Jun 20, 2018

Summer 1981: Male Nudity in German Class

After the 1978 of Grease, my favorite Boomer summer was the summer of 1981. I went to an Italian Film Festival, moved into my own apartment, learned about the Canterbury Tales and the Beat Generation, and saw a dozen movies: Clash of the Titans, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Wolfen, Arthur, American Werewolf in London, Hell Night, The Chosen.  Not to mention TV: One Day at a Time, Alice, Taxi, Soap, Barney Miller. And  subtext songs on the radio.

Every morning I worked in the college library, checking out books and scouring the shelves for works that my American, British, and French literature professors left out. Everyafternoon, I took summer school classes: Chaucer in June-July and Culture and Civilization of Modern Germany in July-August.

When I took Introduction to German Literature a few months before, Dr. Weber tried hard to prove that Death in Venice had nothing to do with gay people.  But now the gloves were off: Homosexualität 'absolutely, emphatically, did not exist in 20th century Germany.

Photographer Wilhelm van Gloeden (1856-1931) moved to Taormina,, Sicily, where he specialized in placing local men and boys in classical settings with pillars and laurel leaves, usually nude, channeling the homoerotic glory of ancient Rome. According to Dr. Weber, he was trying to evoke the military might of ancient Rome as a model for Germany's future. No Homosexualität 

What about Stefan George (1868-1933), who became obsessed with an adolescent named Maximilian Kronberger?   When the boy died of meningitis on the day after his sixteenth birthday in 1904, George wrote a series of poems, The Seventh Ring (1907)which described their encounter as that of a mortal meeting a god (in Dante's Inferno, the seventh "ring" of hell  is inhabited by sodomites).  Eventually the "Cult of Maximin" drew a circle of gay artists and writers.

According to Dr. Weber, Maximin represented the symbolist quest for beauty for its own sake.  No Homosexualität 

What about the physical culture movement, a celebration of the male body, often nude, a fascination with gymnastics, boxing, and track and field, arguably the origin of modern athletics?  (Franz Kafka, author of The Metamorphosis, was a devotee).

Dr. Weber: the glorification of male bodies was a remedy to the feminization of German culture among the symbolists.  No Homosexualität 

At least he Said the Word several times.

He positively refused to discuss the gay symbolism of Steppenwolf, by Herman Hesse, or Der Eigene, the first gay magazine in the world, published from 1896 to 1932.  An offshoot of the physical culture movement, it had over 1500 subscribers and contributors like Thomas Mann and Wilhelm von Gloeden.

See also: The Gay Werewolf of Steppenwolf; and Death in Venice.


  1. The physical culture movement itself. Hirschfeld. Yeah, the idea that Homosexualität did not exist in Germany is pretty ridiculous: Even pink triangles were originally how Nazis coded homosexuals. (Gay Jews got a pink downward-pointing triangle over a yellow upward-pointing triangle.)

  2. By the way, on Mac, alt+U is the umlaut, and you would then hit the letter in question. On phones, you just hold the letter until a group of diacritics show up.

    Windows uses alt codes. The Random Number God only knows why.

    1. I have a PC, so diacritical marks are hard to do. I usually search for the word online, and cut and paste it in. Or don't bother with it.

  3. are you familiar with the gay scandals of the 2nd reich, Wilhelm 2 era? younger krupp in sicily (i think it was sicily, it was definitely in italy), & (separately) the german general who died in a pink ballet tutu after performing a drag routine for the kaiser? & Redl in austria-hungary?

    1. I read about the Redl scandal, but not a drag routine for the Kaiser.

  4. btw; von gloeden had some interesting companions, & was one of a circle of male nude photographers in italy @ the time. probably he was the most "respectable" of them (& the most technically-minded/ambitious). sorry for going on, should have put that in the 1st comment, but there's no way to go back & edit it.


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