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History - A Scandal in Germany

by Caspar Wintermans in History & Politics , 20 februari 2009

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

Among the curiosities treasured in the Royal Library in The Hague is found a pamphlet of 32 pages which the parson’s son and former parson Hubertus Johannes Schouten issued in 1908 in the same place. Not under his own name; the subject he discussed was much too risky for that. The author had set himself the task to refute a number of prejudices against gays which were current at the time.

He pointed out, for instance, that the preference for one’s own sex is innate, not acquired; that there are not more “mentally deficient” persons found among “Uranians” than among “normal people,” on the contrary, that history shows that a great many of the “most sublime spirits” had belonged to this minority; and that “the accusation of a certain form of pleasure, to which the name of a city mentioned in the Old Testament has been attached” - “Sodom,” somebody noted with a pencil in the margin -, is “unfair,” “because this particular mode is only rarely practised by them.”

“According to the unanimous testimony of all experts,” Schouten went on, “heterosexuals may generally follow the example of these people, whose sexual lives are as a rule very calm and who at any rate are not guilty of debauching girls, of keeping brothels in business and of spreading venereal diseases, and who therefore are not accessory to the immense destruction of happiness and human lives which heterosexual passions are causing day in day out.”

Schouten, who obviously was gay himself, and whose efforts on behalf of homosexuals incidentally were not appreciated by the Dutch authorities, had published his pamphlet, The Berlin ‘Court Scandal’, in the wake of the so-called “Eulenburg affair,” which had created a huge stir among our eastern neighbours. Its consequences could not be gauged when Schouten took up the pen, but they were considerable, not just for those directly involved, but also for Germany and for Europe as a whole. Three interesting books that the Hamburg publishing house MännerSchwarm has recently devoted to the subject provide a good reason to go into the subject of what has been dubbed “the greatest scandal of the German Empire.”

The ‘Fairy’ Eulenburg

This Empire had been the brain child of the Prussian Prime Minister, Otto von Bismarck. After the German armies had pulverized the French in 1871, it was at his instigation that the King of Prussia, Wilhelm, had been proclaimed Emperor of a united Germany with Bismarck as its all-powerful Chancellor. Homosexuals in Bavaria had no reason to celebrate this development, because in their federal state - ruled if you please by the gay King Ludwig II - the Prussian penal code was now introduced, containing the notorious paragraph 175 that outlawed sexual contacts between adult men, not excluding those that took place in private and with mutual consent.

A Pat On The Bottom

One of his regular visitors during his retirement had been the journalist Maximilian Harden. This former actor, who had also appeared on the stage in The Netherlands, founded Die Zukunft in 1892, a weekly in which he continued to propagate the opinions of his deceased idol. He did this vigorously and successfully. His reputation was considerable, as great as his vanity and his ambition to make a career, if necessary by breaking that of another. Eulenburg’s, for instance.

He waved aside the Count’s books as run of the mill amateur stuff. He would have left the author in peace, but not the ambassador. Wilhelm had got it into his head to make his friend envoy in Vienna; the reporter decided to wait and see for a few years, and then he took steps. Drastic ones. In 1902 he got into touch with Eulenburg, who meanwhile had been made a Fürst, and threatened to expose his homosexuality unless he tendered his resignation at once. It was sheer blackmail, but Harden took the view that the end justified the means, and Eulenburg gave in. He told Wilhelm his poor health forced him to retire from public life. With a heavy heart the Emperor allowed him to go.

Wilhelm, about whom as a schoolboy I read to my amazement that he had a “tendency to pat good-looking young officers on the bottom,” Wilhelm had to take in more bad news a few weeks afterwards. Friedrich Alfred Krupp, the captain of industry, purveyor of His Majesty of guns and battleships, a man who also formed part of Wilhelm’s inner circle, died unexpectedly. Suicide, it was said. Krupp used to spend much of his time on Capri, an island “known for its beautiful boys” (as Schouten had it); and according to the socialist magazine Vorwärts Krupp was wont to have sexual relations with some of them. It was a charge which the accused might have tried to refute by starting a libel case; but he was found dead in his bed. His daughter Bertha henceforth ruled his business empire; the gigantic cannons with which the Germans would shell the French capital during their final offensive in 1918 were called “Big Berthas,” a dubious honour.

Warm Feelings For Subordinates

Wilhelm was appalled at the rumours concerning Krupp. They were just the beginning. In 1907 he was told that the 33-year-old Prince Friedrich Heinrich von Hohenzollern - a member of his own family! - liked to dress as a groom and sell his body to men who could not suspect they were amusing themselves with one of Germany’s richest heirs. The Prince, carpeted by the Emperor, confessed he was gay (“Poor boy,” the head of state muttered), and obeyed the order to travel to Italy where a parson vainly tried to cure him of his “illness.”

