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29 August 2022

Albin Pleva (1912 - 194?) dancer

 Albin Pleva was a travelling travesti dancer, who occasionally supplemented her income by some sex work.  She was arrested by the Czech authorities subservient to the Nazi occupation for being "irredeemable" and was interned at a concentration camp, a huge pig farm at Lety.  

There is no further information about her, and so it is assumed that she died there.

  • Jan Seidl.  "Legal Imbroglio in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia" in Régis Schlagdenhauffen (ed) Queer in Europe During the Second World War.  Council of Europe, 2018: 59.
  • "Homosexuel.le.s en Europe Pendant la Seconde Guerre Mondiale". Mémoire des sexualités.   Online.
  • "Albín Pleva, imitátor žen, 30. léta".     Online.  

26 August 2022

Gerd Kubbe (1887 - ) from concentration camp to legal name change

Kubbe had had a Transvestitenschein in the Weimer Republic, but it was withdrawn in 1933 after the National Socialist takeover. He continued to live and work as male until 24 January 1938 when  "on the basis of § 1 of the Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of the People and the State of 28 February 1933” he was arrested.  In justification the charge stated:

“Kubbe has been convicted of wearing men's clothing in public till recently, although her permission to do so was withdrawn in 1933. Her behaviour directly endangered public safety and order. Signed:  Heydrich.” [DeepL translation].  

Kubbe was incarcerated in the Lichtenburg Concentration Camp, which was housed in a castle in Prettin, in Saxony-Anhalt, and had been converted to a camp for women in late 1937.  However Kubbe was released on 12 October that same year, with a temporary permit: 

“She was granted permission to wear men's clothing, which is hereby certified to her for identification with authorities on a temporary basis until an official permit is issued by the Berlin Gestapa. Kubbe is instructed to have this permit, issued on the basis of medical reports, shown to Gestapa Department II D immediately after her arrival in Berlin and to hand over this certificate to the aforementioned office for the purpose of confiscation. (DeepL)”  

This was followed by a letter six days later from the Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo) to the Berlin Police Head Quarters:  

“By order of the Reichsführer-SS and Chief of the German Police, the person named in the reference has been granted permission to wear men's clothing under the condition that she may not go to public places of need, baths and the like in men's clothing. Kubbe has received a corresponding certificate from here. I request that the local police stations in question be informed.(DeepL)”.  

On the rear of the letter it was noted that a corresponding note should be added to Kubb’s registration card.  On 25 November 1938, Kubbe was given permission, in addition to the Transvestitenschein, to take a gender-neutral first name - also to be documented on the registration card. 

“By decree of 1 November 1938 [...] the Reich Minister of the Interior approved that the transvestite, Erna, Anna, Marie Kubbe in Berlin, born on 5.5.1887 in Berlin, use the first name Gerd instead of the previous first names.”

In addition police surveillance was ordered and continued until 25 February 1939.  Kubbe's behaviour was found to be impeccable.


  • Rainer Herrn. Schnittmuster des Geschlechts: Transvestitismus und Transsexualität in der frühen Sexualwissenschaft. Psychosozial—Verlag, 2005: 162-3.
  • Rainer Herrn. “Transvestitismus in der NS-Zeit – Ein Forschungsdesiderat”. Zeitung fuer Sexualforschung 2013; 26; 357-8. 

Gestapa is an office of the Gestapo.

Kubbe was prohibited from going to "public places of need (toilets), baths and the like in men's clothing" - that is to places that it is assumed where gay men would be found.

One problem with transitioning to male during wartime is that one may be conscripted and sent to fight.  However none of the trans men in the Third Reich seem to have run into that problem.

22 August 2022

Christopher Isherwood, the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft and trans women.

Christopher Isherwood, the English author of  Mr Norris Changes Trains (1935) and Goodbye to Berlin (1939), lived in the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft November 1929 - October 1930.

The  Institut für Sexualwissenschaft was located at In den Zelten 9a and 10, then on the edge of the Tiergarten park, and only a short distance from the Reichstag.   'In den Zelten' means 'in the tents' and refers to 18th century restrictions on vendors who were permitted in tents but not permanent buildings.  By the early 20th century the street was built up, was fashionable, and artists, writers and musicians lived nearby.   The street was badly damaged in WWII and was eliminated in the 1950s when the Tiergarten was expanded.

