The Femina, a 1930s Berlin club where money and sex met

a9a1e6079c1201baf8daac68d6ce1adcSpeaking of commercial-sex cultures, I like this description of a venue in March Violets, a 1989 novel by Philip Kerr. This is a detective story set in Berlin in 1936. Communications amongst patrons are facilitated by two kinds of technology: telephones and pneumatic tubes.

The Femina, on Nurnberger Strasse, was the sort of spot you went when you were looking for some female company if you didn’t mind them big and florid and thirty marks for the privilege. Table telephones made the Femina especially suitable for the shy type, so it was just Neumann’s sort of place, always presuming that he had some money. He could order a bottle of sekt and invite a girl to join him without so much as moving from his table. There were even pneumatic tubes through which small presents could be blown into the hand of a girl at the opposite end of the club. Apart from money, the only thing a man needed at the Femina was good eyesight.

I sat at a corner table and glanced idly at the menu. As well as the list of drinks, there was a list of presents that could be purchased from the waiter, for sending through the tubes: a powder compact for one mark fifty; a matchbox-container for a mark; and perfume for five. I couldn’t help thinking that money was likely to be the most popular sort of present you could send rocketing over to whichever party girl caught your eye. (p 100)

This is an example of the sort of place where the situation is ambiguous. Perhaps one might spontaneously decide to become a sex worker or client, pay or charge money, according to who’s there and how one feels on the particular night. Maybe some of the women think of themselves as prostitutes but probably some don’t.

nightclub-in-berlin-20s-CPMR7G-1From promotional material of the present resident of the site:

Entering through a marble vestibule and a second antechamber, you arrive at a gentlemen’s bar where you can hear singers perform. From the cloakroom, for more than 2,000 people, there is an elevator that can hold 16 people at a time to bring the guests to the dance club on the first floor. Here, twenty young women servers are on hand for you and a top-notch dance orchestra provides the music. Opposite this bar is the main dance hall, rising to the roof in two levels. There are telephones on the tables and a letter chute from which young women in uniforms deliver the notes. The dancing area can be raised in parts or as a whole by half a meter so that the shows can be visible to everybody. Entertainment includes elegant dancing couples, contortionists, and complete ballet troupes, with shows in both the afternoon and the evening. First-rate bands are a must! The latest in modern lighting bathes the hall in a dazzling light. Beverages and meals are served at prices which are suitable for all types of budget!

So the pneumatic technology superseded uniformed carriers of billets doux.

More about tubes at the Museum of Retro Technology

– -Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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