From March 17 to August 28, 2016 the Ephraim-Palais in Berlin presents the exhibition “Berlin – Stadt der Frauen” (Berlin – City of Women). The exhibit focuses on the lives of twenty strong women, demonstrating how they shaped Berlin’s history, how they cast off social and political constraints, and provides an insight into many aspects of the women’s movement, with a special focus on the issue of emancipation through education. No matter what era they belonged to or which profession they practised, all of these women determined and shaped their own lives. Connected by their backgrounds in the educated middle-class and having access to similar opportunities, these women nonetheless experienced many challenges in their journeys from tradition to emancipation. Through their curiosity and commitment, they created new paths and opened up uncharted horizons not only for themselves, but for all girls and women. They were all pioneers in their respective fields:
Politics – zoologist and director of the Berlin Zoo Katharina Heinroth | chairwoman of the Klub der Berliner Trümmerfrauen (Berlin Women’s Rubble-Clearers Club) Anni Mittelstädt | salonnière Cornelie Richter | politician and Berlin mayor Louise Schroeder | architect Emilie Winkelmann
Business – pilot and author Elly Beinhorn | author Marie von Bunsen | writer and feminist Hedwig Dohm |singer and actress Fritzi Massary | feminist and first head of the Lette Verein, Anna Schepeler-Lette
Art – painter, muse and model Charlotte Berend-Corinth | graphic artist, painter and sculptor Käthe Kollwitz | sculptor and graphic artist Renée Sintenis | painter and illustrator Jeanne Mammen |photographer and photojournalist Eva Kemlein
Innovation – photographer and photography historian Gisèle Freund | photographer Marie Kundt | educator Dora Lux | physicist and director of the Lette Verein Clara von Simson | dancer and choreographer Mary Wigman
Already 150 years ago, Berlin was a place where many things could be done that seemed impossible elsewhere – particularly for women. One reason for this was the foundation of the Verein zur Förderung der Erwerbstätigkeit des weiblichen Geschlechts (Society for the Promotion of Employment for the Female Sex), today known as the Lette Verein Berlin. This association’s 150th anniversary is the occasion for Stadtmuseum Berlin’s exploration of the opportunities for women from 1866 to the present.
With over 300 items from the Stadtmusem Berlin collection as well as private memorabilia, this exhibition also presents film and audio documents to provide vivid, almost direct contact with these women. Students from the Lette Verein’s graphic design and media classes have designed some of the exhibition spaces, ranging from large-scale projections to intimate video productions. The exhibition provides a multi-layered experience with physical objects, medial animation, multi-lingual texts and current statements on the #stadtderfrauen Twitter wall. The exhibition ends with the question: What kinds of “corsets” still exist today, and in which areas of society? Gender-based discrimination still exists. This applies to both men and women. Numerous institutions in Berlin are doing major groundwork in the struggle for equality, and the exhibition includes some of their voices as well.
The exhibition features four main themes that run throughout the various displays:
The Right to Education – For a long time, women had no opportunity for secondary education or to graduate from secondary school (taking the Abitur examination). After only 4 years of schooling, they were compelled to return to the hearth and home. It was not until 1908 that they were permitted to study at university in Prussia and Berlin. They were prevented from studying art at the College of Fine Arts until 1918.
The Right to Work – A married woman was obliged to obtain her husband’s permission if she wished to work. Up until 1958 a husband could also terminate his wife’s work contract without her agreement. This law was not changed until 1977.
The Right to Self-Determination – Married women were not considered contractually capable. Until 1962 they were unable to open a bank account without their husbands’ permission. They were not free to make decisions about their own bodies, either. To the present day, § 218 defines abortion as a criminal act.
The Right to Equality – The fact that men and women have equal rights is anchored in the constitutional law of 23rd May 1949. However, until 1977 the obligations a wife was expected to fulfil in the family were defined by law. The “partnership principle” finally put an end to this paternalism. Since 1994, it has been possible for women to continue using their original surnames after marriage as well.
