A captivating erotic Art Deco cold painted bronze figure of a semi-clad lady with fencing sword, raised on a shaped Brazilian green onyx base, signed Bruno Zach and stamped Austria. This is a wonderful large example of the artist’s work that captures the sensuous night-life of inter-war Berlin.
Inter War Berlin Night-life – A Reputation for Decadence
Prostitution rose in Berlin and elsewhere in the areas of Europe left ravaged by World War I. This means of survival for desperate women, and sometimes men, became normalized to a degree in the 1920s. During the war, STD’s spread at a rate that warranted government attention. Soldiers at the front contracted these sexual diseases from prostitutes, so the German army responded by granting approval to certain brothels that were inspected by their own medical doctors, and soldiers were rationed coupon books for sexual services at these establishments. Homosexual behaviour was also documented among soldiers at the front. Soldiers returning to Berlin at the end of the War had a different attitude towards their own sexual behaviour than they had a few years previously.[ Prostitution was frowned on by respectable Berliners, but it continued to the point of becoming entrenched in the city’s underground economy and culture. First women with no other means of support turned to the trade, then youths of both genders.
Crime in general developed in parallel with prostitution in the city, beginning as petty thefts and other crimes linked to the need to survive in the war’s aftermath. Berlin eventually acquired a reputation as a hub of drug dealing (cocaine, heroin, tranquilizers) and the black market. The police identified 62 organized criminal gangs in Berlin, called Ringvereine. The German public also became fascinated with reports of homicides, especially “lust murders” or Lustmord. Publishers met this demand with inexpensive criminal novels called Krimi.
Apart from the new tolerance for behaviour that was technically still illegal, and viewed by a large part of society as immoral, there were other developments in Berlin culture that shocked many visitors to the city. Thrill-seekers came to the city in search of adventure, and booksellers sold many editions of guide books to Berlin’s erotic night entertainment venues. There were an estimated 500 such establishments, that included a large number of homosexual venues for men and for lesbians; sometimes transvestites of one or both genders were admitted, otherwise there were at least 5 known establishments that were exclusively for a transvestite clientele. There were also several nudist venues. Berlin also had a museum of sexuality during the Weimar period, at Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute of Sexology. These were nearly all closed when the Nazi regime became a dictatorship in 1933.
Artistic dancers in Berlin became fused with the city’s underground culture as the borders between cabaret and legitimate theatre blurred. Anita Berber, a dancer and actress, became notorious throughout the city and beyond for her erotic performances (as well as her cocaine addiction and erratic behaviour). She was painted by Otto Dix, and socialized in the same circles as Klaus Mann.
Artists including both painters and sculptors, were enticed to the raw energy of this zeitgeist. In particular Bruno Zach, Prof Tuch, Otto Poertzel and Ferdinand Preiss found the combination of vitality, eroticism and new found freedom irresistible. These enticing characteristics had a huge influence on the subjects of their Art Deco figurines, some more provocative than others. Bruno Zach, in particular, sculpted numerous highly erotic subjects and his penchant for the night-life of Berlin was said to be further enhanced by his attraction to a young woman known for her effervescent sexual behaviour; it is also suggested that she spurned his advances although later giving in to his charms, and eventually marrying him. This probably accounts for the aloof characteristic of many of his more provocative subjects.
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