Recently, I was walking from my flat in Berlin to an appointment and passed by this space that I thought was an ordinary small public park but on closer observation I realised that it had quite a rich but dark history to it. I paused to look at the official Berlin historical marker complete with photos and it read:
“On this spot stood until February 1945, Number 63/64 Kommandantstrasse, the parental home of the lawyer Dr. Fritz Flato one of the leading men in the Berlin homosexual movement of the 1920’s. Born on the 4th January 1895 as the son of a Jewish merchant family in Berlin, Fritz Flato spent his childhood and youth here. He served as a volunteer in the first world war, after the war he studied Law in Breslau.
In 1925, Flato established himself in his Kreuzberg parental home as a Lawyer and Notary. Fritz Flat dedicated himself to the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee (WhK) of Magnus Hirschfeld, the pioneer of sexual research and the homosexual movement. In his chambers he offered legal advice to members of the association, he defended homosexuals in court and represented publishers and authors in censorship lawsuits which were brought to protect young people from so-called trash literature.
In 1935, two years after the NS dictatorship began, Flato’s permit to practise law was cancelled because of his Jewish origins. In December 1935 he emigrated to New York. Fritz Flato put an end to his own life there in May 1949 after many years of existential struggle.”
This is an example of the stark reality from less than 85 years ago that unexpectedly slaps you across the face. Back then Berlin was the largest metropole in Europe and in the 1920’s had a burgeoning queer community that is still talked about to this day. Then almost overnight it was gone. We tend to take things for granted living in this same city that once again has such a vibrant queer community. Reading what happened to it in such a short time period seems unimaginable by today’s standards. Truth be told, do not take your liberties for granted as they can be stripped away much quicker than you think.
That random encounter reading about someone that I did not know but felt so close to left me feeling heartbroken inside … the remainder of that day is just a foggy grey blur in my memory. (bb)