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Darling of the Month: Marina Steinbach and the photography “Hexenhaus”

1. March 2024

Anyone who visits the museum on a Thursday or Saturday afternoon or orders an Aperol Spritz at an art opening is guaranteed to know these two: Marina and her black poodle Lilly. Marina hasn’t been working at the café for very long. Why she decided to apply for a voluntary position a year and a half ago and met her first great lesbian love again at one of our exhibitions is one of the many great stories our employees have to tell. In this interview, she introduces us to the little darling that, quite surprisingly for her, combined personal and museum history.

Dear Marina, how nice that we can get to know you! Would you like to briefly introduce yourself: where are you from, what do you do, what keeps you busy?

A year and a half ago, I was simply looking for voluntary work in a queer context. I wouldn’t necessarily have come across the Schwules Museum first, but then I saw an ad in the Siegessäule and thought I could give it a try. I was actually a management consultant by profession, I also worked in a bank, so always in the financial sector, and I actually came to it in connection with my darling…

We’ll get to that later! But then you haven’t been with us very long, we’re both still chicks here, so to speak…

Yes, but I already felt very much at home here on the second or third day. I know that others felt the same way, and I still feel very much at home here as a volunteer.

How wonderful!

I now have the time for it because I stopped working so slowly last year. I suffered a stroke of fate that really threw me off course. After that, I started working even more and then very soon realized that I needed to slow down. That’s when I decided: firstly, I’m going to get a dog – and secondly, I’m going to find an activity that is meaningful and that I enjoy.

And why did you specifically look for voluntary work in the queer sector?

Well, because I’m a lesbian myself. And because I worked so much and was therefore so little involved in the scene before. I was together with my wife for 21 years, so sometimes you’re a bit self-sufficient and we supported things politically, but not actively in the scene. And that’s why I want to do it now – and what I didn’t want was to volunteer in a hospital or something like that, that’s too close to me.

Now you’re one of the few women* among our volunteers, how do you feel about that?

I feel really good! (laughs) My wife and I have always had a lot of close gay friends in our lives, and I’ve usually found that very pleasant. Of course, I also had a classic phase where I excluded men from my life. That was due to the time, we fought for women’s spaces – and I still stand by the fact that we needed that to develop our own self-confidence. But over time, because I knew who I was and how I wanted to live, that dissolved for me. And then came the friendships. And here at Schwules Museum… I like them! We get on really well as a team.

Would you like to see more women working here?

Yes, I think that would be good. But a few have now appeared, including a few younger ones. It’s starting to mix a bit more, and of course I think that’s the best thing, because I’m older myself and I like to see what’s going on in the young scene.

What kind of impression have you gotten of our audience over the past year and a half?

That always changes a bit with the exhibitions. At “Aufarbeiten”, the audience was more academically oriented and usually already had background information on the topic. At the opening of the Rüdiger Trautsch photo exhibition, on the other hand, there was a completely different target group. But the reason why I generally like working here is the very international and mixed and very diverse audience, regardless of age, sexual orientation… I think it’s great how young some of the people are who come to us, sometimes even parents with their children, it softens my heart, to be honest. I experienced a very touching scene when an older man came out to me…

In the museum service?

Yes, he said it was the first time he’d told anyone he was gay. You can experience something like that here. I was almost in tears…

I was just about to ask you about your best day at the museum…

Well, that was definitely one of them! I was thunderstruck that it was obviously the atmosphere in the museum that made this man say it.

You also have direct contact with the audience…

Yes, and I’m quite sociable, I chat to everyone. And I really like it when there’s a lot going on in the café.

Let’s move on to your darling, that’s a photo of the Hexenhaus in Liegnitzer Straße, from around 1981…

Yes, it’s still there. I worked at the so-called Feministisches Frauengesundheitszentrum (Feminist Women’s Health Centre, FFGZ) from 1982-89, and it initially had rooms in this squatted house, which was later legalized and also renovated and repaired, which I witnessed back then. I hadn’t been in Berlin that long, but I had already been active in feminist work in Bonn before that. In retrospect, I realized that there was no lesbian visibility there at all, I didn’t even know that there were lesbian women…

In feminist projects? Wow…

Yes, from today’s perspective that’s incredible, nobody was visible. Subconsciously, that was certainly a reason for moving to Berlin. I studied politics and wanted to get to know other people, and then I started working at the FFGZ alongside my studies. Both there and in the Hexenhaus there were of course loads of lesbians, including some who didn’t hide it, and then I realized for the first time that this way of life existed. And then, for the first time, I really and completely fell in love with a woman.

And that’s who we see in this photo…

We can see her in this photo too (laughs). It didn’t really turn into anything, but it was a start. And when I finished my studies, I started doing everything in this project that had to do with money, finance, accounting and funding – and then decided to professionalize it and study business administration. So it all came full circle.

And you came across your sweetheart at Schwules Museum?

That was very funny. On my second or third shift, I hadn’t even had time to look at the current exhibition when Jona (Sweetheart of the Month November 2023), who had once asked me about my past, came out of supervision and told me: there are photos of the project you were involved with in the Tuntenhaus exhibition! It was downright exhilarating for me as a lesbian woman to come full circle in the Schwules Museum of all places.

How did you actually come to the Feministisches Frauengesundheitszentrum?

Back then, health wasn’t really the topic that interested me. It was a feminist political project and, like now, it was simply something I was looking for and felt comfortable with. There were also a lot of women’s projects back then that didn’t appeal to me at all, esoteric things like planting our own ginger tea and so on, that was never my thing.

And if your work as a management consultant developed from that, did you also have a queer approach? Is there such a thing as feminist financial advice?

Well, I often don’t know what’s so queer about some companies. But I’ve always had a connection to women – and to empowering women to deal with money more confidently. That was always the first sentence I heard: Don’t take out a loan, I can manage that! Due to their socialization, women have often had the tendency to think far too small, while men immediately say: I’ll build an empire first…

… and then I’ll see what happens!

Exactly. Women are much more cautious, but then also totally motivated to get something together for themselves. That has always played a role for me.

Had you ever been to Schwules Museum before you responded to this ad?

Way back in the day, on Mehringdamm. It was too gay for me! (laughs) It wasn’t as if I thought I had to go there regularly from now on.

And then you come back and encounter your own past. Could you describe your sweetheart in three words?

Lesbian visibility… feminism… and thirdly…

Maybe something more personal?

Well, then I’ll just say: love!

How nice… Does Lilly also feel comfortable here?

(Laughs). She actually feels very comfortable, she knows everyone and has found her place. But if I’m here for a long time, she gets a bit bored.

Does she have a darling?

No, but she has already tattered the ball of Silva, the office dog.

I’m sure I didn’t mean any harm. Thank you very much, Marina, for telling us about yourself and for making so many people want to volunteer with us!

(Interview & photo: Jan Künemund)