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"In the Barnabite-Lane I still had to beg her all the same. Up to St.Michael's Square all of it was in vain. Only at the Trench I asked her, couldn't I have a small kiss there? She said, on the Fisher's steps, you could get one perhaps - In der Barnabitengasse hat sie sich noch bitten lassen. Bis zum Michaelerplatz war alles fuer die Katz'. Erst als ich sie frag' am Graben, koennt ich nicht ein Busserl haben? Sagt sie, auf der Fischerstiege'n werden's vielleicht ein's krieg'n!"
(Hermann Leopoldi, 1957, In der Barnabitengass'n - In the Barnabite-Lane)
Leopoldiana: Vienna Charm & Evergreen
Viennese Treats. Leopoldi may be a common name for November 15, the feast day of Saint Leopold, Margrave of Austria from the House of Babenberg and country patron of Vienna and Lower Austria. But we link it to the last name of one of those musical geniuses that a country usually doesn't have too many of. "Leopoldiana" describes the life work of the same Viennese song writer and entertainer Hermann Leopoldi. In cooperation with with two dozen equally outstanding and profound lyricists Leopoldi has composed hundreds of songs that probably characterize the Austrian soul better than libraries full of social studies. A repertoire one might cross knowingly or unknowingly in a merry wine tavern, a schmaltzy chanson program or an absent-minded whistle on the road...
Leopoldi's Three Viennas. Hermann Leopoldi would sing of the "average Viennese", who doesn't need to go to the seaside, for even from his backyard mountain he could look down at no less than four seas: A sea of fog in the morning, a sea of houses during the day, a sea of lights in the evening, and at night there's nothing to see. The three Viennas of Hermann Leopoldi would be an exhibition about his life and works in the light of three different eras:
The exhibition "The three Viennas of Hermann Leopoldi" at the Vienna City Hall would display photographs, papers and sound documents from another time. The kids especially enjoyed the headsets playing the old merry music and riding the nearby paternoster elevator...
"After the movie, I approached her... in the Barnabite-Lane!"
Compact Discovery. I don't know why and I don't remember when, but one day, I think it was at the "Virgin Megastore", a flagship store for contemporary music that is long closed now, where a not so contemporary piece of music caught my attention. It was a CD labelled "Hermann Leopoldi in Amerika", made from recordings in the 1940ies and 1950ies with a calming cracking noise in the background, typical campfire atmosphere originating from the analogue source material, which apparently had been copied from an old long-player or even shellac disc straight onto the modern compact disc medium. The music store was located in the 6th district of Vienna on the famous shopping street with the typical Catholic name "Mariahilfer Strasse - Mary Help Street".
Pick-Up Guide. Ever since, an old tune comes to my mind, whenever I go to an Italian restaurant in the same area. The pizza place is located in Barnabitengasse, a back alley next to Barnabitenkirche "Maria Hilf", a church formerly used by the religious order of same name. The Barnabite-Lane is famous from Hermann Leopoldi's song about meeting a girl in the Apollo movie theater and trying to steal a kiss from her, while walking by several historic places in Vienna. In an article series of the "Profile"-magazine" about "100 Austrians of the (20th) Century", Ostbahn Kurti speaks of Leopoldi as brilliant music humorist. "East Railroad-Curt" himself would occasionally sing "In der Barnabitengasse - In the Barnabite-Lane" a'capella at charity events, a song full of verbal wit, light and rhythmic in a way that it sounds familiar, even if the audience has never heard it before. The art of Hermann Leopoldi's compositions has been to bring the unconscious and nevertheless present to the surface.
"What do I need Italy for? When I'm on top of Bold Hill, look down at Vienna's shore, I can even find four seas: A sea of fog in the early morning, a sea of houses during the day, a sea of lights in the evening, at night nothing I see - Was brauche ich Italien? Wenn ich am Kahlenberg steh' und dann von dort hinabblick', ich gleich vier Meere seh: Ein Nebelmeer seh' frueh ich, bei Tag ein Haeusermeer, ein Lichtermeer am abend, bei Nacht dann gar nichts mehr."
(Hermann Leopoldi, Ich bin ein Durchschnitts-Wiener - I am an average Viennese)
A scent of Leopoldi: Wandering through the legendary Barnabite-Lane in the 6th district of Vienna, next to the Apollo theater and the Esterhazy park around an anti-aircraft tower from World War II, nowadays containing the aqua terra museum "House of Sea".
