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Anita Berber (June 10, 1899 – November 10, 1928) was a German dancer, actress, writer, and prostitute who was the subject of an Otto Dix painting. She lived during the Weimarmarker period.

Early life

Born in Leipzigmarker to divorced bohemian parents (a cabaret artist and a violinist), she was raised mainly by her grandmother in Dresdenmarker. By the time she was 16, she had moved to Berlinmarker and made her debut as a cabaret dancer. By 1918 she was working in film, and she began dancing nude in 1919. She was scandalous, androgynous and infamous, quickly making a name for herself on the Berlin scene. 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.

Notoriety in Berlin

Her hair was cut fashionably into a short bob and was frequently bright red, as in 1925 when the German painter Otto Dix painted a portrait of her, titled "The Dancer Anita Berber". Her dancer friend and sometime lover Sebastian Droste, who performed in the film Algol (1920), was skinny and had black hair with gelled up curls much like sideburns. Neither of them wore much more than lowslung loincloths and Anita occasionally a corsage worn well below her small breasts.

Her performances broke boundaries with their androgyny and total nudity, but it was her public appearances that really challenged taboos. Berber's overt cocaine use and bisexuality were matters of public chatter. She was allegedly the sexual slave of a woman and the woman's 15-year-old daughter. She could often be seen in Berlin's hotel lobbies, nightclubs and casinos; she would walk around naked except for a sable fur, carrying a pet monkey and a silver brooch full of cocaine, while flaunting her lesbian lovers—removing the barrier between performance and normal life. Besides being a cocaine addict, she was an alcoholic, but at the age of 29, gave up both suddenly and completely. According to Mel Gordon in The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber, she was diagnosed with severe tuberculosis while performing abroad. She died on November 10, 1928 in a Kreuzbergmarker hospital and was buried at St. Thomas cemetery in Neuköllnmarker. According to Lucinda Jarrett she was married three times (secondly to Droste) and died after a collapse in Damascus.


A 1987 film by Rosa von Praunheim titled Anita - Tänze des Lasters centers around the life of Anita Berber.
A plaque outside Anita Berber's house in Berlin.

The band Death in Vegas named a song after her, which is on the album Satan's Circus.



  • Capovilla, Andrea (2001) "Berber, Anita" in: Aldrich, Robert & Wotherspoon, Garry (eds.) Who's Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History: From Antiquity to World War II. New York: Routledge; pp. 50-51
  • Fischer, Lothar (1996) Tanz zwischen Rausch und Tod: Anita Berber, 1918-1928 in Berlin. Berlin: Haude und Spener
  • Funkenstein, Susan Laikin (2005) "Anita Berber: Imaging a Weimar Performance Artist" in: Woman's Art Journal 26.1 (Spring/Summer 2005); pp. 26-31
  • Gill, Anton (1993) A Dance between the Flames: Berlin between the Wars. New York: Carroll & Graf
  • Jarrett, Lucinda (1997) Stripping in Time: a history of erotic dancing. London: Pandora (HarperCollins); pp. 112-135
  • "Legendary Sin Cities [series]--Berlin: Metropolis of Vice." Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
  • Richie, Alexandra (1998) Faust's Metropolis: A History of Berlin. New York: Carroll and Graf
  • Toepfer, Karl Eric (1997) Empire of Ecstasy: Nudity and Movement in German Body Culture, 1910-1935. Berkeley: University of California Press

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