Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
The title of this 1930 painting by Hans Baluschek can be translated either as „At dawn“ or as “Morning Horrors”. It is one of the most moving documents of the era that came to be known as the Golden Twenties.
Die Goldene Zwanziger in Berlin, commonly understood as the time of endless fun, reckless abandon and testing the limits, were in fact one of the darkest chapters in Berlin´s history. The 1920s saw the deepest financial crisis in the country´s history: the costs of WW1 and the war reparations which Germany had to pay destabilised its economy.
The heavy industry as well as all other branches feeding the German war machine were gone and so were millions of men who were the only family providers. Suddenly deprived of their husbands, fathers and sons women were forced to seek other ways of feeding their children and themselves. Born and bred as housewives or contributing to the family budget mostly by performing menial jobs, this unqualified army of abandoned single mothers or impoverished wives and daughters had a choice between sinking or swimming.
With a terrifyingly high number of suicides or even extended suicides (where mothers killed their children before killing themselves) reported daily by the newspapers and hardly any chance of finding a “decent” job if not young, childless and unmarried, many women resorted to prostitution to survive.
There is nothing golden about the Golden Twenties: they were reckless and fun for but a few. And this is what Hans Baluschek captured so perfectly in this painting: the fat cigar in the man´s hand, his elegant coat and hat speak of money and comfort in life. While the young woman might be elegantly dressed as well but her face tells a completely different story: neither reckless, nor fun…
You can find out more about the 1920s in Berlin at a fascinating exhibition organised by the Stadtmuseum Berlin and entitled “Tanz auf dem Vulkan” (Dancing on a Volcano). Some of the events are also available in English.