The Sexual Revolution and Children How the Left Took Things Too Far
Part 2: 'Look, My Vagina'
Kursbuch 17 contained a series of poster-sized photos. Under the headline "Love Play in the Children's Room," it depicted Nessim and Grischa, both naked. The oversized images are of the sort that one would expect to see in a magazine for pedophiles today -- certainly not in an influential publication of the leftist intelligentsia. The caption reads: "Grischa walks over to the mirror, looks at her body, bends forward several times, encircling her buttocks with her hands, and says: 'Look, my vagina.'"
Ulrich Enzensberger, a former member of the commune, later said that Nessim, at any rate, looked back "in horror" at his commune days. Nessim is now a political scientist in Bremen, while Grischa lives in Berlin and works for a publishing company. Nessim and Grischa have lived very private lives ever since they were able to make their own decisions. When asked, Nessim says politely that he only discusses his childhood "and, therefore, intimate subjects, with trusted individuals." Grischa, now 46, is similarly private about her past.
It is tempting to dismiss the "love play" in the commune as an exception, as a radical excess of a revolutionary project, if so many leftist parents hadn't modeled their own lives on the educational experiments on Giesebrechtstrasse. For these contemporaries, Commune 2 was a pilot project in anti-authoritarian education that was quickly followed by private kindergartens in which parents applied the new ideas to raising their children, first in Frankfurt, Berlin, Hamburg and Stuttgart, and eventually in smaller cities like Giessen and Nuremberg.
Initially, the parents addressed practical issues, such as whether to take their children with them to protest marches. But the agenda eventually turned to sex education. In these anti-authoritarian kindergartens and daycare centers, known as Kinderladen, no other subject was discussed at such length as sex, says Alexander Schuller, one of the pioneers of the movement.
Divided Over the Issue
In 1969 Schuller, a sociologist, was one of the founders of a Kinderladen in Berlin's Wilmersdorf neighborhood. Like Schuller, the other parents were academics, journalists or university employees -- a decidedly upper middle-class lot. Schuller's two sons, four and five years old at the time, grew up without the customary rules and punishments of a government-run daycare facility.
But the adults were soon divided over the issue of sex. Some were determined to encourage their children to show and touch their genitalia, while the others were horrified by the idea.
"It was never addressed quite that directly, but it was clear that in the end, sex with the two female teachers was considered," says Schuller. "I found it incredibly difficult to take a stance. I felt that what we were trying to do was fundamentally correct, but when it came to this issue, I thought: This is crazy, it just isn't right. But then I felt ashamed of thinking that way. I think many were in the same position."
After a year of grueling discussion, the more prudish group prevailed, and the parents decided that there would be no sex in the Kinderladen.
Nowadays, the stimulation of a child's sex organs by an adult is clearly seen as criminal sexual assault. But for the revolutionaries of 1968, it was an educational tool that helped "create a new person," according to the "Handbook of Positive Child Indoctrination," published in 1971. "Children can learn to appreciate eroticism and sexual intercourse long before they are capable of understanding how a child is conceived. It is valuable for children to cuddle with adults. It is no less valuable for sexual intercourse to occur during cuddling."
The self-deception of these supposedly enlightened parents began when they tried to force an uninhibited relationship with sex on the children. In theory, their goal was to enable the children to act on their sexual needs. But because children are not spontaneously inclined to become sexually active in front of adults, they had to be stimulated to do so. The parents were constantly telling sex jokes and using words like "cock," "butt" and "vagina." "Actually, my sons really liked going to the Kinderladen," says Schuller, "but they thought the constant chatter about sex was horrible."
In her novel "Das bleiche Herz der Revolution" ("The Pale Heart of the Revolution"), Sophie Dannenberg strikingly described how agonizing it can be for children when their boundaries of privacy are violated. Dannenberg, whose parents, motivated by their affiliation with the German Communist Party, sent her to a Kinderladen in the western city of Giessen in the 1970s, used the stories told by her mother and other contemporary witnesses to write her account of an atmosphere of constant enlightenment.
The material she used includes an account of a parents' evening where one of the mothers said that she stripped naked in front of her son so that he could "inspect" her. In the process, the woman spread her legs to expose her private parts for his inspection. The game ended when the boy stuck a pencil into his mother's vagina. The parents also spent a long time discussing whether it was a good idea to have sex with their own children, so as to demonstrate the "naturalness" of sexual intercourse.
Although the people Dannenberg interviewed did not recall any instances of physical advances, they did describe "softer forms of sexual assault," such as pushy demands on children to show their naked bodies. In the novel, which is based on Dannenberg's research, the eight-year-old character Simone is told to strip in front of several adults and other children. "Why do you want to hide yourself," the mother says, to the amusement of the people standing around, when the child instinctively holds a pillow in front of her genitalia. "It's a beautiful thing you have there! Show it to us!"
No other scene in the book has provoked such angry reactions as this one. Dannenberg reports that she was literally shouted down during events to discuss the book whenever the scene was mentioned. "Lies, lies," audience members shouted once when she was in a panel discussion with Ulrich Enzensberger and reminded him of the sexual escapades of the day.
It probably wasn't always easy for the adults, either, to be so free. Not everyone knew what to do when the children went from playing with themselves to fondling the adults.
In his 1975 autobiographical book "Der grosse Basar" ("The Great Bazaar"), Green Party politician Daniel Cohn-Bendit describes his experiences as a teacher in a Frankfurt Kinderladen. When the children entrusted to his care opened his fly and began stroking his penis, he writes, "I was usually quite taken aback. My reactions varied, depending on the circumstances."