Here are the women profiled in the exhibition:
Cornelie Richter (1842 – 1922) – “I am, or at least I believe so, a good listener; perhaps you will notice that.” Born in Berlin on 4th March, she was the youngest of three daughters of opera composer Giacomo Meyerbeer and his wife Minna. Against her father’s wishes, she converted to Christianity at the age of 16. She married portrait painter Gustav Richter, and together they had four sons. The Richters’ home became well-known for its soirées and receptions. After her husband’s death in 1884 she hosted a famous salon in her Berlin city apartment on Unter den Linden and her villa beside the Kleiner Wannsee. She was at the centre of a social circle whose personalities shaped the German Empire. Her guests and letter-writing partners included famous names and families like von Bülow, Harry Graf von Kessler, Adolph Menzel, Walther Rathenau, Max Reinhard and Cosima Wagner.
Emilie Winkelmann (1875 – 1951) – “I know how it could be done!” When girls were not permitted advanced schooling and women could not study at universities, Emilie Winkelmann fulfilled her longed-for professional ambition. She became Germany’s first female architect. In Aken near Dessau she learned structural drawing, and in 1902 she went to Hanover, where she became an auditor in architecture at the university. However, she was unable to take the diploma examination. In 1907 she moved to Berlin, and she won her first major competition: for the theatre building “Prachtsäle Alt-Berlin”. This was her breakthrough. She received numerous private building contracts and realized housing projects for women. Her women’s student hostel was the first of its kind in Europe! 1945 she fled to Westphalia,where she continued to work until shortly before her death. Emilie Winkelmann left behind an extensive oeuvre. Today, the houses she designed in Berlin are listed buildings.
Anni Mittelstädt (1914 – 1987) – “I am one of many.”
Born in Fulda during the First World War, she moved to Berlin at the age of 20 in 1934. At that time she was already married and the mother of a son, who was killed during the Second World War. Her husband also became a victim of the war, dying in September 1945. The only one remaining to her was her 10-year-old son, who suffered from lung-disease. So that he would survive she needed extra rations, which she could only get by working. The largest portions of fat and meat were given to those doing hard physical work like clearing away the endless mountains of rubble in Berlin. She worked in rubble clearance, ruining her health; her efforts were rewarded, however, and her son survived. In 1945, thousands of Berlin women from every social class began the reconstruction of the city in this way. In 1965 Anni Mittelstädt founded the Club der Berliner Trümmerfrauen (Club of Berlin’s Rubble Women) in memory of that period.
Louise Schroeder (1887 – 1957) – “The professor says I’m a medical miracle” She was born into a humble home in Altona on 2nd April 1887. Early on, it was her father who triggered her enthusiasm for social democracy. She joined the SPD at the age of 23. In 1919 she was one of only a few female members of parliament to enter the Reichstag. She held her mandate until the National Socialists took over power in 1933. After moving to Berlin she was involved in the re-establishment of the SPD. From May 1947 to December 1948 Louise Schroeder held the position of Lord Mayor. The Berlin blockade was during her period in office. There was great hardship, and Louise Schroeder could be found almost everywhere, getting a picture of the conditions and offering spontaneous assistance. For the Berliners, she was the most popular politician of her era. In 1957, although born in Hamburg, she was the first woman to be made an honorary citizen of Berlin.
Katharina Heinroth (1897 – 1989) – “Do something, then you’ll feel better!” From 1919 she studied in her place of birth, Breslau (Wroclaw), where she was also the first woman to earn a doctorate in zoology. In 1933 she married the director of the aquarium in Berlin, Dr. Oskar Heinroth, who died in 1945. Because there was a lack of qualified men at the end of the war, Dr. Katharina Heinroth was then entrusted with the running of the badly destroyed zoological gardens. Only 91 animals had survived. She was the first female zoo director in Germany. Despite the difficulties of the post-war period, the dynamic natural scientist succeeded in saving and reconstructing the zoo, which had been threatened by closure. Despite her successes, the zoo’s board of directors decided that Katharina Heinroth should take early retirement, although still under 60, at the end of 1956. When she left her post, most of the war damage had been redressed and the zoological gardens had expanded. There was a total of 1,937 animals in the collection.
Fritzi Massary (1882 – 1969) – “The launching of a career is a gift from the gods. The rest is hard work.”
