Lotte Hahm: Captain, Comrade, Butch Icon

There are six surviving pictures of Lotte Hahm. In all of them, Lotte is wearing a masculine suit, short parted hair and fancy dress shoes. Openly she looks into the camera.

The story of Lotte Hahm began in 1890 in Dresden. She was born into a protestant family with three siblings. In 1916, at the age of 18, the youngest changed their name from a male to a female one, calling themselves Joachim Karl from then on, and had written into their birth certificate that they were neither male nor female. At that point, Lotte had probably already finished her apprenticeship as an office clerk and was on her way to independence. In 1920, the same year her mother died, she opened a book delivery service and moved to Berlin.

After her move, her story becomes also the story of the 1920s queer Berlin subculture with its magazines (almost all of them subject to the youth protection from obscenity law after 1926), its bars, its associations and their charming but wacky ideas of evening entertainment, from profiterole eating competitions to cap polonaise. Lotte Hahm opened the women’s club Violetta in Bülowstraße 37 in 1926. The name played on the Weimar Republic term for women who engaged in close friendships with one another, often also sharing nights and beds. Her club was very popular and was named one of the main places of the scene in the magazine “Frauenliebe” (women’s love).

THE lesbian magazine of the 20s: Die Freundin (the girlfriend)

„Pugnacity must fill your hearts and shine from your eyes.”

Lotte Hahm was an institution of the subculture. If her name was included, many already knew the night would be a blast. Magazines published poems and texts honoring her. At the events, sometimes introducing her as conférencier Lothar Hahm, she attuned herself to those already left behind: the lonely and older people. From the start, she continuously made space for “transvestites”. Most popular were the regular “transvestite balls” she organized, probably mainly frequented by butches, female crossdressers and those that were “neither male nor female,” like her sibling Joachim Karl. From today’s vantage point, it is difficult to reconstruct the self-understanding, one would have to ask the people themselves. What’s clear is that they enjoyed the balls. If Lotte Hahm would use the word “she” for herself in today’s time is an unanswerable and maybe also completely unhistorical question.

For the conférencier of the women’s club Violetta, party and politics were inseparable. In 1930, Hahm wrote in “Die Freundin:” “Not only dance and social events will bring you equality, but also fight is necessary if you want respect and esteem. Pugnacity must fill your hearts and shine from your eyes.” She founded a correspondence circle for people of the subculture with similar ideas to connect. Lotte toured through the Weimar Republic to support associations that grew out of the circle. She was also an important part of creating a political organization for the interests of women, girlfriends and transvestites. In between political fights, parties, publishing, and shopping for new suits in the dress shops of the city, Lotte Hahm fell in love with Käthe Fleischmann, who was married with two children, worked in gastronomy and had a name made for a dyky bartender (Fleischmann literally translates to meat man). After she met Lotte Hahm, Fleischmann divorced. As partners in crime, they first opened Monokol-Diele in Budapester Straße 14 and then Manuala Bar in Joachimsthaler Straße 26.

Probably the most well-known location of the queer Weimar Republic: Eldorado

Lesbian solidarity, slander, and redistribution

Through Käthe’s smart financial housekeeping, Lotte was no longer dependent on men willing to rent out spaces for balls to her. Both tried to detach the possibility of visiting their events from financial means: they found solidarity ticket pricing, let penniless girlfriends in for free and organized redistribution funds where wealthier members of the subculture could pay for poorer ones. Additionally, they employed many artists of the scene, among others the art piper Lea Manti, who – as written in a contemporary comment – didn’t give a hoot for feminine dress, but could whistle on her pinky. The insults that newspaper editors found for the scene’s icons still are wonderful queer titles: from “gracious dandy” to “a girl – a slender slip of a girl“.

But despite the courage, assertiveness and discretion of Käthe Fleischmann und Lotte Hahm, bars stayed endangered places and their visitors precarious guests. “Transvestites” were under permanent threat by the article against public indecency that was used by uniformed state powers to enforce a rigid binary gender norm on the streets of Berlin – no matter how much the flâneurs resisted this order. Starting in the fall of 1932, non-state hooligans in SS uniforms ravaged bars. Antisemitic reasons were also at play: Kathe Fleischmann was Jewish.

Queer and lesbian women were, among others, persecuted as “asocials” during Nazi rule and were arrested and murdered.

The 30s: secret parties, arrests and persecution

With the Nazis taking power, the threatened but still possible life turned actively endangered. Fleischmann lost her gastronomic license and, because of her Jewish heritage, her right to buy property. Until 1935, Hahm and Fleischmann tried to organize clandestine parties, first in Joachimsthaler Straße 13, then in Berliner Straße 53, both of which were denounced. Käthe Fleischmann narrowly survived Nazism, but the hard forced labor she was pressed into left life-long scars. Lotte Hahm made a living first in Hiddensee, then in Berlin, maybe serving time in prison for fraud, but mostly escaping the regime’s hands.

After the Allied victory over the Nazis and the founding of BDR and GDR, the two continued their lives together for a while. In the 50s however, Käthe Fleischmann ended their relationship in disappointment. Both died in 1967 in Berlin, Lotte in Wannsee, Käthe in Schöneberg.

(Author’s note: Hahm’s and Fleischmann‘s lives are reconstructed mostly through queer publications of the time, police reports and witness stories. That these stories even exist is thanks to Claudia Schoppmann, Heike Schader and others who worked on a project by the Lesbian Movement Historical Research. A contemporary research was completed and published by Ingeborg Boxhammer and Christiane Leidinger in 2021. This research is the foundation of this text, many thanks!)

From September 13th 2023 onwards a memorial plaque in Hasenheide commemorates Lotte Hahm’s life and influence on the queer community.

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Words: Mowa Techen
Translation: Jara Nassar

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