Jens Stammer Hetland

Jens Stammer Hetland. Source: Europeana.
Jens Stammer Hetland. Source: Europeana.

A hundred years ago Berlin was the homosexual "capital" of Europe. Already around 1900 large numbers of "pederasts", "uranians", or "warm brothers" from many countries travelled to the liberal Berlin. Here they found grand and decadent "sodomite and pederast balls", and a whirling bar scene where homosexuals could act openly and freely as hardly possible anywhere else in Europe. Journals were published, and there were politically active organisations such as Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee (WhK, The Scientific-Humanitarian Committee) and Gemeinschaft der Eigenen (GdE, The Society of Peculiars). From 1919 Berlin even had a sexological research institute, the first of its kind in the world. Magnus Hirschfeld's Institute for sexual science was not only an academic institution and a first rate medical treatment center, but also a refuge for persecuted homosexuals and others we today would call LHBT persons.

Three Norwegians

Much indicates that the German capital was attractive also to homosexual Norwegians. It is known that social economics professor Ebbe Hertzberg (1847-1912) from Kristiania (modern day Oslo) moved about the "homosexual circuits" of Berlin. In 1886 Hertzberg came to the city to attain a medical statement that his "contrary sexual feeling" was innate. His intention was to salvage his professorate at the university in Kristiania, which was imperiled by rumors of sexual relations with young working class men. The psychiatrist Carl Friedrich Westphal (1833-1890) gave Hertzberg the statement he wanted, and he became Norway's first "official" homosexual (see Jordåen 2015). Editor Ferdinand Karsch-Haack (1853-1936) mentioned Hertzberg in the journal Die Freundschaft ten years after his death, and gave the following description: "He was a beautiful man and a Uranian Don Juan" (Karsch-Haack 1922).

Another Norwegian who made an impression on the environment around Magnus Hirschfeld and his supporters in WhK, was pianist Justus Lockwood (1852-1912) from Bergen (see Wolfert 2016). During one period he was the lover of judge Edmond North (1857-1895) from Alsace, and he gave piano recitals at private parties and cultural events for homosexuals in Berlin. He often performed together with baron Willibald von Sadler-Grün. Sadler-Grün was a first-rate baritone and a "master of travesty" who loved to dress as a queen or princess. Lawyer Eugen Wilhelm (1866-1951) from Strasbourg described Lockwood as "friendly, very entertaining, but extremely woman-like in manner and conversation" (Wilhelm 1896). While Wilhelm strongly disliked the latter, he prized the evenings spent with Lockwood and his "Uranian" friends.

A third homosexual Norwegian who made a mark in Berlin a century ago, was actor, scenic painter and costume designer Jens Stammer Hetland (1871-1954). He contributed at least one art photograph to Adolf Brand's Der Eigene, the world's first journal for homosexuals (see Wolfert 1999: 18). Today relatively little is known about him. He was born October 21st, 1871, as the oldest son of underwriter Peter Johan Michelsen (1834-1901) and his wife Severine Amalie Hetland (1846-?) in Arendal (here, and in the following, see Aaserud 1983). The father was from Bergen and the mother from Stavanger. It seems the young family moved around a bit before they settled in the Norwegian capital, because Hetland's younger sister was born in Bergen and his younger brother in Kristiania. Leonora Petrine Michelsen (1875-?) became a cashier and later reinsurance underwriter and Anthon Christian Michelsen (1877-?) a sailor. He probably died young. None of the siblings ever married.

From Norway to Germany

Jens Stammer Hetland had early shown signs of an artistic disposition. He initially wanted to become a scenic painter, but he made his strongest impression as an actor. At an age of 19, Hetland started his formal training at Den Kongelige Tegneskole (The Royal Painting School) in Kristiania. In 1892 he went to Germany where he studied at several institutions until 1896. For some time he was an apprentice at the Imperial Opera in Berlin, and later he was employed as a painter at Glyptoteket in Copenhagen. He made his debute as an actor at Den Nationale Scene in Bergen, Norway in 1899, but already two years later he was back in Germany. In the fall of 1901 he was engaged by the new Freies Theater in Berlin-Friedenau. On February 12th, 1902, he performed pieces by Dutch artist Multatuli together with Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the founder of anthroposophy. The event took place in Berlin's Literary Art Salon in Lutherstraße (modern day Martin-Luther-Straße) in Berlin-Schöneberg (see Steiner 1902).


