Gay bars and nightclubs. Cabarets populated by homosexual men, drag queens, lesbians and gender-bending at the forefront. Sound like the 21st century? Try almost 100 years ago in Germany. Yes, it was in Berlin where scientists concluded that same sex love was a natural, inborn characteristic. Author and scholar Robert Beachy writes in his new book, Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity.
“The pervasive prostitution (both male and female), the public cross-dressing, and the easy access to bars and clubs that catered to homosexual men and lesbians were just a few of the features that supported Berlin’s sex industry.”
There were nearly thirty separate homosexual German-language periodicals appearing in Berlin. Openly nudist and homosexual titles were displayed in the kiosks. In those magazines, anyone facing blackmail found private detectives to track down extortion threats. Cross-dressers found dressmakers who tailored for large sizes. There were the ads placed by individuals forever in search of love (sounds like the internet –or Grindr, anyway…)
The American modern artist, poet and essayist Marsden Hartley, who loved Berlin in the 20s, attended large transvestite balls and patronized homosexual (there was no term “gay” then, you know) bars frequented by male hustlers;
“Life in Berlin then was at the height of heights – that is to the highest pitch of sophistication and abandon. None of us had seen anything quite like the spectacle.”
The late architect, Philip Johnson, ‘availed himself of Berlin’s male prostitution’. Johnson said he became fluent in German later saying;
“Paris was never that hospitable. I learned it the best way, using “the horizontal method.”
Male and female impersonators drew huge crowds at cabarets, circuses and variety theatres – as well as providing entertainment at the big transvestite balls and homosexual clubs, but they faced the possibility of being arrested by the police and harassed. But a famous doctor helped reform the practices of the Berlin police and convinced them to issue ‘transvestite passes’ so that performers could work without fear of harassment although there was no law prohibiting public cross-dressing.
But with the Great Depression of 1929, and the crash of the American stock market, the Golden Age started slipping away to a Hitler-led government. By spring 1930, the Nazis were on the rise and in 1933 Adolf Hitler completed his march to power. The party in Berlin was over. And the rest was not pretty or gay.
(via Daily Mail)