The Mystery of Tycoon Michel Baida in Old Arab Berlin

15 September, 2022
Berlin at Night, Pots­damer Platz — 1920s Weimar Germany.


Irit Neidhardt


The Arab pres­ence in Berlin has been con­tin­u­al since at least the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry. Only in recent years has this his­to­ry begun to be writ­ten[i]. Some of the authors who trace biogra­phies of Arab indi­vid­u­als in Berlin ini­ti­at­ed offi­cial memo­r­i­al plaques, with which the munic­i­pal­i­ty com­mem­o­rates peo­ple and events that were sig­nif­i­cant for the city. Since 2014, three such plaques have been added to remem­ber Arab Berlin­ers. Among them is the Egypt­ian (Sudanese) physi­cian Mohamed Helmy (1901–1982), who came as a stu­dent in 1922 and stayed in Berlin for the rest of his life. In the late 1930s he was arrest­ed twice by the Gestapo, before hid­ing sev­er­al Jews from their Nazi per­se­cu­tors[ii]. Anoth­er is Pales­tin­ian artist Jus­suf Abbo (1890–1953, Yus­suf (Abu) al-Jalili), who lived in Berlin between 1911 and 1935. He par­tic­i­pat­ed in the pro­gres­sive art move­ments of his time and his work was exhib­it­ed in top gal­leries until the Nazis removed it as “degen­er­at­ed” in 1937[iii]. The third is Mohamed Soli­man (1878–1929), who trav­eled across Europe with a group of artists from Egypt around 1900 and stayed in Berlin. In 1906 he opened one of the first cin­e­mas of the city. Soli­man also owned the the­atres in the famous Kaiser­ga­lerie and direct­ed the “Ori­en­tal Depart­ment”[iv] of the Luna Park Berlin in Halensee[v].  

A con­tem­po­rary of theirs was the mer­chant and gramo­phone tycoon Michel Bai­da. While much has been writ­ten about Baidaphon, the inter­na­tion­al record com­pa­ny that Bai­da ran togeth­er with his broth­ers Pierre/Boutrous and Gabriel/Jibril from their Berlin head­quar­ters, lit­tle is known about Michel Baida’s life. Who was Baidaphon’s strate­gic mas­ter­mind? What traces did he leave in Berlin and what was his role in the anti-colo­nial struggle?

78 rpm Baidaphon record, Made in Ger­many cir­ca 1930.

With these ques­tions in mind, I start­ed writ­ing the arti­cle at hand. I had dealt with Baidaphon pre­vi­ous­ly in a more gen­er­al way for texts about Arab-Ger­man rela­tions, which aroused my curios­i­ty about Michel Bai­da as a per­son. His com­pa­ny record­ed and sold the music of Farid el-Atrash, Asma­han, or Mohamad Abdel-Wahab, to name only some of the most icon­ic Baidaphon stars that mil­lions lis­ten to till today. Their Cairo branch, Cairophon, pro­duced the first Arab sound movie: al-War­da al-Bai­da’ (The White Rose, 1932, star­ring Mohamad Abdel-Wahab). Yet, what inter­est­ed me most was that Baidaphon pro­duced and export­ed phono­graphs, machines that record and dupli­cate voic­es, from as ear­ly as 1912. Their fab­ri­ca­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion were an impor­tant tool in the anti-colo­nial lib­er­a­tion strug­gle before the radio took over this role, the lat­ter being stud­ied by Frantz Fanon in his 1959 essay “This is the Voice of Alge­ria”[vi].  

Strange­ly, I had nev­er read stan­dard bio­graph­i­cal infor­ma­tion about Michel Bai­da: when and where was he born and when and where did he die? When and why did he come to Berlin and when or why did he leave? I knew that Michel Bai­da is said to have been a physi­cian, and that the trade­mark Baidaphon was first reg­is­tered in Ger­many in 1912, that Bai­da had become extreme­ly rich from the record busi­ness and financed the Syr­i­an pan-Arab and pan-Islam­ic politi­cian Shak­ib Arslan for many years[vii]. I had read that Bai­da pre­sum­ably lost his real estate in Berlin in the course of the world eco­nom­ic cri­sis in 1932/33,[viii] as well as that Baidaphon seem­ing­ly was sus­pend­ed in the 1930s and Michel Baida’s trace was lost around the same time. 

