Normality, Deviance, and Criminal Violence in Weimar Berlin
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: University of Michigan Press
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...
1. “Life has recently become cheap”: Murder, Moral Panic, and the Uncertainty of Normality
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-...
2. “The untrained gaze of the layperson”: The Murder Investigation
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-...
3. “She preferred staying with him to dying of hunger”: The Carl Grossmann Sexual Murder Case
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...
4. “A children’s paradise”: Crime and Community in West Berlin
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-...
5. “What does Langu mean?” Solving Murder and Dissolving Community in Prenzlauer Berg
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-...
6. “A marriage no better and no worse than many others”: Domestic Homicide, Gender, and Everyday Violence
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-...
Conclusion: Violence and Normality in Weimar Germany
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...
Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 2 halftones, 3 maps
Publication Year: 2010
Series Title: Social History, Popular Culture, and Pol
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