Mascha kaleko: berlin in poems

The city of Berlin is reflected in many of Mascha Kaleko’s poems. Berlin was the home of the German-Jewish poet for a long time. It was the place where the poet went to school, got her last name, found the love of her life, gave birth to her only son, and began her lyrical career.

On my heart I walk through the streets,
Where often there is nothing but a street sign.
In me, the stranger, lives the old image
The city that so many thousands forgot.

From: "Wiedersehen mit Berlin" (you can find this poem in its entirety below)


Poems about Berlin: "In this city of four million souls…"

Big city life-especially the suffering and loves of big city dwellers-plays a central role in many of Kaleko’s poems. The park, the offices, the streets, the traffic, the cafes… they all form the background for her cheerful-melancholic (love) poems: Here it comes to first encounters and meaningful glances, to love affairs or breakup acts.

In "Encounter in the Park." she describes in a few verses the transience of life and love by letting the reader share in the thoughts of an old man who meets a pair of lovers while walking in the park.

The futile waiting of a woman for her beloved is the theme of "Scribbled on a cafe table…".

Mascha Kaleko: Biography and Work

Mascha Kaleko’s life in Berlin

In 1907, Kaleko was born Golda Malka Aufen, the daughter of Jewish-Russian-Austrian parents in Chrzanow in western Galicia (then part of the k. and k. Monarchy, today Poland). Fearing pogroms, the family moved to Germany seven years later, first to Frankfurt, then in 1918 to Berlin.

The two marriages of Mascha Kaleko

In Berlin, Masha spent her school years, did an office apprenticeship, educated herself with evening classes and met her first husband Saul Kaleko, whom she married in 1928.

Ten years later, the Kalekos’ marriage was divorced. Mascha had meanwhile fallen in love with another, the conductor Chemjo Vinaver. Their son was born in 1936. No sooner had her marriage to Saul Kaleko been divorced in 1938 than Masha married the love of her life and the father of her son.
(By the way, the (love) letters of the couple have been published by dtv.)

I do not know when the poem "Signal" was written. Possibly, however, it describes Masha’s inner turmoil at the time when she fell in love with Chemjo and her first marriage was coming to an end. At you can listen to the soundtrack of "Signal": just scroll all the way down!


Wall Sitters on the Spree, Berlin

The poet Mascha Kaleko

In the Romance Cafe in Berlin at the end of the 1920s, the young woman came into contact with artists and writers such as Else Lasker-Schuler, Kurt Tucholsky, Joachim Ringelnatz and Erich Kastner. She later commemorates the "Friends of the Roman Cafe" in her poem "Reunion with Berlin".

In 1929 she published her first volume of poems, followed in 1933 by The lyrical shorthand notebook. Verses from everyday life.

Emigration and return to Berlin

In 1938, Masha, her husband Chemjo and their son left Germany. The family emigrated to the USA and finally took American citizenship.

The poetess returned to Berlin only on visits. It no longer became her home after the end of the Third ("thousand-year") Reich. Her poem "Reunion with Berlin" testifies to her impressions on her "first[n] trip to Germany, / Since one banished [her] a thousand years ago."

Reunion with Berlin

Berlin, in March. The first trip to Germany,
Since I was banished a thousand years ago.
I see the city in a new way,
So with the guide in hand.
The sky is blue. The pines listen softly.
In Steglitz yesterday a titmouse spoke to me
In the castle park. That had recognized me.

And again Berlin sparrows wake me up!
I love this markisch-kessen tone.
I hear her scratching at my window in the morning,
On the Ku-Damm in the garden house pension,
I come happy, according to old tradition,
Just as I did back then with the sparrows in question
To talk through my daily workload.

It’s already Eastering. Green shoots the lime tree.
How today in the Grunewald smelled like spring!
A first woodpecker taps the birch bark.
Now the east wind whistles from the last hole.
And everything asks how I find Berlin?
– As I find it? Ah, I’m still looking for it!

I seek it fiercely among the ruins
Of humanity and stucco architecture.
Berlinert one: "Ick bejrube to you!",
I almost believe myself to be on the trail of the then.
But this new hardness in the faces ..
Berlin, where have you been? Yes, where have you been?

On my heart I walk through the streets,
Where often there is nothing but a street sign.
In me, the stranger, lives the old picture
The city that so many thousands forgot.
I walk as through a dream
Through this landscape of time and space.
And I’m so I-know-not-how
Homesick for the temps perdus ..

Berlin in spring. And Berlin in the snow.
My first volume of verse in the bookstores.
The friends of the Romanisches Cafe.
How much I see that I no longer see!
How loudly "Pompeii’s" stones speak to me!

We both swallowed our medicine,
Pompeii without pomp. Bonjour, Berlin!

Source: "Reunion with Berlin". Mascha Kaleko: The few shining years. © 2003 dtv publishing company, Munich.

Late years

In 1960 Mascha and Chemjo emigrated to Jerusalem, but Mascha never felt at home there.

Mascha Kaleko suffered two heavy blows of fate in the last years of her life: her son died in 1968 at the age of only thirty-one. Five years later her husband. Her pain over the loss of the two people she loved the most, she processed in numerous poems. She herself fell ill with stomach cancer.

Fourteen months after her husband Chemjo, Mascha Kaleko died in Zurich in 1975.

Mascha Kaleko and I

I first became aware of the poems of Mascha Kaleko (1907-1975) about seven years ago: I discovered a small volume of her love poems in the bookshop of the Jewish Museum in Munich. To this day I love to read it again and again. Kaleko’s poems are so beautifully cheerful and sad at the same time, full of melancholy and joie de vivre, seriousness and mischievousness. She gets to the heart of many things, she has a fine feeling for interpersonal tones in particular.

In the poem "Grobstadtliebe" (Big City Love) Mascha Kaleko describes the coming and going of big-city love affairs. With Kaleko, the city dweller breaks up with the Reichspost. Today, a WhatsApp message is more likely to take the place of the Reichspost and announce the "end"..

By the way, her old home Berlin has set a (small) monument to the poetess: In Berlin-Kladow, the Mascha-Kaleko-Weg was named after her.

For more biographical information and poems just click here.

And there are more of Mascha Kaleko’s poems to listen to at the Literaturcafe – just have a listen!

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