Somewhat small and rather chubby, with a mediocre voice and no training, she was personally convinced of her vocation, nonetheless. At the age of 16 she packed her suitcase and left Vienna to tour Russia with an ensemble. After musical forays into classical operetta she discovered her own style in 1901. Highly ambitious, and now the mother of a daughter, she came to Berlin in 1904. Soon roles were being written especially for her, and she was able to negotiate shocking fees. In 1917 she married the actor Max Pallenberg. The world lay at their feet. But their enormous popularity proved useless. Having become a target of anti-Semitic propaganda, they left Berlin in 1932. In 1934 her husband was killed in a plane crash. In 1939 she followed her daughter into exile in the USA, where she was a nobody. Incapable of rekindling her past stardom, it also seemed she had no desire to do so.
Hedwig Dohm (1831 – 1919) – “Become the woman you are.” She grew up in a middle-class, Christian-Jewish merchant’s family in Berlin, together with her many siblings. Marriage to the Berlin-based satirist and chief editor of “Kladderadatsch” Ernst Dohm enabled her to make contacts in Berlin’s political-literary scene. She was one of the founders of the 19th century women’s movement. The journalistic and literary works she published from the 1870s onwards are among the most perceptive pieces written in the struggle for women’s franchise and emancipation before the turn of the century. As from 1892 she also became involved in the peace movement and was one of the few who did not hail the First World War enthusiastically in 1914. As from 1933, under the Nazi regime her descendants – including her famous granddaughter Katia Mann – were persecuted because of their “Jewish” grandmother, Hedwig Dohm.
Anna Schepeler-Lette (1829 – 1897) – “A woman’s work.”
Having grown up in a liberal home, her father being the social politician Wilhelm Adolf Lette, she was committed to the cause of women’s rights in Berlin. Her talent for business organization meant that in only a few years she succeeded in launching the Lette Association through a combination of clever tactics, networking and cultivation of contacts to the Prussian monarchy in the person of Crown Princess Victoria. The teaching available there made the association into
the place of education for single girls and women. Anna Schepeler-Lette’s innovative instinct also led to the establishment of a school of photography. Her unexpected death in 1897 put a brief stop to the long-cherished plans for a new school building on Viktoria-Luise-Platz, under the Empress’ patronage. Nevertheless, it proved possible to open this new building under her successor Elisabeth Kaselowsky, with support from Anna’s sisterMarie Fischer-Lette, in 1902.
Elly Beinhorn (1907 – 2007) – “Not for the faint-hearted!” Attending a lecture in Hanover, 21-year-old Elly Beinhorn was infected with a spontaneous enthusiasm for flying. She moved to Berlin, where – against her parents’ wishes – she acquired her sport pilot’s licence in 1929. Initially she performed as a stunt pilot; in subsequent years she became famous for adventurous long-distance flights. She was the first woman to circumnavigate the world flying alone, in 1931/32. In 1935 she completed a speed record flight across two continents. In order to pay for her flights, Elly Beinhorn gave lectures and wrote books. The pilot found brief private happiness with racing driver Bernd Rosemeyer. The couple married in 1936, but her husband was to die in an accident as early as 1938. In the Nazi period she made every effort to keep aloof from politics. After the Second World War, Elly Beinhorn worked as a flying reporter and gave lectures.
Marie von Bunsen (1860 – 1941) – “Smiling, I rowed away.” Salonière, painter, author, networker. Many interests and talents were united in the person of Marie von Bunsen. In the home of her liberal, German-English parents she got to know nobles and major financiers, scholars and artists, and came into close contact with the Berlin court. The only thing she did not find was a husband. After her parents’ death, now aged 40, she took her life into her own hands. She travelled the world alone, ran a salon, published and painted. In 1905 she initiated the foundation of the Lyceum-Club for women working in the art and academic worlds in Berlin. Dauntless and driven by immense curiosity, she ultimately realised her lifetime dream: she embarked on week-long journeys through Germany alone in a rowing boat. In this way she broke with the social conventions of the era, and gained an independence otherwise unavailable to women of her social status.
