Sounding Big. Acoustic Mobilization and Political Communication in Imperial Berlin, 1890-1918

Already before the 1919 implementation of a parliamentary Democracy in Germany, a growing number of people had begun to participate in politics and thereby to change the preconditions of policy making in the German Empire. Political parties and movements, as well as Kaiser Wilhelm II and his administration, had already started to use new forms of political mass mobilization at the end of the nineteenth century. The popular character of the campaign for naval armament can be seen as one example of this tendency. As capital and “imperial city,” Berlin played a central role as an arena for these new kinds of mass politics. This project therefore examines the different forms of acoustic mobilization that took place on the streets of Berlin and were part of these new mass politics. These include forms of acoustic communication at parades, demonstrations and rallies. Additionally, special attention is given to the use of public speech on the occasion of election campaigns, political celebrations and holidays. Finally, acoustic mobilization during the First World War will be analyzed separately: How were sounds used to mobilize and lift spirits on the home front? How was the musical life of the capital regulated in order to boost patriotic morale?

From the point of view of the history of knowledge, these forms of acoustic mobilization are interesting because the acoustic order of public space was always tied to an auditory knowledge of the political order. Who was allowed to emit which kinds of sounds in public? Who was granted the right to public speech and who was denied it? At the same time, purposeful acoustic mobilization required knowledge of the mechanisms of auditive perception. It will therefore also be investigated to what degree political actors systematically gathered and implemented knowledge of political rhetoric and the emotional impact of music and communal singing etc. in order to augment the impact of their acoustic mobilization.