Ham and Seek. To achieve physical and emotional well-being, do you need to spend a fortune at a gourmet temple or would a simple meal also do? Eating the ham & noodle casserole "Schinkenfleckerl", Leopoldi protested against restaurants cutting back on the amount of sliced ham among the bow-tie shaped noodles: "Why is it with Noodles & Ham that meat plays hide and seek over and over again - Warum spielt bei den Schinkenfleckerln alleweile das Fleisch versteckerln?" But not everyone has enough to eat... "Die Gruft - the crypt" is a Caritas support center for homeless in the basement of the Barnabite-Church with a food pantry for people in need, an institution called "die Tafel - the lunch table" in other cities. Rather than looking down at the poor, we should remember: "Whether quarrelling parents, deceased partner, or psychological problems, layoff, bankruptcy or eviction: No one is immune to homelessness."
Carefree Cost. What price the world? What more does one need than escaping to a recreation area, as it is found at the outskirts of the 17th district of Vienna: "Then I buy for 32 cents a ticket to New Woodcorner. Out there the whole world shuts up and no worries come up - Da kaufe ich mir fuer 32 Groschen einen Fahrschein nach Neuwaldegg. Da draussen haelt die ganze Welt die Goschen und alle Sorgen sind weg." It had all begun in the Viennese suburb with the beautiful, melodic name Meidling, which in 1892 would become the city's 12th district. In 1888 there a boy called Hersch Kohn came into the world, who later had his name changed to Hermann Leopoldi, a stage name adopted by his father Leopold. Name change, often going along with Germanizing the same, was not unusual and definitely improved one's career opportunities. One should just imagine a German Fuehrer called Dolferl Schicklgruber or an Austrian president named Kurti Watzlawick.
"You can say what you will, nice is such a Carousel!"
Interwar Soccer & Song. You could call Hermann Leopoldi many things in connection with his gift to compose and perform songs that would become evergreens, most of all an entertainer or, as he used to call himself "Klavierhumorist", a piano humourist, for combining his extraordinary musical talent with unmistakable "Wiener Schmaeh - Viennese Charm". As early as 1922 he composed a hymn to honour a Rapid-Vienna soccer legend: "Today plays our Uridil, one could say it is unreal, so wonderful nobody scores a goal. That's all - Heute spielt der Uridil, man kann sagen was man will, so wundervoll trifft keiner mehr ins Goal. Jawohl!" As for his own sports interests, apart from regularly losing money at horse race betting in the Krieau, personally he supported the soccer clubs Austria-Vienna, formerly called Amateurs, and Wacker-Vienna, the latter playing in Meidling until fusioned with Admira in 1971.
Affordable Merry-Go-Round. A recording has survived of Leopoldi covering the 1930 hit song by the Comedian Harmonists "Veronika der Lenz ist da - Veronica, spring has come". The same song became infamous for a delicate allusion to spring fever and romantic tension: "The whole world does bewitched appear, Veronica, the asparagus grows here - Die ganze Welt ist wie verhext, Veronika, der Spargel waechst." His biggest hit and all-time evergreen from 1929 described the average guy and girl's little joys such as riding a merry-go-round in the Prater amusement park: "Oh, how nice is a carousel, it's so much fun and cheap as well. Therewith also the everyman, afford a little joy he can - Schoen ist so ein Ringelspiel, das ist eine Hetz' und kostet nicht viel. Damit auch der kleine Mann sich eine Freude leisten kann!" By the early 1930ies, his own compositions - created with Peter Herz and other text writers - were huge commercial successes.
Suggestive Duets. Also, he had some - for that time period - quite frivolous duets with his first singing partner Betja Milskaja. To name some, there was the musical request "Women are there to kiss (certainly yes) - Frauen sind zum Kuessen da (freilich ja)" from 1935, as well as the ultimate rendezvous-question from 1931: "So, how about a nice little outing to the countryside (come on, Mister Francis - but look, Miss Mary) - Na, wie waer's mit einer schoenen, kleinen Ueberlandpartie (aber gehn's, Herr Franz - aber schaun's, Fraeulein Marie)?" In the song "Ich bleib in Wien - I stay in Vienna" he joked: "Even if I earn much more far away, I'd rather have less as in Vienna I stay - Wenn ich im Ausland noch so viel verdien', lieber hab' ich weniger und bleib' dafuer in Wien." But then the fun ran out...
