Posts Tagged With: germany

Male Homosexuality in West Germany



Whisnant, Clayton J.  Male Homosexuality in West Germany: Between Persecution and Freedom, 1945-69.  New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 


Subject: A re-evaluation of male homosexual life in Germany between the end of World War II and the start of the gay liberation movement in the 1970s.

Main Points:  Whisnant argues that historians of German sexuality have too often overlooked the twenty five years after the end of the Second World War in their study of significant moments in homosexual life in Germany.  There is a bourgeoning historiography on homosexuality under the Nazi regime and scholars have given ample attention to the start of Germany’s “second gay rights movement” that began in the arly 1970s.  Indeed, modern gay rights activists have mostly overlooked the 1950s and 1960s and placed their roots with the “first” gay rights movement led by the likes of Magnus Hirschfeld at the turn of the twentieth century.  But in this book, Whisnant shows that homosexuals, homophiles, and gay men (he uses the popular contemporary term for each decade) in the late 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s actually set the stage for the flashpoint of the “second gay rights movement” that began in the 1970s, even if their movements were less radical than those of the gay rights/liberation movements.

In particular, Whisnant identifies three major contributions that the period between the 1940s-1960s made, which the homosexual movements and gay scenes of the 1970s era (and later) would build:  1) First, the time between the 1940s and 1960s was an era in which gay scenes were re-established after being virtually destroyed by the Nazis during the 1930s and early 1940s (Whisnant talks about “scenes” rather than “sub-cultures” because “scenes” better illustrates how fluid and diverse these spaces were.)  He shows how gay scenes arose in many of West Germany’s larger cities: West Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Frankfurt and Cologne.  In the 1950s, Hamburg was able to surpass Berlin as the major gay hot spot in Germany until a renewed police campaign repressed these scenes.  2) Second, this period witnessed a transformation of the concept of homosexuality, allowing for a masculinized vision of same-sex desire to become widespread.  While the effeminate Tunte (fairy) did not disappear, a new “normal” homosexual man (usually referred to himself as a “homophile”) became the dominant stereotype of homosexuality.  This allowed new opportunities for self-identification among same-sex desiring men, but society and the state latched on to this image with negative consequences for gay men: now the state was able to portray the homosexual who preys on the youth as being able to blend in as a “normal” man.  3) Third, this period ended with the reform of Paragraph 175, which signaled the start of Germany’s gay liberation movement.  Whisnant argues that this reform (which decriminalized homosexual acts between men as long as both were 21 or over) should not be seen as the inevitable culmination of a general process of sexual liberation happening over the twentieth century.  Instead, he convincingly shows how a transformation of legal thought (not only about homosexuality in particular) allowed for the reform of Paragraph 175 and the formation of the modern gay rights movement.

My Comments:  Whisnant’s book is incredibly helpful for my research, because it is essentially the “prequel” to my period of study.  It helps contextualize how the West German gay liberation movement was able to emerge so suddenly in 1969-71.  He shows that while knowledge of the Stonewall riots played a role, it was the reform of Paragraph 175 that allowed for the movement in Germany to flourish without fear of legal reprisal.  While his description of the 1940s and 1950s is incredibly interesting (especially the particular importance that homosexual publications held in West Germany), I think Whisnant’s greatest contribution is his chapter on the reform of 175.  He shows that, beginning in the 1950s, a reevaluation of “the homosexual” took place that led to both more repression by moral conservatives, but also the chance for more freedom.  This push for more freedom came from “progressive attorneys, doctors, scientists, Christian theologians, politicians, and other public figures who saw the decriminalization of homosexuality as a key aspect of a much more comprehensive transformation in West Germany’s system of criminal law” (168).  Moreover, this was somewhat of a moderate “project” to redefine Western liberalism in the face of the new radical Left and the Right.  Therefore, this reform was the fruit of policy makers, not from “grass roots” activists.

At least in my mind, this changes the way I contextualize the gay rights movement that erupted in West Germany in the following two years.  According to Whisnant’s view (if I understand it correctly), these activists were more the heir of political reform rather than the instigators of it.   This is a very good book, one which I recommend highly.

