2. Prostitution was deregulated and tens of thousands of women sold their bodies during the heady days of the Weimar Republic
The end of the First World War left many Germans financially ruined. Many flocked to the big cities in order to try and make a living. From 1920 onwards, the size of Berlin grew by a factor of 13. Almost overnight, it became a teeming metropolis and a party place for the relative few who could afford it. Of course, there was a darker side to the decadence. Lots of those who moved to Berlin and other big cities in search of work struggled to find it. Inevitably, many women felt they had no choice but to sell their bodies in order to survive. Prostitution boomed.
Towards the end of the war, the German government had moved to legalize prostitution. Since many soldiers had been returning to the front after a few days’ leave in the city suffering the effects of sexually transmitted diseases, the authorities set up legal and approved brothels. What’s more, soldiers were even given coupons to use in these establishments in the hope that they would at least remain disease-free. Once the war was over, huge numbers of young men moved back to the big cities. Many of them were frustrated and traumatized, and most no longer saw anything wrong with using the services of a prostitute.
In Berlin, many prostitutes worked on the streets. Moreover, as the famous journalist Hans Ostwald remarked at the time, “most dance halls are nothing but markets for prostitution.” Many of the dancing girls in the cabaret bars and dance halls could be taken home – or just into a back room – for the right price. Of course, once the effects of the Wall Street Crash hit the Weimar Republic, the ‘right price’ plummeted almost overnight. The newspapers of the time reported that street prostitutes ended up turning tricks in exchange for food rather than worthless paper money. There were even instances of ‘mother and daughter teams’ working together in order to survive. Almost overnight, prostitution once again became seedy and disreputable.