Eldorado, Weimar Berlin. PhotoBundesarchiv, Bild 183-1983-0121-500 / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Walter Crasshole empties his fag bag and vents on the issues of the day. This month: Are the 1920s back for gay Berlin?
You’ve read it before, I’ve written it before: we may be living in a second Weimar Berlin. And there are admittedly some parallels… especially on the gay scene. My friend Reverso gyrates through the streets, bars and clubs in white face paint, torn fi sh nets and smeared red lipstick. Pansy masterminds an unending number of drag shows that fans and curious onlookers can visit on any given night. Another Country bookstore puts on Queerstories nights, hosting numbers of would-be Isherwoods. Sex is available in all its splendid variations in dizzying quantities. And all of this, to quote Sally Bowles, is marvelous!
But let’s talk about how the gay Berlin of today is not like Weimar Berlin. And we begin with the ladies. Weimar Berlin was populated with lively lesbian bars that propelled the careers of the likes of Claire Waldoff – Café Dorian Grey and Damenklub Violetta, to name a few. Today there are zero. And it’s not like the number of dykes has gone down.
As for the boys, and I do mean boys, they were literally running wild: a group of gay kids called the Wild Boys roamed the streets of Berlin in an orgy of petty crime and sex, frightening the middle class and saying “Fags bash back” before it was even a slogan. Today’s Berlin has plenty of youth crime, but unfortunately it’s never the gays – and it’s never so stylish and sexy.
Actually, all queers were criminals at the time. Anything constituting a “lewd act” was criminal under Paragraph 175. And queers, fags, dykes and the like were fl aa-aunting! Although Weimar Berlin’s general lax attitude towards sex helped, it took guts to keep going in light of possible prosecution. And they did. Today, and thankfully so, we can at least take comfort in the fact that no one’s going to get arrested for butt sex. But when the possibility existed, our existence was a slap in the establishment’s face.
Straights, like today, mixed with gays from time to time – even in bed. But it was the mental cost of war and economic desperation driving this mix, not too many drinks and a desire to be “sooo Berlin”. Soldiers who’d bunked up with each other in World War I looked at their sexuality diff erently, and young men in Berlin turned to prostitution to make ends meet.
And what about the brass tacks? Sex. Aside from internet porn and hookup apps, one other signifi cant thing didn’t yet exist in Weimar Berlin’s gay scene: HIV. It’s not like there weren’t other STIs – syphilis, anyone? – but for the most part, gays were fucking with glorious abandon.
Even though I consider my friends pretty outrageous and radical, I can’t help but wonder if people were even more outrageous back then. In 10 or 20 years, will we look back on this time with the same sense of wonder? Maybe... hopefully... time will tell.