Revisiting Charlotte Oelschlägel In War-Torn Germany
Charlotte Oelschlägel survived two World Wars, created a sensation in Berlin with her Eisballets and took Broadway by storm with her performances at the Hippodrome Theatre in the early twentieth century. In 1939, she returned to Germany to attend her mother's funeral and found herself trapped there when her passport. Her glory years behind her, Charlotte faded into relative obscurity... until she attempted to stage a comeback amidst the rubble at the end of the War.
In my digging, I came across a gem of a newspaper article from April 29, 1948 edition of "The Milwaukee Journal" that explained, "Charlotte, deprived of an ice rink by the lack of chemicals in war depleted Germany, hasn't forgotten how to skate. Today, she and her partner-husband, Carl Neumann, are hard at work on new routines - this time on roller skates... After Charlotte left the United States, she and her husband skated in Germany, England and Italy until World War II, when they were no longer permitted to give skating performances since they refused to appear in propaganda shows for Nazi Germany. Now 46, Charlotte and her husband occupy a two room apartment in the American sector of Berlin. Last fall they began developing a roller skating routine to take the place of their ice ballet. After months of training, the ballet is ready for a showing. Charlotte and her husband hope to appear on the stage again with their own roller skating ballet in the near future. Charlotte is still going strong. 'People can add up the years,' she says, but she doesn't feel too old for skating." I went digging in the German newspaper archives but sadly, I wasn't able to find any mention of a roller skating revue starring Charlotte in the late forties. I'd reached a dead end... or so I thought.
I then came across another anecdote that proved to be even more intriguing. In her book "Thin Ice", Jacqueline du Bief shared this tale from 1948 that proved even more compelling: "It happened in 1948 and the show that Mr. Nickling (Nick to his friends) was directing was the first ice show to be performed in Berlin since the war. One afternoon, while he was watching the company rehearse, Nick saw coming towards him a rather elderly lady, in a leather coat, with hair cut short like a boy's and her face innocent of any make-up. 'Forgive me, but there is no ice anywhere in Berlin and I should so much like to skate for a few minutes. Will you allow me to use your rink?' 'But it is not for the public and - the insurance-' 'Oh, don’t worry about that. I know how to skate. Nothing will happen to me.' Her personality and her tone intrigued Nick, who hazarded: 'You have been a skater?' 'Yes.' 'Might I know-'..." We're left to imagine the former star lacing up her skates and wowing Mr. Nickling with the legendary Charlotte back spiral and Axels she'd wowed audiences at the Hippodrome with some three decades prior.
Sadly, Charlotte's dreams of returning to the spotlight never really materialized. She turned to coaching for a time and passed away in November of 1984 in a retirement home in Barbarossastraße, West Berlin. In a October 1, 1967 letter to Dick Button, she wrote, "Nice to have heard from you and that you were thinking of us as we are both not well as Curt had a little collapse and I a bit of a breakdown due to seizures as we have so much trouble with getting something of all we have lost and as all our fortune and goods... [I am] 77 years [old]... but I am still skating." Charlotte's passion for skating, despite what certainly doesn't appear to have been an easy go of it later in life, serves as a reminder that the ice is always there for us when the going gets rough.
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