A somewhat inaccurate plaque at Nollendorfstraße 17

Isherwood then lived at Nollendorfstraße 17, December 1930 - January 1933, on the opposite side of the street, only a few houses away from 24 where Toni Ebel and Charlotte Charlaque resided.  

There is no record that Isherwood ever met either Charlotte or Toni in the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft nor on Nollendorfstraße.

Nollendorfstraße was just round the corner from Nollendorfplatz, a major intersection with a U-Bahn station. 

East from Nollendorfplatz runs Bülowstraße.   The Café Dorian Gray, a queer club was at Bülowstraße 57.  Lotte Hahm's Violetta club was at  Bülowstraße 37.

One street north of Nollendorfstraße was Motzstraße 15, where the Eldorado, Berlin's best-known trans nightclub had opened early in 1928.

Jean Ross (1911-1973) a lifelong feminist, Communist, war correspondent for both the right wing Daily Express and for the Comintern, actress, film critic, anti-fascist, film writer and more, lived on Bülowstraße, but at other times at Nollendorfstraße 17.  Isherwood knew her and based his fictional character Sally Bowles on her.   However she objected to being represented by an apolitical, non-feminist 'vulgar vamp', especially as portrayed by Liza Minnelli in the 1972 film of Cabaret.

Nollendorfstraße 17 today.  Nr 24 did not survive the bombing in WWII

It was a  3 km or 40 minute walk from the  Institut für Sexualwissenschaft to Nollendorfstraße.

In Isherwood's Christopher and his Kind, 1976, Isherwood writes:

"Dr. Hirschfeld seldom ate with them. He was represented by Karl Giese, his secretary and long-time lover. Also present were the doctors of the staff and the patients or guests, whichever you chose to call them, hiding their individual problems behind silence or polite table chatter, according to their temperaments. I remember the shock with which Christopher first realized that one of the apparently female guests was a man. He had pictured transvestites as loud, screaming, willfully unnatural creatures. This one seemed as quietly natural as an animal and his disguise was accepted by everyone else as a matter of course. Christopher had been telling himself that he had rejected respectability and that he now regarded it with amused contempt. But the Hirschfeld kind of respectability disturbed his latent puritanism. During those early days, he found lunch at the Institute a bit uncanny." (p15).

"Then, one afternoon, André Gide paid them a visit. He was taken on a tour of the premises personally conducted by Hirschfeld. Live exhibits were introduced, with such comments as: “Intergrade. Third Division.” One of these was a young man who opened his shirt with a modest smile to display two perfectly formed female breasts. Gide looked on, making a minimum of polite comment, judiciously fingering his chin." (p17)

 "During the Christmas season, a great costume ball was held in one of the dance halls of In den Zelten: a ball for men. Many of them wore female clothes. There was a famous character who had inherited a whole wardrobe of beautiful family ball gowns, seventy or eighty years old. These he was wearing out at the rate of one a year.  At each ball, he encouraged his friends to rip his gown off his body in handfuls until he had nothing but a few rags to return home in." (p33)

That is it.  The only mentions of trans persons in Isherwood's Christopher and his kind.

There is an interesting little snippet in Churton's The Beast in Berlin, p315:

"By way of contrast, [Aleister] Crowley had tea with "Christopher" (Isherwood) on 5 February (the diary's use of Christian name alone suggests Crowley must have liked him) in the company of Fanny, whose real name we discover, was Peter." 

Actually Fanny, a young trans woman. was one of Crowley's several lovers. 

Trans persons are also mainly not mentioned in Mr Norris Changes Trains (1935) and Goodbye to Berlin. Except as Norman Page discusses re the ending of the latter:

"The concluding section of Goodbye to Berlin offers not sequential narrative but a series of vignettes drawn from Isherwood's last winter in Berlin, and here he comes closer than ever before - though still not very close - to candour concerning his own sexuality and lifestyle. With a friend he goes on a tour of what are noncommittally referred to as `the dives' but which are plainly gay, lesbian and transvestite bars: 

It was to be in the nature of a farewell visit, for the Police have begun to take a great interest in these places. They are frequently raided, and the names of their clients are written down. There is even talk of a general Berlin clean-up. 

There is an unusually vivid snapshot of the grotesque glitz of  contemporary Berlin nightlife (`a young man in a spangled crinoline and jewelled breast-caps' painfully does the splits), its outrageousness magnified through the eyes of an American tourist: 

`Say,' he asked Fritz, `what's on here?' 

