# Introduction: leisure, arts and entertainment

Leisure arts and entertainment  - All rights reserved ©

Leisure arts and entertainment - All rights reserved ©

If there's one aspect of the First World War that seldom comes to mind when we think about the day-to-day lives of the soldiers at the front, and especially in the trenches of the Yser, it's certainly the artistic aspect. This is true even though many Belgian artists not only served in the ranks of the army but also produced, during the conflict, a considerable number of works that are still largely unknown to the general public, or that simply contributed to boosting the morale of the soldiers to some small degree… By the end of 1914, the penetration of the German army into Belgian territory is already a few months old. The troops of Albert 1st, King of the Belgians, after having flooded the plains around the Yser, are now confined to a narrow strip of land in the northwest of Belgium. From Nieuwpoort to Ypres, and across the French border, the frontline stabilizes: on either side, an increasingly sophisticated network of trenches is built, raised above ground level and fortified; observing and waiting are the order of the day. For the four years of this conflict, Belgians and Germans will camp out within their positions, since the rare offensives finally prove to be more murderous for the attackers than for the defenders. Four long years oscillating between relative calm and true anguish, punctuated by rare moments of relaxation during which Belgian soldiers can briefly shed their burden of fear: between two shifts of guard duty or fatigue duties, they play cards, write their precious war journals and send letters to their families. It's also a period of artistic blossoming, with solitary painters crisscrossing the areas behind the Yser front, taking inspiration from the ruined landscapes; at the same time, musicians and actors give concerts and theatre performances in the camps or in the army's field hospitals.

During this time, in the occupied territory on the other side of the Yser, the Belgian population lives without news of the troops at the front. After a few months of hesitation and worried silence, a desire for entertainment gradually returns, and despite the censorship and curfew imposed by the German occupier, performance halls, cabarets and theatres once again begin to fill up. In cinemas, the ideal form of popular entertainment that had been growing rapidly since the start of the 20th century, the French films so widely enjoyed by the public before the war are quickly replaced by many German films… No matter, sitting in dark cinema halls remains an opportunity for a few hours of escape from the concerns of daily life and, especially, a means for staying warm at a lower cost during the harsh winters such as in 1916-1917. There is nevertheless one aspect over which the population, especially in Brussels, is unwilling to compromise, namely the performances organised by the occupier in order to introduce Germanic culture in Belgium: attending them is viewed as unpatriotic. In this regard, in fact, while few cinematographic, musical or theatrical productions are created during the war, the after-war period sees the creation of many anti-German works and performances that are very popular with the public.

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