Java born Robert Kreis began his musical career by chance. Whilst working as steward on a cruise-ship he was asked to entertain the passengers on piano. He enjoyed himself so much that enrolment at a cabaret school in The Hague followed. At the same time he began collecting old shellack gramaphone discs from junk shops and jumblesales.
The result was a large collection of shellack discs (some 7000) and a career recreating the music he loves – particularly Chanson from the days of the Weimar Republic. His appearances during the Bonn Museumsmile Festival are a taster of the cabaret show that Kreis performs throughout Germany, and, charming and funny as they are there is also a serious side to the shows. At one point during his set on the Museumsplatz stage he remarks that 80% of the performers and writers of this charming and fascinating material were Jews who were to be murdered by the Nazis.
What a wonderful package of songs those people produced though. Where 20’s and 30’s protocol prevented lyrics of overt promiscuity, there were songs about cacti and poodles that were more than just a little veneered with double entendre. All of them are sung with a wink by Kreis. With his face pancaked with white make-up, pencil moustach, Houndstooth jacket and greased hair, he creates the feeling of a bygone era – almost appearing to float ‘ghost-like’ from piano stool to stage wing as he tells jokes, usually from Jewish writers – “What’s a Jewish dilemna? Pork on offer at half price” But it’s not meant as an insult. It’s recreating a show that so many talented writers and musicians had vicously taken away from them. The shows they never got to make. It’s also very entertaining, very funny, and I could understand every word of every song – something I can’t even do when listening to most English musicians these days.
They do say that what goes around comes around, and as Kreis points out, The 1920’s and 30’s were a time of Businesses going bust, of sinking share prices and job uncertainty. Sound familiar? The antidote then was to sit back, enjoy a show, and laugh at what your life throws at you. In the words of one of the afternoons songs – “In fünfzig Jahre ist alles vorbei” (‘In fifty years it’ll all be over anyway”) Life expectancy today makes that sound a little pessimistic but nevertheless it’s advice that is just as wise now as when it was written.
If you get the chance to catch one of Robert Kreis’ cabaret shows take it!