In 1907, Berlin was the fourth biggest city in the world:1Source: Wer ist Wer?, 1908
Two legendary institutions, the Adlon Hotel close to the Brandenburg Gate, and the “KaDeWe” (short for the Kaufhaus des Westens department store), opened their doors for the first time. Traffic at Potsdamer Platz was acknowledged to be a problem; by the 1920s it would be called the busiest intersection in the world. The Weinhaus Reingold restaurant complex, located where the Sony Center is today on Potsdamer Platz, opened in February; it could accommodate 4000 diners at a time.
Sex and Modern Society
The journalist Maximilian Harden published salacious rumors about a circle of friends close to the Kaiser, in particular the close relationship between Count Kuno von Moltke and Prince Philipp of Eulenberg, two of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s most trusted friends and advisors. Moltke sued him for slander, and Harden was put on trial in October. By the time developments in the scandal came to an end in 1908, the definition and nature of homosexuality had become an issue that was publicly discussed. As Harry Graf Kessler reported in his diary in November of 1907: “Even little girls on the tram are discussing homosexuality.”
That the Moltke-Harden trial was considered a symptom of decadent times is evidenced by an advertisement in the October 27 Berliner Tageblatt. The case is described as having “roused a huge sensation and revealed situations that one would have never imagined. It shows how widely common nervousness (and) neuraesthenia are in the highest circles of society.” This outrageous, perhaps tongue-in-cheek ad uses the trial as an occasion to sell the “Visnervin” tonic, which is described as the cure for malnourished nerves. The other prominent words in the ad play on the headlines about the case: “sentenced” (verurteilt) “terrible consequences” (schlimme Folgen) and “our times” (Unsere Zeit). The symptoms of this malady are infinite: “Every “Nervöse” is sentenced to dullness, weariness, irritability, and sensitivity to noise, headaches, memory lapses, sleeplessness, anxiety, insecurity in speaking, nervous trembling, eye twitches; in short, with infinitely many complaints.”
The ad explains that the stress of modern life causes the depletion of the substance that nourishes the nerves. “Exactly the way you get hungry when you don’t eat enough, your nerve system is hungry for nerve nourishment! You can’t work with a hungry stomach and with weakened nerves you can’t think!” To find out exactly how this cure works, the reader is instructed to send a postcard immediately in order to receive a scientific pamphlet free of charge, along with a generous sample of “Visnervin.”
Taking a more intellectual view of the problems of modern society, that November the feminists Lily Braun and Helene Stöcker both gave a series of lectures on the institution of marriage. Also in November, Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld spoke at the Philharmonic about “Sexualwissenschaft” and “homosexuality.” Hirschfeld had recently served as an expert witness at the Moltke-Harden trial. Harden himself gave a lecture that month. The sociologist Werner Sombart gave a series of four talks, also at the Philharmonic, on “the foundation of modern culture,” “the birth of the masses,” “the intellectual and artistic culture of today,” and “culture and personality.” The natural scientist Wilhelm Bölsche lectured on the origins of man at the Singakademie. Heinrich Mann, Frank Wedekind, Georg Simmel, and Henry van de Velde all gave talks at the end of 1907.