Identity created

Gay Berlin - Cover

Germany is known for many achievements. More recently the country has made international headlines for legalising same-sex marriage. Germany was the birthplace of modern gay identity. As in so many things, Germans were at the forefront of thinking. Robert Beachy tells the story of the history and evolution of gay identity in this book.

Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity, isn’t just an excellent academic assessment of the effects of the infamous Paragraph 175 of the Criminal Code that criminalised homosexuality. It’s an entertaining, enlightening and interesting history of Germany from the late 1880s.

Beachy writes with the fluency of a novelist and the depth of an academic. Germany is known for many achievements. Just last week the country made international headlines for legalising same-sex marriage. Beachy argues Germany was the birthplace of modern gay identity. Germans were at the forefront of sexual thinking, as they are in so many endeavours.

Beachy doesn’t dwell on the persecution of LGBTI people by the Nazis or the horror they endured in concentration camps and death camps. This isn’t a story of victims. It’s an objective account of the development of a sub-culture.

Dr Magnus Hirschfeld had a key role in that story. The man who has been called the Einstein of sex was a pioneer in sexual science and politics who founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, in Berlin in 1897. He founded the Institute for Sexual Science in 1919 – almost 30 years before the famous Dr Alfred Kinsey’s US sex research institute.

Dr Hirschfeld was at the forefront of the push to repeal Paragraph 175 that criminalised homosexuality. The reformers almost succeeded in 1929 before the Wall Street crash wrecked the German economy and paved the way for the Nazis to wreck the country and Europe. Dr Hirschfeld was one of the first to argue sexual orientation is genetic and not a choice. He fled Nazi Germany in 1934.

Berlin in the 1920s was famous for its art, culture and relaxed attitude to sex and sexuality.  Famous people such as Christopher Isherwood helped make the city a gay honeypot. The closet door may have been opened but behind closed doors, plenty had been going on for decades. Many gay men were married and in elite positions. The Kaiser’s court was known, and resented, for its gay influence.

In the first decade of the 20th century there were scandals. Beachy coverage reads like a salacious novel.
 One of those scandals involved one of Kaiser Wilhelm’s closest friends, Philipp Prince zu Eulenburg-Hertefeld. He denied he was gay, twice on oath in court. He was later found guilty of perjury when male lovers testified against him.

One of the book’s themes is the exploration of the origins of sexual orientation. The Einstein of sex, Magnus Hirschfeld, was a pioneer in sexual science and politics who founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, in Berlin in 1897. He founded the Institute for Sexual Science in 1919 – 30 years before the famous Dr Alfred Kinsey’s US sex research institute. Hirschfeld was one of the first to argue sexual orientation is genetic and not a choice. He fled Nazi Germany in 1934.

He was at the forefront of the push to repeal Paragraph 175 that criminalised homosexuality. The reformers almost succeeded in 1929 before the Wall Street crash wrecked the German economy and paved the way for the Nazis to wreck the country and Europe.

Gay Berlin is a valuable addition to the German and gay history canon. It’s a must for anyone interested in Germany from its 1871 formation.

 

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