Born 22 February 1886 in Pirmasens, Germany, died 14 September 1927 in San Abbondio, Switzerland. Author, co-founder of the Zürich Dada movement; joined the Max Reinhardt School of Dramatic Art in 1910, and was employed as stage director. The “Café des Westens” in Berlin became his meeting place with young poets: Johannes R. Becher, Georg Heym, Richard Huelsenbeck, Klabund, and others. Stage director at the Munich Chamber Theater in 1913, and at the same time collaborator on the periodical “Revolution” (Published by F.S. Bachmair, 1913) together with Seewald, J.R. Becher, Erich Mühsam.
Soon after the outbreak of the war he emigrated with his wife, Emmy Hennings, to Switzerland. Both took employments – Ball as a pianist, his wife as a recitationist – in a variety group in the Niederdorf, the amusement quarter of Zürich. In February 1916 he founded the “Cabaret Voltaire” in the Spiegelgasse in Zürich. Met Hans Arp, Marcel Janco, Tristan Tzara, and later Richard Huelsenbeck and Walter Serner. His intentions with regard to the “Cabaret Voltaire” he defined in the following words: “It is necessary to clarify the intentions of this cabaret. It is its aim to remind the world that there are people of independent minds – beyond war and nationalism – who live for different ideals.” (from the contribution entitled Lorsque je fondis le Cabaret Voltaire [“Why I founded the Cabaret Voltaire”], in the publication “Cabaret Voltaire,” Zürich, 1916)
Ball protested several times “against the humiliating fact of a world war in the 20th century.” In light of this, all static values of culture appeared to him to be questionable. He composed sound-poems, or “verses without words.”
In 1917 he ceased to take an active part in the Dada movement. Became co-editor of the newspaper “Freie Zeitung” in Bern, which demanded, editorially, a republic for Germany. Later he retired and went to live in the Ticino, where he was employed on a biography of Bakunin. From his Dada period an unpublished novel exists, “Tenderenda, der Phantast”. In his “Criticism of German Intelligence” (1919), he tried to present a profound analysis of the German state of mind (which may have foreshadowed Hitlerism).
One of his other significant works are the diary excerpts of his Dada period published as Die Flucht aus der Zeit (“Flight out of Time”). This is highly recommended reading for anyone interested in ‘documentation’ of the Dada movement in Zürich.