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Warm Brothers of Hamburg’s Kinky Side


by Hans Hafkamp , 25 October 2013

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length: 14 minuten


At the end of July, the annual meeting of leather men took place in Hamburg for the fortieth time. Reports state that at the first edition of this legendary fetish gathering, in between two hundred to almost five hundred people were present. In 1982, Gerd Pohl, co-organizer of the first meeting, wrote in the travel guide “Hamburg von hinten” that the “three hundred visitors we managed to attract from all over Germany, still have luster in their eyes thinking about it, ‘wasn’t that great.’” Within a few years, a lot had changed.

A Dark Chapter in German Criminal History

Up to 1969, the Nazi wording of paragraph 175 of the Penal Code from 1935 still applied: “A man who engages in illicit sexual acts with another man, or allows himself to be sexually abused, will be imprisoned. If the party in question is not twenty-one years of age at the time of the offence, the court of law may decide not to prosecute in particularly mild cases.” It is remarkable that, besides the sole focus on men which was not corrected anywhere in the Penal Code, there is no indication of the length of the prison term.

This presented some progressive judges with the possibility to protest with their verdict against the criminalization of voluntary sexual acts between adult men within the boundaries of the law. This happened in 1951, when an accused was given by a Hamburg court a prison sentence of one day, which could be transformed into a fine of three Marks. The court decided, inter alia, that “precisely serving time in prison [...] would present more opportunity for same-sex activity than to live in freedom.”

In paragraph 175a, a prison sentence to a maximum of ten years was set down if the same-sex acts were enforced through violence or threat, if there was a relationship of dependency, if a man over twenty-one had seduced a man younger than twenty-one, or in case of prostitution.

In 1969 the law was relaxed, and homosexual acts between adults over twenty-one were no longer punishable. In 1973 the law was relaxed again, and the age limit was lowered to eighteen (still two years higher than for heterosexual sex) and the penalization of gay prostitution was cancelled. The entire article was only stricken in 1994 in West-Germany, whereas the German Democratic Republic had done so in 1988.

It is well-known that there sometimes is a gap between the letter of the law and the activities of investigative authorities. The police in Hamburg, however, did not have a policy of tolerance at all, and did everything possible to arrest homosexuals. In the accompanying publication for the exhibition “Liberales Hamburg? Homosexuellenverfolgung durch Polizie und Justiz nach 1945,” which was shown in Hamburg this summer, the current alderwoman of Justice in Hamburg, Jana Schiedek, says in her preface that “from a modern point of view [...] it is incomprehensible that the criminal prosecution and social exclusion of homosexuals has continued for such a long time. [...] It is a dark chapter in Germany’s criminal history, for which the parties in question have not been rehabilitated or indemnified.”


Hustlers and Tearoom Shenanigans

Although the police despised any expression of homosexual lust and wanted to put a stop to it, a lot of investigative activities focused on the more public expressions, such as prostitution and cottaging. In 1955, the criminologist Gerhard Kuhn wrote in his dissertation “Das Phänomen der Strichjungen in Hamburg” that “after the Second World War, Hamburg had become the epicenter of male homosexuality, and had taken over Berlin’s legacy.” Kuhn was an advocate of the penalization of homosexuality and gay prostitution, and was against any relaxation of the law. His characterization was therefore also meant to underline the seriousness of the problem. He was of the opinion that “male prostitution [...] was an essential part of homosexuality” and that for this reason, “reducing homosexuality would lead to a decrease in the number of male prostitutes.”

To a certain extent, Kuhn’s description was also an objective finding, as from the beginning of the 1950s, several gay magazines were published in Hamburg, usually with a very short life-span, a number of “friendship clubs” and emancipation groups were formed, also for shorter periods of time, and there were bars which were discretely meant for homosexuals.

The police kept a close eye on these activities and tried to put a stop to them whenever this was legally possible. This certainly was true for cottaging. Initially, public toilets were watched by plain-clothes who would have the power to hand out toilet restraining orders to men who were caught in the act. In 1964, it was decided that this was not enough to solve the problem, and one-way mirrors were placed in notorious toilets. This innovation was quickly discovered, as in that same year, Adriaen van der Aa wrote in gay magazine “Der Weg”: “We really do believe that the police in Hamburg, which always gets praise from foreigners for their correct behavior, is not particularly pleased with its voyeuristic role on the job.”

