Berlin in Cabaret might have had the fictional Kit Kat Klub, but real wartime Berlin had Salon Kitty. Kitty Schmidt was the owner of the most luxurious brothel in Berlin and she had amassed a fortune by the late 1930s. But she didn’t like rule under Hitler and so she had been funneling money out of the country via Jewish refugees that she helped to smuggle out of Nazi Germany. Kitty decided to make a dash from Berlin in June 1939 and got as far as the German-Dutch border, where the Gestapo were patiently waiting for her. She was arrested and brought back to Berlin. The charges against her were immense: smuggling Jews, illegal exchange and transfers of Deutschmarks out of the country, and using a forged passport.
So the Gestapo gave Kitty a choice: allow them to take over her brothel and she runs it as normal or be sent indefinitely to a concentration camp, or even be killed. She opted for the former. And so every inch of Salon Kitty was gutted and rewired and bugged by the Gestapo and 20 of Berlin’s most beautiful ladies of the night trained for seven weeks in foreign languages, unarmed combat, and codes and ciphers. Operation Kitty was now in place, at the helm of which was the head of the Nazi SS, the notorious Gruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, and was run by the operation’s brainchild, Obersturmführer Walter Schellenberg. The operation was simple: bug all the conversations, breathless confessions, and sharing of secrets by wealthy patrons in the throes of lust and passion, all whilst the Gestapo listened in. Foreign diplomats and visiting dignitaries, as well as high-ranking German officials and businessmen, would all be bugged in what became Berlin’s biggest 24/7 nest of spies.
There were some amusing tales to be had from the salon of infamy. For example, the password to gain entry into the brothel was “I come from Rothenburg,” which worked very well until the day that an actual soldier from Rothenburg pitched up at the front door. Italy’s foreign minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano, caused consternation to the German snoopers when he was bugged one night ranting about Hitler’s shortcomings as a statesman, strategist, and even lover. Spain’s foreign minister, Don Ramon Serrano Suner, caused great alarm when he was overheard in one of the brothel chambers speaking of Spain’s insane plot to occupy British Gibraltar, which the German high command quickly made sure their fascist ally halted. It was estimated that up to 10,000 men had frequented Salon Kitty in 1940 alone.
The Allies soon caught wind of the lusty snooping going on at 11 Giesebrechtstrasse and they too had it well bugged by 1941. A bomb in July 1942 destroyed the third floor on which Kitty’s bordello was situated and they moved her to the first floor. But by 1943, it was all over. East Germany’s secret police, the Stasi, would later estimate that Operation Kitty had generated some 25,000 recordings, but they claimed most of them were lost or destroyed due to the recordings being historically “unimportant.”