Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bogotá am Rhein

One of the many things I learned while reading Marek Kohn's much-recommended book Dope Girls was that there was a time when the leading cocaine production powerhouse in the world was...Germany.

I did not know that.

Kohn notes:

Agreement was reached in principle, at the Hague in 1912, to limit the use of opium, morphine and cocaine to 'legitimate medical purposes', but in practice it was stymied by the commercial interests of Germany, the world's leading cocaine manufacturer, and Britain, which dominated the world's morphine industry. (42, emphasis added)

Indeed, the process of isolating the active ingredients from coca leaves was pioneered by a Göttingen grad student, Alfred Niemann. Niemann not only named the alkaloid that he isolated 'cocaine', he also wrote his dissertation on the topic, which was published in 1860. (Niemann, sadly, died the following year.)

As H. Richard Friman observes in a 1999 essay, by the 1880s, the German pharmaceutical company Merck was the 'prime source for cocaine'.*

One of Merck's later rivals, I was interested to see, was C.H. Böhringer, which is located, not far from here, in Ingelheim am Rhein.

After the First World War, due to a variety of issues, Germany followed trends elsewhere and moved toward regulation of the drug. However, it appears to have remained a key producer of the (increasingly criminalised) drug at least through the 1920s.

Which brings me to another of the articles I ran across recently.

Cocaine in His Socks.

Arrest of London Man Who Made Frequent Visits to Germany.

Paris, Monday.

With cocaine in his socks, a Londoner living in a small Paris hotel was arrested by the Paris police in a Montmartre night restaurant.

The man, has been a frequent visitor to Berlin, coming back always with a load of flash jewellery,which he sold in Paris cafés and night restaurants.

The cocaine smugglers are busier than ever trying to bring secret stocks into France from Germany. Much of the narcotics which are thus fraudulently introduced across the French frontier eventually reach England.

Two days ago the French frontier police at Forbach found in the Wiesbaden—Paris express a huge store of contraband, of which cocaine done up in tiny glass tubes formed a large part. Eight men have been arrested, and the French police have obtained warrants against a number of German exporters.

(The Daily Mirror, 2 May 1922, 4)
Ah, night cafés in Montmartre and international express trains. That's the drug underground as it should be. Better that than Scarface.

These days, of course, this part of the Rhineland is far more famous for a different drug.

*'Germany and the Transformations of Cocaine, 1860-1920', in Cocaine: Global Histories, ed. Paul Gootenberg (Routledge, 1999), 83-104, p. 84.


The Wife said...

Montmartre cafés - the cliché!

mikeovswinton said...

Are you surprised? After all a very renowned and still extant drug company from near Cologne came up with the brand name Heroin for its patent morphine addiction reduction drug. I did hear that they trademarked heroin the same week that they also trademarked aspirin. Do you know if this is true?

J. Carter Wood said...

Surprised? Yes, though not because Germany has long been involved in making drugs (this one realises, at the latest, at about the time one learns to pronounce 'Bayer' correctly...).

I hadn't, though, previously been aware of its leading role in producing certain drugs now associated far more with other parts of the world. (I recently read a book on the life and death of Pablo Escobar, so this topic has been on my mind.)

I don't know much about the history of heroin...or of aspirin for that matter.

But the German Wikipedia tells us that Bayer began patenting 'Heroin' on 26 June 1896. (The English-language version does not have this detail, interestingly enough.)

They also offer a nice picture of a brand-named bottle...

You learn something everyday.

The Wife said...

And then of course there's Klosterfrau Melissengeist - now that's hardcore.

The Wife said...

Silly girl, when will you learn to do the linky thingy?

mikeovswinton said...

Yes, when you know what Bayer were up to it makes sitting in the cafe overlooking the Dom sqaure at Cologne watching all the tourists with their uniform Bayer bags (pink or yellow?- can't quite remember) trooping into the cathederal a rather surreal exspeience.