Gay Berlin

Ian P. Beacock in The Point:

ScreenHunter_1235 Jul. 01 18.51One evening in October 1905, when most Berliners were bundled away at home, Kurt Hiller wandered alone through the Tiergarten. Well, not quite alone. Walking in the southeast corner of the park between Lennéstraße and the Brandenburg Gate, the nineteen-year-old law student found himself boxed in by silhouettes: men searching the shadows for the company of other men, the “warm brothers” (warme Brüder) for which Berlin was so well-known. It was Hiller’s first visit to the city’s most notorious cruising ground, but he quickly found what he was looking for. He sat down on a bench next to a wiry man perhaps ten years his senior, rakish and mysterious in the moonlight. The law student wasted little time with small talk; he asked about the most important things. The man raised his arm and flexed. “I checked for myself,” Hiller recalled. “His bicep was broad, curved, and strong as steel.” Returning to the apartment of his anonymous lover, Hiller noticed with some distaste that the man’s body was quilted with tattoos. This was a man of the outskirts: a sailor or a criminal, a soldier or a circus performer. Taken briefly aback, the law student was rapidly overcome by lust for the man’s taut, sculpted frame. He let the door to the hallway close behind him.

In the early 1920s, an American military intelligence officer stationed in Germany reported that Berlin was “known by connoisseurs as one of the most immoral cities in the world.” The German capital was infamous for its wildly sexual and transgressive atmosphere: the confident young women with cropped hair and revealing skirts, the swingers clubs openly catering to polyamorous couples and curious singles, the cocaine fueling the city’s roaring nightlife.

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