A Short Life

1886: Hugo Ball was born on February 22nd to Karl and Josephina Ball, devout Catholics who lived in the small town of Pirmasens, Rhineland-Palatinate.


1906—̶̶1910: After withdrawing from tradesmen school, Ball studied German literature, history and philosophy in Munich and Heidelberg. To the chagrin of his mother, especially, Ball abandoned his studies for the theater before completing a dissertation on Friedrich Nietzsche.


1910—̶̶1914: After studying at the Deutschen Theater in Berlin, Ball worked as a dramaturg in Plauen and Munich, socializing with anarchist bohemian artists while publishing critical art reviews, plays and (scandalous) poetry.In 1912 Ball left the Catholic Church. In the fall of 1914, after being turned down for military service three times due to physical conditions, he took a trip along the Franco-German border, where he witnessed unspeakable atrocities and blood-shed. That experience fueled his life-long pacifism, and played a central role in shaping his artistic, political, and religious developments. Ball also consorted with artists such as Kandinsky, Klee, Marc, and Kokoschka to establish an entirely new concept of theater, but these attempts failed when Germany went to war.


1914—̶̶1915: Due to the First World War, Ball's theater in Munich closed, at which point he moved to Berlin briefly, and worked as dramaturg and editor for Zeit im Bild. In late May of 1915 he immigrated to Zurich with his wife-to-be, Emmy Hennings.


1915—̶̶1917: Ball and Hennings worked with several variety ensembles and struggled to scrape by financially. In 1916, they established their own artistic cabaret in Zurich, which they dubbed Cabaret Voltaire. Together with artists such as Tristan Tzara, Hans Arp, Hans Richter, Marcel Janco, and Richard Huelsenbeck, this quickly became headquarters to the Dada movement. And it was in the Cabaret Voltaire that Ball performed his epoch-making sound poem, Karawane. In the spring of 1917, the Dada artists established a gallery which Ball directed for the first several months. In May 1917, pushed beyond his limits, he deserted the Gallery-Dada and moved to Ticino, Switzerland. While Ball settled down in tranquil Swiss villages, Dada went global. Many of the founding artists left Zurich to establish Dada groups in Berlin, Cologne, Hannover, and Paris, while artistic luminaries such as Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray took to the stage. The Dada movement officially ended in 1924.


1917—̶̶1927: Ball lived in various villages in southern Switzerland with Emmy and her daughter Anne-Marie, with brief stays in Italy and Germany.In 1920, Ball married Emmy Hennings and rejoined the Catholic Church. He came to practice an ascetic faith. He wrote various political criticism (such as Critique of the German Intelligentsia) and religious works (such as Byzantinisches Christentum). Months before he died, Ball's biography of his dear friend Hermann Hesse, Hermann Hesse: Sein Leben und Sein Werk,was published. This remains the authoritative biography of Hesse.


1927: Ball died on September 14th in San'Abbondio, Switzerland, of stomach cancer.