"How nice is a carousel" - Merry songs imprinted in vinyl as well as in one's mind. Leopoldi remains unforgotten through his music... from the three Viennas! Concert posters from the 1940ies bear witness to Leopoldi's sold-out overseas performances, playing everything from Brooklyn's "Swabia Hall" to Chicago's "Orchestra Hall"
"Besides, we never use English in Washington Heights!"
Detention & Exile. Shortly after the German occupation of Austria in 1938, the Jewish-Austrian performer was arrested. During the time of imprisonment in the concentration camp Buchenwald, Leopoldi won a contest to write a march, which the detained henceforth had to sing, despite its end verse: "Even so we shall say yes to life, for once the day shall come, when we are free - Wir wollen trotzdem Ja zum Leben sagen, denn einmal kommt der Tag, da sind wir frei!" In 1939, Leopoldi was bought out by relatives and went into exile. Newspaper coverage revealed that the "Viennese songwriter" kissed the ground upon arrival in New York City: "Grateful refugee from Nazi camp kisses American soil." He took a job as piano player in the cafe "Alt-Wien - Old Vienna" on 323 East 79th Street, where an enthusiastic audience, among them Swedish Hollywood movie star Ingrid Bergman and the exiled heir to the Austrian throne Otto of Habsburg, listened to his performance. Re-opened as "Cafe Grinzing" in 1941, the place often had to be closed due to overcrowding. In the 1940ies there were up to 60,000 German speaking exiles in the Big Apple, turning parts of it into medium-sized German and Austrian cities. Especially the area of Washington Heights, located on the the northernmost part of Manhattan, earned itself the nickname "Fourth Reich" among Americans.
New Singing Partner. While he had been performing before the war between 1929 and 1938 together with Russia born singer Betja Milskaja, in New York he met the Chicago raised emigrant child Helen "Helly" Moeslein, with whom from 1940 onwards he would form a "dream team" both professionally and then - despite a 26 year age difference - also privately for the rest of his life. Leopoldi's emigrant-songs like "Die Novaks aus Prag - The Novaks from Prague", hit song of the season 1941/42, not only gave hope to expelled refugees, but also charmed Americans and won many friends for Vienna and his then-extinguished-from-the-map home country Austria. The biography "Hermann Leopoldi - Hersch Kohn" depict obvious parallels between the hit song of "The Novaks from Prague" and the movie classic "Casablanca". Novak's cook Marianka is also stuck in Casablanca, with was then under the administration of the French Vichy-government that collaborated with the German occupation. Arthur Novak, the youngest family member, has already made it to Lisbon in neutral Portugal, where he waits for the steamboat to Havanna. Also the protagonists of the movie try to reach Havanna. What is told in the film on an epic scale is compressed poetically in the popular song. In October 1942, the Plain Dealer Newspaper commented his concert in Cleveland, OH and pointed out: "One song was in form of an interview, of which one of the questions was 'What kind of cheese did you discover in America?' The answer: 'Refugees.' The audience was highly pleased."
Career from Hernals to Broadway. Announced as "Vienna's most popular entertainer", he would tour American concert halls together with Helly Moeslein, singing "melodious and humorous Viennese and English songs". She translated his song "In einem kleinen Cafe in Hernals" into "The little cafe down the street", while Arthur Berger made "Ich bin ein stiller Zecher" into "I am a quiet drinker... that's why I make such noise!" New songs reflected his new environment: "Here it would be good, if one could speak English, a little more yet than 'How do you do' - Da waer es halt gut, wenn man Englisch koennt, ein bisserl mehr noch als 'How do you do!'" A while later, in the song "Little Erika (this is America)" he admitted: "My English is really terrific, besides, we never use English in Washington Heights." Having played everything from New York City's Carnegie Hall to the Orchestra Hall in Chicago, looking back at a career "from Hernals to Broadway", in 1947 he returned to Austrian soil for an acclaimed appearance in the Wiener Konzerthaus.
