4. Desperate men also turned to prostitution, and Berlin even became a tourism hotspot for Europe’s homosexual gentlemen
After the end of the war, young men flocked to Berlin in their thousands. Most of them were desperate to find work and, when they couldn’t get a job in a factory or on a building site, they found work in the city’s booming prostitution scene. According to some social historians, many men had enjoyed homosexual experiences in the trenches during the First World War and, their curiosity well and truly piqued, were keen to enjoy their new freedom as much as possible. Combined with the general air of liberty and open-mindedness in Berlin from 1920 onwards, this meant that homosexuality became increasingly tolerated – including the presence of male prostitutes on the streets of the capital.
It wasn’t just Great War veterans who were turning tricks in Berlin, as well as in Hamburg. One contemporary writer noted: “Every high school boy wanted to earn some money and in the dimly lit bars, one might see government officials and men of the world of finance tenderly courting drunken sailors without any shame.” As well as selling themselves on the streets, male prostitutes would advertise their services in specialist newspapers and journals. According to one study, as many as 30 homosexual publications could be found on a typical Berlin kiosk at the height of the Weimar Republic. These magazines might also feature adverts for private detectives – many gay men were victims of attempted blackmail and there was a huge market for detectives capable of finding out who might be behind such a scam.
The booming male prostitution industry meant that Berlin became a magnet for sex tourists. Men from across Europe, above all from Britain and Scandinavia, as well as from Russia, flocked to the German capital to enjoy the company of other men – and they were happy to pay for the privilege. Some American men also traveled to Berlin and indulged in the city’s many vices. The American architect Philip Johnson – widely regarded as one of the country’s finest ever architectural minds – admitted to using male prostitutes and praised the openness of Berlin during the Weimar years.