Top hat tilted back, her eyes alive with a sultry contempt, the leggy blonde sang -- or rather breathed -- through the smoky haze of the cabaret stage:
"Love's always been my game
Play it how I may
I was made that way
Can't help it."
The popular imagination has long cast Marlene Dietrich as the embodiment of Weimar Germany, a somewhat decadent expression of freedom that preceded the jackboots of the Nazis. Watching "The Blue Angel," the 1930 movie that made Dietrich famous, is to intuit that a bloody deluge is at the gates of the city.
But that is the American Marlene, a siren who escaped the storm and still whispers huskily down the years of all that would be lost.
In Berlin, the city that formed the backdrop to her enduring image, there was, however, another Dietrich: Marlene the tramp. Marlene the whore. Marlene the traitor.
Long after the Nazis were engulfed, Berlin, or at least parts of it, hated Marlene Dietrich.
Today, the city tried to make amends.
At a ceremony led by Mayor Klaus Wowereit, Dietrich was made an honorary citizen of Berlin; the citizenship certificate was presented to the star's grandson Peter Riva.
"This honor comes late, perhaps some would say too late," said Wowereit. "Marlene Dietrich and Berlin. That was not always . . . a harmonious relationship."
Dietrich left for a Hollywood career as Hitler was coming to power and returned, an American citizen in an American uniform, when the city lay in ruins. During the war, which her mother spent in Berlin, Dietrich broadcast to German troops as part of the U.S. propaganda effort.
"Hitler is an idiot," she said in a wartime interview broadcast from Britain to Germany. "Boys, don't sacrifice yourselves. The war is crap."
She wasn't forgiven for fleeing to the right side of history. Guilt and envy salted the wounds of war, and Dietrich was an unsettling reminder of the past when Germans were still portraying themselves as victims.
In 1960, at a concert here, she was stung by the cackles of "go home." A typical letter she received that year said, "You should be lynched, you miserable war criminal."
She swore off the city.
"I will never again go to Germany," she said. "I have had enough of people spitting at me, enough of the demonstrations, enough of this love-hate."
She died a recluse in Paris 10 years ago, and at her request her body was brought to Berlin for burial beside her mother. But before the open Cadillac hearse reached the cemetery, some Berliners gathered at the grave site to spit in the freshly dug hole, according to Alexandra Richie's history of Berlin, "Faust's Metropolis."
Over the last 10 years, her gravestone continued to be defaced, once with the words "You slut in furs."
As recently as 1996, some residents in Dietrich's old neighborhood successfully fought city plans to rename in her honor the street where she was born. Embarrassed city officials instead named a square near Potsdamer Platz, Marlene Dietrich Plaza.
When it decided to award the citizenship honor late last year, the city legislature declared Dietrich "an ambassador for a democratic, freedom-loving and humane Germany." And city officials added that today's honor "would symbolize the city of Berlin's reconciliation with her."
Said Riva, who lives in New York: "For many years Marlene was angry with Berlin as only a true lover can be. If her presence here in Berlin . . . can serve her home town, her homeland . . . as an example for what you can find inside to determine your own destiny, then nothing would make her more happy."
Born Maria Magdalena Dietrich, the daughter of a Prussian policeman, in 1901, Dietrich was a struggling actress and singer in the seedy clubs of pre-Nazi Berlin until the making of "The Blue Angel." Hollywood immediately beckoned, and she left for the United States the night the film opened to critical acclaim.
The Nazis tried to coax her back, but she spurned their efforts. She was then accused of "consorting with Jews" and her movies were banned.
"The Blue Angel," however, was one of Hitler's favorite movies, and he continued to watch it in secret at the Chancellery.