The Wireless

By Birgitte Agersnap

01. Jan. 2006

On Thursday the 19th of September 1912 Kløvermarken [the Clover Field] in Copenhagen was buzzing with expectations. The airship Hansa was on its way! Its visit was an unequalled sensation. The following month it returned when the director of the Scala Theatre opened the doors to the annual revue called "The Wireless". Though on a smaller scale, the reception was not less enthusiastic.

The bravura piece of the revue "The Wireless" was Kaj Allen's Hansa song, performed by Ella Gre-gers sitting under the floating airship spreading flowers over the auditorium. Photograph courtesy of The Royal Library's Map and Picture Collection.


Wireless Medley

The revue is a retrospect of the course of the year, a "wireless" medley of small stories together de-picting and commenting on events of the year in question. During the years around 1912 the tech-nologically wireless was a popular topic; it had gained a footing among people and had become a part of the language. The radio was for instance called "the wireless". The visit of the technologically modern Hansa in Copenhagen was in every way an obvious theme for a revue, but not without chal-lenges. It was not at all easy to get the 300 kilos heavy airship up under the ceiling and it was not at all easy to find anybody who was willing to test the durability of the construction.

Consequently, the first flight fell to the lot of the pro-ducer Kjerulf -it was after all his idea as he men-tions in his scribblings. Heavy at heart he sat down in the gondola anxiously asking German stage mechanic Rothe if it was solid. "Nay, I figure it ain't" was the answer, "It is rotten tat like the rest of Sca-la!" Thus encouraged Kjerulf was elevated - and lowered again safely.

What a First Night!

Friday the 18th October 1912 became an evening which was unparalleled in Copenhagen. "A sea of lights, an intoxication of colours, a flourish of music. It was Paris in Copenhagen. It was simply fantas-tic," Gunhild Gantzel writes in her "Scala Memories " from 1941. There were twenty beautiful chorus girls and ten Iceland ponies, and an impressed audience. At the end of the second act Ella Gregers in the airship's gondola prepared to perform the climax of the evening and arouse the enthusiasm of the audience. And she succeeded; however, in another way than expected. The Hansa did indeed roll on stage, but to everybody's surprise it did not rise higher than just above the conductor's head. There the leading lady sat twittering to her heart's content: "I am flying" from an immobile airship. The audience was roaring with laughter whilst the director of the theatre Frede Skaarup anticipating bankruptcy and profanity left the theatre in despair.

Poster for the airship Hansa's visit to Copenhagen in 1912. Property of Uffe Mortensen. Photo: Jan Friis.


Wireless Success

With some difficulty Kjerulf managed to persuade Ella Gregers to repeat her performance at the end of the third act and to have the actor Oscar Stribolt jump up on a chair and shout to the audience: "Stay seated! Now the Hansa is really going to fly!" But the airship did not move. The audience nearly died laughing. Kjerulf rushed to the rigging loft, and toil-ing and moiling with the stuck metal wires he man-aged to disengage them - the Hansa flew! There was a stir, people looked up at Ella Gregers in open-mouthed surprise whilst she ascended under the dome scattering her fine voice, dropping flowers, and blowing kisses to the audience. Cheers of admiration broke out - the Hansa was back!

Outside in the dark street Kjerulf found Skaarup who had been pacing restlessly up and down dur-ing the third act. "The Wireless" became a tremen-dous success, but Skaarup had got such a scare that first evening that he never saw a single one of Ella Gregers' 225 flights under the star-splashed dome of the Scala.

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