeared in Vienna in a cameo role.
By 1925, he became wealthy and famous. He bought a house in Planegg for his retirement. On the other side, the premieres of the Petitioner and the Two Electrical Engineers (later released as the Repaired Headlamp) were also in 1925.
In the year of 1926, Karl had encountered new adventures. However, he rejected the offer of a film from Hollywood. The apparent reason was his uncomfortable trip to America, where he felt uneasiness in the Cabarets of Comedians among other performers with the Orchestral Rehearsal.
Karl did another film, Der Sonderling, in 1929. Later, he also appeared with a cameo role in the Kabarett der Komiker in Berlin. In 1930, Liesl Karlstadt decided to do solo performances. On the other side, Karl started his theatre till April 24. Valentin had never liked the fights and uncertain conditions of the fire police at the place. In the end, he gave up the theatre.
The Irreplaceable Friendship of Karl Valentin and Bert Brecht
Bertolt Brecht and Karl were old friends, and their friendship bond became stronger after they worked together. In 1922, Bert had appeared with Liesl Karlstadt and Valentin in a photo of Karl’s Oktoberfest.
The next year, in 1923, Karl performed in a half-hour short movie, Mysteries of a Barbershop, which was written by his beloved friend Bertolt Brecht. The director of the flick was Erich Engel, who was also a good pal of Valentin. Moreover, the other crew of the film included Liesl Karlstadt, Max Schreck, Josef Eichheim, and Blandine Ebinger, and Erwin Faber. It was among the 100 most influential movies in the history of German filmmaking.
Bert was also a huge fan of Karl’s cabaret performances (Munich’s beerhalls), and he praised his work almost on all platforms. Moreover, Brecht was the person who compared Karl’s work with Charlie Chaplin, and he considered Valentin the German version of him.
Their friendship was exemplary, and they continued working together from time to time.
Fluctuation in Karl’s Career (1931-1940)
However, in 1932, he featured in The Sold, a film by Max Ophul. In the year 1933, Karl also started filming the Orchestra Rehearsal.
After doing numerous movies and theatre shows, Karl was finally in the position to launch his Panopticon. But first, he decided to move into a flat at Mariannenplatz. In 1934, he had completed the filming of Firmling and Theaterbesuch. Later in October, Karl originated his Panopticon, which was the curiosity and scary show. He started it in the basement of Hotel Wagner with his long-time stage partner, Liesl Karlstadt. Unfortunately, the show was a failure, and they lost their many assets. He had to close the Panopticon in December.
Talk about 1935, that year was quite depressing for Liesl Karlstadt as she had to admit in a mental hospital for prolonged treatment. However, in December, Karl appeared again in the Kabarett der Komiker in Berlin. After her thorough treatment, Liesl featured in ten films with Valentin in 1936. One of the movies was The Legacy, which was banned by the National Socialists because of misery tendencies. According to the authorities, the representation of a non-wealthy couple couldn’t fit. Consequently, they called for censorship.
However, it was refreshing to listen to Karl Valentin and Liesl Karlstadt on the Bavarian radio for the very first time in 1937. Karl even opened a new Panopticon on June 18 in the area of Fabergraben33. He later changed it to Ritterspelunke. The second attempt was a bit successful, and the show remained open until 1940. His granddaughter, Anneliese, was born, too. Though in 1939, his long-term partnership had ended with Liesl Karlstadt because she was dealing with mental health issues. But Karl instantly found her replacement, Anne-Marie Fischer as a newbie stage partner.
Karl sold his comprehensive collection of Altmunchner city views, including slides, stereoscopic images, and photos to the Munich City Archives. Because of his lovely hobby, many people came to know how Munich looked back then in the late 1800s and early 1900s era. On December 31, the Charlie Chaplin of Germany had appeared as a frog in the operetta, Die Fledermaus, in the Gartnerplatztheater.
In 1940, Karl ended his stage partnership with Anne-Marie Fischer as he closed his Ritterspelunke. Later, he did his last public show before the end of WWII with Liesl Karlstadt in the Deutsches Theatre. However, he had done two short performances in the Krone Circus in November 1941.
The Effects of WWII on Karl’s Life (1941-1948)
Karl had left Munich and settled in his house in Planegg in 1941. The entire city was on threats of aerial bombs, and his apartment in Munich was destroyed on April 25, 1944. His book, Meine Jugendstreich, along with numerous monologues and couplets, were among the best examples of his creativity during the period of WWII. In 1942, he had to publish monthly articles in the Munich field post to make some money. The rates were low, but he had to survive.
After the end of WWII in 1946, Karl badly needed work to meet both ends. He tried hard to restart his profession again, but the war had changed everything. Munich had destroyed, and nobody was willing to hear Valentin’s dark humor. Everybody in the city was crushed and depressed, and they were not ready to spend money on Karl’s “pessimistic views.”
Of course, he was disheartened and disappointed with the attitude of the audience. It was the only source of his income, and he lost it. However, he had tried in 1947 to build on his past fame. He started again with Liesl Karlstadt. In 1948, Karl caught a cold during a guest performance in the Colorful Cube.
He died on 9th February 1948 from his untreated and uncured bronchitis with pneumonia. Later, on 11th February, he buried at the Waldfriedhof in Planegg.
