club subculture

(Picture: Gertrude Sandmann & Hedwig Koslowski)

« Gertrude Sandmann discovered rather early that she felt “closer to women than to men.” At the beginning of World War I she had a relationship with Lilly zu Klampen, a girlfriend from her schooldays… Did this or another relationship with a woman incur her parent’s displeasure, at a time when Sandmann was dependent on their financial support? In order to satisfy the demands of the family, in 1915 Sandmann married the physician Hans Rosenberg… but the marriage, in name only, ended in divorce after only a short time.
During the Weimar Republic lesbians had a “much more difficult time than [they do] today, if they wanted to live according to their nature, and not in the closet: more severe resistance, confrontation, and pressure from the family, having to hide their lesbianism in most occupations, etc.” Sandmann wrote these words in 1976, recalling those turbulent times. […]

[In 1934] she was expelled from her professional association, the Reich Association for Artists, because of her “non-Aryan” heritage. [In] 1935, President of the Reich Association for the Fine Arts Hönig issued the final ban, preventing her from pursuing her occupation as an artist. Membership in [the Reich association] was a prerequisite for artistic activities in the Third Reich… Besides Jews and “Jews of mixed blood,” political unreliables, and the “mentally deficient,” this included homosexuals as well.
As well as was possible under the circumstances and with a growing scarcity of materials, Sandmann continued to draw. She had to use magazine photographs as models. Of the few preserved works from the Third Reich, pictures entitled “The Cowering Woman” or “The Emigrant Woman” demonstrate her artistic confrontation with the times. Her being treated like a criminal by the state and her art being banned as “degenerate” were among the worst experiences she had during the Nazi period.

[…] As of November 1941 she had to wear the Jewish star, which made her more visible as an outcast and subject to abuse on the street. In November 1942 Sandmann was directly threatened with deportation, [and she] fled her own apartment on November 21, 1942, leaving a note announcing her suicide to the Gestapo, who appeared at her door afterwards and stole everything. […] In order to make it look believable, [she] had to leave behind everything in the apartment, including her food rations card, which had already become necessary for survival, though as a Jew it hardly sufficed as Jews were allotted a fifth of normal rations. Without the support of friends who helped at the risk of their own lives, it would not have been possible to survive underground. Gertrude Sandmann was lucky. Her partner, Hedwig (”Johnny”) Koslowski, an artisan who Sandmann had been involved with since 1927, did not abandon her. Such behavior was by no means a matter of course in those days, when many “mixed” mariages and partnerships broke under the external pressure. 

Hedwig Koslowski arranged a hiding place with the Grossmann family, [where] Sandmann remained hidden in a minuscule closet and lived on whatever Mrs. Grossmann could spare from her food rations and whatever Hedwig Koslowski was able to obtain. Anne Frank vividly described in her diary what it was like to live in hiding for months or even years. Like her, Sandmann also had to avoid making any sound whatsoever in the poorly insulated apartment; she could not stand near the window nor ever leave the apartment, even during the heaviest of bombings, which left her utterly helpless and vulnerable. […] In the fall she had to move again because of the cold. This time Hedwig Koslowski took her into her own apartment… This is where Sandmann was living, emaciated at seventy pounds, when the Allied troops liberated Berlin. She was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief, along with approximately twelve hundred other Berlin Jews who survived the war underground as so called U-Boats, submarines.

[…] Shortly after the war, she started drawing again. “I don’t have that much more time to live—if only I could buy time.” That’s how she once described her wish to regain the time and creativity she was robbed of. […] Although she participated in several postwar exhibitions… only once, in 1974, did she have a solo exhibition… Eva Kollwitz describes her works as follows in the exhibition brochure: “Works of pure joy mingle with those of severity; and she is fascinated again and again by simple objects of everyday life… An eggshell shimmers like moonlight; a piece of fruit conveys the sensual experience of taste.”
[…] Sandmann avidly followed the initiatives of the new women’s movement that was emerging in the 1970s and she supported various women’s projects in West Berlin such as the Andere Zeichen women’s gallery. Her experiences in the 1920s showed her how important meeting places and groups for lesbians were. She once wrote the following about the significance of the clubs in discovering one’s identity at the time of her youth:
“The clubs, the “subculture” so maligned today, represented the first step back then, the first and only and very much appreciated chance to come together with women like yourself and be freed from isolation—such an important beginning!… It was a great liberating experience to see that there are really so many women like yourself. You walked into the club as if you were “coming home”—this is were you belonged.” »

— Claudia Schoppmann, Days of Masquerade: Life Stories of Lesbians During the Third Reich 

Marilyn, Princess Julia and George O’Dowd at Billy’s, 1978 ca. © Nicola Tyson

«This must be really early on: it’s Peter Robinson (Marilyn), Julia Fodor (Princess Julia) and George O’Dowd (Boy George). The DJ at Billy’s would either be Rusty Egan or a girl who was the house DJ. When it was Rusty, the music would be Kraftwerk, the Normal, Bowie, Roxy Music, Giorgio Moroder soundtracks, all sorts. Bowie was a strong influence – even during punk – so the younger generation weren’t finished with that; we wanted to have our own go at him. And with the house DJ we’d all be dancing to Sylvester and the disco hits of the day. There wasn’t any snobbery, all of that music was loved.»

Nicola Tyson

T. Lewis, ‘The birth of the London club scene’: Bowie Nights at Billy’s Club – in pictures, «The Guardian», 25 January 2013,


80′s goths dancing.