“No tango,” said Kaiser Wilhelm II

“No tango,” said Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last German emperor, one hundred years ago today. On November 20, 2013, he issued a degree that forbade his uniformed officers to participate in the new and sensuous dance. Here is why:

Tango’s History

In Latin, tango means “I touch.” The dance originated toward the end of the 19th century. It suddenly sprung up in the working-class port neighborhoods of Buenos Aires in Argentina. The tango’s distinctive voice is attributable to a small musical instrument, the Bandoneon. Heinrich Band, a German immigrant, had brought it to Argentina. The tango quickly moved from the modest port tenements and seedy bordellos into the palaces of the wealthy. Its movements required close body contact. Phonographs, a new invention at the time, transported the dance to the Old World where London, Paris, and Berlin enthusiastically embraced it.

Tango, the gutter child

Because poor immigrants from many different countries were thrown together in Buenos Aires, the tango expressed their longing for the land they had left behind. Unable to identify with these immigrants’ plights, Kaiser Wilhelm II called the dance “a gutter child.” He preferred different rhythms. His keenly religious wife, Auguste Victoria, hated to dance altogether. But the tango became popular despite the emperor’s preferences. Even within his own circle, the Countess of Schwerin-Loewitz, wife of the president of the Prussian Parliament, could not be dissuaded from hosting a tango party. At the soiree, diplomats and high ranking officers tangoed tightly knotted with their partners. To stop the craze, Kaiser Wilhelm II forbade all uniformed Prussian Army officers to tango. For additional information, please visit www.kalenderblatt.de


Last German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II. He forbade the tango (taken in 1905 - archival photo)

Last German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II. He forbade the tango
(taken in 1905 – archival photo)

Originally a low-class dance form, the tango became wildly popular with upper and middle classes around the world. In 1916, Roberto Firpo, bandleader of the period, introduced the standard tango sextet: two bandoneons, two violins, piano and double bass.

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.




Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply