Monday 13 September 2010

Von Sexy

Picture a late imperial court, picture, if you will, the decadence, the excesses and the orgies. We are in the realm of decline and fall, are we not, in the land of the Caesars? Yes, indeed, it’s the land of a Caesar except it’s not Rome, as you expected, it’s the court of Kaiser Bill, hitherto known for Victorian prudery rather than physical frolics.

Alas, nothing is sacred, for Wolfgang Wipperman, a German historian, has been burrowing away in the Prussian Secret State Archives in Berlin, there discovering that swinging is not a modern invention, or the sole preserve of the lower middle-classes. No, the German aristocracy were the pathfinders here, with a taste for late night sex parties, turning to blackmail.

Now imagine yourself in Jadgschloss Grunewald, a hunting lodge in the woods of western Berlin belonging to Princess Charlotte, the older sister of Kaiser Wilhelm II. It’s the early 1890s; there you are among the select guests, among the vons, drinking, dancing and experimenting in all sorts of sexual games. The details of these japes are currently being revealed in Der Spiegel, a taster for Wipperman’s Scandal in Hunting Lodge Grunewald, scheduled for publication later this month,

These gatherings may have remained hidden but for the fact that one of the participants – Wipperman suspects Charlotte herself – saw them as a way to make a spot of extra cash. Blackmail letters were sent out to the participants, with some rather helpful illustrations of their sexual preferences, provided, I imagine, just in case they were too drunk to remember. The author further speculates that Charlotte, who died in 1919 after lengthy psychiatric treatment, may have organised her orgies specifically with a view to entrapment.

Even in those days it was impossible to keep a good story down; and there is no story better than aristocratic sex. The attempted blackmail became public and, this being Germany, resulted not in laughter but in a major political scandal, going so far as the Reichstag.

The Kaiser, true to the humours of his grandmother, was not amused. I, in contrast, am; I simply can’t help but laugh to read that the Duchess of Hohenau was repeatedly described as a “randy tart.” It’s not really a surprise. After all, the poor woman needed some outlet for her sexual energies, given that she was married to the openly gay Friedrich von Hohenhau. Even before the Jadgscloss scandal her liaisons were notorious, including Herbert von Bismarck, son of the Iron Chancellor, and Max von Baden, destined to be the last Chancellor of Imperial Germany.

The blackmailer, whoever it was, possibly Charlotte, possibly not, has a go at others including Alide von Schrader who enjoyed lesbian affairs, Prince Aribert von Anhalt, who is accused of having sex with other men. It seems odd, though, that despite the scandal, despite the involvement of both Reichstag and Kaiser, the heart of the labyrinth remained unpenetrated (oops, sorry, perhaps not the best word to use in this context!) I’m not sure why and the report I read offers no explanation. It may be that it was Charlotte, which for Brother Bill would have been a scandal too far. To have a randy tart in the imperial family is one thing; to have a randy tart and a blackmailer quite another.


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  2. But he couldn't keep it up. :-)) Seriously, there is something terribly ernest, Teutonic, is the word, about German approaches to sexuality, particularly to nudity.

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  4. The DDR was as ernest about nudity as the Third Reich. The whole thing was just so terribly asexual, or so Kraft durch Sex! Obviously you are. :-)

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  7. Interesting. I'm doing an index for a book called Sexual Revolutions; there's a lot of stuff about Otto Gross and Bohemian life in early-20C Munich and Berlin, which was pretty wild ... all tied up with psychoanalysis.

    So, it seems that at least some their parents' generation enjoyed that kind of thing too. I wonder if they knew? :-)