Other noble officers with resounding names such as Captain von Tschirschky, lieutenant von Uechtritz and lieutenant von Saldern, whose warm, all too warm feelings for their subordinates had leaked out, committed suicide at that time, while some twenty of their homosexual colleagues were dishonourably dismissed from the ranks. On top of all that Wilhelm was informed by his eldest son that Mr Maximilian Harden insinuated in his weekly magazine Die Zukunft that Philipp zu Eulenburg-Hertefeld and the military commander of Berlin, Kuno von Moltke, also belonged to this vermin. Wilhelm exploded with anger, and demanded a full investigation of the case.

Harden had resumed his attacks because he deemed that Philipp had violated their agreement by once more approaching the throne. He had joyfully accepted Wilhelm’s admitting him into the “Order of the Knights of the Black Eagle,” he had received the Emperor at his country seat, Liebenberg, where he had even brought him into contact with the French embassy’s First Secretary, Count Raymond Lecomte, yet another notorious queer.

Lecomte later remembered that on that occasion there had hardly been a conversation, for Wilhelm had been talking almost incessantly, pitching a mass of insipid anecdotes; but Harden was convinced that it was owing to this meeting that during the subsequent international conference of Algeciras, where colonial matters had been discussed, Germany had granted huge concessions to France. He put the blame for the fatherland’s weakness at the feet of weaklings such as “the harpist” and “sweetie” - Eulenburg and von Moltke respectively. “Terrible fellows; wholly different from us; [...] without a sense of the soberness of politics, without the calm courage that a world power needs; [...] besides, they are sexually abnormal and impure.”

Moltke understood that his position in the army had become untenable and tendered his resignation. When Harden declined his invitation to a duel (perhaps in the knowledge that in some cases the sword is sharper than the pen), Moltke dragged him into court. He couldn’t have done the journalist a greater pleasure.

‘A Certain Form Of Pleasure’

The trial took place in Berlin in October 1907 and caused a big sensation at home and abroad. The accused’s first witness à décharge was the former wife of Kuno von Moltke, Lily von Elbe, who meanwhile had married again. This lady blabbed about her former husband, who, she said, had performed his marital duties only twice, afterwards putting a bowl containing cold water in bed between himself and her so as to prevent her amorous advances. He was wholly engrossed in his exaggerated friendship for Fürst Eulenburg.

Once she found her husband seated at the piano, and when she had addressed him he had whispered to her in exultation: “Leave me alone! I was just thinking of Phili!” Lily had had recourse to divorce and afterwards told Harden about the sentiments of her ex and his pal.
All of this paled into insignificance compared with the revelations of the former cuirassier Johannes Bollhardt, who had also taken the initiative to contact Harden. He had belonged to the same regiment as Eulenburg, the members of which wore a spruce white uniform with a pair of narrow trousers that showed off one’s bottom to its greatest advantage and for that reason, according to Bollhardt, served as a magnet attracting officers and civilians with a predilection for “a certain form of pleasure.” It was impossible, the witness went on, to leave the barracks without being accosted by gays who were willing to dip deeply into their purse in exchange for sex.

A serious setback for Bavarian gays whose frolics had up till then be tolerated by the police. Bismarck, the swashbuckler, wasn’t having any of gay love; he thought the Herrenvolk had to prepare itself for the next merry war. To his mind homosexuals were as bad as pacifists.

Which explains his antipathy, his contempt for Count Philipp zu Eulenburg-Hertefeld, born in 1847. This diplomat, who wrote poetry and who composed songs, who had fathered eight children and yet fancied his own sex, as Bismarck knew, had been an officer in the elite regiment Garde du Corps, yet he wasn’t a “hawk” but an avowed “dove;” besides being a Francophile and an Anglophile. All of which was bad enough. Bismarck’s problem was that the charming, eloquent Eulenburg belonged to the most intimate friends of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.

The latter had succeeded his father in 1888, and it had become clear almost at once that big changes were on foot. Wilhelm wished to follow “a personal course” and rid himself of the Chancellor who was just going to sharpen the legislation against the socialists, restrict the franchise and provoke the labourers to start a revolt that could then be suppressed by the military, when he was dismissed in 1890. Bismarck was flabbergasted.

Who had prompted the Emperor to send him packing? Who else than the poetaster Eulenburg, who on the very day when Bismarck had had to resign had been summoned by the Emperor and had played the piano for him?!

Bismarck realised that it would be unwise openly to criticize the Emperor, but during the years which yet remained to him - he died in 1898 - he did not hesitate to warn his admirers of the fatal influence that the “fairy” Eulenburg was supposed to exert behind the scenes on the affairs of state.