I assumed that by law, as a for­eign­er, he might have been pro­hib­it­ed to exer­cise his pro­fes­sion as a physi­cian. I won­dered where a non-German’s trace van­ished to dur­ing Nazi rule and why nobody appeared to have looked for him.

Being con­vinced that with­out exten­sive net­works in Ger­many Michel Bai­da could not have built his gramo­phone empire, it seemed impos­si­ble to me that such a tycoon could get lost. And it is from here that I start­ed dig­ging deep­er into the matter.

In my notes I found a memo say­ing that the Ger­man Fed­er­al Archives keep a file of the (Third) Reich Com­mis­sion­er for the Treat­ment of Ene­my Prop­er­ty run­ning from 1941–1948 that refers to Gabriel and Michel Bai­da, indexed as “French assets includ­ing colonies,”[ix] which I decid­ed to see for the text at hand. Anoth­er source I con­sult­ed was dig­i­tized Berlin dai­ly news­pa­pers from the 1910s till the ear­ly 1940s, the peri­od through which Michel Bai­da was reg­is­tered in the Berlin street direc­to­ry. After view­ing those sources this arti­cle had to change fun­da­men­tal­ly and thus became an open-end­ed inquiry. 

The sheer num­ber of doc­u­ments from the news­pa­pers and much more so in var­i­ous Berlin archives is over­whelm­ing to an extent that it was unfea­si­ble to see them all and vis­it all archives dur­ing the three weeks I had for work­ing on this pub­li­ca­tion. Let alone sort­ing, ana­lyz­ing and inter­pret­ing the records, most of which are in the Ger­man scripts Frak­tur and Sütterlin. 

In the fol­low­ing I start to recon­struct the life­line of Michel Bai­da of whom I have nev­er seen a pho­to and about whom I still do not know when he was born and when he died. Most prob­a­bly his life began and end­ed in Beirut. He came to Ger­many as a Turk, a Syr­i­an with Ottoman papers, and left as a French­man — that is, a Syr­i­an nation­al from the French colonies. Accord­ing to Elie Bai­da, a nephew of Michel Bai­da and a Baidaphon musi­cian him­self, Baidaphon: 

“owes its ori­gin to five ambi­tious mem­bers of the Chris­t­ian Bay­da (Bai­da) fam­i­ly from the Musaytibah quar­ter of Beirut. Two of them were Jibran (Elie Bayda’s father) and Fara­jal­lah [the company’s first record­ing artist, I.N.]. These two broth­ers, who were prac­ti­cal­ly illit­er­ate, earned their liv­ing first as con­struc­tion work­ers in Beirut. The remain­ing founders includ­ed their two fair­ly edu­cat­ed cousins Butrus and Jib­ril. Encour­aged by the ris­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty of phono­graph record­ing and by the ready tal­ent of their cousin Fara­jal­lah, they decid­ed to form with their cousins their own record­ing com­pa­ny. […] In their nego­ti­a­tions [to record and man­u­fac­ture in Berlin, I.N.] the two Baidas were assist­ed sub­stan­tial­ly by their broth­er Michel, a physi­cian liv­ing in Berlin, the fifth founder.”[x] 

The first doc­u­ments prov­ing Michel Baida’s pres­ence in Ger­many are two entries of Baidaphon to the trade reg­is­ter in 1912, one in Ham­burg and one in Berlin. Baidaphon Ham­burg was rep­re­sent­ed by H. Feld­man & Co. and was an export and import com­pa­ny for musi­cal devices and instru­ments as well as records. H. Feld­mann worked with the Bai­da broth­ers’ com­pa­nies at least until the ear­ly 1930s[xi]. Baidaphon Berlin was rep­re­sent­ed by Dr. Michel Bai­da, the address was Gitschin­er­strasse 91 in Berlin-Kreuzberg, where the gramo­phone com­pa­ny Lyrophon was resid­ing until it was bought by Carl Lind­ström AG around the same time of the Baidaphon reg­is­tra­tion. Baidaphon might have tak­en over the equip­ment. Baidaphon Berlin’s busi­ness oper­a­tions were the dis­tri­b­u­tion of phono­graphs and records, its prod­ucts: phono­graphs, phono­graph equip­ment, and records. In the 1920s elec­tron­ic dry cells were added to the export prod­ucts[xii].  

