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Gay Prostitution In Germany, 1871-1933, Part 2

by Caspar Wintermans in History & Politics , 25 oktober 2009

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

During the Empire and the Weimar Republic gay prostitution flourished in Germany despite very restrictive legislation. In the first part of this article Caspar Wintermans described the social situation, and the attention prostitutes received from journalism and (popular) science. In the second part he focuses on some belletristic works.

Richard Linsert’s notes, with which we concluded the first part of this article, show where his political affinities lay, and Hans Siemsen was a left-winger, too. In 1927 he published “Forbidden Love. Letters from an Unknown,” a novel in which the hustler Ernest Arno describes his vicissitudes in letters he addresses to the painter Fred S***, who, according to Siemsen in an editorial postscript, had been arrested for transgressing § 175 and who had hanged himself in his cell. He had previously ordained that Ernest’s letters be handed to Siemsen; the latter might perhaps publish them to draw attention to the havoc wreaked day in day out by the paragraph. All of which was an example, of course, of “manuscript fiction.”

Siemsen himself had written the letters. Which doesn’t detract from the book’s value. The semblance of authenticity is quite strong; in short sentences - the 1920s were the period of the unvarnished “New Objectivity” - the unlucky Ernest reports on his fruitless efforts to make a living as a tailor’s apprentice. Friends whom he trusted forsake him and finally he has no other option than to prostitute himself.

“I really found someone. An elderly gentleman. So we went to a hotel. I can’t describe how I felt. I wanted to do anything to make a bit of money, you see. I had to undress. Hunger made it impossible for me to think. I asked if it could be done with lights out. If only it would be behind me. But I couldn’t do what he wanted of me. You’ve no idea how vulgar this man became. While he looked as if he belonged to the high society. I turned him down. He wouldn’t pay me a penny. I could hardly walk. So I dragged myself home.”

“Forbidden Love” ends tragically. Ernest’s position is hopeless. He is not only destabilised by his unemployment but by his homosexuality as well. However, his emotions, joys, worries and thoughts are not intrinsically different from those of “normal” people, as Siemsen points out in his afterword. The walls raised by prejudice, false morality, sensation hunger, stupidity and “inferior science” - possibly a dig at Hirschfeld’s theory of the “Third Sex” - are raised, first and foremost, by § 175.

“This paragraph puts the whole issue in the criminal and pathological sphere. Where it doesn’t belong at all. It makes a problem out of something which is hardly a problem.” Sensible words, but the Berlin publishing house Die Schmiede which issued Siemsen’s novel was fairly small, so that his work is likely to have reached only a tiny audience.

Illustration: A political cartoon from 1907 where Magnus Hirschfeld "Hero of the Day" is asking to support the abolition of paragraph 175

‘Divinely Beautiful Youths’

The name of his fellow author Peter Martin Lampel on the other hand became famous across the borders. On 22 December 1928 the “Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant” wrote extensively on the fame that Lampel had suddenly gained after the premiere in Berlin of his “modern play in three acts,” “Revolution in the Reformatory School.” Lampel had had a variegated career before his break-through in the theatre: during the war he had served as a gunner and a Zeppelin pilot, he had once been a bicycle repair man and a circus performer; he joined the communists in 1918, was involved in a political murder, studied theology, philosophy and economics, got into touch with Linsert and Hirschfeld from whom he subsequently distanced himself when embracing national-socialism.

His experiences as a member of staff at Struveshof, a Berlin boarding school for youths who had got into trouble with the police, inspired him to write a book called “Boys in Need” wherein he observed that among the pupils placed there one found “remarkably tall, often divinely beautiful youths” who had been active as prostitutes, and who, in the dormitories, initiated their peers in gay sex while drawing their attention to the possibility of becoming a hustler themselves. Elder boys, dull and without perspective, sometimes brutally raped the younger ones, a problem that Lampel also highlighted in his play. “Stop this mischief, children. It only destroys you,” warns the staff member in “Revolution in the Reformatory School” who is grafted on Lampel himself. At which the ringleader responds: “It’s the only pastime left to us.”

When the curtain drops the pupils have rebelled against the board that has utterly failed them. The establishment is closed down. Needless to say this does not solve the problems of the adolescents. For this reason the denouement failed to satisfy the Dutch reviewer. “In the course of three tumultuous acts the playwright shows us how things should not be. The question remains: what is the solution? But Lampel shirks away from that, making a vague gesture of: ‘Look inside yourself to find the right way!’” The shortcomings mentioned by the critic did not detract from the tremendous impression made by the performance. The young actors, most of whom were completely unknown, succeeded in “getting across the atmosphere of the environment and the action as in a nightmare.”

