Born in 1901 as the daughter of a renowned German obstetrician, flamboyant teenager Antonie shocked her parents with an early announcement of her intent to become an actress. “My parents said I was insane, ” she later admitted. Her father commented: “I don’t rate the occupation of acting as dignified.” But he was powerless against the strong-willed Antonie, and soon she was performing on stage in Germany and abroad with the leading German actors of the 1920s. Critics praised her for the dramatic quality she brought to her heroines. Antonie also developed a passion for athletics where she performed extremely well: In 1927, for instance, she ran 100 meters in 15 seconds, and swam 200 meters in 4.58 minutes. She loved cycling, and set a world speed record for the 20 kilometers (about 12.5 miles) distance. In boxing, one of her sparring partners was Marlene Dietrich – at that time still an unknown actress at the beginning of her career. Antonie also loved racy cars, and usually sped along the streets of her Berlin hometown. Berlin policemen, it is said, saluted the fancy, fast driver, and never ticketed her. Attractive and outgoing, Antonie became friends with influential German celebrities, and, over time, was romantically linked with the former Prussian Crown Prince Wilhelm, the renowned German actor Rudolf Forster, and the famous World War I fighter ace and aerobatic pilot Ernst Udet.
In September 1927, Antonie started to take flying lessons, inspired by her brother Erwin, who for years had taken her ballooning. After obtaining her sport pilot’s license in 1928, she advanced to aerobatic flying. A pilot, she declared, should be able to handle an aircraft in all kinds of situations.
Antonie was thrilled by flying, and compared it to acting: “One is a physical high, and the other a mental one, and both make me happy beyond description.” Yet, despite both her unusual careers as actress and pilot, Antonie was not an advocate of emancipation for women. In a 1929 German newspaper article in, she wrote: “If I were a guy! … Starting in May, I would impatiently wait for the weather report from the Tempelhof airport [in Berlin], and at the first favorable minute: Start towards America! Lindbergh on my mind, and courage and trust in my heart! Yeah, if … […] But since I am not [a guy], I’ll do all these things just for myself, with no ambition – just idealism, to enjoy the great privilege, to be a woman! I am content as it is.”
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