`Men dressed as women,' Fritz grinned. 

The little American simply couldn't believe it. `Men dressed as women? As women hey? Do you mean they're queer?' 

`Eventually we're all queer,' drawled Fritz solemnly . . . . 

`You queer, too, hey?' demanded the little American, turning suddenly on me. 

`Yes,' I said, `very queer indeed.'

                                                                                        (Page p203, Isherwood p 190)


 There were many interesting life stories going on around Isherwood, but he either was not aware, or chose not to retell them.

  • Christopher Isherwood.  Goodbye to Berlin.  Penguin Books, 1945.
  • Christopher Isherwood.  Christopher and His Kind, 1929 - 1939. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976. 
  • Norman Page.  Auden and Isherwood: The Berlin Years.  St martin's Press. 1998.
  • Tobias Churton.  Aleister Crowley The Beast in Berlin: Art, Sex, and Magick in the Weimar Republic. Inner Traditions, 2014

19 August 2022

Toni Ebel (1881 – 1961) artist.

++Original January 2015; revised February 2022, to incorporate information about Charlotte Charlaque, and August 2022 to incorporate more information from Wolfert's book.

Hugo Otto Arno Ebel was raised in Berlin, the eldest of eleven children, of a merchant and his wife.  The child was noticed for being 'girlish' and for liking domestic work.  After secondary school, Arno completed apprenticeships first as a merchant and then as a decorator, but lacked aptitude in both cases.  At age 19 Ebel bought a wig and some female clothes.  However the parents discovered them, and they ended up in the fire.

A year or so later Ebel had an affair with a man.  This was taken to be homosexuality, and consequent arguments with father and brothers led to Ebel leaving home.  After some travel in Germany, Austria and Italy, Ebel worked, as a woman, in a women's dress shop while studying painting in Munich. She then travelled abroad with an older man, an American by birth, who kept her for a few years. Afterwards Ebel travelled alone through Italy, Spain, France and North Africa, but returned to Germany around 1908, and had reverted to being male  It is said that, as 'Arno Ehe', Ebel joined the circle of noted artist Käthe Kollwitz, and produced paintings that were noted.

Arno met Olga Boralewski (1873-1928).  They married in 1911 and had a son – however Arno was not comfortable in this role and attempted suicide several times, and once was admitted to a mental asylum. He was able to cross-dress only in private. Arno Ebel was drafted into the Army in 1916,  and at the 2nd Battle of Champagne (25 September - 6 November 1915), was ambushed and finally suffered a severe nervous breakdown, and thereupon was assigned to a reserve hospital before being discharged with a 30 per cent pension. 

After the war Ebel was recognised as "severely disabled" and obtained a position as a draughtsman in a Berlin electricity firm.   Ebel became involved with the workers' movement, painted and made a living as a commercial artist.  In 1925 Ebel joined the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD). However Olga Ebel became seriously ill and bedridden, and Toni was left to care for her.  At home, Toni put on women's clothes, cooked the food, looked after the wife, cleaned the flat and did the laundry.

Olga died in January 1928. Ebel, despite another nervous breakdown, became Toni again. Trans woman Charlotte Charlaque introduced Toni to Magnus Hirschfeld, and Toni was assessed by Felix Abraham who had replaced Arthur Kronfeld as the transvestism specialist at the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft:

"The case of A. E., painter, born 10 November 1881 in Berlin. The patient was referred to me (at first he came in male clothes) because from his youth he has been inclined to wear female clothes; moreover, he felt completely female and consequently wanted to take a female name. The patient was 47 years old at the first consultation. He was outwardly very agitated, but this calmed down and almost disappeared when, at my request, he came to the next consultation in female clothing. He then confessed to me that he felt so uncomfortable in male clothing that the result was a physical and nervous agitation which gave way to absolute calm when he put on female clothing. His aversion to men's clothing is so great that he had only one suit, which, moreover, was in very poor condition." (1931, last page of Transvestitisme chapter)

Abraham wrote an expert opinion so that Toni was able to obtain a Transvestitenschein in spring 1928 so that she could be a woman in public.  Toni made a formal application for a legal name change - but it was not approved until 1929. The five surgeries by Drs Erwin Gohrbandt, Felix Abraham and Ludwig L. Lenz took only two years (compared to the seven years for Dörchen Richter) and were complete in 1931.  Felix Abraham wrote up an account of the operations on Dora and Toni for the Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft und Sexualpolitik, where he referred to Toni as "Arno (Toni) E." .