Al-War­da al-Bai­da’ (The White Rose/La rose blanche), 1932, star­ring Mohamad Abdel-Wahab.

A glimpse at the per­son­al columns of the Berlin­er Tage­blatt und Han­dels-Zeitung, the city’s lead­ing news­pa­per of the time, gives a first impres­sion about how Bai­da posi­tioned him­self in the city’s soci­ety: on Jan­u­ary 15, 1922, Michel Baida’s mar­riage with Hilde Casper is announced. Becom­ing Ms Bai­da, Hilde lost her Ger­man cit­i­zen­ship as did all Ger­mans who mar­ried non-Ger­mans between 1871 and 1945, and took her husband’s nation­al­i­ty. Her faith was and remained Jew­ish[xiii]. The couple’s mar­riage is not reg­is­tered in the civ­il sta­tus office in charge. This means that they seem­ing­ly did not mar­ry in Berlin and thus their civ­il sta­tus affairs are not reg­is­tered in town. 

In Berlin­er Tage­blatt of Christ­mas 1922, a dona­tion of 2500 marks by Dr. Bai­da for the elder­ly care is announced. On Decem­ber 11, 1923, a num­ber of in-memo­ri­am notices were pub­lished for Arthur Bodan­sky, direc­tor of Europe’s largest gramo­phone com­pa­ny at that time, Lind­ström AG. Dr. Michel Bai­da pub­lished an obit­u­ary in his name rather than in the name of Baidaphon. The same is the case with the obit­u­ary for Arthur Scholem on Feb­ru­ary 8, 1925, whom Bai­da calls “a good busi­ness friend whom I have come to appre­ci­ate and respect as a noble and hon­est char­ac­ter over the course of sev­en­teen years.” 

A note in the “Sports/Games and Gym­nas­tics” sec­tion of Vos­sis­che Zeitung from 2 May 1933, the oth­er major news­pa­per in Berlin, gives a clue about Baida’s involve­ment in Berlin’s Arab society. 

“Funer­al ser­vice for Sayed Ahmed EschThe Islam­ic colony orga­nized a wor­thy funer­al ser­vice for Sayed Ahmed Esch-Scherif, the great fight­er for uni­ty and free­dom and the ally of Ger­many and Turkey in the World War in the Club der Aus­lands­deutschen. Dr. W. Raslan described his life, His Excel­len­cy Emir Shak­ib Arslan spoke warm words of remem­brance and Dr. Bai­da the Ara­bic obituary.” 

The Ger­man Min­istry of For­eign Affairs cer­ti­fies in a doc­u­ment from 1926, that Dr. Bai­da had been a res­i­dent of Berlin for 18 years, had, as an indus­tri­al­ist and mer­chant, main­ly busi­ness rela­tions to the “Ori­ent” and that his rep­u­ta­tion relat­ing to busi­ness was good[xiv]. A draft for anoth­er attes­ta­tion from 4 May 1929 reads: 

“The Syr­i­an nation­al Dr. Michel Bai­da, Berlin N.W.7, Mit­tel­strasse 55, is known to the For­eign Office as one of the wealth­i­est and most respect­ed local Ori­en­tal mer­chants and has been resid­ing in Ger­many since almost 21 years. He enjoys the best rep­u­ta­tion among his local com­pa­tri­ots and has repeat­ed­ly ren­dered valu­able ser­vices to the [Ger­man, I.N.] For­eign Office due to his com­mer­cial expe­ri­ence in the Ori­ent. At the same time, he is the Hed­jaz gov­ern­men­t’s ombuds­man for eco­nom­ic affairs” (the last sen­tence being crossed out)[xv]

By that time Michel Bai­da had found­ed sev­er­al prop­er­ty man­age­ment com­pa­nies in Berlin as well as Nar for Coal Trad­ing and Light­ing Tech­nol­o­gy GmbH (Light Ltd). Baidaphon had offices and rep­re­sen­ta­tions at least in Beirut, Cairo, Berlin, Alexan­dria, Bagh­dad, Bas­ra, Casablan­ca (head­ed by Baida’s nephew Théodore Khay­at), Jaf­fa, Jerusalem, Ker­man­shah, Mosul, Tabriz, Teheran, Tripoli, and Tunis as let­ter­heads and cor­re­spon­dence with the Ger­man For­eign Office as well as the Baidaphon Cat­a­logue Tunis from 1928 show. 

