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).


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 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).