Anita Berber: dancer and actress, prostitute and drug addict, lost girl and wild woman.
She was born June 10, 1899, the daughter of musician Felix Berber and cabaret singer Lucie Thiem. Her parents divorced in 1902 due to "irreconcilable differences," and Anita for much of the next few years lived with her grandmother. She studied both drama and ballet, and made her first public appearance as a dancer in 1916 at Bluethner Hall. Three years later the same venue would see her first solo dance performance. In 1918, she made the first of several film appearances, in Das Dreimäderlhaus (The Three Girls). She would continue to find work in film, and take her dancing to Weimar Berlin's infamous cabarets.
Her scandalous personal life began innocuously enough with her marriage in 1919 to the artist Eberhard von Nathusius. When they separated in 1922, Anita began an open affair with lesbian club owner Susi Wanowsky, but she also became involved with Sebastian Droste, whom she married in 1923. During their brief marriage, they published a book of poetry together. He left her a year later, and she almost immediately married Henri Chátin Hoffman.
During these years Berber began to drink heavily, and to use both morphine and cocaine. She helped support her expensive habits with casual prostitution, though she worked regularly in film and on the cabaret stage. She quickly became a figure of note, celebrated and reviled as the "Dancer of Vice." Berber brought sophisticated choreography to nude dancing, and also raised the standard for outrageous personal behaviour. On at least one occasion, she urinated into the drink of a customer who gave insufficient attention to her act. She would respond to her audience's applause by telling them to remain calm; she would eventually sleep with them all.
Frequently photographed, Anita also served as the model for Otto Dix's "Portrait of a Lady in Red" (1925). She appeared in many films, and had an interest in the German Expressionism which influenced the directors of the era. Her filmography includes:
Ein Walzer von Strauß (1925)
Tänze des Grauens (Moderne Tänze, Modern Dance(1923) (documentary)
Irrlichter der Tiefe (1923)
Wien, du Stadt der Lieder (Vienna, City of Song) (1923)
Lucrezia Borgia (1922)
Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (Dr. Mabuse, King of Crime)(1922)
Die vom Zirkus (aka Die Zirkusdiva) (1922)
Die Drei Marien und der Herr von Marana (1922)
Die Goldene Pest (1921)
Die Nacht der Mary Murton (1921)
Der Graf von Cagliostro (The Count of Cagliostro) (1921)
Verfehltes Leben (1921)
Der Falschspieler (1920)
Der Schädel der Pharaonentochter(1920)
Nachtgestalten (Eleagable Kuperus,
Figures of the Night)(1920)
Unheimliche Geschichten (1919) (Eerie Tales,
Five Sinister Stories,
Tales of Horror,
Tales of the Uncanny,
Anders als die Andern (Different from the Others) (1919)
Peer Gynt (1919)
Die Reise um die Erde in 80 Tagen (Around the World in 80 Days)(1919)
Prostitution (Das Gelbe Haus,
Im Sumpfe der Großstadt(1919)
Dida Ibsens Geschichte (The Story of Dida Ibsen) (1918)
Das Dreimäderlhaus (The Three Girls) (1918)
At some point she developed tuberculosis. Despite her health problems, she went on a tour of nightclubs in Greece, Egypt, and points east in 1928. She collapsed on stage in Damascus in July, and returned to Berlin. She did not last the year. Anita Berber died November 10, 1928 in a hospital room filled with empty syringes and icons of the Virgin Mary. She was not yet thirty.
According to one witness to her funeral, "prominent film directors marched beside the whores of Friedrichstrasse, young male hookers with hermaphrodites from the El Dorado, famous artists next to barmen, men in top hats beside the most famous transvestites of Berlin](quoted in Richie). Her burial became a public function, a farewell to the local saint of whoredom; the Weimar Republic and Berlin's wild days would not last much longer.
Her grave apparently no longer exists.
To this day, Anita Berber inspires and shocks. Rosa Von Praunheim's excellent 1987 film Anita and the Dances of Vice (written by Marianne Enzensberger and Lotti Huber) examines her life in flashback through its main character, a disturbed elderly woman who claims to be Berber. In 1994, Nina Hagen and others collaborated on a piece of erotic theatre, The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber, which played San Francisco. And to those with an interest in history's wild parties, she exemplifies, in the words of historian Alexandra Richie, Weimar Berlin, in both its "energy and its superficiality" (361).
Anita Berber Archiv http://www.anita-berber.de/
"Anita Berber." http://www.steffi-line.de/archiv_text/nost_buehne/02b_berber.htm
"Anita Berber." Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0073318/
Anton Gill. A Dance Between the Flames: Berlin Between the Wars. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1993
Ted Remerowski and Marrin Canell. "Berlin: Metropolis of Vice." Legendary Sin Cities. CBC. First broadcast Tuesday February 8, 2005.
Alexandra Richie. Faust's Metropolis: A History of Berlin. New York: Carroll and Graf, 1998.
David Steinberg. "Comes Naturally #20." Spectator Magazine. April 29, 1994. http://www.sexuality.org/l/davids/cn20.html