weimar republic

Tauentzien girls (lower class of prostitutes), Berlin 1920s.

Berlin in the 1920s had a very interesting and confusing legal stance on prostitution. Left-over laws from the reign of Friederich II did not allow for legally sanctioned brothel quarters within city limits, and yet individual female and male prostitution was to be carried out “under government surveillance” - in essence, it was permitted on a technicality despite being officially unlawful. “Whoring was, through the Wilhelmian era, alternately tolerated, then banned, then yet again ‘placed under surveillance.’ No matter what was decreed, however, prostitutes  and the citizenry who engaged their services always found ingenious ways to circumvent the murky codes. Only two sanctions were consistent: 1. Berlin refused to allot a legal district for the practice of harlotry - the 'Mediterranean’ solution, and 2. public solicitation for sex was strictly prohibited” (Gordon, Voluptuous Panic). 

So, in essence a prostitute could ply his or her trade anywhere in the city as long as he or she did not verbally reveal her profession. Hence, an elaborate cosmopolitan code of dress and gesture developed in the Berlin demimonde through which sellers advertised their wares to buyers: “Customers could recognize the compliant goods instantly by their characteristic packaging. In other words, whores would promote themselves by looking like whores” (Gordon, Voluptuous Panic). A fascinating paradox, because of course looking that way made your trade obvious to law enforcement officials and yet they there was little they could do about it.

However, “the problem, unfortunately, became acute in the Weimar period when prostitute fashion was widely imitated by Berlin’s most virtuous females. For instance, one historical badge of shame for Stricht-violators, short-cropped hair, became the common emblem of the Tauentziengirl (above) at least for a year or two. Then in 1923, the short pageboy coif, or Bubikopf, achieved universal popularity as the stylish cut for trendy Berlinerinnen. Prostitutes had to change and update their provocative attire constantly in order to retain a legal means of solicitation” (Gordon, Voluptuous Panic).

Berlin cabaret poster, 1920s.

“The idyllic gay portrait of dapper German officers in capes and peaked caps transfixed by demure Line-Boys (teenage male prostitutes that worked Berlin’s fancy hotel lobbies, gay clubs, and bars in the Tiergarten in gangs of 4 or 5) on Tiergarten benches disappeared from view in 1919. It was beggars who retained the combat dress of the defeated army. Berlin’s gay community at the beginning of Weimar adopted a different wardrobe, the sailor’s blouse and cap (alongside the tailored morning-coat of the perfumed dandy). In homosexual Dielen, middle-aged Sugar-Lickers (nighttime gay patrons), Coolies (older Gymnasium or university students who hired Line-Boys and frequently claimed to be straight), Doll-Boys (youngest and penniless gay hustlers that worked solely for food, lodging and cigarettes), even crotchety waiters wore the crisp blue-and-white insignia of jaunty marines on shore leave. The change of uniform had various meanings. Partly, it was a matter of identification - straights didn’t wear them - and they were a Wilhelmian echo of adolescent androgyny. More significantly, Berlin’s core homosexual community had expanded beyond the units of the Potsdam garrison.”

-Mel Gordon, Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin.

The artist Reneé Sintenis and a Hot Sister ca. 1927.

Hot Sister was generic Berliner slang for a lesbian, however Sintenis and her friend seem to be sporting the more specific attire of Bubis - “masculine or butch women [who] often wore male clothing, especially fedoras and leather ties. Recognized by their long leather coats in winter and ubiquitous cigars. Some Bubis sported delicately drawn ‘mustaches’ (imitating Spanish aristocratic women). Reputed to be the best automobile drivers in Berlin. Attracted to Mädis (ultrafemmes), who referred to them as Daddies” (Mel Gordon, Voluptuous Panic).


November 8th 1923: Beer Hall Putsch

On this day in 1923, a group led by future German Chancellor Adolf Hitler launched an attempted takeover of the German government in Munich. Hitler, leader of the nationalist and anti-Semitic Nazi party since 1921, capitalised on public anger at the government over the humiliating terms of the Treaty of the Versailles. Many Germans, blaming this treaty for the nation’s economic woes, turned to the Nazi Party as an alternative to the Weimar government in Berlin. In November 1923, Hitler and his accomplices - including famed general Erich Ludendorff - planned to overthrow the state government of Bavaria, which would be the opening act for a larger plot to topple the Weimar Republic. They conspired to kidnap the Bavarian state commissioner, and on November 8th 1923 burst into the Bürgerbräukeller beer hall in Munich, where the commissioner was speaking, firing gunshots into the air and declaring a ‘national revolution’. However, Hitler’s followers failed to take over Munich’s government buildings, and a march to the Bavarian Defense Ministry was blocked by police. In the ensuing commotion, four police officers and sixteen Nazis were killed, and Hitler, suffering a disolated shoulder, fled the scene. Hitler was arrested on November 11th, and convicted of treason for his role in the failed coup. He was sentenced to five years in prison, though only served less then a year, during which time he wrote his autobiography Mein Kampf. The popularity of Hitler and the Nazi party greatly increased in the face of the publicity following the Beer Hall Putsch, which contributed to their electoral success ten years later.