From 1930-32 Toni lived in the basement and supplemented the domestic staff at the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft as she was too poor to pay for treatment.  She was paid 24 Reichsmarks a month, plus room and board.

She did sell some paintings and donated others to the Institut.  Adelheid Schulz (1909-2008) then 19,  who had just become housekeeper at the Institute,  paid twelve Reichsmarks for a painting by Toni Ebel that reminded her of her mother - more than half her weekly wage. Hirschfeld and Ludwig Levy-Lenz also bought paintings from her. 

Surgeon Ludwig Levy-Lenz wrote of the trans maids at the Institut: 
"I will never forget the sight that met my eyes when I was once whisked away to the kitchen of the house after work: there the five 'girls' sat knitting and sewing peacefully next to each other and singing old folk songs together. Anyway, they were the best, most diligent and most conscientious household staff we have ever had. Never once did a stranger who visited us notice." 

The French doctor, Pierre Najac, who did an internship at the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, wrote about Charlotte and Toni.   

Toni lived awhile at Wolliner Straße 47 in Berlin-Mitte. But because Charlotte Charlaque was called a Jew by the neighbours when she came to visit, Ebel moved in with her in Berlin-Schöneberg. The Swedish journalist Ragnar Ahlstedt visited them at their flat at Nollendorfstraße 24, and wrote about them in his Män som blivit kvinnor, 1933. They lived cheaply: Charlotte said that she was an actress and Toni was able to sell some paintings and drawings.  Ahlstedt incorrectly claimed that after the death of Lili Elbe "Frau Toni" and "Fräulein Lola" (Charlotte) were "the only operated transvestites in the whole of Europe" („die einzigen operierten Transvestiten in ganz Europa").

Toni and Charlotte had become lovers, although both spoke about men-friends when the topic came up.  In August 1932 Toni - using the pseudonym 'Wally E.' - was interviewed by a journalist L. Rhan for Das 12-Uhr-Blatt which was printed under the headline: "Conversation with a woman who was once a man".  There was also an anonymous article in  Die Geburtenregelung titled "Surgical transformation of men into women succeeded" ( "Operative Umwandlung von Männern in Frauen gelungen"), which discussed Dora, Toni and Charlotte.  

6 November 1932:  Federal election: the NSDAP (Nazi Party) won 196 seats out of 584 and became the largest party.

30 January 1933:  New Cabinet sworn in, with Adolf Hitler as Chancellor.  Hermann Goering ordered the closure of the queer bars.

In Lothar Golte's 1933 Austrian film, Mysterium des Geschlechts, advertised as a "foray through the night life of sexual abnormals" two medical students, one male, one female, learn about "most interesting questions of sexology" and fall in love in the process. This is intercut with documentary sequences which show sex reassignment surgery and transplants of animal testicles and explanations about abortion and contraception. Toni, Charlotte and Dora Richter can be seen in the sex-change scenes which are presumably film archives from Institut für Sexualwissenschaft.  The premiere was in Vienna 27 April 1933, but due to massive protests it was removed by police intervention after only a few days. In Germany, it was not even shown in public, as it was banned by the censors.

A couple of  trans women were associating with Charlotte and Toni at their flat: Fritz, the nephew of a German-American writer, and Felicitas, who as Felix had worked as a police officer.   In the March 1933 elections, following the Reischstag fire, Toni voted for the Communist Party (KPD), but the NSDAP (Nazi) got the most seats and that was the last multi-party election until 1945.  

10 May: The library and archives of the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft were publicly hauled out and burned in the streets of the Opernplatz.  Between 12,000 to 20,000 books and journals, and an even larger number of images and sex objects, were destroyed.  This included paintings by Toni Ebel. 

Toni had converted to Charlotte's Jewish faith.   Toni was warned that they were under surveillance, and in 1934, with the help of the Berlin Jewish community, Toni and Charlotte fled to Czechoslovakia.  They settled in Karlsbad/Karlovy Vary where Toni painted pictures for spa guests and Charlotte gave English and French lessons. Toni still received her war pension from the Reichsversicherungsanstalt and life in Czechoslovakia was comparatively cheap, they were able to live in relative peace for a while.

