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Murder Scenes

Normality, Deviance, and Criminal Violence in Weimar Berlin

Sace Elder

Publication Year: 2010

Sace Elder has exhaustively researched both newspaper and other popular and professional treatments of murder cases and archival sources of police investigations and trials in Berlin between 1919 and 1931. Murder Scenes is an innovative and insightful exploration of the ways in which these investigations and trials, and the publicity surrounding them, reflected and shaped changing notions of normality and deviance in Weimar-era Berlin. ---Kenneth Ledford, Case Western Reserve University Using police reports, witness statements, newspaper accounts, and professional publications, Murder Scenes examines public and private responses to homicidal violence in Berlin during the tumultuous years of the Weimar era. Criminology and police science, both of which became increasingly professionalized over the period, sought to control and contain the blurring of these boundaries but could only do so by relying on a public that was willing to participate in the project. These Weimar developments in police practice in Berlin had important implications for what Elder identifies as an emerging culture of mutual surveillance that was successful both because and in spite of the incompleteness of the system police sought to construct, a culture that in many ways anticipated the culture of denunciation in the Nazi period. In addition to historians of Weimar, modern Germany, and modern Europe, German studies and criminal justice scholars will find this book of interest. Sace Elder is Associate Professor of History at Eastern Illinois University.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Social History, Popular Culture, and Pol


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pp. i-xiv

One day in February 1924, Josephine W. was in her apartment in north Berlin when her sister-in-law came to her and told her someone had been murdered on the nearby Lynarstraße in Berlin North. Unmoved by the dreadful news, she responded simply, “[well], in these bad times that is just one less person.” Josephine’s cool indifference turned into quite personal...

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1. “Life has recently become cheap”: Murder, Moral Panic, and the Uncertainty of Normality

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pp. 16-44

Commenting on a 1931 Berlin murder trial involving three young people who had murdered a watchmaker for a small sum of money and a few watches, Siegfried Kracauer opined that the case was indicative of a much more pervasive and disturbing trend: “Murders in Berlin and elsewhere in Germany are on the increase. . . . Life has recently become cheap.”1 Kra-...

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2. “The untrained gaze of the layperson”: The Murder Investigation

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pp. 45-80

For the German public, crime was a manifestation of the apparent collapse of the prewar social and moral order. It was not simply the rise in violent crime in the immediate postwar period, but rather what the increase in crime was taken to indicate, that made crime such a central concern for postwar Germans. Murder was particularly linked to these anxieties be-...

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3. “She preferred staying with him to dying of hunger”: The Carl Grossmann Sexual Murder Case

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pp. 81-106

Between 1919 and 1921, as the capital city was preoccupied with the violence of the revolution, evidence of a different kind of violence began to surface in the city. The dismembered bodies of several women had been found in Berlin’s numerous waterways over the previous two years, the work of what police had assumed to be the work of a sadistic sexual killer.1...

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4. “A children’s paradise”: Crime and Community in West Berlin

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pp. 107-129

This chapter shifts the analytical focus from the “crime quarter” of east Berlin, where bad things were “supposed” to happen to residents, to the quiet respectability of New Westend in Charlottenburg, an urban district still in the making in the 1920s and inhabited mainly by middle- and lowermiddle- class families. Here, on Westendallee—a street with luxury apart-...

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5. “What does Langu mean?” Solving Murder and Dissolving Community in Prenzlauer Berg

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pp. 130-156

On January 22, 1931, Else W. walked down the street from her apartment on Heinrich-Roller-Straße 6 to house number 19, where she kept house for a retired shopkeeper, eighty-year-old Jakob Freudenheim. Wondering why the elderly man’s venetian blinds were still closed as she entered the building, she became concerned when her employer did not answer the door af-...

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6. “A marriage no better and no worse than many others”: Domestic Homicide, Gender, and Everyday Violence

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pp. 157-189

One March evening in 1931, the carpenter Paul Basche murdered his wife Marie with a hatchet in their Friedenau apartment. Police suspected that he had killed his wife in order to collect her life insurance policy. Basche, however, insisted that he had killed his wife in a fit of rage at her venomous scolding. Lacking conclusive evidence of premeditation, the state’s attor-...

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Conclusion: Violence and Normality in Weimar Germany

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pp. 190-197

Berta Liebau’s 1924 murder in North Berlin, in which Josephine W. had taken such an interest “as a woman,” was never solved. Although authorities arrested two suspects, evidence was lacking for a trial. In 1938, the criminal police charged Bruno Lüdke with Liebau’s murder as well as fifty others to which the mentally disabled man confessed. Lüdke, it turned out, was...


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pp. 199-240


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pp. 241-260


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pp. 261-266

E-ISBN-13: 9780472026975
E-ISBN-10: 0472026976
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472117246
Print-ISBN-10: 0472117246

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 2 B&W illustrations, 3 maps
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Social History, Popular Culture, and Pol
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OCLC Number: 655742733
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Murder Scenes

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Murder -- Germany -- Berlin -- History -- 20th century.
  • Community life -- Germany -- Berlin -- History -- 20th century.
  • Violence -- Germany -- Berlin -- History -- 20th century.
  • Crime -- Germany -- Berlin -- History -- 20th century.
  • Deviant behavior -- Germany -- Berlin -- History -- 20th century.
  • Berlin (Germany) -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
  • Germany -- History -- 1918-1933.
  • Germany -- Social conditions -- 1918-1933.
  • Homicide -- Germany -- Berlin -- History -- 20th century.
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