I miss the visual aphrodisiac that was Weimar Berlin. It was like jumping onto a carnival ride whirling round and round and not letting go…
A kaleidoscope of changing scenes shining like silver paper that reflected the deepest desires of the carnal souls who performed in the theatre of eros night after night.
A nocturnal palace of pleasure that blurred sexual boundaries and expectations.
Ballrooms, dancehalls, cabarets. Favorite haunts of daring Berliners who raced forward to express their individuality in new and provocative styles.
Men dressed like women, women dressed like men.
These libertarians crossed these boundaries and never looked back. Young men in billowy white sailor blouses and blue caps. Women flaunting men’s trousers and sophisticated black tuxedos.
And then there was Sophie.
I never knew his real name, he never told me, but walking with the other Sunday strollers along Unter den Linden today, I remember how it was then when this highly refined young man with his penciled-in brows and heavy lime-musk scent made his mark on the Berlin homosexual scene.
Sophie loved to laugh and sing and play his accordion and was apolitical in his pursuit of social fulfillment. He was comfortable with who he was, even if Hitler wasn’t.
When I met Sophie in 1928, he was filled with life, headlining at a small nightclub off Nürnberger Platz. The room was packed every night, Berliners laughing at his ribald jokes, amazed at his outrageous style of dress and fascinated by his repartee of underworld gossip. He was a true artiste and also enjoyed entertaining at society affairs, reveling in his position as a drawing room pet.
Sophie taught me how to carry myself when I entered a room, how to choose the right style, how to apply my lipstick by starting at the corners of my mouth to get a natural sensual line instead of a cheap bow. How to appreciate the elegance of a simple strand of pearls.
“A clean sophisticated look will get invited you everywhere,” he often said. “Less is better.”
He was also a learned student of Egyptology, spellbinding me with tales of Egyptian Queens and their beauty secrets and that Cleopatra’s lipstick reportedly contained crushed red beetles and ants. Years later in Port Said, I discovered the secret of Cleopatra’s perfume, but it was Sophie who first spurred my interest in the ancient arts.
After the war, I encountered a saxophone player I knew from the old Weimar days. He told me Sophie was deported to a concentration camp after Heinrich Himmler decreed in 1937 that homosexuals created a hindrance to the procreation of the Aryan race.
Sophie never lost his style, even at Sachsenhausen, where as a homosexual he was forced to wear an identifying inverted pink triangle on his prison uniform. He survived the death camp by singing and playing his accordion for a Nazi officer who remembered him from his cabaret days and, fortunately for him, the SS man never understood he was the butt of the libertine’s sketches and jokes.
Sophie was the most charming and clever man I ever met.
Unconfirmed reports said he died at the end of the war from typhus weeks before the camp was liberated. No one knew what happened to his accordion.
I like to think he took it with him on his way to heaven.
Lady Eve Marlowe