Sunday, June 5, 2011

The lost lesbian bars of Weimar Berlin

The Lesbians of Berlin (1928)
The lost lesbian bars of Weimar Berlin

Location: Berlin, Germany

Founded: 1918

Closed: 1933

First, a brief history lesson from Meredith Miller.

Germany declared its first republican government in the final days of World War I, after the resignation of the Kaiser. During this period the country was experiencing terrible economic hardship and social unrest. Berlin was considered unsafe for the new government, which removed to the city of Weimar. The period generally referred to as Weimar Germany lasted from 1918 until the Nazis began to gain power in 1930.

Volumes have been written about the politics, economics, art, literature, music, film, cabarets, and theater of Weimar Germany, and no doubt many more volumes remain to be written. But for our purposes here, the  Weimar is signficant for its formative influence on western lesbian culture. As Miller goes on to explain,

The era of the Weimar Republic...represents the first forum in which a recognizably modern lesbian identity gained mass visibility and a reasonable level of acceptance. German women had been allowed political particpation since 1908 and a strong women's movement had existed since the mid 19th-century. Magnus Hirshfeld's Scientifiic Humanitarian Committee had included women among its members for decades and this political and cultural support lead to a strong lesbian community that was often conscious of the need for political organization. Thus many lesbian bars in Weimar Berlin carried a stamp of approval from Hirshfeld's committee and the several national lesbian magazines, which flourished during the era and encouraged women to patronize only these bars.

B. Ruby Rich sums it up this way:"The years of the Weimar Republic witnessed a flowering of women's rights and of struggles for homosexual emancipation, as well as a bursting forth of a large lesbian and gay subculture quartered largely in Berlin."  

In 1928, the German lesbian writer Ruth Roellig (1878-1979) assembled a guidebook to Berlin's lesbian clubs, Berlins lesbische Frauen (The Lesbians of Berlin), which featured a preface by pioneering German sexologist and activist Magnus Hirschfeld (see the cover above.) Ruth M. Pettis elaborates:

After an introduction deploring religious attitudes toward lesbians and decrying discrimination against "priestesses of Sappho," Roellig describes the ambience and offerings of 14 Berlin clubs and dance halls that catered to lesbians. At this time in Germany, lesbians were not subject to criminal prosecution, but they faced ostracism and employment discrimination, and Roellig is keenly aware of such injustices. Indeed, her introduction must be considered a contribution to the literature of the Geman homosexual emancipation movement.

Hirschfeld's preface was featured prominently on the book's cover in order to characterize the book as a work of social significance rather than simply a guidebook for tourists. But perhaps the greatest function of Berlins lesbische Frauen was to alert isolated women to the presence of a larger lesbian community. As a measure of its success in this endeavor, the book underwent several printings.

Ad for Cafe Dorian Gray
Information about the following lesbian bars has been assembled from a variety of sources. And while you peruse the list below--which represents but a fraction of the lesbian bars that existed during that time--listen to cabaret star Claire Waldoff (1884-1957). Waldoff was an openly lesbian singer who was famous for her "in-your-face" delivery and "gritty, gutteral voice." Or check out Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992) and Margo Lion (1899-1989) in "Wenn die beste Freundin" (When the best girlfriend) from 1928.

Auluka-Lounge, Augsberger Strasse 72, 1924-1933

Café Domino, Marburger Strasse 13, 1921-1930

Café Dorian Gray, Bülowstrasse 57, 1927-1933
Florence Tamagne, A History Of Homosexuality In Europe: Berlin, London, Paris, 1919-1939 (2006) mentions Cafe Dorian Gray. She writes, "Dorian Gray, 57 Bülowstraß, was one of the oldest and better-known homosexual establishment. It was a mixed club, with certain days reserved for women and others for men. Friday, for example, was 'elite day for ladies', with dancing alternating with stage shows. Theme nights included a Bavarian alpine festival, and a festival of the Rhenish grape harvest. The cuisine was refined Viennesse, the atmosphere was traditional and of good quality."

It has also been claimed that the male clientele at Dorian Gray was limited, but that every Wednesday was “Sadomasochist Night.”

Café Olala, Zietenstrasse 11, 1927-1932

Damenklub Violetta
Die Freundin: Weekly Journal for Ideal Friendship Between Women (a lesbian journal) was published continuously during 1923-32 by the damenklub (women's club, or bar) "Violetta" — itself a coded name, as violets were considered a sign of lesbianism at the time. Die Freundin was banned in 1928.