Without turning a hair Bollhardt admitted to having been the salaried lover of General von Hohenau and Major von Lynar for many years. Bollhardt had been lavish with money in the canteen, inviting his comrades to accompany him to the Major’s residence, the villa Adler, where there was champagne galore, where officers and men addressed each other with the informal du and otherwise let themselves go in groups. The “light-blond well-built Reitersmann” with the “violet-blue melting eyes” assured that Moltke and Eulenburg, too, had taken part in these orgies. Moltke denied, but the jury was not convinced by the “poor wretch.”

The famous sexologist Dr Magnus Hirschfeld, who was interrogated by Harden’s lawyer, had hoped to contribute to the acceptation of gays by explaining in court that in spite of Kuno von Moltke’s deviant sexual orientation (of which Hirschfeld was convinced) the commander should not be despised, because “homosexuality is not an illness but forms part of nature’s intentions.” His words fell on deaf ears.

The social equality the doctor advocated was more remote than ever; in the wake of Harden’s disclosures the police had begun a veritable witch hunt of gays; some members of parliament now proposed to outlaw lesbian sex as well, and as a result of the Eulenburg affair Hirschfeld’s Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee, founded in 1897, was landed in a prolonged financial and moral crisis.

Harden mastered the situation. The reporter of the Dutch daily newspaper Telegraaf disapproved of his “art of rhetorical effects,” his perfectly timed dramatic pauses (“And this letter... is in my hands!”), describing the voice of the former actor as “a mirror, the silver pure glass of which reflects the feelings its owner pretends to have. Whether he really has them is quite another matter.” The accused was acquitted by the jurors and got an ovation from a crowd waiting for him outside the court.

His Dutch colleague had no sympathy for him. “By the way, not much will remain of Harden’s filthy popularity once the first flush of the scandal is over. Only among the rabble which is rampant in all segments of society, among the merciless cads that delight in the grief and humiliation of others, will the ham actor Harden be held in esteem as the ‘slayer’ of men, for whom the same rabble crouched only yesterday.”

A Physically Unattractive Fellow

The extent of the public’s fascination for the affair may be seen from the fact that there even appeared postcards on the market showing the protagonists of the drama. And the drama was not over yet.
Kuno von Moltke struck back. He appealed against the verdict, and won his case. To achieve this result he successfully undermined his ex-wife’s credibility. Lily was a hysteric, the court was told, whose testimony was utterly worthless. Hirschfeld withdrew what he had said about Kuno during the first round; Harden was found guilty of criminal libel and condemned to four month’s imprisonment.

The Emperor was very happy about this, but Harden had more strings to his bow. Filled with infinite, pathological hatred of gays in general and of Eulenburg in particular, he managed to entrap the Fürst, who already thought himself almost rehabilitated, in an ingenious albeit unscrupulous way. He struck a deal with an editor-in-chief from Munich: this man would accuse him (Harden) of having been bought off by Eulenburg. Harden was supposed to have accepted a million mark from Eulenburg provided he would in the future cease writing about Eulenburg’s sex life in Die Zukunft. The article duly appeared, Harden pretended to be outraged and took his accomplice to court - in Munich, where he judged his chances of victory to be greater than in Berlin.

The accused allowed himself to be fined in the knowledge that Harden would pay him back afterwards; all eyes were fixed on a couple of middle-aged men whom Harden had traced and who told the audience that in the eighties, when he had been stationed in Bavaria in his capacity of Secretary of the Prussian embassy, Eulenburg had had sexual relations with them. Their declarations contradicted what Eulenburg had said in the witness stand during yet another trial that had taken place in Berlin in November, to wit, that he had never been homosexually active during his life. Eulenburg, in the course of this new case, did his utmost to save his skin, arguing that an artistic heterosexual such as himself would never have been tempted by a fellow as physically unattractive as the fisherman Jakob Ernst; it was all to no avail. Shortly after the court had decided in Harden’s favour Eulenburg was accused of perjury by the Berlin Ministry of Justice. The Emperor completely washed his hands of him, determined from now on to surround himself with advisers of an altogether different stamp than the disgraced nobleman who was instructed to return the medal of the Black Eagle at once.

Eulenburg has never been condemned. Not because of insufficient diligence on the part of those who prosecuted him; they produced more than sixty witnesses who were to prove Philipp’s interest in male beauty, including a steward of the imperial yacht Hohenzollern who claimed that his Excellency had made overtures to him and had wanted to know if the sailors “did it” among themselves. Eulenburg had a narrow escape thanks to a doctor’s sick note. His medics stated that his health was so precarious that a continuation of the trial that had opened in June 1908 was irresponsible.

Eulenburg’s enemies were convinced he was putting up an act, but they had to accept that the erstwhile favourite passed his final years at Liebenberg Castle, a broken man. The conviction of Harden had previously been squashed by the Reichsgericht, and an agreement was reached: the whistle blower was secretly paid 40,000 mark from the public treasury. His campaign was over. He had, he said, “destroyed this man as one destroys a dangerous beast. The Emperor and the state have been delivered from him, and both fare better now than at any time since Bismarck’s dismissal.”

