Some Contextual/Informational Background
Berlin was a pretty strange place at the end of the Great War. It had been the seat of power and government for a military juggernaut that had ground its way through five years of the bloodiest war the world had ever seen. When the war was over, Germany took on a schizophrenic personality; unsure of its friends or enemies, unsure of the motives of its own people. Germany ended the war without losing any territory, and in the East, Germany had beaten the old Russian regime at war and had won the peace against the newly emerged Soviet Union as well.
Yet in 1918 and 1919, Germany found itself in the midst of a social revolution. Its cities were filled with socialist strikers, unemployment was rampant, goods that were readily available before the war were now hard to find, or had been replaced by lesser products of the quintessentially German type: ersatz. Things were so bad politically that it was decided that Berlin, heretofore always the center of Germany in terms of its culture, Government, and prosperity was deemed an impossible place from which to rule. The nascent democratic government, without precedent and culturally unknown in Germany, vacated itself to the small city of Weimar near the new geographic center of Germany.
Geographic changes also played a role in Berlin’s future from 1919. Even though it had lost no territory during the war, and had soundly beaten its enemy to the east, the victorious Western Powers robbed Germany of its peace with the Soviets, the major result of which was the recreation of Poland as a nation. The Versailles Treaty, which memorialized if not its defeat, Germany’s blame for the Great War, moved the newly created Poland several hundred miles to the west, and claimed a major port city, Danzig, now renamed Gdansk. Many former German citizens, most of them ethnic Germans and Jews, now found themselves living in Poland. As a result, they immigrated back into Germany, swelling the population of Berlin to 4 million in 1930, by then the world’s third largest city, and the largest in Europe. Berlin also hosted Germany’s largest Jewish population at nearly 400,000, just under 10%.
The war had served to change other demographics as well. Due to the draw from the army of men, women came to Berlin from the outer provinces by the trainload, filling minor positions in Berlin’s war ministries and federal bureaus once held by male clerks and secretaries. A kind of radical feminism and shared sisterhood began to form all over Germany. No longer wide-eyed innocents, these newly enfranchised women also witnessed an implosion of moral values in their own native villages and cities. As the war went on, moral decay evolved into outright corruption. For the first time in a century, black-market survival and fears of illegitimate pregnancies became more than just gossip for middle-class households.
For most German families trade, either in heirlooms or stolen goods, earned subsistence to endure the week or month, but eventually these items became obsolete. Only foodstuffs mattered. The profiteering and theft of them were abetted by a distracted government intent upon victories in the field. Those poor souls without food sources or connections had just one other commodity to haul to the public market: sex. At first, young war widows, branded “strawwives,” offered their carnal services to the available males in Berlin, then it was the provincial youth of both sexes, and finally the children of bourgeois families. Prostitution lost its exact meaning when tens of thousands were involved in complex sex attachments, all of a commercial nature.
While post-war life in Berlin bizarrely continued to take on a more eroticized nature, the government in Weimar continued to struggle with the impositions of the Versailles treaty. Reparations, harshly drawn new borders, and forced demilitarization all dealt the new republic political issues it couldn’t solve. The angered allies imposed new terms for this delay tripling reparations payments to six billion gold marks in raw materials and industrial goods to be paid over a 42-year period. Known as the 1921 Reparation Act, the move ensured the end to any stable commercial life in Germany, although the true ramifications of the act were yet to be seen, and hadn’t been predicted. In January 1921, 7 marks bought 1 American dollar. In August, the exchange rate had tumbled to 550 marks to the dollar. A year later, in the summer of 1922, one dollar bought 7,500 German marks. By January 1923, the official exchange rate was 22,400/1; in May it slipped to 54,300/1. The all time low was reached on October 12, 1923, when the mark plummeted to 4.2 billion to the dollar.
Germans on a fixed income and pensions lost everything during this period. A wartime barter economy again took hold. The Great Inflation complicated Berlin’s sexual folkways, but didn’t really alter them. The so-called moral collapse had already occurred. Erotic amusements, prostitution, and narcotics were all readily available before the inflationary madness, but now entrepreneurs and purveyors of the sex trade had a more acute economic incentive. Berlin was suddenly inundated with hard-currency tourists looking for Jazz-Age bargains. Swedes, Dutch, French, and detested hordes of Turks and Japanese flocked to the open city. Their assets being in kronen, guilders, francs, lira and yen made them instant multimillionaires the moment they arrived.
In postwar Paris, a traveler could engage the services of a streetwalker for five or six dollars; during the Inflation in Berlin, five dollars could buy a month’s worth of carnal delights. The most exquisite blowjob or kinky dalliance never cost more than 30 cents, or 65 million 1923 marks. Nachtlokals, essentially proto-stripclubs where other sexual services were also offered, in particular teemed with non-German speaking thrill-seekers. For the newest clientele, humiliation and sexual degradation served as an equal attractant as the old Naked Dance revue itself. Outside the tourist hotels and downtown pensions, knowing gigolos and pretty boys, dolled up in rouge and mascara like wax mannequins, displayed their androgynous wares. To the merry-making tourist, Berlin was conducting a clearance sale in human flesh. Sex was everywhere and available on the cheap. The Kaiser’s Germany, in the minds of many, was finally paying its war reparations.