For more books on the history of sexuality or modern German history, see my full list of book reviews. 

Categories: Book Review, German History, History, Sexuality & Gender | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nationalism & Sexuality

Mosse Nationalism

Mosse, George L.  Nationalism & Sexuality: Respectability and Abnormal Sexuality in Modern Europe.  New York: Howard Fertig, Inc., 1985.

Subject:  An exploration of the transformations of bourgeois respectability in 19th and 20th century Germany & England and the ways in which these transformations interacted with nationalism and race.

Main Arguments: Mosse’s main argument is that bourgeois respectability and nationalism shaped attitudes toward sex, and these sexual attitudes contributed powerfully to militant nationalism and even the rise of fascism.  While the subtitle of his book refers to all of modern Europe, he focuses mainly on Germany and to a lesser extent on England (with a few references to France and Italy).  He justifies this by stating that in Germany “we witness the ultimate consequences of trying to direct and control human sexuality: the concerted effort under National Socialism to regenerate respectability” (2).

Though he doesn’t really give us a glimpse of what came before this new mode of respectability (sexual “normality”), he claims that the cause of this transformation was religion, and Protestant religious revivals in particular:  German Pietism in Germany, that encouraged Germans to observe a silent obedience to a higher power, and Evangelism in England, that encouraged its followers to get involved with politics.  What emerged out of this transformation was a new sense of respectability, which defined “decent and correct” behavior, as well as the proper attitude one should have toward that behavior.  The supposed “natural” distinctions between men and women were highlighted, creating and enforcing public/private spheres.

These new understandings were harnessed by nationalists to promote nationalistic goals.  Sex was meant for “normal” reproduction, and anything outside of that norm was ostracized as not only unnatural, but unpatriotic and damaging to the nation as well.  In other words, patriotism was equated with sexual normality, and “unnatural” sex, with national decline and racial corruption.

“Outsiders” – or those who did not fit into the realm of respectability, such as homosexuals – were attacked as enemies of the state.  The same can be said for Jews, who were accused of using sex as a weapon to undermine the nation’s health through racial and moral pollution.

He has an interesting chapter on the ways the state imposed its control over the friendships of its citizens.  Whereas the Enlightenment had emphasized the individual’s right to cultivate relationships – even erotic ones with members of the same sex – nationalism dictated that individuals should only have non-erotic friendships with members of the same sex, and erotic relationships would be saved for husbands and wives (and again, for only reproductive purposes to create future generations for the state).  The challenge, however, was to keep homosocial relationships from turning into homosexuals ones, because, the state encouraged deep and even passionate bonds among its male citizens.  In fact, these powerful male friendships were prerequisite of masculinity.  The state wanted men who felt a deep sense of camaraderie with one another, which bolstered the solidarity and power of nationalism.  In this sense, these homosocial relationships always bordered on homoerotic (because of the passion of the friendship); but this also bothered the nationalists because that passionate characteristic always ran the risk of developing into a homosexual bond.  (He also makes the claim that in Germany, the “ideals of personal friendship were most clearly articulated” because the Germans hoped these bonds would act as “a surrogate for lost national unity” – – which I think is a gross over generalization (67).

The Nazis are seen as the logical endpoint for these developments; so instead of being viewed as an abhorrent misuse of sexuality and nationalism, I get the feeling that Mosse sees these developments as leading almost inevitably towards such abhorrent uses.  National Socialism promised to harness and enforce respectability to re-forge the nation in the face of the chaos of modernity.  While men run and protect the nation with physical force (monuments of nude men are erected throughout Germany, displaying the ideal masculinity and the “return” to the natural body), women (who are ultimately inferior) have the duty of literally reproducing the racially and morally pure nation.

My Comments:

I think this must have been a good and maybe even controversial book back in 1985, but it’s dated now.  The way he presents the material is as if there is some un-named “they” who are concocting these new ideas and powers.  There’s no sense of interplay between culture, politics, and ideas.  The result is that the people in the book have absolutely no agency, and are just pawns of the powerful nation-builders.

For more books on German history or the history of sexuality, see my full list of book reviews here. 

