Anita Berber

Anita Berber (10 June 1899 10 November 1928) was a German dancer, actress, and writer who was the subject of an Otto Dix painting. She lived during the time of the Weimar Republic.

Anita Berber
Berber in 1918
Born(1899-06-10)June 10, 1899
DiedNovember 10, 1928(1928-11-10) (aged 29)
OccupationDancer, actress, writer

Early life

Born in Leipzig to Felix Berber, First Violinist with the Municipal Orchestra, and his wife, Lucie Berber, an aspiring actress and singer, who later divorced, Anita Berber was raised mainly by her grandmother in Dresden. By the age of 16, she had moved to Berlin and made her debut as a cabaret dancer. By 1918 she was working in film, and she began dancing nude in 1919. Scandalously androgynous, she quickly made a name for herself. She wore heavy dancer's make-up, which on the black-and-white photos and films of the time came across as jet black lipstick painted across the heart-shaped part of her skinny lips, and charcoaled eyes.[1]

Notoriety in Berlin

Berber's hair was fashionably cut into a short bob and was frequently bright red, as in 1925 when the German painter Otto Dix painted a portrait of her, titled "The Dancer Anita Berber". Her dancer friend and sometime lover Sebastian Droste, who performed in the film Algol (1920), was skinny and had black hair with gelled up curls much like sideburns. Neither of them wore much more than lowslung loincloths and Anita occasionally a corsage, placed well below her breasts.[1]

Berber's dances which had names such as "Cocaine" and "Morphium"[2] broke boundaries with their androgyny and total nudity, but it was her public appearances that really challenged social taboos. Berber's overt drug addiction and bisexuality were matters of public gossip.[3] In addition to her addiction to cocaine, opium and morphine, one of Berber's favourites forms of inebriation was chloroform and ether mixed in a bowl.[4] This would be stirred with a white rose, the petals of which she would then eat.[5]

Aside from her addiction to narcotic drugs, Berber was also an alcoholic. In 1928, at the age of 29, she suddenly gave up alcohol completely, but died later the same year. According to Mel Gordon, in The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber: Weimar Berlin's Priestess of Debauchery,[6] she had been diagnosed with severe tuberculosis while performing abroad. After collapsing in Damascus, she returned to Germany and died in a Kreuzberg hospital on 10 November 1928, although rumour had it that she died surrounded by empty morphine syringes.[5] Berber was buried in a pauper's grave in St. Thomas Cemetery in Neukölln.[7][8]


In 1919, Berber entered into a marriage of convenience with a man with the surname Nathusius. She later left him in order to pursue a relationship with a woman named Susi Wanowski, and became part of the Berlin lesbian scene.[9]

Berber's second marriage, in 1922, was to Sebastian Droste. This lasted until 1923. In 1925, she married a gay American dancer named Henri Châtin Hofmann.[9]

Selected filmography



  1. "Glitter & Doom - Anita, mon amour". Wound Magazine. 1 (1): 150–151. November 2007. ISSN 1755-800X.
  2. Evans, Richard J. (2003) The Coming of the Third Reich. New York: Penguin. p.125. ISBN 0-14-303469-3
  3. Pettis, Ruth M. (16 August 2005). "Berber, Anita". Archived from the original on 30 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-18.
  4. Gordon, Mel (1 May 2006). Voluptuous panic: the erotic world of Weimar Berlin. Feral House. pp. 9–. ISBN 978-1-932595-11-6. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  5. Berlin: Metropolis of Vice. Paradigm Pictures, 2005.
  6. Gordon, Seven Addictions
  7. "Anarchists of Style: Anita Berber, Part 2"
  8. Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Locations 3520-3521). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
  9. Capovilla (2001), p.50
  10. "Anita - Tänze des Lasters". The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2007-11-13.


  • Capovilla, Andrea (2001) "Berber, Anita" in: Aldrich, Robert & Wotherspoon, Garry (eds.) Who's Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History: From Antiquity to World War II. New York: Routledge; pp. 50–51 ISBN 0415159830
  • Gordon, Mel (2006) The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber: Weimar Berlin's Priestess of Debauchery. Los Angeles, California: Feral House

Further reading

  • Berber, Anita & Droste, Sebastian (2012) Dances of Vice, Horror, and Ecstasy. Translated by Merrill Cole. Newcastle upon Tyne: Side Real Press.
    • A full translation from the German
  • Fischer, Lothar (1996) Tanz zwischen Rausch und Tod: Anita Berber, 1918-1928 in Berlin. Berlin: Haude und Spener
  • Funkenstein, Susan Laikin (2005) "Anita Berber: Imaging a Weimar Performance Artist" in: Woman's Art Journal 26.1 (Spring/Summer 2005); pp. 26–31
  • Gill, Anton (1993) A Dance between the Flames: Berlin between the Wars. New York: Carroll & Graf
  • Jarrett, Lucinda (1997) Stripping in Time: A History of Erotic Dancing. London: Pandora (HarperCollins); pp. 112–135
  • Kolb, Alexandra (2009) Performing Femininity. Dance and Literature in German Modernism. Oxford: Peter Lang. ISBN 978-3-03911-351-4
  • Richie, Alexandra (1998) Faust's Metropolis: A History of Berlin. New York: Carroll and Graf
  • Toepfer, Karl Eric (1997) Empire of Ecstasy: Nudity and Movement in German Body Culture, 1910-1935. Berkeley: University of California Press
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