DH Praxis Seminar – Data Project: A Queer Topography of Weimar Berlin

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 In one of my other classes this semester (Women, Gender and Fascism in 20th Century Europe), I am exploring the topic of how Weimar Berlin (1918-33) profoundly shaped urban homosexual aesthetics and identity. Urban life enabled social outsiders—such as female and male homosexuals—to not only create, but also define their own space, identity and narrative.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Historical consciousness of the Holocaust and Nazi Germany is dominated, in part, by the museums around the world that serve as memorials for the victims of Hitler’s regime, of World War II, and the violent politics of eugenics and racial purity. Though these museums and memorials serve to preserve a piece of history, they also seek to engage visitors in the present. Gay and lesbian subjects have been relatively absent in both historical consciousness and Academia. Queer history, an interdisciplinary field that goes beyond the study of ‘gays’ and ‘lesbians’ as historical subjects, has been even more absent. Thus, I strongly believe it is important to approach this topic through a queer lens and examine historical events taking gender and sexuality as the central considerations for evaluating institutions, aesthetics, and discourse.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Therefore, a topography of pre-Nazi Berlin that defines the character’s sexuality and gender performances is essential to gain a better understanding of the outcome of the Holocaust when it comes to discussing historical memory. In this case, I am interested in using GIS software to create a map of Berlin from the 1920s that can illustrate certain homosexual topoi. In order to do so, I will work with QGIS.*

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 To begin with, I will need to obtain all the shapefiles required for this project. In the first place, Natural Earth, a website created by volunteer contributors and supported by the North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS), provides cultural, physical and raster data at a large, medium and even small scale. For my purposes, I will take advantage of one of the large scale (1:10m) raster layers for the background of my map—in other words, an actual map of the world. Next, I will have to add several vector layers containing geographical data of contemporary Berlin in order to illustrate, at least, its rivers, streets and buildings. Geofabrik, a German company that offers OpenStreetMap consulting, provides both .osm and .shp files of all sixteen federal states of Germany. In addition, BBBike, a cycle route planner for more than 200 cities worldwide, might also be a useful site to acquire free open-source extracts of Berlin and Brandenburg.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 As I introduced before, I intend to combine this modern map with a historic map of Berlin from the 1920s. Since, in this case, I will just use a JPEG image, I can easily obtain one, for example, from Old Maps Online, a collaborative project between Klokan Technologies GmbH, Switzerland and The Great Britain Historical GIS Project based at the University of Portsmuth, UK. To configure the design that I have in mind, I will have to overlay the historic map image of old Berlin and georeference it; that is to say, associate points on the historic map image with points on my vector map. QGIS has a ‘Georeferencer’ plugin that I will have to download, but that definitely facilitates the process. Once this part is over, I will just have to document the spots I am interested in and highlight those on my map—with either points, lines or polygons.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Berlin has long been identified as a ‘sexy space’, ‘El Dorado’ by homosexuals in the Weimar Republic. However, the City and its homosexual ‘sexy spaces’ included much more than bookstores, bars and nightclubs. Weimar Berlin bridged and overcame social opposites, and without doubt became an affirming setting of sexual agency and identity. Thus, historical memory work can be a powerful tool to fill gaps in understanding, challenge dominant beliefs.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Two of the sources I will use to locate and illustrate these spaces on the map are “We Will Show You Berlin: Space, Leisure, ‘Flânerie’ and Sexuality”** and “Defining Identity via Homosexual Spaces: Locating the Male Homosexual in Weimar Berlin”,*** both by David James Prickett, head of the English/Philology Department at the Center for Languages and Core Competencies at the University of Potsdam. On the one hand, Prickett explores the conceptualization of Berlin as space, leisure, flânerie and (homo)sexuality through the analysis of Klaus Mann’s The Pious Dance: The Adventure Story of a Young Man (1926) and Curt Moreck’s Guide Through ‘Naughty’ Berlin (1931). On the other hand, in an effort to determine how homosexual spaces defined male homosexual identity, Prickett also analyses Magnus Hirscfeld’s Sex and Crime and Friedrich Radszuweit’s Male Prostitution in Wilhelmine Berlin.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 I am sure there is plenty more bibliography concerning homosexual aesthetics and the streets of Berlin. If anyone has any suggestions, I will be very pleased to hear them and take them into consideration for this digital history project.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 * For those of you not familiar with it, QGIS is a cross-platform free and open-source desktop geographic information system (GIS). (The Wikipedia definition of ‘QGIS’ turns out to be pretty helpful here.)
** Prickett, David James. “We Will Show You Berlin: Space, Leisure, ‘Flânerie’ and Sexuality.” Leisure Studies 30.2 (April 2011): 157-77. Web.
*** Prickett, David James. “Defining Identity via Homosexual Spaces: Locating the Male Homosexual in Weimar Berlin.” Women in German Yearbook 21 (2005): 134-62. Web.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted November 16, 2016 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    The research process here makes good sense: you’ve started with a solid question, a sense of the modalities you’d like to use to approach the question, and research components (GIS shape files, layers, and source materials) that would be useful. It may be helpful at the end here to go back to your original question about the way in which geography–and particularly mobility and location within that geography–are important components of your research question to consider what data points exist in your resource materials and what you may be missing. Have you had a chance to play around with any of that data yet? Looking forward to hearing more…

  2. Posted November 19, 2016 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Marti, this is a great topic and I look forward to seeing how the mapping portion of it plays out. Will this convey a sense of how specific neighborhoods or streets tended to concentrate homosexual life and culture in Weimar Berlin, as a similar map of Manhattan in the 1940s and 1950s might? Also, you really start by defining homosexuality broadly but end up only focusing in on gay men (at least insofar as I can ascertain from the titles and descriptions of the several source books and guides you will be using). I don’t think you want or mean to equate homosexuality with men alone, which is what George Chauncey sort of did in his book Gay New York. Will any of these Weimar sources also tell us something about lesbian life in Weimar Berlin?

  3. Posted November 24, 2016 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Prof. Brier,

    First of all, thank you so much for sharing your insights on my data project. I really appreciate it.

    I did not mean to sound like I would exclusively focus on male homosexuals—I actually intend the contrary. Even before the arrival of the Auden-Isherwood circle in the late 1920s, Weimar Berlin was an affirming space for female and male homosexuals, transvestites and transsexuals. So, with this data project I plan on highlighting some of the areas and specific places in Berlin where all these social groups used to congregate, especially in Berlin-Kreuzberg and Berlin-Friedrichshain. Some names that come to mind are the Paradiesgärtlein [Little Garden of Eden], the Sankt-Margaretenkeller or even the famous ElDorado.

    The sources I have been working with do talk about both female and male homosexuals, but I am still doing some more research on this topic. For instance, in Gay Berlin, Robert Beachy—even though he does concentrate on male homosexuals—quotes a similar project that does give more emphasis to lesbians. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the name of that book right now, but I will make sure to look into it as well.

    On a separate note, I also got the chance to speak with Prof. Rhody last week about the mapping software I was using (QGIS) and the progress I was making so far. She also recommended me to look into NeatLine, and I am thinking of experimenting a little bit with CARTO—although the latter does not offer the possibility to georeference old maps.

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