Between Education and Promotion: Sex, Power and Visual Culture at the Great Police Exhibition (1926) in Weimar Germany

Online talk by Birgit Lang as part of the seminar series Cultures of Legality in Weimar Germany

Date: 13th November 2023
Time: 09.00 h to 10.00 h
Location: Online via Zoom

The 1926 Great Police Exhibition in Berlin attracted over half a million visitors over the course of three and a half weeks. The exhibition was aimed at reforming the image of the police force and building trust with the German public, portraying the police as a modern and progressive institution. The exhibition organizers used visual materials and the inherently visual nature of the event itself to contemporaneously push differing educative and promotional agendas. Heike Bauer et al. have recently argued that visual archives have provided “new temporal and geographical frames for investigating the historical relationships of sex and visual production.” The analysis of visual materials in the Police Exhibition provides us with surprising insights, challenging historiographical debates surrounding Weimar “trash and filth” and the role of “criminalistic fantasy” (Todd Herzog). Only months before the prohibitive Law to Protect Youth from Trashy and Filthy Publications was passed in December 1926, the police encouraged the viewing audience to engage with a new perspective on previously criminalized materials of a sexual nature by redrawing some old moral boundaries, presenting a more differentiated sexual ethics. This new police approach was heavily informed by sexological expertise, relied on the use of relevant visual archives and resulted in an unprecedented number of images and objects being presented to the exhibition audience without drawing much public critique. At the same time visual materials aimed to underline police competency and to showcase cutting-edge technological advances (in particular when relating to solving violent (sex) crimes) tell a different story. Here, the display of a wide range of forensic photographs and objects from police archives including the replica of the living room of Fritz Haarmann—Weimar Germany’s most notorious serial killer—was aimed at underlining police competency and also helped to draw in crowds. Yet, it was these more promotional strategies that created public ire voiced across a wide range of newspapers, rather than the otherwise omnipresent debates concerning “trash and filth”.

Birgit Lang is Professor in German Studies at The University of Melbourne. She has published widely on the German and Austrian history of sexuality and psychoanalysis and the role of the case study genre, as well as in exile and translation studies. Her current collaborative ARC Discovery Project "Visual Evidence: Sex Research in Germany (1890s-1930s)" (with Katie Sutton, ANU) focuses on the visual turn in sex research in the early twentieth century. Email:

The seminar series is part of the project Imagining Justice: Law, Politics and Popular Visual Culture in Weimar Germany, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

International Start Times: 08:00h BST / 19:00 AEDT

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