“The audience was excited, showing its satisfaction or protest not in the usual way by clapping and whistling but by loud exclamations for or against. And at the end these demonstrations only got stronger. Someone in the gallery stood up and began slating the piece in a furious speech. Another climbed up onto the edge of the stage, hoisting himself by the footlight, vigorously defending the author shortly afterwards. Then from all sides it truly got loose. A fanatic gentleman in a box wearing black gloves waved his arms through the air, claiming that the author was a liar; another spectator in the pit denied this in such a furious way that two policemen were on the verge of interfering; while in the meantime the crowd was either cheering or hissing.”

After half an hour the management had the lights in the auditorium switched off, whereat the debates were carried on in the cloak-room and afterwards on the street. Lampel’s play would run to more than 500 performances in various theatres and give rise to real rebellions in some reformative schools. His next stagework, “Pennäler” (i.e. “Secondary School Pupils”), did not avoid the theme of homosexuality and gay prostitution either; in its review of the premiere the “NRC” described the dramatist on 28 November 1929 as “a Multatuli of the 20th century”: “The struggle, the struggle for justice, for those who are persecuted, is to him not just the main issue, but the only issue.” The aesthetic value of Lampel’s work, according to the newspaper, was of secondary importance.

Blackmailers and Hustlers

Friedrich Radszuweit’s novel “Men for Sale” finally does not excel by literary qualities either, but it constitutes an important and amusing historical document. Radszuweit (we already mentioned his name) was a clever man of business who during the twenties and early thirties published an array of gay magazines such as “Die Freundschaft” and “Die Insel.” These appeared in large editions and offered readers the opportunity to establish contacts by means of advertisements. Copies of these attractively illustrated periodicals have become exceedingly rare and are much sought after by collectors; it would be nice if they could be made available in a photographic reprint.

Radszuweit’s “authentic novel from the world of male blackmailers and prostitutes” was highly appreciated by the public. The third and fourth edition appeared in February 1931, six weeks after the first. The writer himself was amazed at this success and in an added preface proudly referred to the vast amounts of fan mail he had received.

The story opens dramatically. Erich Lammers, a parson’s son preparing to follow his father’s footsteps while having a job as private tutor of the little son of Baron Rotberg, returns to the residence of his employer after a stroll, to discover that the Baroness has ordered his (Erich’s) room to be searched as she suspects him of having stolen a valuable ring belonging to her. Indignantly, the young man tenders his resignation; but in the course of a private interview the Baron begs him to reconsider his decision, firstly because the son, Jürgen, ‘looks up to [him] with almost gushing veneration,’ secondly because Rotberg badly needs Erich’s help. The aristocrat ‘with the oversized nose and watery eyes’ confesses that he himself purloined the ring to meet the demands of an extortioner. Ten years ago Rotberg, while staying at a hotel in Berlin, had met a waiter blessed with very good looks.

“‘Fair was his hair, pale blue were his eyes which looked into the world in such an innocent and loyal way as if everything were sheer joy and rapture. - Bright was his voice, bright and merry was the sound of his laughter that caused all gloom to disappear. Small wonder, then, that I, who only love my own sex, fell in love with this vivacious 22-year-old boy.’

Lammers jumped up, horror-struck. He moved back a few paces in the room while gazing at the Baron as if he were an alien. Finally he recovered from his surprise, and snarled in a voice full of contempt: ‘What, are you one of those, Baron Rotberg?’”

The hero calms down. His disgust is changed into pity when his employer tells him that the angelic waiter quickly proved to be a blackmailer to whom he was forced to pay vast sums of money. Now he is utterly broke and at his wit’s end. Lammers forthwith travels to Berlin to confront the man; upon his arrival in the city his opinion of gays has already undergone a complete change:

“How on earth is it possible? he kept asking himself. To pay 42,000 mark to a criminal [...] for an act which isn’t really a crime and which hurts nobody. Who’s the one who is guilty of these extortions?

The guilty one, thinks Lammers, is only stupidity. The stupidity of those who, under the cloak of morality, maintain § 175 of our Penal Code. The stupidity and prejudice of the masses, to which the highly educated also belong, who look down on homosexuals as inferior and contemptible people. Who has the right to interfere with the bedroom secrets of others anyway? The state, perhaps? The state should really be obliged to safeguard its citizens against tragedies such as have befallen Baron Rotberg.”

Photo: Friedrich Radszuweit, self portret in ‘Blätter für Menschenrecht,’ october 1929

‘An Atmosphere Of Sheer Sexuality’

There is a big surprise in store for Erich in Berlin. Rotberg’s tormentor, who calls himself Helmut Hintze, turns out to be none other than his own brother Helmut, who has been on bad terms with their father for years. Helmut, who is not gay himself, advances palliating circumstances to excuse his bad conduct, as do most of the novel’s characters. Under Erich’s benign influence he reforms himself in no time. The brothers visit a number of gay bars to study the subculture, enabling Radszuweit to point out to his readers that there are great differences between the various establishments. Next to the vulgar ones where the hustlers brazenly ask customers to give them beer and cigarettes and crack “dirty jokes” (“In this place there was an atmosphere of sheer sexuality”) there are cafés where one may enjoy “delightful, truly artistic music” and where during a performance of a tear-jerker “some boys were wiping the tears from their eyes.