Baida­phone gramo­phone nee­dles in rare Red Lion tin.

In the Maghreb, Baidaphon was one of sev­er­al Arab record com­pa­nies. While the radio was the main medi­um of the Euro­pean set­tlers, the Arabs and Amazigh lis­tened to records, increas­ing­ly to Ara­bic music. Espe­cial­ly the Baidaphon music was known for its nation­al­is­tic lyrics. In May 1930, the (French) Civ­il Con­trol in Moroc­co was informed “that a record label in Berlin has sent phono­graph records to Moroc­co repro­duc­ing, in the Ara­bic lan­guage, songs in favor of Egypt­ian inde­pen­dence which are prone to pro­voke unrest in the Mus­lim milieu”[xvi]. Not only Arab nation­al­ism but also Michel Baida’s good rela­tions to Ger­man offi­cials were an embarass­ment to the French admin­is­tra­tion, which tried to pre­vent the import of Baidaphon records. There­upon a small label named Ara­bic Record appeared which either pirat­ed Baidaphon or was Baidaphon itself[xvii]. Giv­en the Baidaphon export busi­ness of phono­graphs and phono­graph equip­ment, it seems like­ly that they pro­vid­ed the pro­duc­tion tools for this and oth­er small Arab labels, be it to record music or polit­i­cal speech­es. In the wake of a decree from 1938 that for­bade the import of records in any lan­guage but French to Alge­ria, the army banned all Baidaphon records from the country’s Arab cafés[xvi­ii].  

Dur­ing that same time, Baida’s Nar for Coal Trad­ing and Light­ing Tech­nol­o­gy GmbH was under attack in Ger­many. Two law­suits were filed against Nar GmbH: the Com­bustible Inspec­tion Agency Berlin sued Michel Bai­da and his busi­ness part­ners because Nar for Coal Trad­ing bought coal for whole­sale con­di­tions and sold it at reg­u­lar mar­ket price to Baida’s own real estate com­pa­nies. A note from Sep­tem­ber 1931 by a high rank­ing offi­cer at the For­eign Min­istry about a pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion with the inquisi­tor says that most prob­a­bly Bai­da and part­ners can­not be proven to have com­mit­ted a crim­i­nal offense. The inquisi­tor was the sec­ond judge to work on the case, his pre­cur­sor was with­drawn due to prej­u­dice after Michel Bai­da had com­plained about him at the Pruss­ian Min­istry of Jus­tice[xix]. Stan­dard Licht GmbH (Stan­dard Light Ltd) from Frankfurt/Main sued Nar GmbH for prod­uct pira­cy. Nar’s Light­ing Tech­nol­o­gy sec­tion seems to have copied petro­le­um lamps from Stan­dard Licht and adver­tised them in their cat­a­logues for Arab coun­tries and Turkey, to where Stan­dard Licht sold as well. From the dossier at hand, it is clear that Nar GmbH and Stan­dard Licht both appealed the court order that sen­tenced Nar to a penal­ty of 40,000 marks (the aver­age week­ly income in 1932 was 85 marks). Stan­dard Licht found the sum too low and Nar too high, and accord­ing­ly did not pay. 

While all let­ters to the For­eign Office regard­ing the two law cas­es burst with racism, a cir­cu­lar by Stan­dard Licht GmbH from Jan­u­ary 1932 shows the dimen­sion of the dis­pute. Stan­dard Licht had sent a mar­shal to Baida’s pri­vate house, who con­fis­cat­ed fur­ni­ture in the esti­mat­ed val­ue of 3830 marks. Carl Casper, Baida’s father in law, suc­cored and bought the con­fis­cat­ed fur­ni­ture with a price increase of 10%, which to Stan­dard Licht looked like a swin­dle. The com­pa­ny report­ed all this to the For­eign office, “so that you are informed, in case these peo­ple should con­tin­ue to use you against the inter­ests of Ger­many and nor­mal Ger­man trade” [xx]. In that year sev­er­al hous­es of Gabriel and Michel Bai­da in Berlin were auc­tioned[xxi]. Yet, state insti­tu­tions still pro­tect­ed Baida. 