This secret surveillance of public toilets continued until the 2nd of June 1980, when Corny Littmann, the first openly gay candidate for the Green Party for the German Lower House in the same year, smashed the mirror of a toilet on the Jungfernstieg with a hammer. Behind it, a man was discovered in a space of about four to five square meters. Littmann’s action was not spontaneous, as it was attended by journalists and photographers. The press had a field day with headlines such as “Peep-show for Cops.” The “Hamburger Abendblatt,” for example, wrote: “The state does not even leave the toilet alone. That is unbearable. Harassment by homosexuals should be stopped. That is the motivation for unpunished voyeurism. But can this intention really be considered more important than the intimate atmosphere and humanistic value of the non-homosexual and homosexual man? [...] should methods be used that could come from a cheap crime novel?” The article ended with: “The mirrors have to go!” This happened immediately.


The Murder of a Leather-Loving Masochist

Despite of this policing, there was a gay scene in Hamburg, and even a rudimentary fetish scene. Most of its history is covered in darkness, but at times, a little part of it was revealed. On the 12th of January 1963, for example, professional soldier H.V. found the actor Fred Wagner-Golden (born in 1899) murdered in his summer-house. Only after a long interrogation, the soldier admitted to having a sexual relationship with the actor, but even without this confession it had been clear to the police that the perpetrator might probably be found in the gay scene. In Wagner-Golden’s apartment, they found “two pictures of male nudes,” a “sketch of a nude man,” and a “painting (young man).” During the interrogation, H.V. also informed the police that Wagner-Golden, who was known by the nick-name “Aunty Wagner” in artistic circles, liked leather and would indulge in sex games with multiple people.

Ten days after the discovery of the victim, the police received a tip from the owner of the Capri bar, Günther Kreth. On the night in question, Wagner-Golden had left with the twenty-one-year-old Ernst-Georg R., who had “often been described as a hustler in gay circles.” After being detained on the 15th of January, R. most emphatically denied having left with Wagner-Golden for financial reasons, but claimed he had been drunk and that the actor, fully dressed in leather, had promised him more whiskey. During the trial he told what had happened: “After having eaten something and drinking, he gave me a stick. I had to hit him with it. I said: ‘You must be crazy!’ Then he hit me.”

The court did not believe R.’s statement that he had left with the actor, totally ignorant, and had beaten him out of a kind of gay-anxiety, and sentenced him to nine years in prison as a young adult. This elicited the exclamation in magazine “Der Weg”: “One cannot kill a homosexual and get away with it!”


Playful Tattoo Artists

Approximately ten years later, the then twenty-one-year-old Henk Schiffmacher visited Hamburg for a tattoo convention. Hamburg naturally had a tattoo scene being a harbor town. In “Heisse Kerle, Steife Brise,” the book that was published on the occasion of the forty-year anniversary of the leather meetings, it is pointed out that the legendary Herbert Hoffmann had been active on St. Pauli since 1961. Schiffmacher narrates in “Onderhuids: Een ontdekkingstocht naar tatoeages van Amsterdam naar Borneo” (Amsterdam, 2010) that when visiting a “local tattoo artist on St. Pauli [...] he runs into a company of older gentlemen dressed in Manchester suits.

The oldest gentlemen, who is in his seventies, plays the part of a housewife, and the youngest, a retired docker of about sixty-five, is happily splashing water in a baby bath. That is very naughty, according to the third house-mate, who corrects him with a number of firm slaps on his sagging, wrinkled baby butt.” Despite of this display of same-sex lust, it turned into a very pleasant evening after all, according to Schiffmacher. The next day at the real tattoo convention, he meets a very tall Swedish guy whose pictures he takes, but who suddenly wraps his arms around him and starts sobbing in a heart-breaking way. “Wailing, he starts to lament: a dirty old millionaire paid for all his tattoos, and in exchange, but very much against his will, he has to offer his Scandinavian behind for the old man to plough through.”

If Schiffmacher’s dating is correct, in that very same year he witnessed those exuberant fetish expressions, the age limit for homosexual contacts was lowered to eighteen, and censorship was relaxed. In 1973, the phrasing in the law was changed from “lewd writings” to “pornographic writings.” Even though the authors of “Liberales Hamburg?” argue that Hamburg “with numerous publishing firms, magazines and clubs in the early fifties [...] had the chance to become the undisputed capital of the new German gay movement, and get to the same level as Amsterdam and Zürich,” the question remains whether the authorities would have allowed this to happen.

