The True Story Of How An Exotic Dancer Became One Of WWI’s Most Notorious Spies

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Image: Wikimedia Commons / Wikimedia Commons

It’s 1916, and the First World War grinds on in Europe. A woman known as Mata Hari is in Madrid, neutral Spain’s capital. She’s there to see an officer serving at the German Embassy called Major Arnold Kalle. Hari in fact hopes that Kalle will be able to put her in touch with Germany’s Crown Prince Wilhelm. What’s unclear, though, is whether this exotic woman is spying for the French or the Germans – or if she’s simply in the game for money. But either way, things aren’t going to end well for her.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

We’ll come back to the puzzle of what exactly Mata Hari was up to in Madrid a little later. For the moment, then, let’s get to know more about this notorious courtesan, erotic performer and alleged secret agent – or possibly double agent. So Hari was actually born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle in 1876 in the Dutch city of Leeuwarden.

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Image: Edgar Degas

Zelle was in fact the first-born of Antje van der Meulen and her husband, Adam Zelle, who were both in their mid-30s at the time. The couple also had three sons, and Adam owned a successful milliner’s store. The family therefore had enough money to give Zelle and her siblings a comfortable early upbringing. Zelle even attended upscale schools.

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