Anita Berber was the sex of Berlin, the most extravagant performer of the 1920s. The woman who was first to perform naked and was often dancing in the cabaret called “The White Mice” in Friedrichstrasse, where she would urinate on the table if someone was not watching her on stage. Now there is a bar in Wedding, on Gerichtstrasse 23, called Anita Berber Bar in the memory of a great dancer.
With my big love to the 20s, I always thought Berlin should have a real cabaret or a typical 20s bar even now, but all I saw were absolutely missing the point replicas. I am not saying it is easy to keep the spirit of the 20s, yet Berlin with it’s open sexuality, must have a place where one could go back in time. Unfortunately, even Anita’s bar only has her photographs to offer, other than that it is a typical Berlin bar.
Born in Leipzig to musician parents who later divorced, she 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.
Through 1916/17, Anita’s star was rising and she not only toured throughout Germany and Austria with the Sacchetto Troupe but also performed solo at the Berlin Wintergarten and was featured twice on the front cover of glossy women’s magazine Die Dame. By 1918 she had made her first of nine silent films, was becoming a sought-after model and was touring her own solo programme.
In January of 1919, Anita married the wealthy young screenwriter Eberhard von Nathusius. Her film career was blossoming and in the spring of that year she appeared, alongside rising-star Conrad Veidt, as Else in the ground-breaking Richard Oswald film “Different From The Others” (Anders als die Anderen). Anita had occupied a suite at the Adlon Hotel, spent wildly on furs, shoes and jewellery and indulged heavily in cocaine, cognac and all-manner of illicit narcotics smuggled from around Europe. She would spend her nights touring the hotels and elegant restaurants of the city, wearing nothing but a sable coat, and with her pet monkey around her neck along with an antique brooch packed full of cocaine. In addition to her addiction to cocaine, opium and morphine, one of Berber’s favourites was chloroform and ether mixed in a bowl. This would be stirred with a white rose, the petals of which she would then eat.
By 1921 her sham marriage had collapsed completely, Von Nathusius divorced her and she dated a string of beautiful women, including, allegedly, young Marlene Dietrich. But it was stylish bar-owner Susi Wanowski who won her heart and very quickly became her lover, manager and secretary.
In June 1922, Anita met the dancer and poet Sebastian Droste during a particularly wild night out at a Berlin casino. It was to be a life-changing encounter.
Anita and Sebastian were immediately drawn to one another (even thought Sebastian was a homosexual) and convinced they could create something bold, new and shocking.
Rehearsals began immediately with a fervour only matched by the pairs’ cocaine consumption. Very quickly Droste had replaced Susi as Anita’s manager and, by July of 1922, a series of performances of their new production “The Dances Of Depravity, Horror and Esctasy” had been booked for Vienna in November.
In January 1923 Anita and Sebastian got married. A year later after crazy and scandalous touring they came back to Berlin,he was desperate for drugs and stole the money, later had to run away to America. Anita had repealed their marriage. The same year she re-married to Henri Chatin-Hoffman (also homosexual) after 2 weeks knowing him.
In June 1926, Anita and Henri were on tour with their new production “Dances of Sex and Ecstasy”. Whilst in Zagreb, Anita publicly insulted the King of Yugoslavia and was imprisoned for six weeks. Back in Berlin, both Anita and Henri were now broke and Anita returned to the cabaret circuit.
On the night of July 13th 1928, Anita collapsed whilst performing at a Beirut nightclub, and was diagnosed with an advanced state of pulmonary tuberculosis.
Four months later, on November 10th 1928, she died and was buried in a paupers grave at St. Thomas Friedhof in Neukölln.
The band Death in Vegas named a song after her, which is on the album Satan’s Circus. And there is a film called Anita – Tänze des Lasters, where and old lady goes mad imagining herself being Anite Berber.