A year lat­er the Nation­al Social­ist Ger­man Work­ers Par­ty, the Nazi par­ty, came to pow­er, and on Jan­u­ary 1, 1936 the Law for the Pro­tec­tion of Ger­man Blood and Ger­man Hon­or came into force, which deprived all Jews of their Ger­man cit­i­zen­ship and sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly exclud­ed them from all par­tic­i­pa­tion in pub­lic life. Any per­son who was mar­ried to a Jew was, accord­ing to the new law, a Jew (§5, b). In the archive of the Berlin Com­pen­sa­tion Office that opened in 1949 numer­ous files of the Baida’s are kept. Michel Bai­da, in some cas­es togeth­er with his broth­er Gabriel, claimed nine hous­es back, Hilde asked for resti­tu­tion togeth­er with her sib­lings[xxii].  

From the rough look I could hith­er­to take into the doc­u­ments, Hilde Bai­da left Ger­many before 1938 and moved to Beirut. The address is Rue Damas, by Mar­tyr Square where the first Baidaphon shop in Beirut opened around 1907. Michel Bai­da does not seem to have left Berlin for good yet. His last entry to the street direc­to­ry dates from 1943. At the end of 1938, he reg­is­tered anoth­er pic­togram for Baidaphon in Ger­many for the busi­ness domain of pro­duc­ing, dis­trib­ut­ing and export­ing records and record nee­dles, the prod­uct was “discs record­ed in Ori­en­tal lan­guage, music and songs”[xxi­ii]

In May 1952, Hilde Bai­da wrote to the Berlin Com­pen­sa­tion Office and stat­ed, amongst oth­ers, her new civ­il sta­tus. She was now a wid­ow. She moved to Rue Saifi (Immeu­ble Asfar), a pre­vi­ous Baidaphon address. Her let­ter­head reads Etab­lisse­ments H. Bai­da, remind­ing of the Baidaphon logo. She sold discs, radios, and tele­phones[xxiv]. The last let­ter I saw from Hilde Bai­da so far dates to 1963. 


This arti­cle will be updat­ed occasionally.