Performance Style of Karl Valentin
Karl Valentin’s was a master of producing naïve sense of humor sketches that were slightly connected to social expressionism, Dadaism, and the Neue Sachlichkeit. Karl Kraus and Karl Valentine were considered experts in gallows humor.
Valentin’s remarkable art revolved around linguistic dexterity and wordplay. In reality, he was a linguistic anarchist. His style was different from many other German influencers, and that’s why people called him the extraordinary ordinary artist. In his entire life, he tried his best to put a smile on others’ faces.
Even other famous influencers appreciated his work and talent in different styles. According to Kurt Tucholsky (German journalist), “Karl can never be born again, because he is a sad, rare, immeasurably funny, and unearthly comedian who thinks on the left.”
Karl was the pride of the German theatre and its educated middle-class community, and after passes many decades, he is still the same. He always managed to make the maximum number of people laugh, and it can never be underestimated.
Today, after so many years, the content of Valentin is shared and presented in every language and many countries. His poems, his films, his theatre work, and his sketches, everything is still in demand. Even on his 100th birthday in 1982, the Munich City Museum held an exhibition with the title: “Karl Valentin folk singer? Dadaist?” It was up to visitors to found the hidden meaning of the title.
Filmography of Karl Valentin
Some popular film names of Karl Valentin are:
- Karl Valentin’s Hochzeit (1912 or 1913)
- Die Lustigen Vagabunden (The Funny Vagabonds) (1912)
- Der Neue Schreibtisch (The New Desk) (1913 or 1914)
- Die Schonheitskonkurrenz or Das Urteil des Paris (1921)
- Der Entflohene Hauptdarsteller (1921)
- Mysterien eines Frisiersalons (Mysteries of a Barbershop) (1922)
- Auf dem Oktoberfest (At the Oktoberfest) (1923)
- Der Feuerwehrtrompeter (1929)
- Im Photoatelier (1932)
- Orchesterprobe (Orchestra Rehearsal) (1933)
- Der Zithervirtuose (1934)
- Es Knalt (1934)
- Der Verhexte Scheinwerfer (1934)
- Im Schallplattenladen (1934)
- Der Theaterbesuch (The Theatre Visit) (1934)
- So ein Theatre! (1934)
- Der Firmling (1934)
- Musik zu zweien (1936)
- Die Erbschaft (The Inheritance) (1936)
- Strassenmusik (Street Music) (1936)
- Ein Verhangnisvolles Geigensolo (1936)
- Die Karierte Weste (1936)
- Beim Rechtsanwalt (1936)
- Beim Nervenarzt (1936)
- Der Bittsteller (1936)
- Ewig Dein (Forever Yours) (1937)
- Selbst Valentin macht mit (1937 or 1938)
- Nur nicht drangeln (1937 or 1938)
- Munchen (Munich) (1938)
- Der Antennendraht/Im Senderaum (1938)
- In der Apotheke (In the Pharmacy) (1941)
- Der Kinematograph (The Cinematograph) (1920)
- Der Sonderling (The Nerd) (1920)
- Die verkaufte Braut (The Sold Bride) (1932, Valentins erster Tonfilm)
- Kirschen in Nachbars Garten (Cherries in the Neighbor’s Garden) (1935)
- Donner, Blitz und Sonnenschein (Thunder, Lightning, and Sunshine) (1936)
Radio Plays (Selective)
- Buchbinder Wanninger
- Radfahrer und Verkehrsschutzmann
- Der Trompeter von Sackingen
- Die Brille
- Der Ententraum
- Der Hutladen
- Das Aquarium
- Der Schafflertanz
- Der Verlorene Brillantring
- Die gestrige Zeitung
- Der Notenwart
- Der neue Buchhalter
- Das Brilliantfeuerwerk
- Der Spritzbrunnenaufdreher
- Die alten Rittersleut
- Das Lied vom Sonntag
Karl’s work is available on DVDs, Audiobooks, books, and other forms. Anybody can search on the internet.
Legacy of Karl Valentin
In 1959, a unique museum, erected in the Isartor in Munich. It was based on private initiative, and the name is the Valentin-Karlstadt Museum. Inside the building, visitors can observe absurdities from parts of his legacy.
The nail on which Karl Valentine hung his carpentry profession and the fur-trimmed winter toothpick has enhanced the grace of the museum. Moreover, many other worth seeing exhibits have been displayed in the place. A statue of Karl Valentin was installed in the Viktualienmarkt in Munich. Locals and visitors come and place flowers on this sculpture to pay tribute to his work.
To put it shortly, Karl Valentin had served his people with his excellent sense of humor. Karl adopted styles no other comedian had ever courage to use. Not only in stand-up comedy, but he proved his talent in film production, writing, poetry, and theatre, too. His life was a roller-coaster, but with companions like Bert Brecht, Liesl Karlstadt, and a few other valuable pals, he surpassed every hurdle with dignity. His wife and beautiful kids were his strength, too. Though he had enjoyed everlasting fame, however, everything has an end. His soul departed this mortal world at the age of 65, but the essence of his work can never dwindle.
No doubt, Karl Valentin is a name one could never forget with ease. The journey of the legend is an inspiration for many newbie creative thinkers, comedians, and filmmakers. He is a phenomenon, and his legacy will live on forever.