12. The public loved to read all about a good homicide case, especially if the victim was young and pretty
Berlin in the 1920s wasn’t just a city of decadence – it was a city of violence, too. With crime gangs battling for control of the booming trade in drugs and prostitutes, murder was all too common. But gangster killings weren’t the type that really excited the Berlin public. Instead, the people of Weimar Germany developed a fascination for so-called lustmord, that is lust-fueled murders, ideally of pretty young women by spurned lovers.
If there had been a murder, especially a lustmord, then newspaper sales were guaranteed to soar. Not only would a report of such a crime include all the grisly details, it would also feature gruesome crime scene photographs and any other potentially titillating information, especially if it related to the sexual life of the victim. Far from fair and neutral, the press coverage of murders of young women was sensationalist and often downright misogynistic. So, when it emerged that a serial killer was at large in the west German city of Dusseldorf, the public were gripped.
The so-called Dusseldorf Monster (also known as the Vampire of Dusseldorf), committed a string of sexual assaults and murders in the city between February and November of 1929. People couldn’t get enough of the case. Newspapers devoted entire sections to the crimes, focusing on the sexual aspect of the attacks. Fictional accounts of the murders appeared on book-stands and these too sold like crazy. And then, when Peter Kurten was arrested, convicted and executed for the Dusseldorf murders in 1930, a movie version of the whole affair was in the cinemas within a matter of weeks. Needless to say, it was a box office smash.
Such a fascination with lust-fueled murder was also evident in the literature and art of Weimar Germany. Pulp fiction was big business, with most books featuring young, sexualized female victims. Similarly, the paintings of Otto Dix and George Grosz, two of the biggest artists of the Weimar era, often featured mutilated female bodies. Some modern scholars now see the art of the era as profoundly misogynistic, getting a kick out of sexual murders almost celebrating violence against women.