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Biographies of women and Berlin lesbian scene in the permanent exhibition: Schwules Museum becomes more and more lesbian

20. May 2009 – 30. September 2009

Schwules Museum shows homosexual life in all its facets since 1985. This is demonstrated by cultural and political-historical focal points, but by means of artistic presentations too. Up to now there have been 100 special exhibitions and the permanent exhibition Self confidence and persistence – 200 years of history to introduce the history of homosexual movement and individual forms of life.

Momentarily, Schwules Museum is in a stage of an important strategic remodelling: History and (sub) culture of the lesbian and queer movement are becoming a part of the Gay Museum. Since 1990 there has been a change of paradigma which gave the impetus to the cooperation of gay, lesbian, transsexual and transgender activists of both sexes. This way, the queer label finds its expression. The first step into that direction was the exhibition L-Projekt in the summer of 2008. This exhibition was the first evidence on federal level to show policy and culture of the very productive Berlin lesbian scene from the beginning of the 1970s.

The presentation of the “biographies of women” gives further evidence of the gradual remodelling of the permanent exhibition. In addition to the exhibits already existing, both four biographies of lesbian protagonists and some highlights of the preceding L-Projekt are shown.

With the person of Johanna Elberskirchen (1864-1943) we are introducing an extraordinary woman from the first half of the 20th century, who has almost been forgotten. She was engaged in the movement of women, homosexuals and female workers. The author Christiane Leidinger gives proper attention to her in the biography she has written recently.

Furthermore, insight into the life of the journalist Elisabeth Leithäuser (1914- 2004) is given. As a young communist Elisabeth Leithäuser was accused of high treason in 1934. Thanks to perjury she was absolved from this sentence and she withdrawed into private life together with her partner. After 1945 she worked as a journalist for the Berliner Rundfunk, for the RIAS and for the Telegraf. At the age of almost 60 she made a new beginning once again by leading an asylum for mentally disabled. In her “third” life she finally engaged herself in the women- and lesbian movement, which came into existence around 1970.

The life history of Domino shows a completely different part of the history of lesbians. From 1960 she was the only artist imitating men, her performances took place in travesty shows and in Berlin locations like Chez Nous and Troika. She was born in Paris and she attended a Catholic Girls School in Marseille, where she was educated in church music. Her first engagements were in the Carrousel de Paris, the Madame Athur and in the Elle est Lui. For more than 21 years she has been living with her girlfriend and singing partner Régine on the isle of Sylt and since then she has been performing together with her as the singing duet Domino und Régine.

The biography of Rita Thomas (*1932) gives insight into the history of the lesbian scene of Eastberlin. As a declaring “Bubi” she called herself Tommy from her 15th year of life. Against the resistance of GDR authorities she opened her own dog dresser’s shop and she became popular for taming animals for performances in films, varietés and shows. Her flat in Friedrichshain, located directly above the dog dresser’s shop, and her bungalow in Weißensee were one of the addresses for parties of the Eastberlin scene around 1950 and 1960. Around 1970 Tommy engaged herself in the Homosexuelleninitiative Berlin and she performed in their cabaret group named Hibaré. For more than 40 years Tommy has been living together with her life’s partner Helli.

We are pleased to present the lesbian and queer sub culture of the past decades by means of some exhibits from the exhibition L-Projekt. By means of photographs by Heike Overberg we remind on the legendary location of the Berlin lesbian scene Pelze. The large sized photographs by Kristina Strauß remind on the popular action “cunts in motion”, which upsetted the Berlin CSD in 1998. The US American Gender performer and photographer Debra Kate shows queer celebrities of stage by means of her unusual backstage photographs – such as Toni Transit, Mimi Montroe and Coco Lores. Thus she also gives evidence of the international importance of the Berlin queer sub culture.

Curator: Anton Stern