Today, as in all revolutionary times, when the existence of the individual trembles to the roots, when life and death are separated by a hair, the ecstasy of delirium and dance sprouts up as if in search of mass narcosis. – Carl Ludwig Schleich, Cocaineism, 1921
The Weimar Period has captured the popular imagination through musicals like Cabaret and films like Marlene Dietrich’s The Blue Angel. Often portrayed as a society dancing on a volcano, both the political right and left have used Weimar Germany’s permissive urban nightlife and debauchery as examples of either societal degeneration or as an open, “anything-goes” paradise. Jazz, cocaine, prostitution, and other forms of vice form one half of the Weimar stereotype: the other of course being runaway inflation, civil unrest, and the rise of Hitler.
Earlier this week, I sat down with Liz Williams and Philip M. Dobard of the Museum of the American Cocktail. Liz Williams is the president and director of the SoFAB Institute, which is the Museum of the American Cocktail’s parent organization. Philip M. Dobard is the Vice President of the SoFAB Institute and director of SoFAB Media.
The Museum of the American Cocktail is slated to reopen on September 29th, 2014 in its new location on O.C. Haley Boulevard in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Unlike my previous posts, today’s entry focuses on the war as a whole rather than on a specific army. Tobacco was ubiquitous at the front and ever-present in prewar society. The war ushered in several changes to European smoking culture: Pipes began to fall out of fashion as cigarettes became more popular, and women smoked more in the postwar era as wartime social changes led to questioning of nineteenth-century gender norms. This is most famously embodied in the the “Flapper” archetype.
At the war’s outbreak, pipe smoking was the most common form of tobacco smoking in the militaries of Europe. Soldiers usually received packets of loose tobacco and matches with their rations. Pipe and cigar smoking were also associated with nineteenth-century ideas about masculinity. Cigarettes, although available, were not nearly as popular as pipes and cigars during this period. The war ushered in nothing short of a revolution in American and European tobacco cultures. It was also a period where modern cigarette advertising began.
Editor’s Note: This summer will mark the 100th anniversary of World War I’s outbreak. Today, contributing editor Nicholas K. Johnson brings us the second installment in a five-part series on alcohol, drugs, and the Great War. You can read Part One here, Part Two here, and Part Three here.
The German army’s experience with alcohol during World War I was more varied than that of their Allied counterparts on the Western Front. This was due in part to the strong degree of regionalism within the German Empire and its army. Units from Bavaria were much more likely to be issued beer as part of their daily ration than units from Prussia or the wine-producing regions of the Rhineland. The German home front also had to deal with food shortages due to the British naval blockade, which placed stresses on the alcohol industry due to an increasing demand for foodstuffs key to alcohol production such as potatoes, barley, and sugar. This shortage eventually affected those in the front lines.
When the German army invaded Belgium and France in August 1914, many soldiers took advantage of the opportunities these newly-conquered territories had to offer. Discipline in rear-echelon units was lax. Hermann Baumann, a baker in the VII Reserve Corps, recalled his unit discovering an “empty house” on September 4, 1914. The house contained 500 bottles of wine in the cellar. Half of his unit became drunk, and four men– including Baumann– took 30 bottles to carry with them during the advance towards Paris. (German supply units were horse-drawn; looting of this scale would have been impossible in the infantry). On September 8th, Baumann’s unit discovered a cellar with 15,000 liters of wine. He later recounts discovering the cellar full of wine barrels. His fellow bakers and supply train drivers tried several of the barrels until they “found something good.” They destroyed so many wine barrels during this search and the subsequent revelry that their boots turned red as they “waded through 20cm of wine” in the cellar.
Editor’s Note: This summer will mark the 100th anniversary of World War I’s outbreak. Today, contributing editor Nicholas K. Johnson brings us the third installment in a five-part series on alcohol, drugs, and the Great War. You can read Part One here and Part Two here.
The experience of American soldiers and Marines with alcohol on the Western Front was fundamentally different than that of their allies from France, Belgium, and the British Commonwealth. Unlike the French and British armies, the men of the American Expeditionary Forces were not issued alcohol in the trenches. This would have been anathema to the powerful temperance movement on the home front. The temperance movement issued anti-alcohol propaganda during and after the war and connected it with the American cause. Behind the lines, YMCA camps offered “wholesome” entertainment for American troops free from alcohol and other vices. However, the temperance movement and YMCA ultimately failed to prevent American troops from consuming alcohol during the war.
Editor’s Note: This summer will mark the 100th anniversary of World War I’s outbreak. Today, contributing editor Nicholas K. Johnson brings us the second installment in a five-part series on alcohol, drugs, and the Great War. You can read Part One here.
“Why don’t we get a rum issue every night, or a bottle of beer with dinner? The French get their wine.” – Frederic Manning, Her Privates We.
The British Tommy had a somewhat different relationship with alcohol than his French ally and German counterpart. Although not as restrictive as American military regulations, British policy concerning alcohol in the trenches was more conservative than that of the French, who issued wine as a matter of routine to their frontline soldiers. However, soldiers of the British Commonwealth were given a daily rum ration. The rum ration, much like the wine ration issued to the French poilu, is a key part of British depictions of the war and formed one of the few pleasures of trench life.
Editor’s Note: This summer will mark the 100th anniversary of World War I’s outbreak. Today, contributing editor Nicholas K. Johnson brings us the first installment in a five-part series on alcohol, drugs, and the Great War.
World War I has often been associated with intoxication in popular culture. Cocktails like the French 75, so named for the kick of a common artillery piece, became popular during the interwar period. During the “Spirit of 1914”– a burst of popular enthusiasm upon the war’s outbreak– European intellectuals likened war hysteria to mass intoxication After the war, Ernst Jünger depicted modern combat as an intoxicating rush (or Rausch) in his popular novelizations of his own experiences on the Western Front. More recently, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire explored drug abuse, alcoholism, and the rise of organized crime through the stories of traumatized World War I veterans Jimmy Darmody and Richard Harrow. This entry explores how alcoholic intoxicants like wine and absinthe were used and depicted during the war. Our guide for this exploration is the poilu , the typical French soldier, and his fondness for wine.