It is well known that Paris and Berlin were sexual hotspots during the roaring 1920s. Just how wild these cities were is revealed in this new series of documentaries, Sin Cities.
The 20s in France have become known as les ann? folles or the crazy years. During this time, as one commentator in the series notes, Paris was a smorgasbord of sex. And as the series makes clear the smorgasbord included plenty of queer cuisine.
Gerturde Stein may now be synonymous with Parisian lesbians of that era but in her own day she had equally luminous rivals. Unlike the famous Stein salons at 27 Rue de Fleurus, the salons of Natalie Barney at 20 Rue Jacob are not as well remembered. Barney, another rich ex-pat American, was a very different lesbian. If Stein and her long-term lover Alice B Toklas represent an eccentric but essentially traditional lesbian married couple, Barney represents a much wilder Paris.
Barney was known for her many sex partners and girlfriends and Toklas, apparently, once said dismissively that Barney picked up her girlfriends in department store toilets. Barney built an elaborate structure at the back of her house which she called the temple of friendship and only women were allowed inside.
Americans and people from all over Europe were attracted to the freedom offered by both Paris and Berlin. An added benefit for foreigners, particularly Americans, was the relative value of their currency. Living was cheap as well as easy.
Berlin was ravaged by massive inflation and ten US dollars could literally get you anything you wanted. Poverty led to an enormous sex industry and it is estimated there were over 100,000 prostitutes active in Berlin during this time. Such oversupply led to specialisation.
One street featured prostitutes who were pregnant lined up along the street according to their stages of pregnancy. Another popular haunt showed off mother and daughter pairs dressed to match in identical costumes. Average families, it seems, turned their apartments into sex clubs.
The final episode in the three part series looks at Shanghai during the same period. Just like its European counterparts Shanghai was a beacon of sexual freedom throughout Asia, widely known as the whore of the orient.
Sin Cities screens at 10pm on SBS on 7,14,21 January.