For many, especially fans of Cabaret or Babylon Berlin, the Weimar era (1918-33) calls to mind glamour, artistic and sexual freedoms, a pioneering LGBT movement, and astonishing decadence. 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..!
In the wake of the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the collapse of centuries of Prussian authority, the intensive hedonism of the capital took on a nihilistic of quality in which Berlin emerged as what the Nazi party, disregarded as a mendacious inconvenience for much of this era, would describe as the ‘cesspool of the world’. This was also the time of economic collapse, of hyperinflation and its associated miseries. Stormtroopers battled Spartacist Communists in bloody street fights which led to the murders of ‘Red’ Rosa Luxemburg and her comrade Karl Liebknecht, and which gave the ‘Weimar’ era its name as the tattered parliament fled from Berlin to a more peaceable setting. Let’s explore this fascinating period of the German capital’s history together by wandering the streets and seeing the remains of the city’s hedonism, either in the Essential Weimar Berlin Tour, or for those who wish to explore further, let’s take the Extended Weimar Berlin Tour.
ESSENTIAL WEIMAR BERLIN TOUR
On this tour, 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 writers such as Stefan Zweig and Luigi Barzini saw ‘rouged young men’ sauntering a century ago – and which hasn’t changed too much! 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!
EXTENDED WEIMAR BERLIN TOUR
The Extended version of this tour will give us time to explore another part of Schoeneberg, the quaint ‘Bavarian quarter’ with its wealth of Jewish history. The second Jewish quarter in the city (following the Hackescher Markt area which we can explore on the standard Jewish Berlin tour), the Bavarian quarter would be home to leading lights of the Berlin intelligentsia of the 1920s – not least Albert Einstein! We will see the homes of remarkable women such as Inge Deutschkron and Gisele Freund. This walk will bring us to a neighbourhood of the city often overlooked by tourists, in which we will find not just hidden architectural gems but a remarkable history of subversive thought – and of resistance to the Nazi regime.