Late Summer 1934 they moved to Prague where they made contact with the "Emigrants Committee" of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), but the city was swarming with German emigrants and they returned to Karlovy Vary.   In November 1936  they moved on to Brünn/Brno.  Toni was  using the professional name of Antonia Ebelová.    There, they were in contact with Karl Giese, Hirschfeld’s lover and archivist at the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft,  who had fled to Brno after being expelled from France for the wrong kind of sexual activity.  He had been bequeathed considerable money from Hirschfeld's estate, but was depressed and after the Anschluss, the German occupation of Austria 16 March 1938, he took his own life. 

The Wehrmacht occupied Czechoslovakia and established the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in the spring of 1939.  Toni's German passport had expired and they were to report to the police every fortnight.  Their accommodation was searched and they were advised to leave.  However an employee of the German Consulate was taking English lessons from Charlotte, and he was able to arrange a new passport for Toni at the end of 1938.  It was initially valid for one year only, but was later extended until 1943.   Toni was designated therein as Protestant, which given the circumstances she let stand.  

In March 1939 they returned to Prague which they saw as more "Czech" and less "German" than Brno.  They found a flat at Velkoprevorské nämésti 7, and aided Jews with English and documents needed for emigration. 

Portrait by Josef Brück, 1952.

In March 1942 Charlotte was arrested by the Czechoslovak Aliens Police and jailed for being a Jew. Toni managed to persuade the Swiss consul that Charlotte was a US citizen.  Charlotte was interned and then deported to New York via Lisbon.  They continued to correspond, but apparently never met again.

Toni was summoned by the Gestapo several times in 1943-4, but was not arrested.  However after the war in Europe ended, VE Day, 7 May 1945, Toni like other Germans in Czechoslovakia had to leave the country, leaving her belongings behind. Toni was taken to the German border, walked from there to Cottbus and finally got permission to travel to Berlin on a coal train. On the way she had to beg. On 22 June 1945, she reached Berlin. By this time the Opfer des Faschismus (OdF - Victims of Fascism) was beginning to be organised, and Toni was one of the first victims to be recognised.    Later she was able to claim compensation from the German Democratic Republic. 

She rebuilt her life as an artist.  From around the mid-1950s, she lived in a studio flat on Strausberger Platz (Friedrichshain), and it was here that she also received a visit at least once from Adelheid Schulz, who had been housekeeper at the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft.

Portrait by Rudolph Kramer

Charlotte and Toni corresponded after 1945, but they never met again. 

She was recognized at the Akademie der Künste in East Berlin.  In articles about her in the East German press on the occasion of her birthdays or her exhibitions, she was often described as a spirited woman who was "mischievous" and "tomboyish" - and spoke in a deep voice. Her femininity was never questioned.

She died at age 80.

  • Felix Abraham. "Genitalumwandlungen an zwei männlichen Transvestiten". Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft und Sexualpolitik, 18, 1931: 223-226. Translated as "Genital Reassignment on Two Male Transvestites". The International Journal of Transgenderism, 2,1, Jan-March 1998. Archive.
  • Félix  Abraham, translated by Pierre Vachet. Les perversions sexuelles. Romainville (Seine): impr. Tessier, 1931: the last page of the Transvestitisme chapter. 
  • Pierre Najac.  "L'Institute de la Science Sexuelle à Berlin" in Janine Merlet.  Venus et Mercure.  Editions de la Vie Modern, 1931: 165-192. 
  • L. Rhan.  "Gesprach mit riner Frau, die einmal ein Mann war". Das 12-Uhr-Blatt, 2.8.1932. 
  • Ragnar Ahlstedt. Män som blivit kvinnor. Två fall av könsväxling på operative väg. En study of transvestitism. Tranås: mountain, 1933.
  • Anon. "Operative Umwandlung von Männern in Frauen gelungen. Die Erfahrungen aus drei Berliner Fällen".  Die Geburtenregelung,1, 4, 1933: 33.
  • F. E. "Das Portrait, Toni Ebel".  Berliner Zeitung, 19.1.1952: 16.
  • Ludwig Levy-Lenz.  Diskretes und Indiskretes: Erinnerungen eines Sexualarztes.  Wissen & Fortschritt, 1953: 204. 
  • Sander L. Gilman. Making the Body Beautiful: A Cultural History of Aesthetic Surgery. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999: 276.
  • Rainer Herrn. Schnittmuster des Geschlechts. Transvestitismus und Transsexualität in der frühen Sexualwissenschaft. Giessen: Psychosozial-Verlag 2005: 203-4.
  • Ralf Dose. "Ralf Dose, Magnus Hirschfeld Gesellschaft, Berlin, Germany: Thirty Years of Collecting Our History - Or: How to Find Treasure Troves". LGBTI ALMS 2012: The Future of LGBTI Histories, 2012.06/18.
  • Julie Nero. Hannah Höch, Til Brugman, Lesbianism, and Weimar Sexual Subculture. PhD Thesis, Department of Art History and Art, Case Western Reserve University, 2013: 269. PDF.
  • Ralf Dose. Magnus Hirschfeld: The Origins of the Gay Liberation Movement. 2014: 55.
  • Přehled Historických Událostí Vztahujících Se K Tématu. (Overview historical events related to the topic) [Czechoslovakian Artists]:101. PDF.
  • Raimund Wolfert. “ ‘Sage, Toni, denkt man so bei euch drüben?’ Auf den Spuren von Curt Scharlach alias Charlotte Charlaque (1892 -?) und Toni Ebel (1881-1961)”. Lesbengeschichte, 3/2015. Online. And also at   Online.
  • Raimund Wolfert. Charlotte Charlaque: Transfrau, Laienschauspielerin, „Königin der Brooklyn Heights Promenade“. Hentrich & Hentrich, 2021: 59-62.
Kunst in der DDR      Deutsche Digitale Bibiothek      DE.Wikipedia     

