14. Berlin’s decadence became a tourist attraction and the city even promoted itself as a den of vice
Berlin’s decadent nightlife was hardly a secret at the time. In fact, the city authorities were proud of the fact that their city was one of the most liberal, tolerant and indeed decadent places in the whole world. They embraced the reputation Berlin started to get at the beginning of the 1920s and, as the decade progressed, the scandalous underground scene became increasingly mainstream, with a major tourism industry growing up around it.
Alongside the official Berlin tourist board advertisements, a large number of guidebooks offering visitors an insight into the racier parts of the city were published during the Weimar period. One of the most popular was Curt Moreck’s Guide Through Depraved Berlin. As the title suggests, this guidebook shunned the usual palaces and parks and instead pointed the curious visitor in the direction of homosexual bars like the Topp, transvestite cabarets and places they could pick up a girl (or boy) for the night. Similarly, Ruth Margarete Rolling wrote a popular guidebook to lesbian Berlin, advising readers that there was something for everyone in the city: “Here, each can find their own happiness, for they make a point of satisfying every taste,” she said.
Even traditional guidebooks couldn’t help mentioning the seedier side of the city. And while some warned visitors to stay away from the many ‘dens of sin’, this would often have quite the opposite effect. By the mid-1920s, many were already complaining that the Berlin scene was over. Curious tourists were filling the tables of the main cabaret clubs, much to the annoyance of local artists and writers. Nevertheless, a true underground scene remained and thrived right until the start of the Nazi dictatorship.