Two of them had laid their head on the table and were sobbing in a most affecting manner.” One of these, Karl Wieberneit, had lost his job as a secretary after admitting to his boss that he was in love with him (“You call your perversity, your filthiness, love? Get out, you miserable sodomite, or I’ll have you locked up!”). Karl wants to quit his life as a hustler. Erich manages to reconcile the youth with his family, just as he succeeds in solving Herbert’s conflict with his parents. Baroness Rotberg contributes her share to a happy end by conveniently passing away, and during a festive meal Erich concludes that gays would save themselves lots of trouble if they did not fancy straight men. Quite so!

“Men for Sale” is a peculiar book. It describes gay prostitution as a social evil, yet the image on the dust jacket showing a bevy of naked youths - only the upper part of their bodies is visible, Radszuweit knew where to draw the line - is unmistakably erotic. One can imagine the horror with which mothers would turn over the leaves of the novel on discovering a copy hidden under the mattress of their son who was giving them so much worries anyhow.

The sequel Radszuweit had announced never materialized, firstly because he died of tuberculosis in 1932 and secondly because the political wind in Germany had begun to blow from the most icy directions. “Things don’t look good, things don’t look good, things don’t look good at all,” gay author Klaus Mann noted in his journal on 6 February 1933.

A week before Adolf Hitler had been made chancellor, as a result of which all chances to abolish § 175 had disappeared; the laws against gays were sharpened, their associations outlawed, their magazines banned, their bars closed. The first book burnings occurred on 6 May, the works of Klaus Mann, amongst others, going up in flames. At that juncture he had already emigrated, as had Stefan George. Hans Siemsen followed their example.

Martin Peter Lampel initially welcomed the new regime, but he, too, would leave the country. Richard Linsert died in February 1933; Hirschfeld, ill and disillusioned - his scientific institute had been ransacked by the Nazis - passed away at Nice in 1935. Meanwhile the first homosexuals had already been incarcerated in the concentration camps, many catamites among them.

Friedrich Radszuweit, ‘Männer zu verkaufen. Ein Wirklichkeitsroman aus der Welt der männlichen Erpresser und Prostituierten,’ Berlin: Verlag Martin Radszuweit, 1931

‘I Cried Like A Dog’

In 1921 Kurt Hiller had sprung to their defence, writing in “Die Freundschaft”: “One should not believe, really, that this way of making money is an easy one, that this profession demands no sacrifices. The job is insecure, oscillating, enervating; the transaction itself loathsome, painful, humiliating - even for the most inured.” The testimony of B*** Sch***, one of the boys interviewed by Linsert, bears that out.
“They’ve required everything and I’ve done everything the fellers wanted from me. One thing only was out of the question: I didn’t wish to be thrashed. At night, while gazing at myself standing naked in front of the mirror, I took a silly delight in my body. [...] A beating? No, it’s not necessary that I allow myself to be beaten. Yet I’ve learned it. I ‘needed’ it after all.
Finally, at about three o’clock in the morning, a repulsive man appears with a bad breath. In less than two minutes he shoves his finger in my arse hole. [...] He asks me if I’ve got hair on my breast.
‘Let’s feel!’
He then asks if I can take something.
‘Take what?’
‘A portion of blows!’
‘Nobody hits me.’
‘All right.’ He gets up, leaves. ‘I would not have been particular about a tenner.’
A tenner, I think. A tenner. A tenner for me? And while the tears of fear, revulsion and anger are trickling down my cheeks, I cry to him the stupid words ‘I’m on.’ [...] He has smeared me all over with Provencal oil and finally pissed in my face. Instead of a tenner he gave me five francs.
Early next morning, in my room, in front of the big mirror and with the help of a small one, I inspected my backside. The skin had been ripped off on various places at the thighs as well, there was blood on my arse, and hairs had been torn from my genitals. All this for five francs. My shirt soiled with oil. My costume ruined. Fear of disease and wretched pain. Only when my mother died did I cry as I cried at that moment, like a dog.”

Some two thousand years ago a Jewish carpenter’s son in Whose name homosexuals continue to be execrated even today, was taken to task by religious hypocrites because He did not shun the company of social outcasts. “The girls of the street,” He answered His critics, “will enter the Kingdom of God before you.” He did not mention the boys of the street. Yet I trust He had full sympathy for the ill-treated B*** and his toiling colleagues, too.

Our thanks to Marita Keilson-Lauritz, Wolfram Setz and Christine Zelinsky

The classical pictures of the couples are coming from David Deitcher’s ‘Dear Friends: American Photographs of Men Together, 1840-1918,’ New York, Abrams, 2001, ISBN 9780810957121



In the New Issue of Gay News, 326, October 2018

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