Categories: Book Review, German History, History, Sexuality & Gender | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment


I love to travel – the new experiences, meeting interesting people, trying good food – it’s all great.  But as I’ve gotten a bit older, I’ve realized that traveling is not nearly as fun when you’re by yourself.  That’s why these past four months have been bittersweet for me.  I’ve gotten to see new cities and do some extensive travelling.  But every step of the way, I found myself wanting to turn to my partner and tell him about it – only to be painfully reminded that I’d just have to take a mental note and tell him the next time we Skyped.

But, I guess that’s what makes traveling for work different than a vacation!  As much good research as I’ve been able to do for my dissertation, I’m so. very. glad. that I’ll be flying home in just eleven days!  Because, I’ll admit that I’ve got a bad case of what the Germans call Heimweh – or pain from being away from home.

Great things about these past four months: 

  • Getting to know Berlin, from its glitzy city center to its grungy neighborhoods (being able to see the Berlin Wall from my courtyard was pretty fun, too).
  • Strolling through the gorgeous Christmas markets in Cologne.
  • Enjoying a gigantic BBQ Burger from a cheesy American bar & grille in Hanover.
  • Getting to spend a week in Munich.
  • Sharing meals and wine with great people from around the world this past month.
  • Conducting interesting interviews with people who deserve their own book.
  • Making some very useful contacts for my career.
  • Visiting with some of my best friends from Marburg!
  • Getting to spend Christmas and New Year’s in Mumbai with my future in-laws!
  • Having that thrill of finding something new and exciting in the archives.


What I’m looking forward to: 

  • Snuggling with my boo!
  • My pillow
  • My bed
  • Cooking in my own kitchen!
  • Going back to all of my favorite restaurants in Boston.
  • CRAFT BEER!  I know that Germany’s supposed to be the land of beer, but they don’t have anything on America’s microbreweries and Sam Adams’ seasonal brews.
  • Being in the same time zone as my family.
  • Not having to talk to a screen when I’m talking to my family and friends.
  • Waking up, making coffee, and watching CBS Sunday Morning  until my boo wakes up, then relaxing on the couch with him for the rest of the day.


What I’ll Miss about Germany: 

  • The excellent assortment of fresh baked breads every day
  • All the delicious pastries from the bakeries (not having those is enough to make a grown man weep)
  • I guess that’s about it.

Christmas market under the Cologne cathedral



And of course, Cologne had a gay Christmas market



Bombed out church in Hanover. Left like this as a reminder of the cost of war.


The best way to do research – with strudel, coffee, and good tunes.


Henry’s American Bar & Grill offering monster burgers and chicken wings to folks in Hanover (



Hanover’s court house

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Street Cred

There are a few things that I have to get used to all over again whenever I come back to Germany.  One is differentiating between the proper/formal way of saying “you” (Sie) and the informal way (du).  Other things are more exciting, though, even life threatening.  Take the following example, for instance:

Bike Paths

What are these dangerous zones, you might be asking yourself.  The former “no man’s land” between east and west Berlin?  Nah – something much more dangerous.  They’re bike paths.

Oh yeah, that’s right – instead of having bike lanes on the side of the streets, part of German sidewalks are reserved for folks on bikes, which is like every fifth person.  All of these death machines are equipped with a sweet little bell on it to let innocent pedestrians know that they’re about to have tread marks up their back.   I remember the first time that I ever went to Germany, I had no idea why part of the sidewalk was marked off.  Later, I learned to fear that bell, that passive aggressive dinging.  Because bikers don’t slow down or even slightly veer out of the way.  Hell, no!  You’re in their lane. Once, while I was still in the fog of my first case of jet-lag, the incessant dinging didn’t register quickly enough, and some Deutschbag’s handlebars clipped my elbow.  I don’t know how it didn’t jerk his handlebars to the side, sending him sprawling onto the pavement.  Obviously, that wasn’t his first rodeo.

Even when I got here a month ago, I had to retrain myself to stay away from the bike lanes.  On my second or third day, I found myself walking along a sidewalk without paying 100% attention (heaven forbid!) when a bike nearly plowed into me.  I escaped without physical harm, but I did get a quick Verpiss dich! (piss off!) from the friendly biker as she peddled on.  But don’t worry about me – I’ve learned my lesson again.  Now I don’t even have to think about it when I hear a bell ringing even a quarter-mile away.  My legs just atomically jump out of the way, leading me to safety.  It’s like a nightmarish version of Pavlov’s experiments.

