The corner of In den Zelten and Beethovenstraße – Magnus Hirschfeld’s pioneering Institute of Sexual Science was housed in an impressive building on the edge of the Tiergarten. It provided a social and cultural hub for Berlin’s LGBTQ+ communities.
The pioneering Institute of Sexual Science was an important cultural institution in interwar Berlin and a symbol of the city’s progressive attitude towards non-normative sexual identities. Founded by the sexologist and political activist Magnus Hirschfeld in 1919, it was dedicated to the study of sexuality, to providing a support centre for Berlin’s LGBTQ+ communities, and to campaigning for legal reform.
Contemporary reports describe it as a welcoming space, which mixed scientific research with social events such as balls. The Institute was known internationally and it welcomed many foreign visitors – not exclusively people who identified as queer – who were interested in touring the premises or attending lectures and events. Among English writers, visitors included W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood. The latter lived next door for a period, in an apartment owned by Hirschfeld’s sister. Isherwood did not write about the Institute in the Berlin novels, but he left an ambivalent account years later in Christopher and His Kind (1976). There, Hirschfeld’s scientific approach to sexuality is compared unfavourably to the kind of sexual emancipation that could be experienced in gay bars. Like other parts of Weimar Berlin’s queer life, the Institute was attacked by the Nazis, who raided the premises in 1933 and destroyed its collections of books, photographs, and objects. Stefano Evangelista