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1898-1921: Escape from the Slums

18 October 1898: Karoline Wilhelmine Charlotte Blamauer born in Vienna, Austria. Her father is a coachman and her mother a laundress; the family lives in poverty. Three of Lenya’s siblings survive into adulthood: Franz (b. 1897), Maximilian (b. 1902), and Maria (b. 1906). Lenya’s father is a violent alcoholic who abuses Karoline often, while her mother does what she can to protect her.

1902: The Blamauer family moves to a different address in the same district. Karoline begins performing with a small local circus troupe.

1904: Begins Volksschule (elementary school).

Ca. 1906: Transfers to a school for gifted children in a neighboring district.

1910: Begins Bürgerschule (middle school).

Spring 1913: Graduates from middle school and begins an apprenticeship in a hat factory.

September 1913: Travels to Zurich for what is supposed to be a short visit with her mother’s sister Sophie. Soon Sophie arranges for her to move in with the Ehrenzweig family as a maid. Karoline begins taking ballet lessons at the Stadttheater (Municipal Theater). Lenya’s mother, who arranges the trip at Sophie’s invitation, tells her daughter as she departs, “Be smart, Linnerl, and don’t come back if you can help it.”

6 May 1914: Returns to Vienna at her aunt’s urging, where she learns that her mother has left her father. Her aunt tells her not to come back, but her mother promises to raise money for the return ticket to Zurich.

31 August 1914: Returns to Zurich shortly after World War I breaks out and moves back into the Ehrenzweig household.

Autumn 1914: Formally hired as a ballet apprentice at the Municipal Theater. A few months later Richard Révy, one of the stage directors, accepts her as an acting student. She begins taking small roles in plays and operettas during the 1914-15 season; over the next few seasons, she is given minor, non-singing roles in operas as well.

Early 1915: Moves in with her best friend, fellow ballet apprentice Greta Edelmann, and her family.

6 February 1916: Signs contract as full member of the corps de ballet.

October 1916: Becomes the mistress of a wealthy Czech who lives in Zurich and moves in with him.

February 1917: Leaves paramour and returns to the Edelmann household.

27 September 1917: Plays a small role in Frank Wedekind’s Franziska at the Municipal Theater; Wedekind himself directs.

14 February 1918: Plays a small role in Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier at the Municipal Theater; Strauss himself conducts.

Summer 1918: Visits her family in Vienna for the first time since 1914. Karoline’s mother has a new husband, Ernst Hainisch. Karoline is shocked to see the effects of the war in Vienna after several years in prosperous Zurich.

Autumn 1918: Returns to Zurich and learns that a new ballet mistress, Fräulein Ruvina, has been hired. Ruvina is trained in the Dalcroze Method, which Karoline prefers to traditional ballet, but it soon becomes clear that they do not get along.

1919: Moves to Pension Griese at Dufourstrasse 177. She has previously been living with a Swiss sculptor named Mario Petrucci, and apparently moves to avoid scandal.

October 1919: Petrucci travels to Vienna and brings Maria Blamauer back to Zurich with him; she spends two months with Karoline.

23 March 1920: With Greta Edelmann and Nina Zutter, files a complaint against Ruvina, accusing her of chronic lateness to rehearsals, discourtesy, and favoritism.

13 April 1920: After several meetings, Ruvina is mildly reprimanded by the theater, but Karoline undergoes police investigations into her sex life, culminating in an order of deportation issued by the Zurich police on 26 June. The order is appealed, and the deportation is never carried out. She continues to work at the theater through the 1920-21 season.

1 September 1920: Listed in a program as Lotte Blamauer for the first time, playing Marthel in Gerhart Hauptmann’s Rose Bernd. In later Zurich programs, she was listed sometimes as Karoline (or Caroline), sometimes as Lotte.

Summer 1921: Learns that Richard Révy is planning to move to Berlin. She adopts the stage name Lotte Lenya around this time at Révy’s suggestion.

3 October 1921: Leaves Zurich with Greta Edelmann for Berlin; moves into a boarding house in the Lützowstrasse.

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