The first sex shop in the world

sex shop , industry , history

With the consent of the author, we publish his story about a woman of an unusual fate and the founder of the first sex shop in the world – Beate Köstlin.


© Alexander Ivanov

Russian version

Most of us live several lives, and, although we ourselves do not notice it, others sometimes do it for us, and try to divide our life into some unknown stages... especially since someone else's life is not our own, clear and simple...

It seems to me that the heroine of this story did not number and track her life stages in any way, she, like all of us, just lived, but, nevertheless, these stages in her life were there, and although they seem to be completely unrelated with each other by occupations, probably, fr om the point of view of the character of the heroine, they are important, therefore, it is necessary to talk about them fr om the very beginning.

At the age of seven, she learned the myth about Icarus, and this story impressed her so much that she firmly decided to fly.

It was not in her character to postpone the matter indefinitely: on the farm of her father (it happened near her native Krantz which is now called Zelenogradsk) there were as many chicken feathers as she wanted, so having covered herself with them, the girl set off on her first flight, fr om the veranda of parental home.

The landing took place much earlier than expected, and the landing was tough, but – a dream is a dream, and ten years later, overcoming opposition from parents and public outrage (“not a woman's business”), Beate Köstlin – that was the name of this brave girl – entered a flight school.

Her flying career was very bright – she learned “artistic piloting” and quite successfully performed in competitions, became a test pilot in one of the German aviation concerns, and – the only stunt pilot not only in Germany, but also in the world.

She is constantly improving her flying skills, and, passing the next courses (this time aerobatics), she falls in love with her instructor, Hans-Jurgen Uhse.

The instructor offers her a hand and heart, but marriage threatens to ruin her flying career, and she rejects him – “she will not stop flying for any man”.

Hans is smart and agrees with her and supports her – and the heart of the frantic amazon melts.

Although her father is categorically against this marriage, considering the profession of his daughter's chosen too risky – “I don't want you to regret your choice bitterly”.

But this obstacle has also been overcome, and the young people are getting married, and they did not wait for the announced date of the wedding: the Second World War began, Hans Uhse is mobilized and sent to the front, and they register the marriage according to a specially established accelerated procedure.

Beate, who is no longer Beata Köstlin, but Beata Uhse, is also in business: she ferries aircraft of all types to the front and back from front airfields for repairs.

In 1943, she gave birth to a son, but becoming a housewife is not for her and she is seeking permission to get a nanny (“human resources” are specially regulated in the Third Reich, a special decision of high authorities is needed) and continues to fly, mastering all aircraft models, including the newest military, at the helm of which, under other circumstances, she would never have been allowed to sit – even already realizing that the war was drawing to an end, she believes that such a practice will benefit her post-war career as a pilot.

In 1945, the thing that her father warned about happens: Hans-Jürgen dies. No, his plane was not shot down – this is just one of the flight disasters that happen not only in wartime.

Having made the last flight in her life on a military plane (this is the world's first jet plane, the legendary Messerschmitt Me 262, Schwalbe (Swallow), she runs home – Berlin is almost captured, and from home, with her two-year-old son and a nanny she rushes to the airport.

There she finds a light aircraft she has never flown in her life (and feverishly reads the instructions sits in the cockpit), takes on board several wounded people and, with a large overload, takes off to nowhere keeping at the lowest possible height to protect herself from anti-aircraft guns and aircraft of the allies.

There is little fuel, there is no chance of refueling, she accidentally remembers about a tiny airport on the border with Denmark, and, having landed, of course, is captured by the British. Although she did not take a direct part in the hostilities, she is still a Luftwaffe Hauptman...

Captivity for her ends relatively quickly, and now, in 1946, she is an unemployed single mother. Her flying career is over (Luftwaffe pilots are forbidden to fly), she is in the unfamiliar town of Flensburg, wh ere she not only has no acquaintances but large segment of her life as a pilot has passed by like an adventure film. She must somehow survive, get food for herself and her son.

