The Stonewall Riots in New York City’s Christopher Street in June 1969 are often credited for being the spark of the modern LGBTIQ Rights Movement in gay history. For days, queer people fought against police brutality, which led to the emergence of Pride Marches worldwide. However, several decades earlier, between 1864 and 1933, Germany and Berlin saw the emergence of “the World’s First Homosexual Emancipation Movement”. Destroyed by the Nazis in 1933, this movement had been lost to public memory for decades after the Second World War. However, recent years have seen the rediscovery of this vital part of queer and gay history. It can now be explored in Augmented Reality in the Berlin guided tour Berlin’s History of Sex!
The guided tour about Berlin’s History of Sex in Augmented Reality starts just like the history of the world’s first LGBTIQ rights movement: with Karl Heinrich Ulrichs–a man born long before the emergence of the idea of a homosexual identity.
The guided tour explains how LGBTIQ identities did not exist in the early 19th century. This means that same-sex attraction and gender non-conforming habits were not regarded as part of someone’s identity (as we see it today). Instead, they saw it as behaviour that people could simply stop doing. Words like “gay”, “bisexual”, or even “homosexuality” didn’t exist yet. Subsequently, people couldn’t identify themselves as such; there was no gay rights movement with a shared identity – an important part of gay history. This changed with Karl Heinrich Ulrichs!
Karl Heinrich Ulrichs
Karl Heinrich Ulrichs was a lawyer, journalist, and teacher born on the 28th of August 1825 in Westerfeld in the Kingdom of Hanover (today: Kirchdorf in Aurich, East Frisia, Germany). At 14 years of age, he had his first same-sex experience. In 1859, a complete ban to practice law was issued against Ulrichs when it became open knowledge that he had sexual relations with other men.
Early Gay Identities
In the guided tour, people learn how, in 1864, Ulrichs published the first of a total of 12 writings called “Forschungen über das Räthsel der mannmännlichen Liebe” (Research on the Mystery of Male-Male Love) – a masterpiece of gay history. The word “homosexuality” did not exist yet, so Ulrichs called it “Uranismus” and created his own taxonomy, for instance:
For creating these first gay identities and laying a cornerstone of gay history, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs is often referred to as “the first homosexual in world history” by famous German sexologist Volkmar Sigusch.
Before the 1870s, male homosexuality had been legal in some German states but illegal in others. Then, in 1871, the German states’ unification led to the German Empire’s foundation–the predecessor to what we know as Germany today. The guided tour Berlin’s History of Sex in Augmented Reality highlights how this is linked to the world’s first gay emancipation movement.
The Flight of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs
A year later, in 1872, §175 was introduced into the German criminal code–an important part of German gay history. It criminalized anal sex between men (or those assigned males at birth) in all of Germany. Fleeing the growing persecution of queer people and frustrated about his lack of success in his fight for LGBTIQ rights, Ulrichs moved to Italy, where he died as an outcast in 1895.
A Growing Community in Berlin
By the end of the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution had transformed Berlin; the city’s economy and population expanded dramatically. It became the central railway hub and economic centre of the German Empire. As a result, Berlin was more liberal than the rest of Germany. Many soldiers were selling sex in Berlin’s Tiergarten (a park still famous today for its gay sexual cruising area). This attracted many gay and bisexual men as well as other queer people to the capital. The guided tour about Berlin’s History of Sex lets people explore more in detail how the Industrial Revolution and other events shaped sexual freedom in the city.
The Homosexual Department of the Berlin Police
Still, the Berlin police had a department tasked with controlling homosexuality in the city and enforcing §175. The head of that department was police director Leopold von Meerscheidt-Hüllessem. Ironically, his strategy paved the way for Berlin to become the gay capital of the world. In the guided tour, people discover why von Meerscheidt-Hüllessem believed it would be easier to enforce §175 and control male homosexuality if gay and bisexual men were allowed to have their bars, clubs, and other locations. As long as there was no public offence, the gathering of gay men itself was not a problem. And it would be much easier to control these few selected spots than to manage every single street and park in the entire city. But this wasn’t the only thing, Leopold von Meerscheidt-Hüllessem was inadvertadly doing for the gay community. You can learn more by either joining the online experience or the guided tour about Berlin’s History of Sex.
In 1918, at the end of the First World War, the German Republic or the Weimar Republic was proclaimed, and Germany became democratic. After five years of hyperinflation and political turmoil, a six-year-long phase of more stability followed in 1924, often referred to as the Golden Twenties or Roaring Twenties. Contrary to the rest of Germany, Berlin largely ignored §175. This led to an amount of sexual liberties which discovery makes up the core of the guided tour about Berlin’s History of Sex.
