Dick Perceval left Charterhouse School in 1925, aged 16. In his diary, he notes that there is a new scholarship for languages at Oxford University, so it has been decided that he should study German language at University of Berlin for one year, before applying for the Oxford scholarship.
On September 1st 1925, he wrote,
"Left Farnham with mother to go to Berlin to start the foreigners course at the Berlin University. It starts on Monday. Another stage of my career has now started. I hope to God it will prove a success. It is going to be very hard for me to live out here. There are many too many women in Berlin to make it a pleasant town to live in!"
Dick was going to be living alone for the first time. He met a number of new friends at the university - who were all older than him, and who were enthusiastically embracing the nightlife of the city. With them, Dick starts to go to Berlin's nightclubs and cabaret shows. On September 12th 1925, he writes,
"Have been thinking over last night’s show a lot. I think these revues with nude women etc are the sort of thing one always wants to see like hell, until one actually sees one. I felt so damned sorry for the poor girls who have to earn their living by exposing themselves eight times a week (Sundays included). Many of them, of course, like it but one could clearly see many of them hated doing it."
The concern for the women that he shows in this diary entry could be mistaken for a liberal attitude, but at this age, Dick's opinions mirror those of his parents. He writes disparagingly of those who frequent the nightlife, often referring to the women as 'whores', but he still holds a fascination for visiting the shows and cafes.
Berlin of the Weimar Republic was a city in which gay life could, for the most part, flourish freely. There were many networks, magazines and bars for gay men and lesbians. Here are three interesting links that further explore the LGBTQ nightlife in that extraordinary era of German culture -
On October 18th, he writes that he has been for breakfast with his friends in a café, before they followed a communist procession for a while. “After that we took a Tube back, and went to the Nürnberger Diele again, where we sat for hours. We had three of the pretty boys at our table. They were about 20 or 21, I suppose. One of them had long triangular nails, they were all painted and all had rings. Again, several of the women in there were men."
The next night, he writes that he was intending to study, but his friend called him from a club, so Dick went to join him.
"It was quite new experience, and a very costly one. The place with packed with whores and two came and sat at our table, both deucedly attractive. One we treated to champagne, but the other was too late. They were both absolutely all over us especially when the lights went out. The show itself was nothing much, A few women who wore nothing but a sort of diminutive box, and that was about all. I paid five marks to go in and then seven marks for about half a glass of champagne, which one of the girls snatched away saying it was too much for me, and promptly drank it herself. Cute little girl that."
Soon, however, Dick reports that he is giving more time to his university work. He explains,
"This is not, however, so much on account of my zeal for learning, as for a certain wonderful little Russian girl who is also taking the course this time, and whom I absolutely adore. She is perfectly wonderful and very, very pretty. She has brown bobbed hair and though not curly or wavy, it is most attractive and suits her to a T. She also has the most beautiful eyes and eyebrows and a very pretty Russian mouth. To be quite fair, her neck is not absolutely perfect, but she is just wonderful and very sweet to talk to. I am getting to know her very well and I’m giving her good chance to practice her English. Her name by the way is Miss Lapiner. Lapiner Lapiner Lapiner. What a beautiful name if you come to think of it. I am, as a matter of fact, a little anxious about meeting her again as, last night on the bus, I told her my age, at her request, and she was, I’m afraid, very disappointed to hear that I am only 16. I really can’t believe it myself. 16! My age, or rather my youth, is always my greatest curse. I have two ages - 16 and 20. 16 in years but 20 in experience. Quite 20! Why we must count our years, I don’t know. She is about 19 or possibly 20, I imagine. When I told her I was only 16 she said “I have no longer any interest for you”. Oh God, did she mean it? It’s certainly showed that she had an interest in me in the past, but what is the past? How I hate the past. The future alone is what counts.”
With that, Dick Perceval was in love, and he pursued Frida Lapiner passionately. He writes that she is a 'living angel' and that they talk of 'virtues and vices, of Fate and Beauty'. One day, when it seems that she might leave Berlin, he writes,
"Life will be quite, quite impossible without her. I shall have to kill myself, and why not after all. Life will not be worth living without her. It will all be so sad, so lonely. Why then live? What is the object? I shall not mind being dead, and certainly no one else will shed many bitter tears over it. I don't see why I should be sad over it, these days with Frida are the happiest days I have ever spent, the days without her are the unhappiest days I have spent. Why then spend them? Why live just to be tortured by such memories and longings. Why, Why, Why. Death is so peaceful, why do we live at all?"
Then, on April 7th 1927, he declares,
Dick returns to the UK when his course ends, but tells his family that he does not want to study languages at Oxford University - he wants to get a job in business and start earning money so that he can marry Frida as soon as possible.
In December 1927, he reports,
"I have all these months a constant fight against my parents, against their mean narrow-minded little philosophy, their hypocrisy. I hate and despise their whole outlook and actions so much, they often make me quite furious. But I do not say anything unless they try to force their vulgar, ugly views on me. I hate living at home with them, it absolutely gets on my nerves. But they can think what they like and do what they like, only I will not have any interference with my life and Frida. They will do all they can to prevent to me marrying Frida. But I shall never, never give way to them. There is no sympathetic understanding or love between my people and myself, and there never has been and never will be. At times I hate them, hate them, not only because of their views but because of themselves. Hypocrites."
The long-distance relationship continued, with Dick writing to Frida obsessively, almost every evening. By 1929, his passion has cooled and he is beginning to think that he should not marry Frida. One day, perhaps sensing him cooling towards her, Frida demands that he place an announcement of their engagement in a 'major London newspaper'. He decides to put it in the Daily Herald - a socialist newspaper, safe in the knowledge that none of his family, or anyone he knows, will ever read it. To be on the safe side, he places the advert in German.
"I had to get the advertisement put in that day and could not resist the temptation of having a little fun. I had already told Bob in the office that I wanted to go up that way on private business, but did not mind if he came with me. I informed him that if he chose to accompany me, he would have the privilege of seeing a great man at one of the most crucial moments of his existence.
I explained that I was about to visit the advertising offices of the Daily Herald in order to persuade them to announce in German in their personal columns the fact that one John Richard Perceval of London Lancaster Gate Terrace 15 was about to marry the Russian Friederike Lapiner of Berlin.
After several repetitions, the idea sank into Bob's head, whereupon he kindly enquired whether I was in full possession of my senses. He had already promised to keep the matter secret, and I explained the facts to him. We went into the Daily Herald and I arranged about the advertisement. My parting words to the Daily Herald being that on no account was there to be more than one insertion. The advertisement appeared on the next day, Thursday. I was in a silent panic all day fearing lest my people should get to hear of it, and whether any of the other papers would see the announcement and take it up as a news item. When I returned here from the office I was quite expecting to find a queue with reporters waiting for me.
The miracle is that none of these things seemed to have happened – as yet."
Indeed, the press did not gather at his door at the news of his engagement! In 1931, Dick met Sorina, and the relationship with Frida fizzled out.
In later life, he remembered his time in Berlin as one of the happiest periods in his life.