Eva Kemlein (1908 – 2004) – “…and we were full of vigour” She grew up in a prosperous, liberal Jewish home, the third child of Gertrud and Albert Graupe, and learnt photography at the Lette-Association. In 1933 she married journalist Herbert Kemlein and travelled with him to Greece, taking the photographs for his reportage work. They were expelled from the country in 1937. Back in Berlin, she divorced Herbert. Eva worked in the arms industry, then ultimately in forced labour for a rag dealer. She narrowly escaped deportation with her family in 1942, having been concealed by communist director Werner Stein, her subsequent husband. The couple saw out the end of the war in hiding. In May 1945 Eva Kemlein became the first photo reporter for the Berliner Zeitung – using the camera she had managed to rescue through the years. Her images captured the way that life was returning to normality among the ruins, but primarily how great theatre was being created.
Charlotte Berend-Corinth (1880 – 1967) – “Always having to manage alone.” She came from an educated, middle-class Jewish family in Berlin. After her father’s tragic death the family began to experience financial difficulties. Charlotte and her older sister Alice had some artistic talent: while Alice successfully made writing into her career, Charlotte married her art teacher, Lovis Corinth. At the side of this famous artist she experienced the highs and lows of life as an artist’s wife and a mother – little time was left for her own career as an artist. After her husband’s death in 1925 she developed into a painter in her own right. The Nazi take-over in 1933 forced her to emigrate because of her Jewish faith, and initially she went to Italy. But her self-confidence was boosted above all during her years in the United States, where she was reunited with other exiles from Berlin as from 1939. She always maintained close ties with her past home in Berlin.
Käthe Kollwitz (1867 – 1945) – “I want to make a difference in these times when people are so lost and needing help.” She grew up in a liberal home in Königsberg. Her father enabled her to study art, seeing her as an artist more than as a petit-bourgeois wife. But apparently, she succeeded at both. After spending time studying in Berlin and Paris “espoused to painting” she married a friend from her youth, Karl Kollwitz. Through his medical practice in the working-class district of Prenzlauer Berg she came to know the social misery on the streets. This underlined her artistic commitment and sharpened her socially critical perspective. She turned to pacifism after the senseless death of her son Peter during the First World War. From the Nazi takeover in 1933, the celebrated artist came into the party’s firing line. After a ban on practising her profession and exhibiting as an artist, she withdrew, resigned, from public life. In 1945 she died alone and almost forgotten in Moritzburg. Her work was rediscovered only posthumously.
Jeanne Mammen (1890 – 1976) – “With knowledge comes transformation.” Born in Berlin, she grew up in Paris, and was granted every opportunity she could have wished for. Her parents promoted her artistic talent through training in Paris, Brussels and Rome. The First World War brought an abrupt change in fortune. Declared enemy aliens, the family fled from Paris and arrived in Berlin without any means. In 1919 she began to work as a draftswoman, becoming a chronicler of the “Roaring Twenties” and even earning a living with it! She captured perfectly the image of the new, self-confident woman in the big-city jungle. She lost her basis for existence with the Nazi takeover. Remaining in Berlin, she stayed true to her ideals, surviving by taking on casual jobs. She withdrew from public life, underwent a change in style, and permitted only a very few to see into her studio. The secret behind her freedom was frugality – in material terms.
Renée Sintenis (1888 – 1965) – “And there is nothing to report, actually, except that one is alive – strangely enough.” She was one of Berlin’s best-known women in the 1920s. Her striking face with its high cheek bones, her ever stylish appearance, and her Bohemian lifestyle provided continual news items and photos for the papers of the metropolis. “Sintenis” was the latest trend – as underlined by her gallery, Flechtheim, one of the first to turn art in Berlin into an event. After 30th January 1933, with Hitler’s rise to Reich Chancellor and the onset of Nazi terror, the celebrated sculptor also became a victim of political persecution and her decline began. After being ejected from the academy in 1934 and then prevented from practising her profession, a ban on casting in 1941, and the loss of many people close to her, she saw the end of the war in a Berlin wrecked by bombing. In 1945, her self-portrait emerged as the face of the devastated city. In post-war Berlin she experienced a comeback as an artist.