Cat Catchers and Cellar Masters
As a result, an estimated 350,000 gay and bisexual men settled down in the metropolis of four million people. Estimations state that between 1918 and 1933 (the phase that the guided tour about Berlin’s History of Sex mainly focuses on), there were up to 120 bars, cafés, clubs, and other locations for them. Similar to our leather daddies, bears, and twinks today, the gay community in Berlin had a variety of terms:
During a visit to Berlin, a young gay Christopher Isherwood was so impressed by the sexual liberty of the city that he decided to move to the street “Nollendorfstraße” in Berlin-Schöneberg in 1929. Isherwood would later become one of the most influential English novelists of the 20th century. In Berlin, he shared a flat with Jean Ross. This cabaret singer became the inspiration for Sally Bowles, a character in Isherwood’s novel Goodbye to Berlin.
The Inspiration for Berlin’s Kit Kat Club Today
Goodbye to Berlin and the “prequel” Mr Norris Changes Trains were Isherwood’s semi-autobiographical novels about his life in Weimar Republic’s Berlin. They were later adapted into a musical movie. Liza Minelli (Judy Garland’s daughter) played the role of Sally Bowles. This movie was again the inspiration for Berlin’s Kit Kat Club today. In 1933, Isherwood fled Germany with his then German boyfriend, Heinz Neddermeyer, from the Nazis. In the guided tour about Berlin’s History of Sex, you’ll discover what happened next to both of them.
Karl Heinrich Ulrichs might have died as an outsider. But his work became hugely influential for Jewish doctor Magnus Hirschfeld, the founder of modern sexual science and one of the main protagonists of the guided tour about Berlin’s History of Sex.
The World’s First LGBTIQ Rights Organization
In 1897, in his flat in Charlottenburg (a district of Berlin today), Hirschfeld co-founded the world’s first LGBTIQ rights organization: The Scientific Humanitarian Committee. One of its main goals: Abolish §175! The German parliament discussed a first attempt to abolish §175 via a petition but unfortunately declined. Finally, in 1929, after another attempt by the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, the Reichstag decided not to penalize homosexuality anymore in their new upcoming laws. Unfortunately, the abolition of §175 eventually did not happen as the Nazis seized power in 1933.
Broadly influential for Hirschfeld’s fight, which not only included gay men but the entire LGBTIQ spectrum, was his book Berlin’s Third Sex–a thorough study of homosexuality in Berlin. The same is true for his foundation of modern sexual science and the world’s first institute of sexual science in Berlin-Tiergarten in 1919, which grew to become internationally hugely influential.
The World’s First Gay Movie
The same year, Hirschfeld co-produced Anders als die Andern (Different From the Others), the world’s first gay-themed movie. The film portrayed a gay couple fighting against the deadly homophobic society and homophobic laws. Hirschfeld plays himself in the film, a scientific expert explaining to the court that homosexuality is just a natural variety of humankind.
Hirschfeld had done even much more for the LGBTIQ community and gay history, which you can discover in the guided tour about Berlin’s History of Sex.
However, in 1933, the Nazis seized power and this important part of gay history came to a brutal end. A year before already, the new director of Berlin’s police had closed down most gay clubs.
The Eradication of Gay Science
Hirschfeld’s institute was one of the very first places that the Nazis attacked. Luckily, Hirschfeld had fled Germany already with his two partners Li Shiu Tong and Karl Giese, to France, where he died two years later. Nevertheless, the Nazis destroyed everything in the institute. They burned all his books, papers, and studies in front of the Humboldt University in Berlin during the Nazi book burnings.
The Mass Murder of Gay and Bisexual Men
In 1935, a year after Hitler had his close friend, leader of the paramilitary Nazi organization Sturmabteilung (SA), and openly gay Nazi Ernst Röhm killed, the Nazis toughened §175. A kiss, a touch, or the wrong look would now suffice to be persecuted. The eradication of the world’s first LGBTIQ rights movement followed, setting it back by decades. The Nazis committed the biggest mass murder of gay and bisexual men and other queer people the world has seen to date. About 100,000 people were recorded under §175 by the Nazis. They convicted half of them; some were sent to psychiatric institutions to be “treated”. The Nazis also sent 10,000 to 15,000 of these “Pink Triangles” to concentration camps, where they murdered 60% of them.
The Story of the world’s first gay movement shows us how fragile the rights we fought for are. Ulrich’s and Hirschfeld’s work, the era of gay liberation in Weimar Republic’s Berlin: the Nazis destroyed it all. Our gay history was long forgotten until its rediscovery in recent years. In the guided Berlin tour Berlin’s History of Sex in Augmented Reality, you can discover more of Berlin’s gay history. Via an iPad Pro provided to you during the tour, you can even experience it all in breath-taking Augmented Reality, bringing this important part of queer and gay history back to life!
Harnessing Augmented Reality to Tell Berlin’s LGBTQIA+ Story