Eberhardt Brucks belongs to the generation of German homosexuals who grew up in the liberal era of the Weimar Republic, but whose education and coming out were curtailed by the Nazi regime.
Born in 1917 in Berlin-Lichtenrade, Brucks was the youngest of three children. Despite the first world war and the Great Depression of the 1920s, his parents succeeded in providing a fairly comfortable youth. After finishing high school, Eberhardt Brucks took up studies at the Berlin Texile and Fashion Academy on Warschauer Platz in 1936. He joined Waldemar Kohlund’s theatre class for costume and stage design. Around this time he gathered his first gay experiences, especially in the secretive world of bath houses. Brucks also recalls early visits to the bar Bei Barth on Fasanenstrasse which, despite increasing repression and persecution measures, held out as a meeting spot for gay men.
In 1938, before he could finish his studies, Eberhardt Brucks was recruited to work in the Arbeitsdienst and soon into the army. Due to a handicap he remained in Berlin serving in a home service unit. During the war years he managed to hang on to the last remnants of freedom. He attended model drawing classes at the Fine Arts Academy on Steinplatz and took advantage of military travel passes.
Until 1943, often together with some comrades, he would visit nude bathing beaches on the isle of Sylt. In the course of the invasion by the Red Army he was captured and until October 1945 held in Fürstenwalde near Berlin.
Only after his release from the POW camp Eberhardt Brucks could fully dedicate himself to the fine arts. Drawings of this period express the horrors of war but also his fears and longings as a homosexual. Following first exhibitions and book illustrations, his drawings to the romantic tales of E.T.A. Hoffman were published in 1947.
In order to cure a Hepatitis infection stemming from the war years, the Allied authorities permitted Brucks to join relatives in Lugano for 18 months as from 1947. Here he made new friends and first heard of the Swiss homosexual organisation, Der Kreis (The Circle). In spring 1948 he attended a meeting of Kreis members in Zurich. The novelty of a relaxed atmosphere among likeminded led to regular contributions of drawings and poems for the international Kreis magazine. The organisation’s network made him aware of the new gay liberation movement. Among others, Brucks contacted Hermann Weber who in August 1948 founded the League for Humanitarian Living in Frankfurt/Main.
In 1951/52 Brucks’ work was shown in Berlin and Lüdenscheid; his illustrations then also started appearing in the German homosexual press. His Zurich contacts led a collaboration with the Hamburg publisher Christian Hansen Schmidt. The latter created a forum for questions around the German criminal code. A further supporter in the field was Erwin Haarmann who in 1953 founded the Society for Human Rights with the aim of bundling the interests of groups spread all over Germany. In 1953 and 1954 several drawings of Brucks were printed in the magazine Hellas, a Hansen Schmidt publication. Also in 1954, the same firm published Botho Laserstein’s documentary story (A boy on the beat) as well as his plea against the death penalty, Laßt uns wieder etwas töten! (Let’s kill something again!) – both with illustrations by Brucks.
The original drawings no longer exist. Laserstein, a lawyer, was demoted upon publication of his book and committed suicide, as did Hansen Schmidt when his firm went bankrupt. For Brucks this experience led to a severe crisis; it was his life-long interest in the theatre that saved him. From 1954 onwards, he played small parts in several theatre productions of the East Berlin Volksbühne. The wall built in 1961, brought an end to this activity.
In 1951, through a personal ad in the gay magazine Amicus Briefbund, Brucks met Hans Pählke. Hansi, as he called the love of his life, was five years younger and employed at the Berlin gas works. Together they made regular trips to Sylt, renowned for its nude beaches and an old favorite of Brucks from before the war. Pählke in turn initiated him to the pleasures of music.
Brucks’ mother Martha fully accepted the relationship with Pählke. After his father’s death, mother and son shared the parental flat. His room also served as art studio. This place became a refuge for Hansi, whose own mother rejected homosexuality. The typical prejudices of the era led to a family tragedy: in 1963 Hans Pählke took his own life, some weeks later his mother committed suicide.
Brucks tried to overcome the loss of his friend and lover through his art work. In the following years he often used religious motives. In the 1960s he joined the Association of Visual Artists, using their facilities to produce series of graphic works. Until the ’80s Eberhardt Brucks worked as a graphic artist and was a small part actor in film productions. Meanwhile retired, he still lives in Berlin.
Curator: Karl-Heinz Steinle