Yuriy Gurzhy’s war diary (24): How Essad Bey came to Berlin from Kiev – Culture

April 20, 2022
“But I do not want to do it, forgive me, I have already canceled it, better let Daniel talk to him!” I tell Marina when she calls me to ask if I can still do the interview for our concert in Mainz she wants to do.

Marina Frenk, Daniel Kahn and I are a trio, we call ourselves Disorientalists and are supposed to perform in Mainz next Sunday. We are an unusual band because we always play the same thing, our song cycle about the life and adventures of Essad Bey, a German writer who lived in Berlin and Vienna and wrote a number of bestselling books in the 1930s.

His parents were Jewish, his first name was Lew Nussimbaum

We recorded our Essad Bey songs in the legendary studio for the first time in 2015. yes performed by Maxim Gorki Theater. The appearance in Mainz was already scheduled for 2021, then we had to postpone it because of the crown. Now the world has other concerns, but we decided not to cancel the concert.

The journalist wants to talk to me and not to Daniel because I am Ukrainian, Marina tells me. This does not surprise me, so it is now. The fact that I am from Ukraine is more intriguing and would probably interest the reader more than the crazy and mysterious life of Assad Bey.

I think so, but in the end I agree and answer the questions in a magnifying conversation that have been asked to me almost every day for weeks: Do I still have families in Ukraine, how are my people there? Will Ukrainians and Russians ever reunite? And if I also refer to my homeland in the Disorientalists concert.

Lew Nussimbaum, later Essad Bey also called himself Kurban Said. Memorial plaque on the Fasanstrasse in Berlin.Photo: Stefan Zeitz / Imago

I have not thought about it yet. In fact, for the last two months, I have done nothing but talk about Ukraine in my events. However, I can always decide for myself what I sing or read. But with disorientalists there is a very specific story that we tell on stage and it has nothing to do with Ukraine – or does it?

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If you look closely, you will find that Essad Bey was born in Kiev in 1905. There is a corresponding note in the book of civil status of the Kiev synagogue. At that time it was not called Essad Bey, but Lew Nussimbaum. His parents were Russian-speaking Jews, his father was a wealthy oil industrialist from Baku, and his mother was a passionate revolutionary, who was friendly, among others, with a certain Iosseb Dschughashvili, later known as Stalin. .


She killed her life when her son was only six years old and little Lew grew up with a nanny named Alice Schulte. Schulte was German, so it is no wonder that Lew spoke German when the Nussimbaums had to leave Azerbaijan after the October Revolution and end up in Berlin after a long journey. In 1922 Lew Nussimbaum converted to Islam at the Turkish Embassy in Berlin and took the name Essad Bey.

Began to write, his columns appeared in German in the “Literarische Welt” and in Russian in the immigrant press. He often claimed to be a Persian prince, although he continued to share his apartment on Fasanenstrasse (opposite Literaturhaus) with his Jewish father …

The longer I think about Essad Beun, the clearer it becomes for me: In fact, what we are dealing with here is the life story of a Russian-speaking refugee, born in Ukraine and whose family lost everything in home. And this corresponds to – unfortunately! – exactly the current situation of many people in Germany. I am now convinced that the Disorientalists program is more current than ever!

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