While it seems like Europe’s LGBTQ* capital should have had something like Homosexualy_ies long ago, the large-scale, two museum exhibition is comprehensive enough to make up for lost time. Exberliner itself documented Berlin’s history in its April issue, through film and a timeline. But for those unsatisfied with mere reading, the Deutsches Historisches Museum and the Schwules Museum (working in partnership) present 1600 sqm of physical objects, historical artefacts, videos, art, photographs and gay liberation mementos to make 150 years of Germany’s LGBTQ* history come alive. And possibly exhaust – whether you’re homo or heterosexual.
Fatigue prospects aside, given the subject of the exhibition, it’s also immediately one of the most colourful and entertaining exhibitions at the DHM in recent memory. Those who want the hardcore facts should actually go there first – it feels larger than the other and makes the trip in the Schwules Museum slightly breezier by comparison.
Upon entering the DHM exhibition we’re softly guided in by a series of videos by prominent German lesbians and gays presenting an object related to their coming out. Among our queer Promis are Siegessäule magazine’s Christina Reinthal and Jan Noll and performer and one-time Exberliner cover model Dieter Rita Scholl. It’s a nice personal touch before one goes into the artefact heavy but fascinating alphabetically presented history of the gay liberation movement. From copies of the world’s first gay magazine, **Der Eigene, to Cologne’s “Pink Guard” suit to dildos to countless other objects, the most fun is to be had here – if you can take it all in.
Things get a bit more sombre as you take the stairs up a level and hear audio documentation of gay persecution in Africa followed by a comparative look at gay rights around the world and an incredibly tough room dedicated to the gay and lesbian victims of persecution under the Nazis’ strengthened version of Germany’s Paragraph 175. The only thing to lighten the mood at this point is to take a quick look at a map highlighting gay marriage rights in the US states which was obviously put up before the historic June 26 Supreme Court ruling.
Without giving everything away, let’s just say that the DHM have put together an engrossing, informative and touching exhibition, ending with a final touch of queer in pop culture and serving as a nice link to the Schwules Museum’s show.
The Schwules Museum’s segment tends to the more conceptual than DHM, but is also smaller. If you’re a completist, hitting it up will serve as the connection to Berlin’s more queer side, but it may not be for everyone. Beginning with a room which looks like an invitation to an impromptu disco (the idea is nice but the likelihood of that happening at a 2pm museum visit is unlikely), one immediately notes that we’re here to make up our own minds rather than learn hard facts. Made up of mixed media art (think old newspapers superimposed with photographs and video interviews in full graffitied rooms decked out in comfy pillows with words like “queertopia” inscribed on them) and conceptual installations (replicas of replicas of go-go dancer platforms), the queer scene already in Berlin will delight in such abstract explorations of gender and sexuality, but the average crowd may be unsure of what they get out of it.
Either the full picture (both museums) or just the more practical side at Deutsches Historisches Museum make a walk through Germany’s LGBTQ* history a colourful trip. And like the concept of LGBTQ* itself, an atmosphere of inclusivity for all kinds of museum goers is omnipresent.
Homosexualy_ies, through Dec 1 | Deutsches Historisches Museum, Unten der Linden 2, U-Bhf Französische Straße, Mon-Sun 10-18 | Schwules Museum, Lützow str. 73, U-Bhf Kurfürstenstraße, Sun-Mon Wed-Fri 14-18, Sat 14-19