Originally from Germany, he studied sociology and philosophy in Munich and Heidelberg, and moved to Berlin to study acting. At the onset of WWI he escaped to Zürich, where in 1916 he wrote the Dada Manifesto, a politically charged statement about society. In the same year he wrote the poem Karawane made of nonsensical words – the beginning of sound poetry.
He was also co-founder of Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich and key member of the Zürich Dadaist community. His poetry works include 7 Schizophrene Sonette, the drama Die Nase des Michelangelo, and Flight Out of Time: a Dada Diary. Allegedly he named the movement Dada by picking randomly words from the dictionary. His influence and participation to the Dada lasted however only two years, after which he collaborated with the newspaper Die Freie Zeitung, before retiring in Ticino, where he died at the age of 41.