But don’t you worry – the bike lanes aren’t the only comment-worthy aspect of German street life.  What can be so exciting about German streets that I’d blog about them?  Street-crossing signs.   In America, we have a white outline of a man and a big, orange hand that flashes to tell us when we can and can’t cross the street.  Hell, sometimes, it’s even more straight forward and it’s just spelled out for us:  “WALK” and “DON’T WALK.”  In Germany, there’s a little green and a little red man.  In Berlin, the situation’s a little unique though – because the former West and East sectors of the cities had different Ampelmännchen, little street lamp men.

In the West, they were pretty straight forward and nondescript.  In the East, however, both Red and Green sported a fancy hat.  While the wall has since come down, the different Ampelmännchen still patrol the streets.  Or, maybe “rule over” is a better phrase for what they do, because in Germany, these red and green men are like gods.  They dictate when you cross the street, and they are not to be disobeyed.

Seriously.  It’s almost funny how Germans will not cross the street unless there’s a green man telling them it’s okay.  Forget that you have eyes and a brain and can deduce on your own that, if there’s not a car in sight, it’s okay if you cross the road.  NEIN!  Red man says NEIN!  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen crowds of Germans waiting at an empty intersection, glaring at the red man for not letting them cross.  I guess no one wants to be “that guy” and take the first step across the street and out of line.

I once crossed a street on red, and I heard a mother telling her young daughter, “See that’s what you’re NOT supposed to do, okay, sweetie?”  That’s no joke.  I would like to see these folks in Boston, where even my little heathen self cringes at the sight of pedestrians and automobiles playing a game of chicken at every intersection.

East Ampelmann

Meet the East Berlin Red and Green Men

West Ampelmann

And here you have the West Berlin Red & Green Men

And to end my post on peculiar aspects of German streets, I leave you with this picture.  Don’t worry, you’re just as dumbfounded as I was, and still am.  It’s on the side of a building in Berlin, near Checkpoint Charlie.  I think it’s meant to be art.


The man’s….ummm….extremity goes on for another two stories.

When I stopped to take a picture of this masterpiece, a few other passers-by also took notice.  My favorite moment – maybe from my whole stay in Berlin – was when a probably 85 year old woman giggled and told her best friend, “Oh my goodness!  Talk about an elephant trunk!”  

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Enlightened Nationalism


Levinger, Matthew.  Enlightened Nationalism: the Transformation of Prussian Political Culture, 1806-1848.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Levinger’s book explores how conservatives and reformers alike tried to define Prussian, and perhaps German, identity in the face of pressure from France as well as unrest from within.  The story of these four decades that emerges from Levinger’s work is not one of strong disagreement and infighting.  Instead, consensus exemplifies the overall mood; both reformers and reactionaries held political harmony as the goal of any development.  There were three main reasons for the perceived need for harmony: the ideals of the Enlightenment, French aggression, and the absence of a single nation state (228-229).

Levinger shows that the terms “conservative” and “reformer” may be too simple to describe the forces that were trying to stabilize Prussia after Napoleon’s conquest and later ousting.  He shows that all aristocrats were not necessarily against representative assemblies, nor were all reformers against the monarchy.  In fact, the goal of both sides was political harmony through “Enlightened nationalism,” which would allow a peaceful coexistence of nation and monarchy (229).  One would assume that such a coexistence would require dramatic compromise on the part of both conservatives and liberal reformers.  But Levinger shows that both sides envisioned a rationalized monarchy that coexisted with an Enlightened, educated populace.  In this sense, nationalism was not anti-monarchy, because the Enlightened nation was to be organized for the king, not against him (229).  Indeed, what both sides strived for was an “enlightened nationalism,” where nationalism referred to the Prussian leadership’s plan to mobilize the whole population, and enlightened refers to an emphasis on Bildung and state rationalization as a means to that end.  Dedication to this Enlightenment Bildung is an important part of Levinger’s book, and he demonstrates that both reformers and reactionaries were dedicated to the establishment of an Erziehungsstaat.

