Considering the time period in which Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s adaptation of Berlin Alexanderplatz took place (the late 1920s), the prevalence of misogyny isn’t all that shocking. However, what does come as something of a surprise is the distinct and flagrant ire for women as a people in the fifth installment of the miniseries, “A Reaper With the Power of Our Lord.”
After encountering the head of the Berlin underworld, Pums (Lilo Pempeit), our protagonist–or anti-protagonist, depending on how you look at it–Franz Biberkopf (Günter Lamprecht) is introduced to one of Pums’ henchmen, Reinhold Hoffman (Gottfried John). Franz mistakes his instantaneous connection with Reinhold as relating to the fact that perhaps Reinhold once served time too. In reality, however, there is an innate bond between them over their shared belief that women were designed to be pawned from one man to the next (Franz was a pimp before going to prison).
Upon running into Reinhold again later on in the episode, Franz is taken aback by Reinhold’s frank discussion regarding his contempt for the female sex. “Women!” he exclaims as Franz relieves himself in a corner. “These idiotic, crazy women. Nothing but trouble; always the same old crap. Always the same old bull shit with women.” Franz responds, “You sure take these broads seriously. I’d never have thought it of you.” The overt sexism on both of their parts is varied. With Reinhold, the hatred stems from a derision for their weakness–their malleability and willingness to flit from one man to another depending on his affections of the moment. Where Franz’s prejudice lies is in his belief that women are too frivolous to be taken seriously and his lack of understanding the moral bankruptcy of deliberately seducing a woman away from another man and then passing her off to another when he has to take over one of Reinhold’s latest girlfriends.
Even Franz’s attempts at trying to make Reinhold understand things from a woman’s perspective come across as shallow and two-dimensional as he shrugs, “What more can a woman do than leave another guy for you?” Reinhold rejoins, “That’s just it. I don’t want her. I can’t stand her anymore.” The two then go on to converse about how there’s too many women in the world, as though they are their own versions of Hitler, except with a desire to purge the country of vaginas rather than Jews. Taking into account Fassbinder’s usual sympathy for the disenfranchised (see: Ali: Fear Eats the Soul), his keen ability to elucidate the extent of German scorn for women in his interpretation of Alfred Döblin’s novel is really quite remarkable (in spite of being offensively repugnant).