Anita Berber

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Anita Berber
Born(1899-06-10)10 June 1899
Died10 November 1928(1928-11-10) (aged 29)
Occupation(s)Dancer, actress, writer
Parent(s)Felix Berber (father)
Lucie Berber (mother)

Anita Berber (10 June 1899 – 10 November 1928) was a German dancer, actress, and writer who was the subject of an Otto Dix painting. She lived during the time of the Weimar Republic.

Early life[edit]

Born in Leipzig to Felix Berber, First Violinist with the Municipal Orchestra, and his wife, Anna Lucie Thiem, a cabaret singer and dancer, who later divorced when Berber was four. Berber was raised mainly by her grandmother in Dresden. In 1913 Berber studied dance at Émile Jaques-Dalcroze's school in Hellerau, which included trainings in rhythmic gymnastics, harmony, and music.[1] The next year she had left to study ballet in Berlin with Rita Sacchetto. By the age of 16, she had made her debut as a cabaret dancer and in 1917 she was working as a fashion model for Die Dame.[2]

Notoriety in Berlin[edit]

Between 1918 and 1925, she appeared in twenty-five films.[2] Richard Oswald used her in a number of his films around this time.[1] In 1920 she appeared alongside Dadaists in a political cabaret called Schall und Rauch.

Scandalously androgynous, she quickly made a name for herself. She wore heavy dancer's make-up, which on the black-and-white photos and films of the time came across as jet black lipstick painted across the heart-shaped part of her skinny lips, and charcoaled eyes.[3] Berber's hair was fashionably cut into a short bob and was frequently bright red, as in 1925 when the German painter Otto Dix painted a portrait of her, titled Portrait of the Dancer Anita Berber.[4]

Her dancer, friend and sometime lover Sebastian Droste, who performed in the film Algol (1920), was thin and had black hair with gelled up curls much like sideburns. Neither of them wore much more than low-slung loincloths and Anita occasionally a corsage, placed well below her breasts.[3]

Berber and Droste collaborated on a book titled Dances of Vice, Horror, and Ecstasy in 1923. Around 1,000 copies were published and even prominent artist Hannah Höch owned a copy.[1]

Berber's dances – which had names such as "Cocaine" and "Morphium"[5] – broke boundaries with their androgyny and total nudity, but it was her public appearances that really challenged social taboos. Berber's overt drug addiction and bisexuality were matters of public gossip.[6] In addition to her addictions to cocaine, opium and morphine, one of Berber's favourite forms of inebriation was chloroform and ether mixed in a bowl.[7] This would be stirred with a white rose, the petals of which she would then eat.[8]

Karl Toepfer contends that no one of this era was "more closely associated with nude dancing than Anita Berber".[2] A contemporary of Berber, choreographer Joe Jencik, described how "The public never appreciated Anita's artistic expression, only her public transgressions in which she trespassed the untouchable line between the stage and the audience. . . . She sacrificed her person to a self-vivisection of her life."[2]

Aside from her addiction to narcotic drugs, Berber was also an alcoholic. In 1928, at the age of 29, she suddenly gave up alcohol completely, but died later the same year. According to Mel Gordon, in The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber: Weimar Berlin's Priestess of Debauchery,[9] she had been diagnosed with severe tuberculosis while performing abroad. After collapsing in Damascus, she returned to Germany and died in a Kreuzberg hospital on 10 November 1928, although rumour had it that she died surrounded by empty morphine syringes.[8] Berber was buried in a pauper's grave in St. Thomas Cemetery in Neukölln.[10][11]


In 1919, Berber entered into a marriage of convenience with a man named Eberhard Phillipp Engelhard von Nathusins. She later left him in order to pursue a relationship with a woman named Susi Wanowski, and became part of the Berlin lesbian scene.[12]

Berber's second marriage, in 1922, was to Sebastian Droste. This lasted until 1923. In 1925, she married an American dancer named Henri Châtin Hofmann.[12] They embarked on a tour round Europe ending in Zagreb after Berber was arrested for insulting the King. After Hofmann managed to secure her release, they continued around the Mediterranean and the Middle East.[2]

Berber in the 1920s

Selected filmography[edit]

In popular culture[edit]



  1. ^ a b c Funkenstein, Susan Laikin (2005). "Anita Berber: Imaging a Weimar Performance Artist". Woman's Art Journal. 26 (1): 26–31. doi:10.2307/3566531. ISSN 0270-7993. JSTOR 3566531.
  2. ^ a b c d e Toepfer, Karl (1997). Empire of Ecstasy: Nudity and Movement in German Body Culture, 1910-1935. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 83.
  3. ^ a b "Glitter & Doom - Anita, mon amour". Wound Magazine. 1 (1): 150–151. November 2007. ISSN 1755-800X.
  4. ^ "artnet Magazine". Retrieved 2021-03-27.
  5. ^ Evans, Richard J. (2003) The Coming of the Third Reich. New York: Penguin. p.125. ISBN 0-14-303469-3
  6. ^ Pettis, Ruth M. (16 August 2005). "Berber, Anita". Archived from the original on 30 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-18.
  7. ^ Gordon, Mel (1 May 2006). Voluptuous panic: the erotic world of Weimar Berlin. Feral House. pp. 9–. ISBN 978-1-932595-11-6. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  8. ^ a b Berlin: Metropolis of Vice. Paradigm Pictures, 2005.
  9. ^ Gordon, Seven Addictions
  10. ^ "Anarchists of Style: Anita Berber, Part 2"
  11. ^ Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Locations 3520-3521). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
  12. ^ a b Capovilla (2001), p.50
  13. ^ "Anita - Tänze des Lasters". The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2007-11-13.


  • Capovilla, Andrea (2001) "Berber, Anita" in: Aldrich, Robert & Wotherspoon, Garry (eds.) Who's Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History: From Antiquity to World War II. New York: Routledge; pp. 50–51 ISBN 0415159830
  • Gordon, Mel (2006) The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber: Weimar Berlin's Priestess of Debauchery. Los Angeles, California: Feral House

Further reading

  • Berber, Anita & Droste, Sebastian (2012) Dances of Vice, Horror, and Ecstasy. Translated by Merrill Cole. Newcastle upon Tyne: Side Real Press.
    • A full translation from the German
  • Fischer, Lothar (1996) Tanz zwischen Rausch und Tod: Anita Berber, 1918-1928 in Berlin. Berlin: Haude und Spener
  • Funkenstein, Susan Laikin (2005) "Anita Berber: Imaging a Weimar Performance Artist" in: Woman's Art Journal 26.1 (Spring/Summer 2005); pp. 26–31
  • Gill, Anton (1993) A Dance between the Flames: Berlin between the Wars. New York: Carroll & Graf
  • Jarrett, Lucinda (1997) Stripping in Time: A History of Erotic Dancing. London: Pandora (HarperCollins); pp. 112–135
  • Kolb, Alexandra (2009) Performing Femininity. Dance and Literature in German Modernism. Oxford: Peter Lang. ISBN 978-3-03911-351-4
  • Richie, Alexandra (1998) Faust's Metropolis: A History of Berlin. New York: Carroll and Graf
  • Toepfer, Karl Eric (1997) Empire of Ecstasy: Nudity and Movement in German Body Culture, 1910-1935. Berkeley: University of California Press

External links[edit]