The German Experiment That Placed Foster Children with Pedophiles

Rachel Aviv:

Suddenly, it seemed as if all relationship structures could—and must—be reconfigured, if there was any hope of producing a generation less damaged than the previous one. In the late sixties, educators in more than thirty German cities and towns began establishing experimental day-care centers, where children were encouraged to be naked and to explore one another’s bodies. “There is no question that they were trying (in a desperate sort of neo-Rousseauian authoritarian antiauthoritarianism) to remake German/human nature,” Herzog writes. Kentler inserted himself into a movement that was urgently working to undo the sexual legacy of Fascism but struggling to differentiate among various taboos. In 1976, the magazine Das Blatt argued that forbidden sexual desire, such as that for children, was the “revolutionary event that turns our everyday life on its head, that lets feelings break out and that shatters the basis of our thinking.” A few years later, Germany’s newly established Green Party, which brought together antiwar protesters, environmental activists, and veterans of the student movement, tried to address the “oppression of children’s sexuality.” Members of the Party advocated abolishing the age of consent for sex between children and adults.

In this climate—a psychoanalyst described it as one of “denial and manic ‘self-reparation’ ”—Kentler was a star. He was asked to lead the department of social education at the Pedagogical Center, an international research institute in Berlin whose planning committee included Willy Brandt, who became the Chancellor of Germany (and won the Nobel Peace Prize), and James B. Conant, the first U.S. Ambassador to West Germany and a president of Harvard. Funded and supervised by the Berlin Senate, the center was established, in 1965, to make Berlin an international leader in reforming educational practices. Kentler worked on the problem of runaways, heroin addicts, and young prostitutes, many of whom gathered in the archways of the Zoo Station, the main transportation hub in West Berlin. The milieu was memorialized in “Christiane F.,” an iconic drug movie of the eighties, about teen-agers, prematurely aware of the emptiness of modern society, self-destructing, set to a soundtrack by David Bowie.