Damenbar by Jeanne Mammen
According to Angeles Espinaco-Virseda, "One of the most popular ladies’ clubs was the Damenklub Violetta, led by Lotte Hahm, a well-known figure in the homosexual rights movement. The Violetta hosted many dances, such as the “Calling-Card Ladies’ Ball” (Damenball mit Saalpost) and the “Dance Roulette” (Roulette-Tanz), and also auto tours of the Spreewald and fashion shows for masculine women and transvestites." In addtion, women at Violetta were known for singing “Das Lila-Lied” (The Lavender Song), which declared lesbians’ difference and eventual liberation.

Entre Nous
Entre Nous was considered one of the "more exclusive" lesbian bars.

Die Grotte
Like Entre Nous, Die Grotte was considered one of the "more exclusive" lesbian bars.

Hohenzoffern-Café, Bülowstrasse 101, 1921-1933
Featured a male cabaret for lesbians only.

Mali & Ingel, Lutherstrasse 16, 1927-1933
Louise Brooks, the American film actress, later recalled that at the Mali [or Maly], "there was a choice of feminine or collar-and-tie Lesbians." Somewhat off-topic, but check out this clip from Pandora's Box (1929) where Louise Brooks (as Lulu) dances with Alice Roberts (as the lesbian Countess Geschwitz).

Meyer-Stube, Xanterner Strasse 3, 1927-1928

The Silhoette
Alex de Jonge in The Weimar Chronicle: Prelude to Hitler (1978), describes the Silhoette as "one of Berlin's most fashionable nightspots." As he elaborates, "You could see women well known in German literature, society, the theater and politics ... There was no suggestion of vice about the place. It was a usual phenomenon in German life." The Silhouette admitted men if accompanied by a lesbian regular.

Talverne, Georgenkirchstrasse 30a, 1927-1930

A "tough" working-class bar.

Tanzpalaste Zauberflote (Magic Flute Dance Palace)
Anneliese W. or "Johnny" (1916-1995): "The Magic Flute was a large hall with a dance floor in the middle; the orchestra played in the balcony above. Once, when there was a police raid, Kati [Reinhard] called to me, 'Go in the kitchen by the garbage bins!' I had to hide back there because I was still too young. You had to be twenty-one to enter these clubs. I started going to clubs and got to know everything around 1931, when I was fifteen. Back then, before Hitler came to power, we had a lot of clubs....Through the Magic Flute, I joined a lesbian bowling league, 'The Funny Nine,' which was lead by Lieschen and her girlfriend Gertrud."

Topkeller, Schwerinstrasse 13, 1923-1932
In Claudia Schoppmann's Days of Masquerade: Life Stories of Lesbians during the Third Reich, trans. Allison Brown (1996), a woman is quoted as saying that the Toppkeller Club was “so exciting that women from all walks of life came, even actresses. It was always so crowded, and on Fridays you could hardly get in at all.” The sign above the Toppkeller Club restroom proclaimed: "We are the New Spirit. We do it with Brazenness!" 

Verona-Lounge, Kleistrasse 36, 1919-1931

Illustration: Cover of
The Lesbians of Berlin, Ruth Roellig, 1928
1920s ad for Cafe Dorian Gray
Damenbar (Lesbian Bar) by Jeanne Mammen (1890-1976)

Update March 10, 2012: Discovered this great source just recently. Check it out!

Update December 12, 2012: Also see this posting on Monokel, Budapester Strasse 14, 1932-1933


  1. Hi, I'm paula key and my web page is
    While there are stories, I am researching lesbian history. This site is so valuable to who we are now, who we have been, and for the future lesbians who want to celebrate our courage, achievements and sorrows.

    Lesbians are in peril and suffer throughout much of the globe. I want to blog this on my site. I also want to blog positive stories of lesbians.
    Thank you for writing and maintaining such a great site.

  2. Thank you for gathering this invaluable information. I am a writer embarking on a new work. While I have researched our community in Germany before & after Hitler's rise to power, I have since lost most of my notes. This was a very satisfying refresher course. What I find most amazing is how very evolved & progressive Weimar Germany was before Hitler's madness. One of the true ways to measure Hitler's devestating impact is to glimpse the Gay/Lesbian movement before he rose to power & its stark difference during & after. That & his affect on the Arts. Anyway, thank you again for making this available.


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