Germany at that time resembles one big black market – not only there is a total shortage of everything, and Beata starts selling goods, walking from house to house and communicating a lot and often with the hostesses.

If you want to sell, you must be able to communicate, and it seems that the heroine of our story knows how to do it perfectly – in any case, they trust her, share their problems with her, and one of the big and serious problems is unwanted pregnancy.

Abortion is a crime – legal abortion is prohibited, illegal abortion is a direct threat to life, health and freedom, and life is not even poor, but a ruin. Many women simply do not see the opportunity to feed their children, having neither housing, nor work, nor money...

And then... and then Beata begins to remember something...

And probably it's time to mention that she had something to remember, because her mother is one of the first five female doctors in the history of Germany, a gynecologist known in East Prussia (she died during the war), she was engaged in sexual education of women a lot, and she once explained to her daughter what “desirable” and “undesirable” days are.

Beata struggles to find a description of the “Knaus method”. This method, of course, does not give one hundred percent guarantee, but Beata, judging that this is better than nothing, takes a step that will determine her future life – she writes a brochure in which she explains the “Knaus method” and publishes tables of fertile days calculation.

Beata Uhse “passes” her first exam for a business lady when the book is written: now it needs to be printed.

She finds out which of Flensburg's printers is the most... no, not the best, but – of course – the cheapest, and tries to place an order there.

But – how can this work be paid? She offers the printer money, but money is worthless, he demands five kilograms of butter for this work – an absolutely unthinkable wealth.

There is no way out – this is the cheapest printing house, in others the publication would cost more – and Beata sells everything she can sell, she is literally left with nothing (she and her son are starving, stretching out the remains of supplies, and of the clothes they have only what they are wearing), but the book has been published.

The price of a brochure, printed on paper of the lowest quality and called “Text X”, has been determined – it is 2 Reichsmarks (mere pennies), but by the time it goes on sale, a monetary reform is being carried out in Germany and its book is already being bought for two full-value German marks – quite real money.

Suddenly, the brochure becomes incredibly popular (Text X sells in 32 thousand copies), and its author becomes not only the owner of a rather impressive wealth at that time, but also a popular person – her readers (the brochure is not sold in stores, sanctimonious attitude to the “forbidden topic” does not allow it to be done – it is sent by mail and the mail channel is also a feedback) inundate her with letters on the topic of “relationships in marriage”, as sexual relations are carefully called then, and these letters (“people do not know the most obvious things!” – she recalls with horror these addresses to her in her biography) forces Beata to continue what she herself considered at first only a tiny, one-off episode in her life.

Beata spends her initial capital on expanding the geography of mailings – soon her readers become not only residents of provincial Flensburg, but large neighboring cities – Hamburg and Bremen, and then the possibilities of mail and her enthusiasm allow her to cover the whole country with Beata's mailings.

In 1951 (she can no longer cope with mailings alone, she employs four people), together with her employees, she creates the company Beate Uhse Mail Order Co, in which she is the director and the main shareholder.

In addition to Text X, she now sells a Guide to Family Life and – orders condoms for sale – the German industry is slowly recovering, and this allows her to place orders for the production of goods that at the time of the creation of Text X she could not even dream of.

We can say that the company's business began with a court trial (whose will accompany her throughout her career) – only a few days have passed since the opening of the company, and the police and the prosecutor's office break into it, all documents, including the client's card index, are seized, and Beata is attracted to court for “incitement to debauchery and propaganda of fornication”.

Probably, it is not so easy to believe today – but in the early 50s, quite recently, bigotry in Germany was the norm, and discussion of gender issues was a cruel taboo.

One way or another, the lawsuit has been filed, a file of 72 of its buyers is in the hands of the police, and the lawyer tells Beata that if at least a half of the clients turn out to be married people, this could somehow soften the court.