Diehard Optimist without eCard. Elegantly, he continued to slip into various roles. In times of unemployment between the World Wars he had advised the offspring to become tenured officials, for "Best off is a permanent employee with pension entitlement - Am besten hat's ein Fixangestellter mit Pensionsberechtigung." His song of the average "Health insurance patient - Der Kra & Kra Krankenkassenpatient" criticized sheer never ending bureaucracy around the health insurance voucher, which would only be replaced at the beginning of the new millennium by the so called eCard. In the concentration camp he had given new hope to others by singing: "One has to take life as it is... I am an inveterate optimist, for otherwise I'd have to commit hara-kiri at last - Man muss das Leben eben nehmen, wie es ist... Ich bin ein unverbesserliche Optimist, weil ich sonst Harakiri machen muesst."
Indian Band from Kentuck. The homage to the Bohemian dumpling desert "Powidltatschkerl - plum jam pouches" belongs to a series of songs, where one almost falls into ecstasy over dreaming of a meal, which was not available in the post-war period. After his return to Europe, he continued to promote life in the states and the Wild West dream in a song, loosely based on the acclaimed German novelist Karl May, which one of my primary school classmates used to whistle: "Cutie, oh, cutie, let's go to Kentucky. In the saloon 'Old Shatterhand' there plays a Red Indian band - Schnucki, ach, Schnucki fahren wir nach Kentucky, in der bar 'Old Shatterhand' dort spielt eine Indianerband." The song was underlaid by Indian war whoops. Unbelievably simple, but it worked...
Born with an L. Becoming a classic even in his lifetime, looking back at more than 2000 compositions of his own, he passed on to composer's heaven in 1959. Throughout the years, in his heart he had remained a "Meidlinger Bua", that boy from Meidling. Infamous is the native pronunciation of the "Meidlinger L", which is by chance the first letter of Leopoldi's last name. Not quite as popular as Mozart's birthplace in Salzburg, the house Leopoldi was born in is found on "Schoenbrunnerstrasse - Pretty Fountain Street" across the road from the U6 subway stop "Laengenfeldgasse - Long Field Lane" (probably one of the few buildings in Vienna, Beethoven has not lived in). Since June 1984, his 25th death anniversary, a small park carries his name, located at the corner of Niederhofgasse and Grieshofgasse, opposite from the Meidlinger Market, where else? The street sign, carrying the city logo "Vienna is different", reads: "Hermann-Leopoldi-Park, named after the composer of numerous Viennese songs (among others 'How nice is such a carousel')."
At the Annual Singing. I was quite surprised about the Viennese songs my daughter would learn in her guitar and singing lesson: Besides Leopoldi's Carousel-song, there was another classic about walking home: "Wenn ich mit meinem Dackel von Grinzing heimwaerts wackel - When from Grinzing home I stride, with my Dachshund at my side..." Which makes perfectly sense, considering that the Dachshund, shaped like a sausage on four legs, is also known as Wiener dog. Introducing the annual singing of the Viennese music schools in the Konzerthaus-music hall, tall stand-up comedian "Bamschabl - Tree-Rasp" provided valuable alternatives with other dog races: "Wenn ich mit meinem Mops aus Grinzing heimwaerts hops - When I with my Pug Dog in Grinzing jump like a frog" or "Wenn ich mit meinem Setter aus Grinzing heimwaerts kletter - From Grinzing with my Setter I crawl home a little later..." But so much for doggies...
Bronner's Career Wish. As a child, did adults also bug you with the question: "What would you like to become when you grow older?" Whenever asked as a kid about his future career plans, cabaret-legend Gerhard Bronner used to reply: "I would like to become something like Hermann Leopoldi." Years later, Bronner himself held responsible for unforgettable moments of entertainment: As cabaret partner of Helmut Qualtinger, in 1958 he wrote the song "Der G'schupfte Ferdl - The laid-back Ferdinand (aka Dirty Ferdy)". As chanson writer for Marinanne Mendt, in 1970 he was the first one to combine local dialect with pop music by sounding "Die Glock'n, die 24 Stunden laeutet - The Bell that rings 24 hours". At advanced age, talking about Leopoldi, Bronner would still summarize: "If the quintessence of show business is the creation of good mood, then Hermann Leopoldi was an absolute grand master in the field!" Who would argue against that?
