1920s Berlin

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Street Scene at Night by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1926-7.
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History of Berlin
Margraviate of Brandenburg (1157–1806)
Kingdom of Prussia (1701–1918)
German Empire (1871–1918)
Weimar Republic (1919–33)
Nazi Germany (1933–45)
West Germany & East Germany (1945–90)
Federal Republic of Germany (1990–present)
See also

The Golden Twenties in Berlin was a vibrant period in the history of Berlin, Germany, Europe and the history of the world in general. After the Greater Berlin Act the city became the third largest municipality in the world.[1] Berlin experienced its heyday as a major world city and was known for its leadership roles in science, the humanities, music, film, higher education, government, diplomacy, industries and military affairs.

Culture[edit]

Main article: Weimar culture

The Weimar Republic era began in the midst of several major movements in the fine arts. German Expressionism had begun before World War I and continued to have a strong influence throughout the 1920s, although artists were increasingly likely to position themselves in opposition to expressionist tendencies as the decade went on.

A sophisticated, innovative culture developed in and around Berlin, including highly developed architecture and design (Bauhaus, 1919–33), a variety of literature (Döblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz, 1929), film (Lang, Metropolis, 1927, Dietrich, Der blaue Engel, 1930), painting (Grosz), and music (Brecht and Weill, The Threepenny Opera, 1928), criticism (Benjamin), philosophy/psychology (Jung), and fashion. This culture was often considered to be decadent and socially disruptive by rightists.[2]

Film was making huge technical and artistic strides during this period of time in Berlin, and gave rise to the influential movement called German Expressionism. "Talkies", the Sound films, were also becoming more popular with the general public across Europe, and Berlin was producing very many of them.

The so-called mystical arts also experienced a revival during this time-period in Berlin, with astrology, the occult, and esoteric religions and off-beat religious practices becoming more mainstream and acceptable to the masses as they entered popular culture.

Berlin in the 1920s also proved to be a haven for English writers such as W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender and Christopher Isherwood, who wrote a series of 'Berlin novels', inspiring the play I Am a Camera, which was later adapted into a musical, Cabaret, and an Academy Award winning film of the same name. Spender's semi-autobiographical novel The Temple evokes the attitude and atmosphere of the time.

Science[edit]

The University of Berlin (today Humboldt University of Berlin) became a major intellectual centre in Germany, Europe, and the World. The sciences were especially favored — from 1914 to 1933.

Albert Einstein rose to public prominence during his years in Berlin, being awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921. He served as director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics in Berlin, only leaving after the anti-Semitic Nazi Party rose to power.

Physician Magnus Hirschfeld established the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexology) in 1919, and it remained open until 1933. Hirschfeld believed that an understanding of homosexuality could be arrived at through science. Hirschfeld was a vocal advocate for homosexual, bisexual, and transgender legal rights for men and women, repeatedly petitioning parliament for legal changes. His Institute also included a museum.

Street fights[edit]

Main article: Weimar Republic

Politically, Berlin was seen as a left wing stronghold, with the Nazis calling it "the reddest city [in Europe] after Moscow."[3] Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels became his party's "Gauleiter" for Berlin in the autumn of 1926 and had only been in charge a week before organizing a march through a communist-sympathizing area that devolved into a street riot. The communists, who adopted the motto "Beat the fascists wherever you encounter them!" had their own paramilitary organization called the Roter Frontkämpferbund to battle the Nazis' Sturmabteilung (SA). In February 1927 the Nazis held a meeting in the "Red" stronghold of Wedding that turned into a violent brawl. "Beer glasses, chairs and tables flew through the hall, and severely injured people were left lying covered with blood on the floor. Despite the injuries, it was a triumph for Goebbels, whose thugs beat up about 200 communists and drove them from the hall."[4]

Infrastructure and industrialization[edit]

The government began printing tremendous amounts of currency to pay reparations; this caused staggering inflation that destroyed middle-class savings. However, economic expansion resumed after mid-decade, aided by U.S. loans. It was then that culture blossomed especially.

The heyday of Berlin began in the mid-1920s when it was the most industrialized city of the continent. Tempelhof Airport was opened in 1923 and a start was made on S-Bahn electrification from 1924 onwards. Berlin was also the second biggest inland harbor of Germany; all of this infrastructure was needed to transport and feed the over 4 million Berliners throughout the 1920s.[citation needed]

Architecture and urban planning[edit]

Color variations of doors and entrances in the Hufeisensiedlung (1925-1933)

During the interwar period high-quality architecture was built on a large scale in Berlin for broad sections of the population, including poorer people. In particular the Berlin Modernism housing estates built before the beginning of National Socialism set standards worldwide and therefore have been added to the UNESCO World-heritage list in 2008.[5]

As a result of the economically difficult situation during the Weimar Republic, housing construction, which up to that time had been mainly privately financed and profit-oriented, had found itself at a dead end. Inflation was on the up and for citizens on low incomes decent housing was becoming increasingly unaffordable.

Consequently, the search was on to find new models for state-initiated housing construction, which could then be implemented with a passion from 1920 on following the creation of Greater Berlin and the accompanying reform of local and regional government. The requirements for the type of flats to be built and the facilities they were to have were clearly defined, and the city was divided into different building zones. Following some basic ideas of the Garden city movement two- to three-storey housing estates that were well integrated into the landscape of the suburbs of the city were planned. The first large estate of this type with more than 2,000 residential units was the so-called Hufeisensiedlung (Horseshoe Estate) designed by Bruno Taut in Berlin, which introduced a new type of high quality housing and became a prominent example for the use of colors in architecture.

