Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity

Chapter One The German Invention of Homosexuality When considering the questions What is natural? and What is unnatural? it is paramount to apply a standard that is not foreign to one's own nature. karl ulrichs, Vindex: Social-Juristic Studies of Male-Male Love, 1864 On a bright Thursday morning in late August 1867, the German lawyer Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, a former member of the civil service in the kingdom of Hanover, approached the Odeon concert hall in Munich. Since the beginning of the week, the Association of German Jurists had been assembling in this magnificent neoclassical structure to present papers and discuss the legal issues of the day. The professional group included lawyers, officials, bureaucrats, and legal academics from the thirty-nine states and cities of the former German Confederation, a loose association created at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. This imposing body of Ulrichs's colleagues made up the government establishment of the nascent German Empire. Dressed formally even in the midst of summer, they had first met in 1860 to facilitate great tasks of statecraft. As ardent nationalists, they hoped to promote German legal unification, even before the emergence of a nation-state. Although the jurists' political program would have important consequences for the incipient German state, Ulrichs's appearance at the Odeon marked a revolution all its own. He was preparing to address his professional colleagues on an unmentionable subject, same-sex love, and to protest the various German anti-sodomy laws that criminalized it. Ulrichs had celebrated his birthday the day before, and now, at the age of forty-two, he hoped to deliver a speech for which he arguably had spent most of his adulthood preparing. As a university student, he had recognized that he was attracted to other men. This sexual peculiarity and rumors of his intimate affairs had forced him to resign the only professional position he had ever held, as a government official. Finally, in an act of enormous courage, he disclosed his secret to his closest kin. Raised in a pious Christian family whose extended members included numerous Lutheran clergy, Ulrichs struggled for years with heart and intellect to make sense of his seemingly unacceptable feelings. Were they unnatural? Had he somehow caused them himself, through actions of his own? He examined carefully his own motivations and desires; he scoured legal and scientific publications on the topic. Following the tradition of the great Protestant reformer Martin Luther, Ulrichs countered prevailing beliefs and developed a theory of his own selfhoodthough defined in sexual, not spiritual, termsforming the conviction that he must face down an established authority and counter centuries of prejudice. To that end, since 1864, Ulrichs had published pamphlets under a pseudonym, arguing his case that sexual deviance was an endowment of nature and must be respected. But on that morning in August, crossing Munich's imp

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By Margaret (Moorhead, MN) · ★★★★☆ · March 12, 2015
Beachy documents how Berlin's legal and social structures allowed a flourishing gay subculture from the 1860s into the 1930s, where police (headed by men who were likely gay themselves) interpreted the strict Prussian anti-sodomy laws to pertain to only specific acts they were unlikely to catch p... ...more
By Drew · ★★★★☆ · March 22, 2015
I do believe that the gay community is largely lacking in knowing its history and the people and places that paved the way for broader LGBT acceptance and acknowledgement. Ask a young person today about The Stonewall Riots and you are very much likely to be answered by a blank look; for some, sad... ...more
By Gaylord (The United States) · ★★★☆☆ · January 10, 2015
Beachy, Robert. Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity. Alfred A. Knopf,
New York, 2014 (305pp.$27.95)

Modern identity politics begins with the struggle of subjugated peoples against European colonialism, a mid-twentieth century movement that commenced with plantation slavery and progressed th... ...more
By Fred (The United States) · ★★★☆☆ · December 11, 2014
A very well researched look at how the modern concept of homosexuality and gay identity were formed in Germany between the end of the Franco-Prussian war and Hitlers rise to power. Really interesting stuff about how shockingly progressive and accepting Germany was. The book is at its strongest wh... ...more
By Michael (Columbus, OH) · ★★★★☆ · January 30, 2015
Good academic book about the roots of modern gay identity theory and the gay liberation movement. Not really a book about Berlin, but about the many German figures involved in the creation of the modern idea of homosexual identity. ...more
By Simone (Carbondale, IL) · ★★★☆☆ · February 23, 2015

So if you are the kind of person who enjoyed Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890-1940 then this book might be for you. I really enjoyed Chauncey's book on Gay New York during a time period one doesn't normally think about gay life during. But I think som... ...more
By Salvatore (The United States) · ★★★★☆ · November 26, 2014
The living contradictions of turn of the century through the Weimar Republic Germany are fascinating: laws against sodomy and homosexuals were strong and yet Berlin was a haven for such people, where the chief of police took tourists to gay bars and transvestite shows as part of the cultural high... ...more
By Aaron (Jacksonville, FL) · ★★★★★ · December 21, 2014
fascinating read about the history of sex/gender in pre-WWII germany. many of the names i knew going in to this book; but the connections made between people, police/criminal policies, overall german history, and cultural, political, and scientific movements, police/criminal policies made this bo... ...more
By Bob (The United States) · ★★★★★ · January 14, 2015
An important, groundbreaking and very well-researched look at LGBT life and society in Germany, particularly Berlin, from the mid-19th Century -- before there was a German nation -- till the end of the Weimar period in 1933. It looks at the nascent gay-rights movement of the period, as well as so... ...more
By Steven (Austin, TX) · ★★★☆☆ · March 28, 2015
An fascinating, if somewhat dense, overview of the gay rights movement in Germany during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The title Gay Berlin is a little bit of a stretch. Several chapters do focus on the city as the birthplace of the early gay life and politics, but several of the chapte... ...more