Exhibition: Transgender and sports addiction – there was already 100 years ago

Transgender and sports addiction – there was already 100 years ago

A Bugatti racing car (Type 35 C) in the Bundeskunsthalle. photo

©Oliver Berg/dpa

The 1920s have long served as a mirror of the present. An exhibition in the Bundeskunsthalle now documents astounding parallels that have not previously been the focus of attention.

The pandemic is over, now you want to feel life again. Young people are completely obsessed with their bodies, train to the max and take photos all the time. Gender roles are increasingly being questioned, and women and men can sometimes hardly be distinguished. Typical 20s. But 1920s!

A major exhibition in the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn is now reviving the legendary decade. For Germans in particular, the “Golden Twenties” immediately conjure up a whole panorama of images: variety shows and wicked nightclubs, cosmopolitan flair and avant-garde art, Marlene Dietrich and “Der Zauberberg”. The show in Bonn – title: “1920s! In the kaleidoscope of modernity” – deliberately does not want to ride the “Babylon Berlin” wave, but also focuses on other metropolises. “The 1920s isn’t just Berlin,” says curator Agnieszka Lulinska.

“There are really parallels everywhere,” she tells the German Press Agency. Example: Pandemic. From 1918 to 1920, the Spanish flu raged and claimed the lives of up to 50 million people. The painter genius Egon Schiele was one of the victims. Edvard Munch (“The Scream”) survived, but a self-portrait from 1919 shows him aged prematurely.

fixation on the outside

Another amazing thing they have in common is an unprecedented fixation on appearance and physical fitness. Many saw self-optimization as the only way to assert oneself as an individual in the anonymous mass society. On the way to the ideal body, some succumbed to a real sports addiction.

The “boob job” – cosmetic breast surgery – was already widespread. The cosmetic surgeries had developed from the treatment of severely disfigured World War veterans. After the doctors were through with that, they opened up a new market and offered aesthetic surgery to the higher earners. “Nose, ears, breasts, bottom – everything was done,” said Lulinska. Movable prostheses for the lost hands and feet, arms and legs of thousands of war invalids sparked an interest in machine people that carried over into art and film. The thought behind it: Both merge for a better world.

Women cut their hair

The 1920s brought perhaps the greatest changes for women. “It really is the decade of the woman,” enthuses Lulinska. “The woman smokes, the woman drives, the woman boxes.” The “working girl” became the addressee of car and cigarette advertising and provoked the male world with androgynous chic. The short haircut invented in Paris, which became known as “Bubikopf” in Germany, initiated a revolution. Lulinska: “There’s a court file from Paris where a man is suing his wife because she cut off her hair. That’s no longer the woman he married. And the court agreed with him.”

At least in the big cities, many people developed a freer attitude towards sexuality at that time. In Berlin, a contact point for people of all genders was established with the world’s first institute for sexology. Transgender pioneer Einar Wegener even underwent sex reassignment surgery and was given a new passport by the Danish authorities under the name “Lili Elbe”. She died in Dresden after the fourth operation led to complications.

The drug of the times

Drugs also played a major role. “Cocaine is the drug of the moment,” says Lulinska. During the war, drugs had stimulated soldiers before battle and made them momentarily forget the misery of the trenches. The survivors took the drugs with them into civilian life.

All of this was accompanied by an overwhelming flood of images. Because the advent of the 35mm camera established the omnipresence of photography in the public sphere. The many new technologies were not only exciting – many people also felt insecure about them. In search of simple answers, they turned to political extremes – it was the beginning of the end of the “Roaring Twenties”.


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