Reputation for decadence[edit]

Prostitution rose in Berlin and elsewhere in the areas of Europe left ravaged by World War I. This means of survival for desperate women, and sometimes men, became normalized to a degree in the 1920s. During the war, venereal diseases such as syphilis and gonorrhea spread at a rate that warranted government attention.[6] Soldiers at the front contracted these diseases from prostitutes, so the German army responded by granting approval to certain brothels that were inspected by their own medical doctors, and soldiers were rationed coupon books for sexual services at these establishments.[7] Homosexual behaviour was also documented among soldiers at the front. Soldiers returning to Berlin at the end of the War had a different attitude towards their own sexual behaviour than they had a few years previously.[7] Prostitution was frowned on by respectable Berliners, but it continued to the point of becoming entrenched in the city's underground economy and culture. First women with no other means of support turned to the trade, then youths of both genders.

Crime in general developed in parallel with prostitution in the city, beginning as petty thefts and other crimes linked to the need to survive in the war's aftermath. Berlin eventually acquired a reputation as a hub of drug dealing (cocaine, heroin, tranquilizers) and the black market. The police identified 62 organized criminal gangs in Berlin, called Ringvereine.[8] The German public also became fascinated with reports of homicides, especially "lust murders" or Lustmord. Publishers met this demand with inexpensive criminal novels called Krimi, which like the film noir of the era (such as the classic M), explored methods of scientific detection and psychosexual analysis.[9]

Apart from the new tolerance for behaviour that was technically still illegal, and viewed by a large part of society as immoral, there were other developments in Berlin culture that shocked many visitors to the city. Thrill-seekers came to the city in search of adventure, and booksellers sold many editions of guide books to Berlin's erotic night entertainment venues. There were an estimated 500 such establishments, that included a large number of homosexual venues for men and for lesbians; sometimes transvestites of one or both genders were admitted, otherwise there were at least 5 known establishments that were exclusively for a transvestite clientele.[10] There were also several nudist venues. Berlin also had a museum of sexuality during the Weimar period, at Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld's Institute of Sexology.[11] These were nearly all closed when the Nazi regime became a dictatorship in 1933.

Artists in Berlin became fused with the city's underground culture as the borders between cabaret and legitimate theatre blurred. Anita Berber, a dancer and actress, became notorious throughout the city and beyond for her erotic performances (as well as her cocaine addiction and erratic behaviour). She was painted by Otto Dix, and socialized in the same circles as Klaus Mann.

Life[edit]

1920s Berlin was a city of many social contrasts. While a large part of the population continued to struggle with high unemployment and deprivations in the aftermath of World War I, the upper class of society, and a growing middle class, gradually rediscovered prosperity and turned Berlin into a cosmopolitan city.


Cinema[edit]

Cinema in Weimar culture did not shy away from controversial topics, but dealt with them explicitly. Diary of a Lost Girl (1929) directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst and starring Louise Brooks, deals with a young woman who is thrown out of her home after having an illegitimate child, and is then forced to become a prostitute to survive. This trend of dealing frankly with provocative material in cinema began immediately after the end of the War. In 1919, Richard Oswald directed and released two films, that met with press controversy and action from police vice investigators and government censors. Prostitution dealt with women forced into "white slavery", while Different from the Others dealt with a homosexual man's conflict between his sexuality and social expectations.[12] By the end of the decade, similar material met with little, if any opposition when it was released in Berlin theatres. William Dieterle's Sex in Chains (1928), and Pabst's Pandora's Box (1929) deal with homosexuality among men and women, respectively, and were not censored. Homosexuality was also present more tangentially in other films from the period.

The following significant films about 1920s Berlin show the metropolis between 1920 and 1933:

Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis, a film made in 1927.

See also: List of films set in Berlin

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Topographies of Class: Modern Architecture and Mass Society in Weimar Berlin (Social History, Popular Culture, and Politics in Germany).". www.h-net.org. Retrieved 9 October 2009. 
  2. ^ Kirkus UK review of Laqueur, Walter Weimar: A cultural history, 1918-1933
  3. ^ Mitchell, Otis C. (2008). Hitler's Stormtroopers And The Attack On The German Republic, 1919-1933. McFarland & Company. p. 109. ISBN 978-0-7864-3912-6. 
  4. ^ Uwe Klussmann (29 November 2012), The Ruthless Rise of the Nazis in Berlin Der Spiegel
  5. ^ Berlin Modernism Housing Estates. Inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List; German/English; Editor: Berlin Monument Authority - ISBN 978-3-03768-000-1
  6. ^ Gordon, Mel (2006). Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin. Los Angeles: Feral House. p. 16. ISBN 1-932595-11-2. 
  7. ^ a b Gordon, Mel (2006). Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin. Los Angeles: Feral House. p. 17. ISBN 1-932595-11-2. 
  8. ^ Gordon, Mel (2006). Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin. Los Angeles: Feral House. p. 242. ISBN 1-932595-11-2. 
  9. ^ Gordon, Mel (2006). Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin. Los Angeles: Feral House. p. 229. ISBN 1-932595-11-2. 
  10. ^ Gordon, Mel (2006). Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin. Los Angeles: Feral House. p. 256. ISBN 1-932595-11-2. 
  11. ^ Gordon, Mel (2006). Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin. Los Angeles: Feral House. pp. 256–7. ISBN 1-932595-11-2. 
  12. ^ Gordon, Mel (2006). The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber. Los Angeles: Feral House. pp. 55–6. ISBN 1-932595-12-0.