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22 October 2018

Willi Pape/Voo Doo (1893 - 1967) performer

Willi Pape was raised in the Berlin suburb of Spandau.  His father owned a wooden-shoe factory and his mother was a dressmaker. He had said from an early age that he did not want to be a boy, and took pleasure in female clothing, and in working with his mother as she made dresses.   

In teenage he had seen a female impersonation on the stage of a Berlin variety theatre, and very much wished to do the same. His parents had arranged for Willy to study to become an artist, and he was engaged to a young woman, Emma, whom he loved and with whom he had been intimate.  

Reading in the newspaper that a male-impersonator in Hamburg was looking for an opposite-sex partner, Willi, who was then 17, stole 300 marks from his parents and travelled to Hamburg, where firstly he purchased female clothing.  The project did not realize, and Willi further travelled to Stettin and then back to Berlin.  This was done while presenting as female, travelling in the women’s section on trains, and registering in hotels as Selma Bruegge.   Not knowing how to continue, Selma took a hotel room in Friedrichstadt and cut the arteries of her left hand.   

Pape was rescued by the hotel staff and taken to the Urban hospital.  Given the circumstances of her dress, the head physician contacted Magnus Hirschfeld, who visited on the third day after admission.  Willi confided in Hirschfeld, and also mentioned that he did not find men attractive, and could not understand that such was possible.  Hirschfeld contacted the parents, explained the situation and led them to understand that the best solution was to allow Willi to become a performer.  

Using the stage name of Voo-Doo, Pape became a Travestiekűnstler,  Pape is discussed in the Suicide chapter of Hirscheld’s Die Transvestiten as P. from Standau, and is pictured under the name of Willy Pape in Hirschfeld’s Der erotische Verkleidungstrieb (Tafel XVI), where he is described as a “highly successful Variété artist who performs as a Snake Dancer”.  

Pape actually presented himself in female clothing when summoned for military service in 1914.  
By 1918 Willi had a male lover, Emile Schmidt, but never set foot in a gay establishment until ten years after that.    

Willi became a prominent figure in Berlin’s sexual subculture.  In 1927, by which time Voo-Doo was celebrated across Europe, the lesbian magazine Die Freundin featured a photograph of Voo-Doo alongside an article about women’s fashion (fig. 5.16). The article, introduced by the magazine’s editor as an “Open Forum regarding Questions of Fashion,” launched what she hoped would be a “lively discussion regarding this timely issue.”


·         Magnus Hirschfeld translated from the German by Michael A. Lombardi-Nash. Transvestites: The Erotic Drive to Cross-Dress Prometheus Books. 1991: 316-8.
·         Magnus Hirschfeld and Max Tilke, Der erotische Verkleidungstrieb (Der Transvestiten), Illustrierter Teil (Berlin: A. Pulvermacher, 1912: Tafel XVI..
·         Anonymous, “Meinungsaustausch über Modefragen: Ein Mann über Damenmode,” Die Freundin, Jg. 4, 14, 1927: 27-28.
·         “(Photo Gerlach) Der Transvestit Voo-Doo, einer der bekanntesten internationalen Tanzsterne.” Die Freundin, Jg. 3, 4, 1927: 27.
·         Jens Dobler. Der Travestiekünstler Willy Pape alias Voo-Doo. Invertito 6, 2004:110-21.
·         Rainer Herrn. Schnittmuster des Gesch-lechts. Transvestitismus und Trans-sexualität in der frühen Sexual-wissenschaft. Giessen: Psychosozial-Verlag 2005: 76, 93. 
·         Julie Nero. Hannah Höch, Til Brugman, Lesbianism, and Weimar Sexual Subculture. PhD Thesis, Case Western Reserve University, 2013: 234-5.



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