Christopher Isherwood, one of the famous British writers of the first half of the twentieth century, left England to live in Berlin in the 1920’s to avoid frustration and possible persecution for being a homosexual.
In this pre-Hitler period Germany was one of the few places where homosexuality was tolerated. In this haven Isherwood wrote his Goodbye to Berlin which included the chronicles of “Sally Bowles”, who went though many transformations — on stage and film in I am a Camera, adapted by John Van Druten, and ending up in the lavish if inaccurate stage musical and award-winning film, Cabaret (1972).
His friend, the poet, W. H. Auden, wrote from abroad saying: “There are thirty-seven boy-bars in Berlin where attractive young men trade their favours for a small fee, or a gift.” Germany sounded like paradise. The cult of the body was in full swing. Money was scarce, but the young folk lay on the banks of rivers, drinking in the sun, swimming naked and cultivating a fashionable tan. While in the nightclubs every form of deviant sex was to be found. The famous Transvestites Ball encouraged men in elaborate drag, made up to the eyebrows and girls in dinner jackets with cropped hair and monocles to show their form.
Christopher, in this heady atmosphere of sexual freedom sought the ideal German boy. First, there was Bubi, dreamy-eyed and sensuous, then Otto, a lissom youth, from a poverty-stricken family, who was ready to travel with him, and ready to sell his body, but not his soul — both these turned out to be wanted by the police — and finally he met Heinz, who became his lover and constant companion for years, until Hitler’s purges began and homosexuals began to be hunted down. This passionate love affair had a tragic ending — Heinz was picked up by the Gestapo.
In l939, on the eve of the Second World War, Christopher and Auden left England for America. During this dreary winter voyage Isherwood relives incidents from his life. In the isolation and limbo of the ocean, he feels alienated from his life in Europe and unsure what the future in America may hold for him. He is writing a book called The Lost which is to reflect the lives of the emotionally bankrupt folk, the lost generation which has lost its way — the victims of the Nazis, the survivors of the Spanish Civil War, the desperate and the confused. On this journey he feels he has joined their ranks. The novel was abandoned but the individual stories were published separately and are among the most sensitive and perceptive of his works. The play begins as the ship leaves England and ends as the towers of Manhattan loom out of the fog.