Wolfert says "To all appearances, Olga was suffering from syphilis" (Allem Anschein nach litt Olga an der Syphilis).   But says no more.  There is no mention of Toni being syphilitic.   Did Toni bring it from a previous relationship? Did Olga bring it from a previous marriage?  Olga was 38 when she entered this marriage - it is very likely that she had a previous marriage.  If Olga was in the latent and then tertiary stages, she may not have been infectious, but her son may have had congenital syphilis. 

In any case there is no information about what happened to the son.

Neither the Gestapo nor the Statsi nor the East German press nor the West German Press seems to have questioned Toni's femininity.

The document on Czechoslovak artists is not sure whether Toni was Jewish or Protestant.  

The French for the paragraph from Felix Abraham's book:
"Voici le cas de A. E., artiste peintre, né le 10 novembre 1881 à Berlin. Le malade vient chez moi (en costume masculin) pour avoir eu dès sa jeunesse un penchant à porter le costume féminin; d’ailleurs il se sent complètement femme et veut, en conséquence, prendre un nom de femme. Le malade a 47 ans à la première consultation. 11 présentait extérieurement une agitation très forte qui se calma et n’existait presque plus quand, sur ma demande, il vint àla consultation suivante en costume féminin. 11 m’avoua alors qu’en costume masculin il se sent si mal à son aise que le résultat en est une agitation corporelle et nerveuse qui fait place à un calme absolu quand il revêt un costume féminin. Son aversmn contre le vêtement masculin est si grande qu’il ne possède qu’un seul complet qui, d’ailleurs, est en très mauvais état."

The German  for the quote from Ludwig Levy-Lenz:

" ich werde den Anblick nie vergessen, der sich mir bot, als ich einmal nach Feierabend in die Küche des Hauses verschlagen wurde: da saßen die fünf ,Mädchen‘ strickend und nähend friedlich nebeneinander und sangen gemeinsam alte Volkslieder. Jedenfalls war es das beste, fleißigste und gewissenhafteste Hauspersonal, das wir je gehabt haben. Niemals hat ein Fremder, der uns besuchte, etwas davon gemerkt."

14 August 2022

Berthold Buttgereit (1891 - 1983) bookkeeper

Buttgereit was born and raised in Berlin, a tomboy who grew up to be a trans man. In 1912, at the age of 21, Buttgereit approached Magnus Hirschfeld and with an expert opinion from Hirschfeld and the neurologist Ernst Burchard was able to obtain a Transvestitenschein from the Berlin police. 

He lived with a woman who was in all but name his wife. In 1918 the Buttgereits moved to Cologne and he obtained a Transvestitenschein from the police there. 

