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Schwules Museum [Gay Museum]  
 
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Berlin's Schwules Museum, established in the late 1980s, is a private institution dedicated to preserving, exhibiting, and discovering homosexual history, art, and culture. Located in the Kreuzberg district of former West Berlin, long the center of gay life in the city, the museum is composed of three main divisions: archives, library, and exhibitions.

The Mission

The Schwules Museum was founded as a "living collection" to present to the public exhibitions, catalogues, essays, lectures, and film screenings. Its targeted audience includes everyone--gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, , and heterosexuals--who would like to inform and be informed, in a professional and scientific manner, on all topics relating to homosexuality, both historically and contemporarily.

Sponsor Message.

The museum is a repository for diverse collections--including records of self-help groups, public institutions, and churches, as well as memoirs, oral histories, and literary and artistic works. It is the mission of the museum to build from such diverse sources a continually expanding chronicle of gay social history and to document the history and development of gay liberation movements.

Although the museum is interested in all aspects of homosexual history and culture, it has a particular concern with the persecution of gay men and lesbians under fascism. The treatment of gay men and lesbians by the Third Reich is a topic of specialization and continuing research.

This topic is dealt with extensively in museum publications and exhibitions, including the famous 1997 exhibit entitled "Goodbye To Berlin? 100 Jahre Schwulenbewegung" [Goodbye to Berlin? 100 Years of the Gay Movement].

"Goodbye To Berlin? 100 Jahre Schwulenbewegung"

The beginning of the early European gay rights movement is generally dated to May 15, 1897, when four courageous individuals met for the first time in Berlin to initiate resistance to Paragraph 175 of the German Penal Code, which imposed severe penalties on individuals convicted of homosexual acts.

The exhibit "Goodbye to Berlin" opened at the Academy of Art in Berlin, under the co-sponsorship of the Schwules Museum, on the one hundredth anniversary of this signal event.

The exhibit documented every significant milestone in gay and lesbian history of the 100 years between 1897 and 1997. Although the scope of the exhibit was global, the focus was on German culture and history. The title of the exhibit, alluding to Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories, suggests the pivotal role of Berlin to glbtq history in the years between the world wars.

On view were art works, photographs, letters, and other documents that illustrated the lives of glbtq people at various epochs from the era of Bismark and the Kaisers to the Golden Age of the Weimar Republic (when German culture itself reached its artistic zenith), and from the bleak period of suppression and persecution in the Third Reich to the time of recovery and organizing in the post-World War II years, culminating finally in the gay liberation movement sparked by the Stonewall Riots of 1969.

The exhibit was a great success. Fortunately, the beautifully produced, richly illustrated, and deeply informative catalog provides a permanent record of the exhibit and itself constitutes a valuable history of the gay rights movement.

Recent Exhibitions

The Museum currently has two exhibition rooms in which it presents exhibitions on topics ranging from art and history to the everyday lives of gay men and women. Unfortunately, a lack of exhibition space prevents the Museum from installing a permanent exhibit on the history of gay persecution and gay liberation.

Recent exhibitions have paid homage to the anniversaries of two international German celebrities: "Marlene und das Dritte Geschlecht: Hommage zu Marlene Dietrichs 100. Geburtstag" (December 5, 2001-April 15, 2002) [A retrospective in commemoration of Marlene Dietrich's 100th birthday]; and "Fabrik der Gefühle: Hommage an Rainer Werner Fassbinder" (May 29-October 28, 2002) [A retrospective in commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the death of accomplished filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder].

The Dietrich exhibit shed light on the actress' relationships in several spheres, especially her role as gay and lesbian icon. Among many other documents, the exhibit featured photographs by Cecil Beaton, letters, costumes, props, and numerous objects from the Dietrich Estate, many of which were exhibited for the first time in this homage to Germany's unique contribution to film and glbtq culture.

The Fassbinder exhibit brought together photographs, film clips, and posters to document the director's life and work, and the centrality of his homosexuality to both. Drawing from private collections as well as from material loaned by the Fassbinder Foundation and other museums, the exhibit centered on the role of women in Fassbinder's films, illustrating how the director's own life experiences influenced these parts.

Another recent exhibition at the Schwules Museum was entitled "C'est mon homme" ("It's My Man"). The exhibit consisted of a collection of male nude photographs from the French artist association, "Passage à l'acte."

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