In November 1923, the Weimar government released a new currency, the Rentenmark. Worth about 20 cents, or 1 trillion marks, it stabilized the internal economy and Germany’s international standing overnight. The Rentenmark was itself replaced a year later by the Reichsmark, but confidence in the Weimar government’s ability to govern was restored, at least until 1929. Many thought this would tone down the sex trade in Berlin, itself thought to be the upshot of first the war and then the Great Inflation, but this didn’t happen. Instead, the glorious period known as Germany’s “Golden Twenties” catapulted into history with champagne toasts and an intoxicating roar.
The end of the Great Inflation didn’t stanch the perv invasion of Berlin. In fact, fascination with the city intensified when the Reichsmark proved itself a stable currency. Weimar Berlin had shed its reputation for menace and civil disorder, yet retained its reputation as Europe’s newest illicit playground. Along with cruises down the Rhine and Munich’s Oktoberfest, guidebooks added Berlin’s Friedrichstadt at midnight as a must-see tourist adventure. The very first thing foreigners noticed in Berlin were whores; thousands of tarted-up women on the streets, in hotel lobbies, and seated at cafes and clubs. It’s estimated that 120,000 prostitutes (not including 35,000 male prostitutes) plied the sex trade in Berlin at this time. Berlin was like no other city when it came to the sheer magnitude of sexual possibility.
Prostitutes in Berlin can be broadly broken into two types: those that attracted clients outdoors, and those that attracted clients indoors.
Identified by their furs and calf-length, patent leather boots. Lacquered gold, cobalt blue, brick, "poisonous" green, or maroon, the iridescent footwear indicated the girl’s specialty. Freelance Dominatrixes (Dominas), they attracted frugal German provincials (Suitors) who were led to nearby pensions.
Grasshoppers, aka Fresh-Air Women
Lowly streetwalkers without “room money” who serviced men in the corners of the Tiergarten and around Bulowplatz.
Unattractive sex workers on Oranienburgstrasse. Included women missing limbs, hunchbacks, and other deformities.
Amateur, occasional prostitutes, the vast majority of the Friday night trade. Often secretaries, shopkeepers, and office clerks supplementing their income after work. During the Inflation era they were called Dodgers because of their unregistered status, and Five-o-Clock Ladies because of their preferred time of contact.
Pregnant women who waited under the lampposts on Munzstrasse for “old money” clients in search of this erotic specialty. Very expensive sessions.
Boyish teenage girls. Coquettishly dressed and working in secret from their families, they treated prostitution as a form of dating. Often traveled in pairs, thought of primarily as gold diggers. Their standard pickup line was: “Don’t you think we should have a coffee first?”
Bobbed hair streetwalkers in the latest fashions (sometimes mother/daughter teams) who silently solicited customers on Tauentzienstrasse south of the Memorial Church. T-Girls were celebrated for their down-to-earth, brash attitude. Beloved species to Berlin’s press corps, even those working for the Conservative and Nationalist dailies.
Berlin’s legal prostitutes, registered with the government, and checked by doctors called Pussy Pressers for venereal disease every month. They formed the nucleus of Berlin’s 30,000 round-the-clock itinerant whores. They were roughly divided into three classes by the locals.
Bone Shakers, the lowest class of Kontroll-Girl. Older and more experienced than others (40-60 years old, often looking much older), they looked down upon the undocumented Grasshoppers who plied a similar trade.
T-Girls, mentioned above, were the middle class
Boot Girls, mentioned above, were the top class, providing Berlin with its ubiquitous color.
Berlin’s large Jewish population dominated several industries within the city, but few were involved in common prostitution except two picturesque types: Kupplerinnen (procuresses) and Chontes (whores from southern Poland). In general, Chonte-Harbors (Jewish Brothels) were not well regarded in Berlin’s sex guides, but did good business with the working-class and indigenous population.
Fohses, aka Quality Women
Independent whores who advertised in newspapers and magazines as manicurists and masseuses. Sometimes seen behind Kudamm display cases.
Demi-Castors, aka Mannequins
Young women from good families who supplemented their allowances by working in secretive, high-class houses in Berlin West. Normal hours of operation were late afternoon/early evening.
Berlin’s version of a Geisha. Employed in private nightclubs on the Kudamm, Table-Ladies were reputed to be ravishing and multilingual. Each conformed to a specific national type: Demonic German, Exotic Eurasian, dark-eyed Gypsy-Girl, blonde Nordic, or Spanish Aristocrat. A favorite of politicians, movie moguls, bigtime capitalists, and Scandinavian tourists. Customers paid “table-money” to the club, often in excess of 100 marks, for an evening of champagne, fancy canapés, scintillating gossip, and a private backroom encounter.
Leather-clad, mesomorphic women who specialized in whipping, humiliation, and other forms of erotic punishment. Active in lesbian nightclubs that permitted kinky heterosexual couples and free-spending male clients. Also found in phoney “Body Culture” clinics in Berlin West.
Exclusive call girls who enacted S&M fantasy scenes, often involving foot worship, bondage, and forced transvestitism. Located in all the large Friedrichstadt hotels.
Masochistic prostitutes who enjoyed being beaten and whipped. Worked in “Institutes for Foreign Language Instruction” where the “schoolrooms” were equipped with instruments of torture and bondage furniture. Patrons were carefully screened before their first session.