The presence of the French forces also plays a vital role in Levinger’s story.  For, when one was under foreign rule, one had to speak of national interests, not just the selfish interests of one’s own estate (94).  The political leaders wanted to invigorate the people against the French, but didn’t want to give up the traditional hierarchies.  This forced both the monarchy and the landed aristocrats to confront the notion of nationalism – and what form German nationalism should take.

Methodologically, he explores political discourse and its implications, showing that “words have consequences” (93), and sometimes unintended ones at that.   As the aristocracy campaigned for civic freedoms and Bildung to achieve their own goals, these ideals spread to other estates where they worked against the supremacy of the aristocracy.  Moreover, Levinger reveals the direct interaction of discourse and action by showing how the discourses of the Enlightenment ideals limited the actions that political actors could potentially take.  For example, the Enlightenment ideal of harmony would not allow serious reformers to undertake radical action, which would create chaos (225).

Ultimately, the liberal revolutions of 1848 failed because the understanding of the German “nation” was too contested and therefore could not stand against a united, conservative will.  But I wonder how much of a failure 1848 could be, in Levinger’s terms, if both sides had the same goal (rational monarchy & enlightened populace), because, as he states, in 1848, Wilhelm II decreed a constitution, and Prussia became a constitutional monarchy.

Categories: Book Review, German History | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

In the Shadow of a Castle

“Do not fear death so much, but rather the inadequate life.” 

Bertolt Brecht

Journal entry from 9/26/08:

The stone is cold beneath me and against my back, and I sit mere inches from a 50ft precipice. The trees sway and dance in rhythm with the chilly breeze of the coming night. Marburg lay spread out below me.

It’s Friday evening, the closing of a stress-filled week, and I have finally made it back up to Marburg’s castle. It actually feels as if I’m here for the first time. Last time was too quick. We came; we glanced; and then we hurriedly left, hungrily looking for the next “site to see.”

And so, this morning, I slept in – in an attempt to catch up on some much needed rest – and then decided to make my way into town, alone, to really begin to experience Marburg for myself. I naturally found myself heading straight for the castle.

It’s very strange: though we came to this exact spot last time, I now notice so much that I overlooked earlier.

There were too many people on the front side of the castle, so I made my way around to this back, much quieter, side. I found a perfect place to sit and write atop the castle’s wall, which overlooks a steep cliff down the mountainside. Then, stretched out before me is Marburg – as I have never really seen it before. And as I look down at the towering spires of the Elizabethkirche, I realize something. One would think that while perched on the wall of a solid fortress, glaring down at the city below, you would feel…powerful.

But as I sit here and watch the shadow of the castle behind me inch slowly over the city like a protective shield, I cannot help but to be overcome by how tranquil it is. It is shockingly quiet. The city noise is left far below. Only the distant hum of cars and the rustling of leaves as they give way to the ever-colder wind break the silence.

Perhaps this is why the royalty built the castle here; not to feel domineering, but to escape the hustle; to be able to sit here and think…or perhaps to sit here and not think.

The “one month mark” of my trip is almost here and it has yet to even begin to sink in that I will be here for an entire year. But, past the stress and the worry (and yes, the complaining) I am so very glad that I decided to embark on this adventure. And though I may feel lonely at times, I am also glad that I came alone.

Sure, I have traveled throughout Europe before, always finding myself in somewhat uncertain situations. And I have spent a month living in a village in the middle of the rainforest, with everything that that entails.

But never have I ever been really on my own. On my other trips, I went with groups. Even when I started college, I came with my best friends. So, to be transported here, to this new culture (which may not be as different as Mayan culture, but significantly different none the less) by myself, is certainly the greatest adventure of my life so far.

And already this trip is causing much more self-analysis and self-reflection than I expected. So, not only am I learning about the rich German culture, but I’m hopefully learning more about myself as well.

Well, it seems that Night is only over the next mountain ridge, and it is coming as quickly as the temperature is dropping. So, I suppose that it is time for me to leave the refuge of the castle and head back down to the life of the city below.

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