His Transvestitenschein

The next year he attempted to legally change his first name to Berthold, and obtained new expert opinions from the Berlin physicians Ernst Burchard and F. Lehmann. A year later, September 1920, the process was still ongoing. In an attempt to speed it up, he submitted his Transvestitenschein, and the application was finally approved. The decision became legally effective with the announcement on 8 November 1920 in the Deutscher Reichsanzeiger and the Preußischer Staatsanzeiger

The public announcement in the Deutscher Reichsanzeiger.

Buttgereit then applied to officially marry his wife of eight years, but the registry office refused based on his birth certificate. Despite being represented by the Berlin lawyer Walther Niemann (who was close to the WhK) he apparently did not succeed. 

Buttgereit lived the rest of his life in Cologne. From 1920-5 he was a bookkeeper, from 1926 - 1942 (through most of the war) he was bookkeeping foreman, and in 1950 he was promoted to office manager. By 1958 he had retired, and he died at the age of 92.

  • Magnus Hirschfeld. Geschlechtskunde, (4th vol.).  Stuttgart : Julius Püttmann, Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1930: 593 (fig. 883, 884).
  • Rainer Herrn. Schnittmuster des Geschlechts. Transvestismus und Transsexualität in der frühen Sexualwissenschaft. Giessen, 2005: 128-131.
  • Erwin In het Panhuis. “Bertha/Berthold (Emma Charlotte) Buttgereit (1891 – 1983) Tragen von Herrenkleidung nicht untersagt”. Lesbengeschichte, 2006. Online.
  • Erwin In het Panhuis. “Queerer Pionier: Als trans Mann offiziell anerkannt vor genau 100 Jahren”.    Online.

08 August 2022

Karl Kohnheim (1885 - ? ) businessman

Kohnheim, a tomboy who had grown up a masculine woman, and then passing as a man, was often mocked if he wore female clothing. As a man he passed well, had a small inheritance and wished to open his own business. 

However he ran into constant problems applying for positions or renting an apartment, because of the female name on his papers. In Hamburg Kohnheim did not inform the police about his sex, although they knew anyway. 

In Berlin he was picked up by the police, and referred to a physician, Dr Oskar Lubowski, who in turn contacted Magnus Hirschfeld. Hirschfeld examined him, and with the psychoanalyst Karl Abraham (1877-1925) wrote an evaluation using the pseudonym ‘Katharina T’ and referring to him as 'Fräulein',  with the conclusion: 

“Considering her sexual abnormality and psychological characteristics, wearing men’s clothing is natural for the patient. The granting of permission is a question of existence for her. Forcing her to live as a woman can have an adverse effect on disposition. In men’s clothing she causes no public outrage, while in her women’s clothing she caused a disturbance, The very difficult existence of the petitioner would be greatly reduced by the police tolerating a masculine first name on the part of the petitioner.” (Hirschfeld: 154)

Hirschfeld and the lawyer Walter Jaffee went with Kohnheim to the Polizeipräsidium where Kohnheim received first a provisional permit and then a written one from Ernst von Stubenrauch (1853 - 1909) who had become Berlin police chief in 1908. 

However as Hirschfeld had conceded that Kohnheim had perfectly formed female genitals, he was not permitted to change his name legally although he used the name Karl anyway. Hirschfeld learned from the experience and used more vague language in later cases. 

In 1912 Kohnheim learned from a newspaper article that another masculine woman/trans man had succeeded in a change of the first name; he again appealed to the police, but again to no avail.  He wrote:

"I have proved that I could support myself as a man if I didn't cause offence and a stir everywhere because of my female first name. Up to now, I have only received temporary employment on recommendation, and (for example) I worked as a server in a large Berlin department store for a quarter of a year, without anyone having any suspicions or doubts about my masculinity! That is certainly saying a lot in a circle of at least 100 servers!" (Mak: 389)

This was the first German Transvestitenschein (permission to cross-dress) copying the French Permissions de Travestissement (which had been issued since 1800). 

Karl Kohnheim was not included in the 17 cases detailed in chapter 1 of Die Transvestiten, 1910 as Kohnheim freely admitted to female lovers, and Hirschfeld restricted his cases to non-homosexuals. Kohnheim is in a follow-up chapter “Transvestitism and Homosexuality” in which only Kohnheim and Dina Alma de Paradeda are discussed.

Geertje Mak knew in 1998 that the real name of ‘Katharina T’ was Karl Kohnheim, so why do Herrn, Sutton and Frost not also know?

