GREEK LOVE IN MODERN GERMANY
The history of Greek love in twentieth-century Germany is strangely repetitive, gradually increasing tolerance twice succumbing to extreme repression.
With the exception of Bavaria and some small states between the French annexation of the German north coast in 1811 and unification in 1871, Germany was one of the European countries where all male homosexuality was illegal until the late twentieth-century and mostly subject to strong social disapproval, so it is remarkable that during the Second Reich (1871-1918), she was without parallel in having a number of writers arguing strongly for toleration of not only homosexuality, but, in some cases, Greek love in particular.
John Henry Mackay (1864-1933), essentially German despite his name, was the greatest writer of the time on Greek love, which he clearly distinguished from androphilia. His polemical Sagitta's Books of the Nameless Love (1913) is reviewed elsewhere. His novel, The Hustler (1926), also reviewed elsewhere, preserves priceless details of the pederastic scene in Berlin of the 1920s. Seen from the perspective of a German boy-lover, society was bitterly unfair, as is brought out well when the thoroughly decent protagonist is arrested and tried for his affair with a boy of 15. For the 21st- century reader, however, the most startling thing may be the terrible prison sentence finally imposed, … two months!
In fact, Mackay was presenting a horror story of the worst that could happen, for Berlin at that time had become so tolerant of Greek love that pederasts from more repressive countries were enraptured. English journalist Michael Davidson’s account of his time there from 1928 to 1933 brings to vivid light both this and the sudden and horrific change that came with the National Socialist take-over in 1933. Also in the pre-National Socialist period, there was some revival of idealistic pederasty associated with the adolescent Wandervogel ("Wandering Bird") movement, as described by Parker Rossman in "Who Dares Speak of Love?"
The writer Norman Douglas (1868-1952) was essentially European despite his birth in Austria and mostly Scottish ancestry, but from 1921 he went on regular holidays in the Vorarlberg, where he had been brought up, either bringing boyfriends from France or Italy, or having liaisons with local boys until disaster struck in 1936. These affairs are described in Holloway's biography of him.
The story of the Viennese Heinz Kohut and his tutor, ca. 1924-6 is a heartening account of the tremendously positive effects a Greek love affair could have on a lonely boy, besides being a fine example of a historically common phenomenon: the sexual element following naturally on affection built between a man and boy with no predisposition towards homosexuality.
A rent-boy scene flourishing in Austria around this time was described by another English visitor, Robin Maugham, in Dieter, a Viennese boy on the game, 1932-6. A brief general survey of boy prostitution in non-Austrian Germany was given in Boys for Sale (1969), but was nearly limited to the first half of the 20th century.
The title of Gad Beck's memoir, An Underground Life, refers to his politically subversive activities, for it is testimony to how even a Jewish boy could have an untroubled sex life with men and boys in the early years of the Third Reich.
The next half-century from a pederastic point of view were well evoked in an interview given in 1981 by Hajo Ortil, best-known for his involvement in Freikörperkultur, the German naturist cultural movement with which idealistic Greek love was much entwined through most of the 20th century. His story, published in his own lifetime, is remarkable testament to how, for some four decades after the fall of the Third Reich, discreet Greek love, when it was doing no harm, was in practise sometimes allowed to flourish again.
Ironically, Greek love finally gained a quasi-legal status in the Federal Republic of Germany in 1994 and in Austria in 2002, when the age of consent was reduced to 14, just as social attitudes were hardening to the point of making its practice almost impossible and consensual affairs involving slightly younger boys were being suppressed with renewed intensity.
It is beyond the chronological remit of this website to follow the history of Greek love any later, so the question is left unaddressed of whether men like Ortil, who managed without mishap to conduct discreet love affairs with boys during the Third Reich, would in practice find Germany, as it became not long after his death, less or even more repressive.