Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity (Hardcover)

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An unprecedented examination of the ways in which the uninhibited urban sexuality, sexual experimentation, and medical advances of pre-Weimar Berlin created and molded our modern understanding of sexual orientation and gay identity.

Known already in the 1850s for the friendly company of its “warm brothers” (German slang for men who love other men), Berlin, before the turn of the twentieth century, became a place where scholars, activists, and medical professionals could explore and begin to educate both themselves and Europe about new and emerging sexual identities. From Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, a German activist described by some as the first openly gay man, to the world of Berlin’s vast homosexual subcultures, to a major sex scandal that enraptured the daily newspapers and shook the court of Emperor William II—and on through some of the very first sex reassignment surgeries—Robert Beachy uncovers the long-forgotten events and characters that continue to shape and influence the way we think of sexuality today.

Chapter by chapter Beachy’s scholarship illuminates forgotten firsts, including the life and work of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, first to claim (in 1896) that same-sex desire is an immutable, biologically determined characteristic, and founder of the Institute for Sexual Science. Though raided and closed down by the Nazis in 1933, the institute served as, among other things, “a veritable incubator for the science of tran-sexuality,” scene of one of the world’s first sex reassignment surgeries. Fascinating, surprising, and informative—Gay Berlin is certain to be counted as a foundational cultural examination of human sexuality.

About the Author


Robert Beachy was trained as a German historian at the University of Chicago, where he received his PhD in 1998. He is presently associate professor of history at the Underwood International College of Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea.

Praise For…


Winner of the 2015 Randy Shilts Award

"Excellent and richly documented. . . . The significance of Beachy's book goes beyond his findings on the German roots of the conclusion that homosexuality is a biologically fixed trait.  Beachy's work must also be considered in the larger context of a shift in cultural studies." –V.R. Berghahn, New York Times Book Review

"Beachy's cultivation of the 'other' Germany, heterogeneous and progressive, is especially welcome. . . . At the same time, Beachy enlarges our understanding of how the international gay-rights movement eventually prospered, despite the setbacks that it experienced not only in Nazi Germany but also in mid-century America." –Alex Ross, The New Yorker

"An elucidating, somewhat startling study of how early German tolerance and liberalism encouraged homosexual expression. . . . A brave new work of compelling research." –Kirkus

"This lucidly written narrative includes enough spice (accounts of scandals, secret identities, and crimes) to draw in a general readership. However, Beachy’s deeply researched, carefully structured book is foremost an impressive piece of scholarship." –Publishers Weekly (starred)

"A superb work of historical reclamation–by far the best account we have of the formative years of homosexual identity and emancipation, it is brilliantly researched and beautifully written." –Martin Duberman, Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus, CUNY
Product Details
ISBN: 9780307272102
ISBN-10: 0307272109
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: November 18th, 2014
Pages: 336
Language: English