Marie Kundt (1870 – 1932) – “I never had a greater surprise than at the moment when the image of my hand appeared on the plate.” Born in Neustrelitz on 2nd February 1870, she moved to Berlin after qualifying as a teacher of drawing and handicrafts in 1890. Marie Kundt was one of the first pupils at the newly founded photographic school of the Lette-Association. Photography and the phenomenon of radiation stirred her enthusiasm as the niece of physicist August Kundt, who had taught Wilhelm Röntgen. For the first time in 1896, Röntgen presented the radioactive rays he had discovered in Berlin. The first x-ray image in Berlin was one of Marie Kundt’s hand. In 1913 she became director of the Lette school and pioneered scientific-technical professions for women. The more than 80 x-ray nurses she trained were sent to the front during the First World War, some of them losing their lives. Marie Kundt continued as director of the Lette Association until her sudden death in 1932.
Clara von Simson (1897 – 1983) “… that they let us learn what we wanted – even though we were girls.” She came from a prosperous, liberal, educated middle-class family in imperial Berlin. A fine career as a natural scientist at Berlin university was opening up to her in 1918. In 1933, however, she was expelled from the university as a political “undesirable”. The years of Nazi dictatorship forced her to withdraw completely from public life. After a 12-year exile from the university she did attempt to re-enter the scientific world. But she was obliged to accept that she would be unable to catch up with the lost years of research. She entered politics, becoming a member of the West-Berlin parliament, a committed activist in the Berlin “Frauenbund” (women’s association) and in adult education. As director of the Lette Association she devoted herself to the professional training of young women for eleven years as from 1952, emphasizing the importance of female role models in natural scientific-technical education.
Dora Lux (1882 – 1959) – She was among the first women to graduate from secondary school (Abitur) in Germany. Dora Lux studied Classical Philology and History in Munich, where she also completed her doctorate. After two state examinations in Baden and Hesse, she became one of only nine women to acquire a qualification as “a fully trained, academic teacher” before 1909. Subsequently, she prepared women for the Abitur qualification in the private “advanced school courses” founded in Berlin by women’s rights activist Helene Lange, and also taught at the Lette-House. At the very start of Nazi rule in 1933, Lux – who was Jewish by origin – was dismissed for political reasons and prohibited from practising her profession. Then she began helping her husband, physicist Dr. Heinrich Lux, with his independent scientific work. After his death she moved to Southern Germany in March 1945. Even when advanced in years, Dora Lux continued to teach near Heidelberg.
Gisèle Freund (1908 – 2000) – “Faces were my passion”
She was born in Berlin-Schöneberg on 19th December 1908, the daughter of Jewish businessman and art collector Julius Freund and his wife Clara. Her middle-class upbringing promoted a love of literature and photography. In 1933 she was compelled to leave Germany due to a charge of political agitation; she fled the threat of arrest to Paris. There, she met Walter Benjamin and completed a doctorate at the Sorbonne. As yet, she had no idea that she would face so many uncertain years in emigration. On her travels through Europe and Latin America she portrayed, among others, the artist couple Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, as well as Evita Perron. Her reportage made her into a much sought-after photographer, whose picture series were exhibited all over the world. Paris remained the centre of her life, although in later years she was reconciled with her home city, Berlin.
Mary Wigmann (1886 – 1973) – “I am dance; I am the priestess of dance.”
She came to dance in a rather unusual way. Originally, she bekame a rhythm teacher under Èmile Jaques Dalcroze in Dresden-Hellerau and also worked together with Rudolf Laban on Monte Vérita near Ascona. She had never learnt classical dance – her art was that of expressive dance, with which she established modern dance theatre. She gave regular guest performances as from 1919, and in 1920 she opened a school in Dresden. After three successful tours of the USA around 1930 she became known internationally. Although she conformed initially, as from 1937 she came into conflict with the Nazi regime. In 1942 she was obliged to abandon her school in Dresden. In Leipzig she was allowed to give courses until 1945. In 1949 she opened a new studio in Berlin. The work of her older years encompassed major productions such as Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre de Printemps in Berlin, 1957.
Check out the readings and discussions with Berlin authors: Sommer im Hof (Summer in the Courtyard), and leave a Twitter comment at #stadtderfrauen.
Unless otherwise labeled, all photos by K.Sark