The Hot Girls of Weimar Berlin
By Barbara Ulrich; introduction by Jerry Stahl (Feral House)
In the early 1930s, Germany teetered on the brink of what would become the most diabolical period in its history. The broken nation reeled from the devastating effects of the Great War: Inflation spiraled out of control, epidemics of influenza and tuberculosis killed thousands, and unemployment and poverty escalated. The Weimar Republic had failed abysmally, and the National Socialist German Workers' Party harnessed the opportunity for a campaign toward total seizure of power. During the day, Nazi Storm Troopers marched through the streets of Berlin singing anthems of unyielding loyalty to their Fuhrer.
But when night fell upon the city, a whole other world unfolded as the counter-cultural underbelly of Berlin came alive with cabarets, and underground sex clubs thrived with kinky sex, drugs, dance, drag shows and rebellious music.
The decadent metropolis had become synonymous with carnal depravity. In 1927's "Ladies of the Underworld," Netley Lucas wrote, "And now we come to the most lurid of all cities, that of post-war Berlin. ... The German is gross in his immorality ... he enjoys obscenity in a form which even the Parisian would not tolerate."
While future Hitler Youth joined the "Wandervogel," a puritanical movement that touted a bizarre mix of nature-loving and nationalism, most of the populace still wasn't buying what the Nazis were selling. Those who were more interested in the stimulation of the mind and senses, rather than the proselytizing of a frightening Aryan ideology, turned to the erotically charged ethos of sex clubs and cabarets.
Barbara Ulrich's "The Hot Girls" of Weimar Berlin chronicles this brief but ecstatic period in the notorious city's history by marrying a myriad of photography and artworks, representing a wide breadth of aesthetic sensibilities. Excerpted writings from the era act as colorful narration, including passages from Hannah Tillich's (the insatiably horny wife of theologian Paul Tillich) "From Time to Time, Mephisto" author Klaus Mann's autobiography "The Turning Point" and Ludwig Lenz's "Memoirs of a Sexologist." Focusing specifically on the omnisexual women of Weimar Berlin, Ulrich's anthology is an intoxicating brew of sensually enticing eye candy fueled by revelatory musings about sex, fetishism, drug use and sapphic delights.
Ulrich focuses on four aspects of Weimar sex culture for this mesmerizing compilation: "Fasching," a sex carnival that defied and violated sexual mores; the use of illicit substances to enhance sexual delirium; erotic female domination in circles where bondage, sadism and masochism reigned; and lesbian eros.
Juxtapositions of brazen imagery and hot prose provide a voyeuristic window into the bacchanalian world that Liza Minelli's Sally Bowles surely reveled in, but that Bob Fosse's legendary "Cabaret" and the love songs of Marlene Dietrich merely hinted at. The titillating depictions in "Hot Girls" are nothing less than joyously bewitching revelations.
In illustrating the aphrodisiacal effects of narcotics, one woman, drafted in gorgeous watercolor and pastel, smokes opium from an ornamented hookah. On the opposite plate, a nude young woman throws her head back and bites her thumb in a pose of fuck-bunny ecstasy as her female lover injects a hypodermic needle into her inner thigh.
A chapter devoted to the "Kind Mistress" pays lustful homage to the dominatrix, coupling excerpts from Hanns von Leydenegg's "Booted Love" with photos, paintings and drawings of whip-wielding dominas spanking, paddling and whipping their happily submissive, nubile subjects.
The most devastatingly erotic portion of the book is the last, which dedicates itself to lesbian erotica of all sorts: mannish women smoking and playing cards, delicate ladies in loving embraces and lipstick lesbians in orgiastic abandon.
Other enticing images portray an aerial view of a live-sex peep show, a woman expressing milk from her taut nipples into a huge glass she's standing in (a clever bit of photographic trickery), and a woman donning a strap-on as a den of female lovers-in-wait look on with eager anticipation. One especially provocative charcoal sketch depicts a young woman gleefully watching herself in a large mirror as she masturbates.
The artistic renderings in "Hot Girls" are whimsical, cheeky, alluring and utterly arousing. Taken out of context, the Dionysian subcultures of Weimar Berlin might seem inconsequential and even passé. But set against the backdrop of a rising Nazi Germany -- the seas of swastika-emblazoned flags, the burning of the Reichstag, the slaughter and destruction of "Kristallnacht," the scary roboticism of Nazis arrogantly parading through the streets -- the very existence of such a sexually driven Weimar underworld is astonishing in itself.
Even as Hitlerian groupthink and anti-Semitism imposed a stranglehold on German society, the hot girls (and boys) of Weimar Berlin stood in audacious defiance, fearlessly and unapologetically indulging their every desire. With every act, they seemed to cry out, "No one will tell me what I may or may not do with my own body and mind."