Digitalized Shellacs: MP3-Sing Along. Going with the times, it feels surreal to listen to a mp3-file of a recording from the 1930's with cracking noises in the background, possibly singing along while walking: "Then I buy for 32 cents a ticket to" ...happiness? Leopoldi reminds me of my grandfather and an elderly colleague, who had both smiled over the mention of the ham & noodle-song "Schinkenfleckerl", rhyming "Fleischversteckerl - meat hide & seek", a synonym for economic cooking. And he reminds me of a late friend, who used to live just two houses away from where Leopoldi had resided with his first wife Eugenie, called Jenny. As I told my boy, he asked: "Did you ever meet Leopoldi there?" "There were 50 years in between", I would explain laughingly. I guess, I may be old, but not that old!
When the price of a streetcar ticket in Vienna was 32 cents... ABOVE: Leopoldi's birthplace, on the road to "Schloss Schoenbrunn - Pretty Fountain Palace", the Habsburg kings & queens' summer residence. CENTER: Hermann-Leopoldi-Park in Wien-Meidling, dedicated to "the composer of numerous Viennese songs". BELOW: In the third district, I would regularly visit a friend in Marxer Lane, nearby the Sophie Halls and just two buildings further down the road from Leopoldi's old apartment, where he lived from 1920 to his arrest in 1938.
"For once at last another Viennese song..."
Austropop-Prototype. The documentary "Weltberuehmt in Oesterreich - World famous in Austria" raised the question, whether or not Hermann Leopoldi, Helmut Qualtinger and Hans Moser could be regarded as the first Austro-poppers. An older song by Deep Purple comes to mind: "Maybe I'm a Leo, but I ain't a lion!" Did British hard rock directly refer back to the unforgotten Leopoldi? Or was it just about a plain Zodiac sign? Nevertheless, several Austrian pop musicians referred back to him over the years.
Danzer in Viennese Tradition. With the bizarre "Viennese Trilogy" on his 1993 album "Nahaufnahme (Close-up view)", Georg Danzer once more drifted towards "Heurigen"-music from wine taverns. In 1977, on the B-side of the rare single "Der Mensch braucht a bisserl a Ansprach (People need a bit of conversation)", Danzer had covered the Leopoldi classic "In einem kleinen Cafe in Hernals (In a Little Cafe down the Street)". In 2006, Danzer described his own composition "Mei Aschen (My Ashes)" as a funny song in good Viennese tradition that could have as well been written by Hermann Leopoldi.
Ambros-Prokopetz from Grinzing to Beijing. In his late career, even Wolfgang Ambros would rediscover mumble-legend and post-war movie star Hans Moser and interpret merry drinking songs from the outskirts of Vienna, such as: "Ich marschier mit meinem Duli-Dulieh ganz allein durch die Grinzinger Allee - I march with my boozy-booze all alone through the Grinzing Alley." Next Joesi Prokopetz performed songs by Heinz Conrads, whose repertoire had included the Leopoldi-composition "Chinesenschurl - China Georgie": The unequalled tale of an Austrian girl preferring an Asian boyfriend with a "Kalabresa", a pointed hat from Calabria, Italy, with similarities to a Chinese straw hat. The refrain mixes Viennese and Chinese locations: Peking (Beijing), Sievering, Yan King, Meidling, Ottakring, Manchuria and Neuwaldegg... In 2012, Birgit Denk & the Novaks would record a CD with cabaret songs that they had "dusted musically". Among others, their illustrious compilation included the Leopoli classic "32 Groschen (32 Cents)" from the year 1933. Echoing the uncertain times it was written in, the song would contain the legendary line: "...and I have the courage to be happy (und ich hab' den Mut, dass ich glücklich bin)".
"All of a sudden, the Jazz-tormented human kind cries out: Play for once at last another Viennese song, not always rumble from the jungle, also a Lark field melody for me -
Da ruft die Jazz-geplagte Menschheit aus: Spielt's endlich wieder einmal ein Wienerlied, nicht nur alleweile Urwaelderisch, auch ein bisschen Lerchenfelderisch."
(Hermann Leopoldi, 1929, Endlich wieder einmal ein Wienerlied - For once at last another Viennese song)
So much for Music Idols.
Let's now go to Movie Heroes.