image source: cabaret-berlin, flikr, pinterest
Anita Berber; also known as the Priestess of Debauchery, The Goddess of the Night; was a cabaret star, poet and actress of the roaring 20’s, who lived life fast and hard.
She openly celebrated her bisexuality, thrived off her scandalous lifestyle, and was addicted to the applause (and many narcotics). Anita was a regular in the local newspapers, her love affairs publicised and gawped upon. Being a person of gossip didn’t seem to phase her, it may have encouraged her further to live life as she wanted.
Anita is an icon of the 1920’s scene in Germany. Post-WW1 was a time of liberation for women from the societal roles that they had previously been expected to perform. The war was over, and the work that women had done during the war had given them a sense of freedom, as well as the vote. ‘Flappers’ smoked and drank in public, partied and had a more casual attitude to sex. Unhappily married women got divorced. I know it doesn’t seem like much now but it was a monumentus moment for women back then.
Anita Berber was a stage and movie actress, a fashion model, and a dancer who often performed nude. With her second husband Sebastian Droste (who later proves himself to be a complete twat when he leaves her and takes most of her money with him), she wrote and performed expressionist shows, which often derived from the book of poetry they had written together, called “Die Tänze des Lasters, des Grauens und der Ekstase” (Dances of Vice, Horror, and Ecstasy). They toured their performances across many European countries.
Between 1918 and 1923, Anita starred in 26 silent films, including Around the World in 80 Days (1919). Sadly Anita’s narcotic and alcohol addiction caused her to behave unprofessionally; she would turn up late and inebriated at film sets, meaning that some of the crew would have to fill her with coffee so that the could finally get to work.
3 husbands and 1 pet monkey in just 29 years of life. Anita’s personal life was watched like the present day Big Brother (except when it was more popular and on Channel 4).
Rumours were created around Anita, including the claim that Anita would wander through casinos and hotels flashing her naked body, and that she was so demanding in the bedroom that her lovers left her because she was just so insatiable.
Susi Wanowski is argued to be one of the more permanent people in Anita’s life, as after Anita’s first divorce, Susi quickly became Anita’s lover, manager and secretary.
A prominent moment of Anita’s life was being painted by artist Otto Dix in 1925. The painting shows Anita looking older, somewhat withered, in a beautiful blood-red dress. The painting was actually confiscated by the Nazis, in an attempt to remove Anita and her wild life from the public’s view. Thankfully the painting was recovered in the 1960’s, and by the 1980’s, Anita was remembered and became the icon that she was born to be.
Anita died penniless in 1928, aged 29, of tuberculosis (and most likely, intense substance abuse). Drag queens attended her funeral in Berlin, where her grave stone was left unmarked.
Key iconic moments:
- When noticing that a member of the audience wasn’t paying attention, she smashed an empty bottle of champagne over his head.
- Kept an antique brooch on her person which was filled with cocaine, earning her the nickname ‘The Snow Queen’.
- After her first marriage fell apart, Anita dated many women, including, allegedly, Marlene Dietrich.
- Served jail time for insulting the King of Yugoslavia.
- Is rumoured to have taken injection equipment out of her bag in a Viennese cafe and shot cocaine into her thigh, with no remorse.
Why She is worth knowing
Anita Berber celebrated queer identity, wasn’t afraid to live her life how she wanted to, and used the world of art to express herself without giving a care about how others would perceive it. She was wild and did what she wanted to do, unapologetically.
Probably not the best role model I’ll give you that – but I think she probably inspired a lot of women at the time to embrace who they were and to go after the things they wanted in life, which for Anita, was mostly pleasure.