“The national revolution has broken out. The hall is surrounded.”

Sources: http://www.history.com/topics/beer-hall-putsch, http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/modern-world-history-1918-to-1980/weimar-germany/the-beer-hall-putsch-of-1923/


The Karabiner 98B,

After being defeated in World War I Germany was forced to except a wide array of arms and military limitations designed to reduce the Germany military into a small defensive force that could be controlled by the Allied Powers.  For example, the German Navy could have only a handful of small battleships and submarines were forbidden, the German Army could have no tanks, airplanes, or large artillery, and was limited to 100,000 men.  While these were strict regulations, often the German government found loopholes or used outright deceit to circumvent the provisions of the treaty.  One result of this was the German Karabiner 98B bolt action rifle.  

One provision of the treaty was that Germany was forbidden from producing any full length rifles for military use. At the time, the length of military rifles were about as long as military muskets from the 18th and 19th century.  Carbines were seen as inferior, as rigid old military officers still believed in an outdated view of warfare that emphasized long range marksmanship.  Thus, the Allied Powers sought to restrict rifle length in the Germany Army.  The Germans, however, conducted a simple deception to circumvent the rules by producing the Karabiner 98B.  The Karabiner (carbine) 98B was not a carbine, even though it was labelled so.  Rather it was a full sized Gewehr 98 bolt action rifle with a few minor modifications.  It was labeled as a carbine merely to confuse Versailles Treaty arms inspectors.  The K98B differed from the Gew 98 only in that it  had a tangent rear sight as opposed to the original “Lange” ramp sight, a wider lower band with side sling attachment bar, a side butt attachment point for a sling, and a turned down bolt handle. Most were merely re-arsenals of older Gewehr 98 rifles, or produced surplus parts.

The K98B was first introduced in 1923, and became the common arm of the Weimar era German Arm.  By the 1930s, military doctrine began to change, and what was once carbine length during World War I, became standard rifle length during World War II.  Thus in 1935 the German Army phased out the K98B for the Karabiner 98K.  Most K98B’s would be disassembled, the parts salvaged for use in the manufacture of newer rifles. As a result the Karabiner 98B is a very rare rifle today, and highly sought by collectors.


New Objectivity—New Identities: Type and Portraiture

The final section of New Objectivity, “New Identities: Type and Portraiture,” explores the work that is perhaps most commonly identified with New Objectivity. In unsentimental works that defied traditional portraiture, artists frequently took as their subjects the social types of Weimar Germany. Otto Dix’s The Jeweler Karl Krall, for example, portrays his subject in an affected stance, torqued into a feminine pose and possibly wearing makeup; the overall impression is one of an unmistakable display, at a historical moment in which homosexuals were becoming more visible culturally. A number of New Objectivity artists also seized the opportunity to explore the self with the same unsentimental precision with which they approached the world around them. In Christian Schad’s Self-Portrait, the artist portrays himself and a model whose state of undress suggests that a sexual encounter has occurred, yet the figures appear completely divorced from one another, creating a provocative tension. Max Beckmann adopts the clothing, stance, and haughty expression associated with the upper class in his Self-Portrait in a Tuxedo, creating a portrayal that is both enigmatic and self-absorbed.

This series examines the exhibition’s five thematic sections that address competing and at times conflicting approaches that these artists applied to the tumultuous Weimar years. Follow #NewObjectivity on Tumblr for upcoming posts, or check out an overview of the exhibition on Unframed.  


Simson 1929 semi-automatic pistol Prototype

Manufactured by Simson & Co. Waffenfabrik in Suhl, Germany c.1928-29, serial number 7A.
9mm Parabellum, 8-rounds magazine, single-action, simple blowback.

At time the only German military small arms manufacturer authorized to operate under the Versailles treaty, Simson experimented with what is essentially a toggle-lockless Luger P08 pistol for the rearmament of the Preußische Geheimpolizei, using the same magazine. They however ended up adopting the P08, because it made them look more like badasses, also because there was no point drifting away from the huge stocks of them they already had to adopt a new gun that was more or less the same freaking thing.

Sauces : James D. Julia Inc. and @miniaturesandcostumes .w.