The Weimar era (1918-33) in Berlin was a time and place like no other. For many, especially fans of Cabaret or Babylon Berlin, a mere mention of the city’s roaring twenties calls to mind glamour, artistic and sexual freedoms, a pioneering LGBT movement, and astonishing, even nihilistic decadence. Yet this was also a time of bloody revolution, of hyperinflation and of the galvanization of the National Socialist movement for which Berlin was, in Hitler’s words, the ‘cesspool of the world’. Let’s explore this remarkably paradoxical time with the Essential Weimar Berlin tour.
On this tour, we’ll explore the turbulent history of what was, a century ago, the second Communist city of the world after Moscow. In Potsdamer Platz, we’ll see where the November Revolution of 1918 transpired in the wake of utter chaos at the end of World War One, Kaiser Wilhelm II having abdicated and abandoned his capital – and we’ll find the last glimpses of the old square which remain, concealed in plain sight within the modern business district. We’ll see where Karl Liebknecht, comrade of ‘Red’ Rosa Luxemburg, denounced the Kaiser, where Adolf Hitler breakfasted, and where Annie Oakley nearly changed history. We’ll visit the remains of the grand Hotel Esplanade (home to American Ambassador William Dodd of In The Garden of Beasts fame) and see where beloved characters from Philip Kerr’s Bernie Günther (in the Berlin Noir series) to Volker Kutscher’s Commissioner Gereon Rath (in Babylon Berlin) cast wry glances over a city in transition. We’ll find traces of the 1920s on Potsdamer Strasse with its touches of Art Deco, and have a snack in the Joseph-Roth-Diele, a perfect time capsule.
It was in this city that Josephine Baker performed her ‘Dance of the Savages’ and rode in her ostrich-driven cart through streets peopled with tycoons, veteran soldiers-turned-paupers, and sex workers. It was here that Marlene Dietrich caught the eye of Joseph von Sternburg and won the part in ‘The Blue Angel’ which launched her career as one of the most versatile, tenacious, and libidinous stars of the 20th century. Dadaism and Futurism flourished, and Sebastian Droste, erstwhile lover of Anita Berber (who loved chloroform-dipped roses for breakfast), cut a striking figure in his hat made of spoons..! We’ll see where the Moka Efti nightclub once stood, and where astonished observers such as Stefan Zweig scribbled the copious notes to the memoirs of their Berlin years.
We’ll explore the theatre and cabaret quarter of Berlin in the beautiful and remarkably well-preserved neighbourhood Schöneberg with its ‘Belle Epoque’ architecture. Starting at Wittenbergplatz, we’ll explore the Kurfurstendamm on which journalist Luigi Barzini saw ‘rouged young men’ sauntering a century ago. We’ll see where Dietrich debuted, and perhaps have a decadent snack at KaDeWe, the largest department store in continental Europe, open since 1907 (the wartime break notwithstanding!)
We’ll wander through the ‘pink triangle’ of the first LGBT village in the world, and discuss the pioneering activism, research and indeed surgeries performed by Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, according to Hitler ‘the most dangerous Jew in Germany’. A figure the Nazis did all they could to suppress, we’ll bring Hirschfeld’s research back to life and discuss his efforts to recognise gender and sexual variance far before Dr. Kinsey. We’ll see the flat in which Christopher Isherwood lived when penning the two novels that later became the stage play and movie known to the world as Cabaret, and we will explore the contemporary Schöneberg gay scene, which has persisted since pre-Nazi days, with a visit to Prinz Eisenherz, Europe’s most tenacious LGBT bookstore – and lots more!