Jens Stammer Hetland's photo "My Boy", from: Der Eigene. Ein Blatt für männliche Kultur 1903 (March), p. 157.
Jens Stammer Hetland's photo "My Boy", from: Der Eigene. Ein Blatt für männliche Kultur 1903 (March), p. 157.

In addition to performing, Hetland was an illustrator, was noticed as a scenic painter and costume designer, and wrote poems and causeries. Later on he also made reliefs and busts of important people. The University library in Oslo has a relief of Henrik Ibsen made by Hetland in 1906. Hetland's predilection for the new medium of photography is also remarkable. In 1903, he was represented in the journal Der Eigene with a picture of a young man. Hetland called it "My Boy", but whether the photograph and its title are autobiographical, or who is portrayed, is unknown. Hetland's stay in Berlin seems to have been rather short. He stayed less than two years, probably for legal reasons. In the summer of 1903 there was a detention order for the Norwegian painter and former actor (see Deutsches Fahndungsblatt 1903: 1046). He was accused of "pederasty" and his arrest and delivery to the prison in Berlin-Moabit was requested, but the case was probably dismissed by the city's Landgericht (Courts of appeal) since Hetland had escaped criminal prosecution and resided at a location unknown to German authorities.

Return to the homeland

After his return to Norway, Hetland settled in Kristiania. He performed at Fahlstrøms Theater, Centralteatret and Chat Noir until 1930, but also at the theater Røde Lykte and a number of other cabarets in Copenhagen, primarily during the period 1914-1915. Alma Fahlstrøm (1863-1946) who ran Fahlstrøms Theater together with her husband Johann Fahlstrøm, wrote that Hetland left the theater "under circumstances, that we wish had been different", but it is not known today what caused Hetland's dismissal. It is documented that he lost a lawsuit against Fahlstrøm (Fahlstrøm 1927: 205).

Hetland was also a competent caricature artist, and a number of his actor portraits can be found in Norwegian newspapers and comic magazines from the early 20th century. But he primarily impressed his audience as an actor. When he played in the cabaret Paa kroningstur in 1906, the critic Tom Vetlesen in the paper Morgenbladet claimed that Hetland received the greatest applause of the evenings (see Gjesdahl 1964: 43). At that time he stayed at the address Bygdø Allé 28b in Kristiania. Due to a chronic leg affliction, it eventually became too difficult for him to take part in normal plays, and from the fall of 1913 he only did cabarets. Eleven years later he furthered his education at Statens Håndverks- og Kunstindustriskole i Oslo (The State School of Crafts and Industrial Art in Oslo), and in 1920 he had a part in the crime film Kaksen fra Øverland by Gustav Adolf Olsen.

We know almost nothing about Jens Stammer Hetland's private life in Norway. Therefore we do not know what his social circles were, or if he kept in touch with his siblings. It is known that he was arrested during World War II for in some way having displeased the German occupying forces. The arrest seems to have been political, but it has not been cleared up what caused it. October 21st, 1941, Hetland was interviewed in Norwegian radio for his 70th birthday, and to the question of what he wished for the future, he supposedly said: "I wish to live to see a Norway that is free with a free and united people" (News of Norway 1941). Jens Stammer Hetland belonged to the generation of homosexuals in Europe who viewed the German capital as an Eldorado in their youth, but then witnessed its demise. It was also the Germans who after 1933 persecuted homosexuals with an unprecedented brutality and a few years later laid a whole continent to waste.

Jens Stammer Hetland moved a few times also after his retirement, probably due to a strained economy and poor health. In 1945 he lived in Arbiensgate 5 (today Arbins gate), and in 1950 at a nursing home in Vibes gate 23 in Frogner (Oslo). He died March 31st, 1954, at an age of 82 years. The location of his grave is not known.

Note: Translated from Norwegian by Simon Mitternacht


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Wilhelm, Eugen. 1896. Diary, volume 18: 29.9.–24.10.1896 (Eugen Wilhelm's diary is not published).

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