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- Jasmijn Groot -

Nowhere in the world have I ever had the feeling of being able to be completely myself as a bisexual woman, as I did in the LGBTQIA+-friendly club Nowadays, on the outskirts of the Ridgewood neighbourhood in the New York burrough of Brooklyn. Due to its strict anti-discrimination and no-phone policy, concerns about the Republicans' anti-queer hate speech immediately feel like a heavy coat one can take off and leave at the cloakroom. The sense of security that is given to each guest at the entrance transforms into a collective force of confidence on the dance floor. Around me I saw self-confident topless twinks dancing to the music. There were beautifully dressed drag queens who were 'vogueing' like there was no tomorrow. Non-binary people who radiated joy and happiness, as well as trans women who let themselves completely go at the front of the DJ booth until the early hours. People from absolutely every conceivable generation, origin and ethnicity come together here and can unconditionally be themselves. Contrary to what most might think, a club like Nowadays is not a modern phenomenon.

“Hier ist’s richtig!”

An important historical example of Nowadays was the Berlin club Eldorado, which experienced its heyday in the 1920s and 30s. The club is the starting point of the Netflix documentary Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate. Under its slogan 'Hier ist's richtig!' ('Here it is right!'), Eldorado offered a safe entertainment venue to the city's LGBTQIA+ community, at a time when, on the one hand, social freedoms were being won and censorship was loosened, but on the other hand, persecution was still lurking. Various relatives, activists and historians, specialized in LGBTQIA+ history, and queer themselves, tell the stories of the people who went to Eldorado, where they could all express themselves in complete freedom.

The stories of Charlotte Charlaque and Toni Ebel, for example, two intellectual trans women, who met in the Eldorado and immediately fell in love. Or the story of Baroness Lisa von Dobeneck and Gottfried Cramm, a straight couple, who exchanged rural life for the excitement of the German capital, where they immersed themselves in the ongoing sexual revolution, with Eldorado as its epicenter. But Ernst Röhm too, the leader of the Sturmabteilung of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) and good friend of Adolf Hitler, visited the nightclub and regularly broke the discretion surrounding his homosexuality. There, his path probably crossed with that of the Jewish sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, who loved witnessing the queer life in the Berlin nightclub.

Beyond the Eldorado

From the start, the documentary generates empathy for Eldorado's guests, who have long remained hidden from history. The most striking way in which this is done is the beautiful archive photos of various members of the German LGBTQIA+ community, which illustrate how diverse it already was back in the day. But to really bring them to life, reenacted scenes are also used, which give a glimpse of the carefree atmosphere that must have existed within the walls of Eldorado. Other scenes provide a glimpse into the inner lives of some of the Eldorado's guests. Their fears are especially palpable due of the threat from conservatives, for whom the changes of the twentieth century took place at a way too fast pace.

They sought solace with the increasingly powerful Nazis, who held an ideology that focused on cisgender and heterosexual people fullfilling traditional gender roles. Their fascist regime had far-reaching consequences for the guests of the Eldorado that we get acquainted with in the documentary. Charlotte and Toni, who lived together for many years, were separated during the Second World War due to the oppression of the Nazi regime and never saw each other again. Gottfried Cramm, who already had a relationship with a man during his marriage to Lisa, was sentenced to prison in 1938 for violating the anti-gay law Paragraph 175. Ernst Rohm was executed - unofficially because of his lust for power, but officially because of his sexual orientation. And Magnus Hirschfeld's extensive oeuvre was destroyed and his Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexual Science) closed.

The activist nature of the documentary becomes more apparent when these tragic facts, as well as the further worldwide persecution of the LGBTQIA+ community that the Nazi regime resulted in, are discussed. The strict observance of Paragraph 175, for example, was uncritically adopted after the war by the West German government, where homosexual acts remained officially punishable until 1994. But homosexuality also remained punishable elsewhere in Europe, including the Netherlands. Non-heterosexual orientations were also seen as a mental illness for decades. Not to forget that this is still the case in large parts of the world. It is a direct result of the destruction of Hirschfeld's extensive legacy, which set the emancipation of the LGBTQIA+ community many decades behind.

Given what is covered in the documentary, the title of the documentary seems somewhat inadequate to the content after the first viewing. The narrative is not limited to the Eldorado itself, but extends far beyond the entrance of the bustling nightclub, in both space and time. But the choice for Eldorado is a very symbolic one in several ways.

The Eldorado as a microcosm

The speakers in Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate convey a very clear message to the viewer, namely that the LGBTQIA community has always been there. Their history has been hidden as their traces have been deliberately erased. Contemporary conservative movements risk repeating this mistake. And precisely to illustrate what a tragedy it is that this community is in danger of losing its recently acquired rights and freedoms and being immersed into oblivion, the Eldorado forms an important benchmark in this documentary. Not only is the club synonymous with the German LGBTQIA+ community of yesteryear or everything the Nazis hated. The Eldorado and its visitors were truly like a microcosm of freedom, a historical example as well as a hopeful vision of a better future, if only we do the right thing this time.


Image: Netflix (2023) Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate.


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