  • Jur. Wilhelm. “Die rechtliche: Stellung der (körperlichen) Zwitter de lege lata und de lege ferenda '' veröffent.licht hat”, Grenzfragen bei Machold in Halle 1909: 54ff. (quoted in Hirschfeld, 1910: 344-6 (Deutsch) and 265-6 (English).
  • Magnus Hirschfeld. Die Transvestiten; ein Untersuchung uber den erotischen Verkleidungstrieb: mit umfangreichem casuistischen und historischen Materia. Berlin: Pulvermacher, 1910: 192-8. English translation by Michael A Lombardi-Nash. Tranvestites: The Erotic urge to Crossdress.Prometheus Books, 1991: 151-5
  • Geertje Mak. “,Passing Women': im Sprechzimmer von Magnus Hirschfeld: Warum der Begriff „Transvestit“ nicht für Frauen in Männerkleidern eingeführt wurde.”. Österreichische Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaften, 9, 3, 1998: 386-9..
  • Rainer Herrn. Schnittmuster des Geschlechts: Transvestitismus und Transsexualität in der frühen Sexualwissenschaft.Psychosozial-Verlag, 2005: 63-4.
  • Katie Sutton. “ ‘We Too Deserve a Place in the Sun’: The Politics of Transvestite Identity in Weimar Germany”. German Studies Review, 35,2, 2012: 337-8.
  • Natasha Frost. “The Early 20th-Century ID Cards That Kept Trans People Safe From Harassment”. Atlas Obscura, November 2, 2017. Online.

04 August 2022

Josefine Meißauer (188? - ?) friar, trader

Original version February 2015. 

Meißauer was born to a devout Catholic family in Mühldorf, Bavaria, the youngest of six children. The father - addicted to drink - left 14 years later.  One brother died of consumption, and one sister of dropsy. Josef (as she then was) went through many illnesses from childhood, including a severe meningitis at the age of 28, which left him unconscious for several weeks. 

Meißauer was an anxious child, who preferred the company of girls, took great pleasure in dolls, learned to cook and embroider at his own request. Even as a boy he secretly dressed in girls' clothes as often as he could and, when his hair was long enough, he braided it, about which he was often ridiculed.  Puberty was late, and there was no beard growth until age 25. Meißauer tried repeatedly to fight his female gender identity, however prolonged abstinence from women's clothing always led to severe mental depression. 

Meißauer had been a sacristan at the local church for seven years, but lost the position after being seen in female clothing during Carnival. He responded by becoming a Trappist friar - possibly because the friars wear robes rather than ordinary male clothing. The Trappist order is severe and requires silence, sleeping in full clothes, vegetarian diet and hard field work. Meißauer was assigned to a friary in Natal, South Africa. However after almost four years, Meißauer fell ill and returned to Bavaria. 

Meißauer then  started wearing a long dark coat and was accused of impersonating a priest but was acquitted. To avoid a repetition Meißauer wore a coloured coat, and was again brought to court. The judge pointed out that there was no law concerning the type of clothing. The only thing was that one was not allowed to wear the costume that characterised a certain class, e.g. a uniform. Meißauer took this to mean that she could dress in normal female clothing.  Also she had heard of that in Schliersee, district office of Miesbach, Upper Bavaria, a ‘lady’ named Rosina Danner had gone dressed as a man without any permission for 30 years until dying in 1908. However Meißauer, dressed female, was accused again in 1910, sentenced in the first and second instance, but acquitted by the Royal High Court of Munich on 24 December 1910.


After Magnus Hirschfeld's book Die Transvestiten came out in 1910, Meißauer, who was then 48, contacted him in early September 1911. The Berlin lawyer, Fritz Selten, took the case and submitted the application with a recommendation written by Hirschfeld and Iwan Bloch to the Prussian Police Prasidium, which on 27 September 1911, on the basis of the expert opinion, "granted permission to wear women's clothes”.  The same written legitimation was also issued by the Munich police chief.


Josefine Meißauer was the first trans woman in Germany to get a Transvestitenshein.

  • Magnus Hirschfeld, & Max Tilke. Der erotische Verkleidungstrieb (Die Transvestiten). Illustrierter Teil. A. Pulvermacher, 1912: plate XVIII.
  •  Rainer Herrn. Schnittmuster des Geschlechts: Transvestitismus und Transsexualität in der frühen Sexualwissenschaft. Psychosozial-Verlag, 2005: 79-84.