Quite Risky Caricatures

Peter Jungblut has described the complicated history of the Eulenburg affair in a lucid and entertaining way in Famose Kerle, while in Die Freunde des Kaisers James Steakley offers an ample selection of the many caricatures which were published about it. Some of these drawings are quite risky. I don’t think they would have passed muster in Great Britain and The Netherlands. They clearly show at any rate that the readers of the satirical magazines knew full well that men who love men have a weakness for a nice ass. A conscript shown on a picture is told by the doctor who has examined him that he is perfectly suited for the (in)famous Garde du Corps, but the man objects: “Impossible! I have an internal deficiency.” - “Which one?” - “Haemorrhoids!”

Another illustration shows how in future the Prussian decoration Pour le Mérite should be worn: not round the neck, but on the backside, in front of the buttocks. Steakley suggests that the publication of these caricatures may well be the only positive aspect of the whole sorry story. The draughtsmen showed no sympathy for gays - no greater joy than Schadenfreude, alas -, but the fact that they chose the subject at all may have revealed to many a closeted homosexual that he wasn’t the only one yearning after a mate. To quote a correspondent of Magnus Hirschfeld, writing in 1901: “After all, there are so many of us, we don’t know how strong we are!”

A Wilhelminian Soap Opera

Besides the books mentioned is a reprint edited by Joachim Bartholomae of an almost unobtainable novel, Die Süßen (The Sweeties), which had originally been published in Budapest in 1909 by G. Grimm. The title-page gives “Karl Heinrich von Linden” as the author; his true identity remains to be discovered. He (or she) was gifted with a rich imagination and drew upon both the Krupp and the Eulenburg affair to paint a captivating picture of “decadent” Berlin. The story opens with the midnight murder in a park of a fourteen-year-old rent boy. He is strangled by the ship builder Bork who had been willing to pay “the urchin” for his services, but would not allow him to blackmail him. The police commissioner who tries to trace the killer has no pity for the victim, in contrast to an aristocratic lieutenant from the white-trousered regiment we have come to know so well.

“Pollux had been murdered, Pollux, who only yesterday afternoon had disengaged himself from his arms! His blond darling who a few weeks ago had crossed his path and who since that time had been the joy of his life! The delicate boyish limbs, which he had smothered with kisses, the flowing hair wherein he had so often buried his lips - all that was rigid and dead now.”
Such language became official in Germany in 1933, and to us, who know what lay in store, it is doubly painful to realize that Harden, who died in 1927 and whose real name was Felix Ernst Witkowski, was of Jewish stock. No World War II without World War I. No ascent of the dauber, anti-semite and homophobe Adolf Hitler without the German defeat of 1918.

No World War I without the Eulenburg scandal? That would be carrying things too far. Harden cannot be saddled up with the responsibility for the catastrophe of 1914, but he himself came to admit afterwards that his removal of the “dove” Eulenburg from Wilhelm’s entourage was one of the factors contributing to the outbreak of the conflict. As the Russian ambassador in the GDR put it to Philipp’s grandson many years later: “If only the Emperor had listened more to his advice, and if he hadn’t dropped him, [the Russians] might not be here today and history would have taken a much better course for both our countries!”
Perhaps... but whatever became of the light-blond, well-built Johannes Bollhardt with the violet-blue melting eyes?

The Berlin gay scene organizes a grotesque service of commemoration for the teenager, culminating in an “orgy” (of which no details are given) in which the book’s anti-hero also participates, the heterosexual blackmailer Anton Pickert who discovers Bork’s secret and who tries to get something out of it. Will he succeed?...

Die Süßen is a delightful melodrama, a fast-paced Wilhelminian soap opera which, according to the Bibliotheca Germanorum & Curiosa was banned on 12 May 1909. This information escaped Joachim Bartholomae’s notice, and it’s odd that the critic of the Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen made no mention of this ban either. By the way, his review of the novel, that appeared in 1910, was, on the whole, sympathetic.

The question arises whether Maximilian Harden, who also plays a part in the book, ever read Die Süßen, and if so, what he made of it. In 1913 he published his version of the Eulenburg affair. Some passages give one the creeps. “Do [homosexuals] deserve to be pitied? Certainly. They should only remain in the shadows, [...] not obtrude themselves there where they may become dangerous and unman a courageous Herrenvolk that badly needs its courage for a long time to come. Should the strong womb of German women be allowed to wither because their husbands prefer the flesh of young men? Does not everyone feel the temptation of a single soldier to such behaviour as a national shame?”



In the New Issue of Gay News, 323, July 2018

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