Advent Calendar 17th December 2011: Berlin, Berlin!

Chapter 11 in Michael Davidson’s The World, the Flesh and Myself begins with a description of Berlin in the 1920s, with its Strichjungen and Stundenhotels, theaters that produced “serious plays of a sexual audacity that would have shocked London for the next 25 years”, and, of course, Magnus Hirschfeld’s legendary Institut der Sexualwissenschaft, in whose library Davidson would “spend hours”. Just think of it. Hirschfeld’s institute and its library were to be destroyed by Hitler just a few years later. Page 151 (chapter 11):

I discovered, too, the amazing tolerance of Berlin; the people generally accepted as a human fact, even though many deplored, conduct which in England would have raised cries of horror or menace.

Once a policeman appeared when I was having difficulty with an offensive youth whom I couldn’t shake off. ‘You know,’ said the policeman kindly, ‘you should be very careful about what boys you pick up – there are some bad ones about.’

I had a Swiss friend whom I’ll call B—: a senior functionary in one of the international organizations in Geneva. He kept going a pied-à-terre in Berlin; and there one morning, he told me later, he found on his doorstep when he answered the whirr of his bell a well-dressed man in a Homburg hat and carrying the inevitable briefcase.

‘Herr B—?’ said the stranger.

‘Jawohl’, answered B— inquiringly.

‘I believe you’re a friend of a boy named —?’ the man went on. B— was taken aback; but the visitor hastened to put him at his ease. ‘Oh, it’s all right,’ he said. ‘I just came to call – I always like to know what sort of man my son is going with.’

That was Berlin in the years that I knew it, between 1928 and 1933.

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