When you move to a new country as an adult, there are many things from that country’s history that you are expected to know, somehow. For me it was stuff like Sissi (Empress Elisabeth), the partition of Tirol, and Andreas Hofer. But 15 years in, you never stop discovering new things, if you keep looking, I guess.
Recently a book fell into my hands, a pretty little memoir by the actress Luise Ullrich about her time in South America in the 1940s. Knowing nothing about her, we looked her up on Wikipedia, which led us to Elly Beinhorn (Ullrich’s mother-in-law, and an aviation pioneer in Germany — you could call her the German Amelia Earhart, maybe) and from there to other female pilots in the Luftwaffe, including Melitta, Countess of Stauffenberg (sister-in-law of Claus, of “Valkyrie” fame) and Beate Uhse.
Beate Uhse?? That’s the name of a chain of sex shops all over Germany and Austria. Well, it turns out she was also a stunt pilot for UFA, the German film studio, and flew in transport squadrons with the Luftwaffe.
Barred from flying after the war, Uhse, by now a widow and single mother, started her second career with a mail-order business dealing with contraception and sex education. From Wikipedia:
She was selling products door-to-door and met many housewives and learned of their problems: the men returning from the front were impregnating their wives, not caring that there was “no apartment, no income and no future” for the kids. Many of the women went to untrained abortionists to “get rid” of their children. Beate Uhse remembered lectures her mother (who had died during the war) had given her on sexuality, sexual hygiene and contraception. She searched for information on the Knaus-Ogino method of contraception (rhythm method), and put together a brochure which explained to the women how to identify their fertile and infertile days.
Her first “specialty store for marital hygiene” opened in 1962, not without problems from the local law enforcement, but over the years her business grew in such bounds that the name Beate Uhse is now a widely respected brand name. Five years before her death, she fulfilled a long-held dream with the opening of the Beate Uhse Erotic Museum in Berlin.
I will never giggle nervously in front of her store again.