The list turn out to be 72 out of 72 married clients and Uhse wins this trial as well as the vast majority of subsequent ones – and there will be about 3,000 of them – when she is accused of corrupting the society.

Note that every such litigation becomes an excellent advertisement for Beata's catalog – all this is sorted out and discussed by the press, and people are gradually drawn into public discussion about moral norms and ethical boundaries, in which advocates of open discussion of gender issues slowly but surely take over.

And most importantly, a lot of people who have never heard of Beata's “mailing lists” become her clients.

In 1951, Beata got married again – to Ernst Walter Rotemund, a retail entrepreneur, and gave birth to another son, but her business was already taking over her entirely.

Courts and all sorts of obstacles to her work are a constant and unchanging phenomenon, she is quite used to the fact that she is denied, for example, membership in the Flensburg tennis club “due to general considerations”, and to the fact that her company was denied membership in the German Publishing Association for “moral reasons” – by this moment it has already learned that shocking is excellent in itself and, what is important, free advertising.

All her life she will use this and always welcome journalists.

When she is already over 80, in one of her interviews she tells that there were six men in her life, each of whom she loved madly, after which the whole country (not only tabloid, but also quite serious publications), will stir up the topic: “six men in a woman’s life – is it a lot?”.

She will willingly tell reporters that she has tested each of the items sold in her sex shops on herself.

In the 70s, she will divorce her husband, and will have a whirlwind romance with a 20-year-old black American, whom she will willingly tell the press about (in the 70s, society is still conservative and cannot even assume that a woman who is slightly over 50 may experience any feelings).

In 1961, in Flensburg, she opens her first shop “Beata Uhse” which becomes the world's first sex shop.

It is clear that a lawsuit immediately flies to her for “inciting and satisfying lustful desires in a way that contradicts decency and morality,” which, of course, Uhse wins like all the previous and subsequent ones.

The store is incredibly successful, Beata's fortune is growing – she finally buys her own plane and there is no lim it to her delight.

Since then she spends every free minute at the helm and if she needs to move somewhere she flies there.

The store is doing well, and its trade is rapidly growing into a large network that first covers the whole of Germany and later spreads to 60 countries of the world. The company’s catalogs are very successful, it buys TV channels, publishers and adult cinema chains.

By 1976, pornography finally legalized in Germany, the press writes that the “pilot and sex pioneer” Beata defeated hypocrisy, and from now on, Beate Uhse AG's business is unhindered.

In the same year, she opens a museum of eroticism in Berlin – this was her old dream, and the dreams of this woman tended to come true.

The little woman broke the system.

In 1999, Beata Uhse AG entered the stock exchange, wh ere its shares aroused unprecedented interest – they were oversubscribed during the IPO 64 times.

They say that the shares were “very desirable because of the image of two scantily dressed women”. Uhse perfectly understands this and “adds some pepper”, turning the shares not only into securities, but also into collectibles.

Beata herself, even at a very respectable age, gives the press a reason to talk about her – she gets ill with cancer and overcomes it. Being 70 she is fond of diving, her opinion on many public issues is considered important and significant by many of her fans, she is still a central figure in the press who calling her “Frau Orgasm”.

Beata Uhse dies in 2001, at the age of 81 (of course, she is no not only a member of the Flensburg tennis club, but also an honorary citizen of the city). Her business is at the peak of profitability, the annual turnover is about 280 million euros per year and is actively growing, the company employs more than 1600 employees, and its clients, in Germany alone, are more than 10 million people every year.

She founded charitable foundations that exist to this day, they are designed to support women – victims of violence and women who for some reason were left without means to live.

After Beata's death, her sons are engaged in business and – alas, like many catalog businesses that did not have time to jump into the outgoing wagon called the “Internet”, they are in for a fiasco, free porn on the Internet is killing their business, and in 2017, the company in its original form ceases to exist.

Its assets on the stock exchange are now worth about 13 million (if converted into rubles), but there are no buyers for them.