Berlin. November 18, 1917. Sunday. I think Grosz has something demonic in him. This new Berlin art in general, Grosz, Becher, Benn, Wieland Herzfelde, is most curious. Big city art, with a tense density of impressions that appears simultaneous, brutally realistic, and at the same time fairy-tale-like, just like the big city itself, illuminating things harshly and distortedly as with searchlights and then disappearing in the glow. A highly nervous, cerebral, illusionist art, and in this respect reminiscent of the music hall and also of film, or at least of a possible, still unrealized film. An art of flashing lights with a perfume of sin and perversity like every nocturnal street in the big city. The precursors are E.T.A. Hoffmann, Breughel, Mallarmé, Seurat, Lautrec, the futurists: but in the density and organization of the overwhelming abundance of sensation, the brutal reality, the Berliners seem new to me. Perhaps one could also include Stravinsky here (Petrushka). Piled-up ornamentation each of which expresses a trivial reality but which, in their sum and through their relations to each other, has a thoroughly un-trivial impact.
All round the world war rages and in the center is this nervous city in which so much presses and shoves, so many people and streets and lights and colors and interests: politics and music hall, business and yet also art, field gray, privy counselors, chansonettes, and right and left, and up and down, somewhere, very far away, the trenches, regiments storming over to attack, the dying, submarines, zeppelins, airplane squadrons, columns marching on muddy streets, Hindenburg and Ludendorff, victories; Riga, Constantinople, the Isonzo, Flanders, the Russian Revolution, America, the Anzacs and the poilus, the pacifists and the wild newspaper people. And all ending up in the half-darkened Friedrichstrasse, filled with people at night, unconquerable, never to be reached by Cossacks, Gurkhas, Chasseurs d'Afrique, Bersaglieris, and cowboys, still not yet dishonored, despite the prostitutes who pass by. If a revolution were to break out here, a powerful upheaval in this chaos, barricades on the Friedrichstrasse, or the collapse of the distant parapets, what a spark, how the mighty, inextricably complicated organism would crack, how like the Last Judgment! And yet we have experienced, have caused precisely this to happen in Liège, Brussels, Warsaw, Bucharest, even almost in Paris. That's the world war, all right.
Harry Graf Kessler (Journey to the Abyss: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler, 1880-1918)