Not only did the police keep an intense eye on gay men, but gay magazines as well. Germans with a preference for the somewhat rougher forms of sex and men could only indirectly get their hands on “British and American magazines with muscle and leather men, cowboys and jeans types, usually through The Netherlands or Scandinavia,” Gerd Pohl remembers in 1982, to which he adds that none of these guys were truly naked, and at the most, a naked butt could be seen. In these magazines, they also got acquainted with the work of Tom of Finland. According to Pohl, Tom had a significant global influence on the leather scene: “He drew the right motor jackets, he influenced hat fashion, tight jeans, the right denim design, police and uniform fashion, and body building.”


No Leather Without Motorbike

Pohl was entitled to an opinion, as he knew the scene very well. In 1966, he had taken over the hustler bar Loreley on St. Pauli to turn it into a leather bar. With Amsterdam’s Argos opening as a bar in 1965, but with roots in the 1950s, the Loreley was one of the first leather bars in Europe. Pohl was also one of the driving forces behind the organization of the first leather meeting in Hamburg in 1973 and a founder of Motor Sport Club Hamburg, which was responsible for the organization of these leather meetings for decades.

The MSC Hamburg was a volunteers organization, and it was a sign of the secrecy in which the fetish scene had to operate at the time that new members had to be voted in. For example, interested people had to name two members who would vouch for them. This barrier was not as large as it seems, Harald Gieseler says in “Heisse Kerle, Steife Brise”: “The club can use members who are willing to talk to the candidate to find out about his true motives in a friendly conversation. They can also function as a surety.” The outside world sometimes interpreted this as a rule that only meant that an associate member had to sleep with two members to become a full member. Especially in later years, a lot of younger leather men thought that the whole idea of a “secret” club was a bit exaggerated, if not laughable.

In 1973, any reservations were put aside to fully enjoy a party with like-minded. The opening night was celebrated in Pohl’s Loreley, and a large party in the notorious club Fucktory, a somewhat dilapidated factory building. The organization could not fully control the behavior of its guests, something that is not uncommon at such events, and this led to an accident at the first party. The guests were not partying at the designated places: “Apparently, the men would rather stay on the balcony, and were falling on top of each other. The somewhat rickety balcony with all the fucking men collapsed and fell down. Apart from some minor injuries, there were no casualties, and this involuntary fall did not spoil the mood,” Manfred Stavenhagen remembers.


Tied Up Naked to a Tree

Over the years, this was not the only case of bad luck. The second edition was raided by the police, amazed by so many entangled men in leather and uniform, because “up to that point, it was only transvestites and boys in make-up that were programmed into their hostile view of homosexuals.” The organizers considered the raid one of the best forms of advertising they could wish for. The question remains if that would also hold true for something that happened some years later, and seems to come from a pornographic novel. Even though it must have been shameful for the party involved. The party no longer took place in the Fucktory that was now closed, but in the Bauernhaus. In the early morning, some walkers found a naked man in the nearby park, tied up to a tree.

This remote park had been the stage for a large variety of sexual activity the previous night. “A lot of men took advantage of the possibility to tie other guests up.” In the course of the night it started raining, making the leather men hurry indoors to continue their lustful pleasures inside. In the heat of the moment, the tied-up gentleman was forgotten. “Stuck on a tree. Naked. Helpless. Became wet first. And became desperate, and could only hope to be found and freed.” This did not happen during the leather party. “Instead, he was only freed some hours later, in broad daylight, by heterosexual walkers. It was a great shock, for the poor victim of a specific masochistic game, for the discoverers, and for the organization. The following years, the organization expanded and intensified security measures.”


History Set Down

This anecdote is mostly telling for the unrestrained and carefree sex that could still take place in the 1970s. Less than ten years after gay and leather men could finally unscrupulously and somewhat openly give in to their lust, AIDS put a damper on this. Globally, this disease had a big effect on many expressions of gay life. Despite of all the problems and controversies, such as the discussions of providing condoms (free of charge), or discouraging promiscuous and limitless sexual behavior, the Hamburg leather party has remained a hit for forty years. This year, the jubilee has been celebrated with the publication of the book “Heisse Kerle, Steife Brise.”

The large format book contains a lot of illustrations and gives a colorful image of the leather scene in the German harbor city, and in a certain sense also the scene in the rest of the world. It has contributions especially written for the book, that look back on various aspects of its forty-year history, but it also contains some older articles that reported on important events in real-time. There aren’t plenty of books about the history of the gay leather scene, and for that reason alone, the publication should be applauded. The fact that it is a very readable book with funny anecdotes, bold statements at times, and contradictory views, only makes it more interesting.




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