Exhibition 03 October 2003 - 15 February 2004

Mittenmang: Homosexual Women and Men in Berlin 1945 - 1969

The exhibition presents women and men who lived in the very middle of post-war Berlin - "mittenmang", as the colloquial German puts it - yet kept certain aspects of their lives hidden from view.

Echoing a politician's famous call upon the world to "look at this city" during the 1948 Soviet blockade, the exhibition highlights the interaction between individual lifestyles and world politics in a city ensnared by the Cold War only three years after the end of World War II. Although the subsequent foundation of two separate German states sealed Berlin's division, it was common for Berliners from both East and West to socialize and even work in the other half of the city - until the Wall went up in 1961. 

Further political developments decisively influenced the lives of homosexuals. In 1949, initial hopes of growing social acceptance were dashed when West Germany adopted the harsh version of § 175, the paragraph prohibiting homosexual relations, that had passed into law under the National Socialists, whereas East Germany revived the somewhat more liberal statute of the pre-war Weimar Republic. Homosexual acts between males remained a criminal offence in West and East Berlin, female homosexuals continued to be ostracized by society on either side of the Wall. 

While the older generation of homosexuals reactivated time-proven traditions and networks, younger women and men were discovering undreamed-of freedom. West Berlin witnessed the growth of a flourishing new culture of clubs and bars, despite the fact that police raids, arrests and convictions continued to occur well into the 1960s. While prosecutions were rare in East Berlin, social oppression remained a fact of life there, too: homosexuals were long forbidden their own publications, meeting places, and societies. In either part of the city, it was essential to exercise discretion and carve out niches in order to live with some degree of self-determination. A sense of liberation only set in after the relevant laws were liberalized, first in the East in 1968, followed by the West in 1969.

The exhibition shows the role homosexual women and men played in Berlin's social development. More than 400 exhibits, many of them on public display for the first time, demonstrate their committed efforts to the re-building of the city, with photographs, letters, documents and works of art offering the visitor unusual insights into working and private lives.