[i] Most com­pre­hen­sive are Ahmed, Ais­cha (2020): Arab Pres­ences in Ger­many around 1900. Bio­graph­ic inter­ven­tions into Ger­man his­to­ry. Biele­feld, tran­script and Gese­mann, Frank, Ger­hard Höpp and Haroun Sweis (2002): Arabs in Berlin. Berlin, Die Aus­län­der­beauf­tragte des Sen­ats (both in Ger­man), sum­maries in Ara­bic د. أمير حمد(2009): العرب في برلين,العرب-في-برلين-عرض-وتقديم-أمير-حمد-برل/ and اعتدال سلامه (2016): تاريخ العرب في برلين.. نجاحات فنية واجتماعية وإخفاقات سياسيةتاريخ-العرب-في-برلين-نجاحات-فنية-واجتماعية-وإخفاقات-سياسية
[ii] Com­mem­o­ra­tion plaque Mohamed Helmy , see also Avi­dan, Igal (2017): Mod Helmy: How an Arab Physi­cian in Berlin saved Jews from the Gestapo, dtv (in Ger­man); Steinke, Ronen (2017): Anna and Dr Helmy: How an Arab Doc­tor Saved a Jew­ish Girl in Hitler’s Berlin, Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press (2021), مسلم ويهودية. قصة إنقاذ طبيب مصري لأنا من النازيين (2021).
محامد ناصر قطبي (2017): طبيب مصري في برلين النازية … البطولــة والإنسانيــة، دار الكتب 
[iii] Com­mem­o­ra­tion plaque Jus­suf Abbo,, see also Schöne, Dorothea (ed. 2019): Jus­suf Abbo, Cat­a­logue pub­lished on the occa­sion of the exhi­bi­tion “Jus­suf Abbo” at Kun­sthaus Dahlem (Novem­ber 8, 2019-Jan­u­ary 20, 2020). Cologne: Wien­and (English/German), Karin Orchard (2019): Jus­suf Abbo — Skulpturen.Zeichnung.Druckgrafik, Spren­gel Muse­um Han­nover (Ger­man), Ara­bic press about the exhi­bi­tion in Beirut in 2018
[iv] I use the offi­cial ter­mi­nol­o­gy of that time, which also Soli­man and his con­tem­po­raries did self-evi­dent­ly. This way sources can be traced, and polit­i­cal and cul­tur­al devel­op­ments and dis­cours­es traced.
[v] Com­mem­o­ra­tion plaque Mohamed Soli­man, see Ahmed 2020, pp. 142–151, Gesemann/ Höpp/ Sweis 2002, pp. 33–34, Kamel, Susan (2004): Hami­das Lied. Die 100 Jahre ein­er Mus­lim­in an der Spree. In: Kröger, Jens/Heiden, Désirée (Hg.): Islamis­che Kun­st in Berlin­er Samm­lun­gen. 100 Jahre Muse­um für Islamis­che Kun­st in Berlin. Berlin: Parthas-Verlag.
[vi] Fanon, Frantz (1959): This Is the Voice of Alge­ria, in: Stud­ies in a Dying Colo­nial­ism, Eng­lish in 1965, New York: The Month­ly Review Press.
[vii] Arslan, Shak­ib (1931): Let­tre de l’Emir Chék­ib Arslan au Jour­nal, Lau­sanne, le 26 août 1931, in: Jung, Eugène (1933): Le réveil de l’Is­lam et des arabes, Paris: self-pub­lished, p 110.
[viii] Gesemann/ Höpp/ Sweis 2002, p 32f.
[ix] Fed­er­al Archives in Berlin-Lichter­felde, BArch, R 87/8677
[x] Racy, Ali Jihad (1976): Record Indus­try and Egypt­ian Tra­di­tion­al Music: 1904–1932, in: Eth­no­mu­si­col­o­gy, Vol. 20, No. 1, pp. 23–48, Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois Press, p. 40.
[xi] The Polit­i­cal Archive of the Fed­er­al For­eign Office, PA AA RZ 207/80562
[xii] Rain­er E. Lotz with Michael Gun­rem and Stephan Puille (2019): Das Bilder­lexikon der deutschen Schel­lack-Schallplat­ten (5 Bände) — The Ger­man Record Label Book. Hol­ste: Bear Fam­i­ly Records. On Baidaphon online, p.6
[xiii] See Jew­ish Direc­to­ry for Greater Berlin 1931/32.
[xiv] PA AA RZ 207/78315
[xv] PA AA RZ 207/80560
[xvi] „Pro­pa­gan­da étrangère par les phono­graph“ 30 May 1930, CAND MA/200/193 quot­ed as in Sil­ver, Christo­pher (2022): Record­ing His­to­ry. Jews, Mus­lims and Music across Twen­ti­eth-Cen­tu­ry North Africa, Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, p. 91.
[xvii] See Sil­ver, p. 92
[xvi­ii] See Scales, Rebec­ca (2010): Sub­ver­sive Sound: Transna­tion­al Radio, Ara­bic Record­ings, and the Dan­gers of Lis­ten­ing in French Colo­nial Alge­ria, 1934–1939, in: Com­par­a­tive Stud­ies in Soci­ety and His­to­ry 2010;52(2), pp. 384–417, p. 414.
[xix] See „zu III 0 3273“ PA AA RZ 207/80562
[xx] „A.A. eing. — 6. Jan. 1932 Nm“ PA AA RZ 207/80562
[xxi] See Amts­blatt für den Lan­despolizeibezirk Berlin,
[xxii] See
[xxi­ii] Lotz / Gun­rem / Puille online p. 8
[xxiv] Cen­tral State Archive of Berlin, Lan­desarchiv Berlin B Rep, 025–1 Nr.:1797/55


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