The fact that sex and espionage belong together has been part of the basic knowledge of pop culture since James Bond.

But the British double-zero agent had a famous role model in reality: a woman.

She did not have the technical repertoire of Q at her disposal, only her own body.

With that she turned the heads of politicians, diplomats and the military, gave the Bourlesque theater important impulses, served two hostile clients in bed and with cash, only to finally die before a firing squad.

Her name: Margaretha Geertruida cell, better known by her stage name Mata Hari.

“I am a woman who enjoys her life, sometimes I win, sometimes I lose,” was her motto.

On February 13, 1917, she had to find out how right she was.

That day she was arrested in a Paris luxury hotel and brought before a court martial examining magistrate.

He transferred her to the notorious Saint-Lazare women's prison, where she was initially given a solitary cell, soon afterwards was transferred to cell 12, where Henriette Caillaux was already imprisoned, who in 1914 had shot the "Figaro" editor-in-chief Gaston Calmette.

But while she was acquitted, Mata Hari's trial ended with a death sentence.

Wrongly, as numerous evidence now shows.

At the same time, the myth of the greatest female spy of the 20th century begins to vanish.

Her message was a sultry, overwhelming erotic: Mata Hari (1876-1917)

Source: picture alliance / akg-images

The daughter of a hatter from Leeuwarden in the Netherlands, born in 1876, strived for higher things from an early age.

Her father had already made a lavish lifestyle through speculation that ruined him.

The daughter soon broke off her training as a kindergarten teacher, not without first seducing the head of the school.

She then followed the marriage advertisement of the colonial officer Campbell Rudolph (John) MacLeod to the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia).

Soon the marriage was broken and Lady MacLeod, as she was now called, wanted to return to Europe.


From her southern complexion, which she owed to her mother's Javanese roots, models from Indian rites and folklore as well as numerous legends about temple dancers and exotic relatives, she created the fictional figure of Mata Hari (Javanese for "dawn"), whose central message is a sultry, overwhelming Was erotic.

"She sways under the veils that conceal and reveal her at the same time ... Her breasts lift languidly, her eyes shine wet," wrote an entranced contemporary witness.

“Your secular dance is a prayer;

lust becomes adoration. "

Since her rhetoric also did justice to this, Mata Hari quickly became the darling of the metropolitan boulevard.

“The dance is a poem, and each of its movements is a word,” she explained, and was celebrated.

On the stages of Europe and in the beds of men who had enough money to convince the mysterious beauty of her virility.

Because their lifestyle was in no way inferior to their greed for attention.

She constantly suffered from financial worries.

Her celebrated role model had also called numerous imitators onto the scene, who gladly delighted the relevant establishments of the fin de siècle with increasingly daring representations.

In addition, the selection of economically potent admirers decreased significantly after the outbreak of war in 1914.

"Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose," was her motto

Source: picture alliance / United Archive

Mata Hari was released from this misery in autumn 1915.

How the contact with German agents came about has not yet been conclusively clarified.

According to a report by the German secret service, a conversation between Mata Hari and Walter Nicolai, the head of the German military intelligence service III B, which was responsible for foreign intelligence, is said to have taken place in Cologne.

Although her commanding officers have made every effort to teach the new "Agent H-21", as she was called internally, "the agent's multiplication tables on long walks on the outskirts of the city", they soon despaired of the naivety with which hers were Schoolgirl used the modern spy accessory like invisible ink.

She received an advance of 20,000 francs through the German consul general in Amsterdam, Carl Cramer.


It was Mata Hari's task to discover signs of new offensive plans by the Entente in garrisons in the hinterland of the front.

Mata Hari's penchant for neat men in uniforms should serve her well.

But their dealings also aroused the suspicion of George Ladoux, the head of the Deuxième Bureau, the French military espionage.

Warned by English colleagues, in August 1916 he made an offer to Mata Hari to spy for him.

The possibility of exposing her as a German agent was apparently factored in.

“The dance is a poem and every move it makes is a word,” she explained

Source: picture alliance / Mary Evans Pi

In fact, "Agent H 21" started an affair with the German military attaché Arnold Kalle in Madrid.

However, he wanted to see through the game and have leaked outdated plans of German submarine movements to her.

Kalle passed on the information Mata Hari gave him for her German clients in an encrypted telegram.

He wants to have consciously accepted that the code he was using had long since been cracked by the English.

The British actually deciphered the text and passed it on to Paris.

There Ladoux Mata Hari set a trap and finally ordered access.

In a quick trial before a military tribunal, Mata Hari was sentenced to death on July 25, 1917 in Vincennes near Paris for high treason.

The execution took place on October 15th.

"Fear nothing, dear sister, I can die without becoming weak, you should see a beautiful death," she is said to have said to the nun who accompanied her on her last journey.

And to the commander of the firing squad: "Monsieur, thank you." She was 41 years old.


It has long been known that the process - without a jury, assessor and experienced attorney - had considerable shortcomings.

Files released by the British secret service in 1999 also suggest that the Entente secret services were well aware that Mata Hari had not passed on any substantial information.

"Your breasts lift up languidly, your eyes shine wet," wrote an enraptured contemporary

Source: picture alliance / akg-images

Further information from the files of the British secret service became known in spring 2014.

Mata Hari has therefore never made a full confession and reported mainly on gossip in Paris during her interrogations.

Wesley Wark, a specialist in security and terrorism at the University of Ottawa, goes even further: politics was not her business.

The French court files are still inaccessible.

They should only be opened in the next few months.

But more and more books and films are appearing in France that portray the beautiful dancer as a scapegoat for the army of dead French soldiers rather than as a dangerous spy.

The publicist Léon Schirmann even put forward the thesis in several books that the proceedings had been manipulated by the French authorities.

The accused were said to have given statements in their mouths or turned them into the opposite.

The request for revision, which the Parisian star attorney Thibault de Montbrial then brought in 2001, was rejected, however.

One reason for the harshness of the court could also have been the situation at the front.

In the spring of 1917 severe mutinies shook the French army.

Historians estimate that almost half of the army temporarily refused to serve.

An offensive was out of the question.

The leadership tried to get the situation under control with court martial and court martial.

A spy came in handy as the culprit.

Sylvia Kristel as Mata Hari in the 1985 film of the same name

Source: picture alliance / Mary Evans Pi

Since then, more than 200 novels and numerous films have worked on the legend of the seductive top spy.

Historians take a more sober view of history: Mata Haris “The legend was part of a popular perception of what was happening in World War I, riddled with conspiracy fears,” writes Gundula Bavendamm in the “Encyclopedia of the First World War” (Schöningh, 2003).

"She attributed an importance to the course of the war to the espionage in the rear of the front, and in particular to the espionage by women, which did not correspond to reality."

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This article was first published in 2017.