facebook youtube instagram

Robert Sennecke (1885–1940)
Wine for fishes in the Missouri
USA, 1929
Gelatin silver print, 11,3 x 15,5 cm
Photographer’s stamp „Phot. ACME-Sennecke”, date stamp „24.Okt.1929”, clip with an ediorial text in German

Whenever during prohibition the police force achieved a victory against the alcohol smugglers, the barrels would be emptied in front of the press, mostly they ended up being poured into rivers or canals. Picture agencies then were responsible for spreading these images. One of those agencies was owned by Berlin born photographer Robert Sennecke, whose work has been widely forgotten until today.

After single states of the US had already declared themselves as “dry” during the First World War, the law against the sale of alcoholic drinks was passed in 1920. This anti-alcoholic movement was supported by clubs of puritan alcohol opponents as well as women’s rights activists. One of their reasons was the intention to avoid the negative consequences of alcohol abuse altogether, but another important aspect that today might seem a bit strange, was the alcohol opponents were trying to eliminate the “German” culture of beer drinking. This sentiment was very strong amongst Americans before the First World War. On the 28th of August 1920, almost on the same day of the national prohibition of alcohol, the voting right for women was written into the constitution.

In his critical essay on religion Die Zukunft einer Illusion from 1927 Sigmund Freud compared religion with a narcotic “Someone who has taken sleeping pills for decades, naturally can’t sleep once the medicine is taken away from him. That the effect of religion can be compared to the one of narcotics can be illustrated on the example of a process we see in America. There, under the influence of female empowerment they are now trying to ban all stimulants, narcotics and luxuries and replace them with an overdose of godliness. We don’t need to be curious about the outcome of this experiment either.”

The “drying out” of the USA had some success concerning the general health of the population, but had grave consequences for the criminality, that can be felt until today. It is public knowledge that a gigantic illegal alcohol-trading organisation was founded during these times, formed by gangs, especially people of the “Cosa Nostra”, the American mafia. With the failure of this experiment and the end of the prohibition in 1933 the powerful structures of the mafia could not be destroyed- they were able to secure new markets in the trade of illegal drugs.

Ulla Fischer-Westhauser, © WestLicht