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Darling of the Month: Nicole Otte and the magazine “rik”

1. April 2024

From stage lights to archive treasures: Nicole’s heart beats for creative self-expression and social change. A sabbatical year and an unexpected job change finally bring her to the Gay Museum, where she discovers her own past in the archive. If you are ready to be infected by her enthusiasm, after this interview you might also see administrative work as a creative act.


Nicole! You’ve been at the Gay Museum since 2019 and have already traveled to various cities before that. Would you like to introduce yourself?

Yes, of course, my name is Nicole Otte and I’m the administrative manager here at the SMU, but I originally come from the theater world. I’ve been here in Berlin since 2005, when I co-founded Ballhaus Ost and tak (Theater Aufbau Kreuzberg). I’ve also worked as a freelance production manager at places like Theater unterm Dach and Deutsches Theater. But I think my project with refugees from Syria in northern Iraq, where I was able to work with theater educators, directors, actors and trauma therapists, is much more important. We offered theater and acting workshops and used them to build self-empowerment structures. That started in 2015, and I’m still in contact with some of the participants from back then.

That’s quite a lot of work; where were you before you came to Berlin?

I was in Cologne from 1999 to 2004. During my years in Cologne, I was very politically and voluntarily active in the queer scene. For example, I was a board member of Schulz, ran a youth theater group with which I also performed at EuroPride, and was a co-founder of the event and campaign alliance Unser Dorf soll schöner werden.

Queer issues really drive you into action!

That’s right, I’ve been an active volunteer for 24 years. Five years ago, I joined the Sunday Club’s bar group and have been part of the board there for two years now. It was also really nice to co-lead the anniversary exhibition project lieben. kämpfen. tanzen. at the SMU.

What was your path from the theater to the museum like?

In 2018, I took a sabbatical year for which I had planned to take care of myself. In the end, I also put a lot of time and energy into advancing my Woven Theatre Project. So I was also in Iraq a lot that year. When the political situation changed and a lot of funding was withdrawn from Iraq, I was very busy trying to find my own funding and somehow find a good ending for the project… After that, I was done with being tied to a house and actually wanted to work as a freelancer. Friends then pointed me towards a job advertisement at the Schwules Museum. After a bit of back and forth, I wrote my application on the last day of the year and sent it off. After negotiating that I could bring my dog Silva to the office, I signed the contract a week later.

And how do you like it here now?

In the theater, you have a 6 to 8 week summer break every year. I was always traveling during that time, which I miss. In addition, in the places where I used to work, the production schedule was very tight, so you were in a new world almost every two weeks. In that sense, it’s a bit quieter here at the museum, but our community is very diverse. Political and social struggles unfold in a completely different way in our micro-cosmos! The appeal is different, which can compensate for a lot. But I really miss working in Iraq, I would love to be there again and meet up with old friends.

…and what appeals to you about administrative work?

It sounds duller than it is (laughs). What’s really great about administration, even if it doesn’t seem like it: you can help shape quite a lot. Basically, all aspects of the museum go through administration once, all event flyers, new volunteers, exhibition applications and every tool that our workshop needs… In administration, you know about everything. In principle, the administration is a management tool. It’s a lot of fun because you can use it to make things possible for your colleagues, for example by freeing up budget. Of course, I also have to make sure I close the bag on the other side, so sometimes I play bad cop to keep the figures under control…

So that explains your competent performance, it suits you!

(laughs) Thank you. When you manage the machine, it’s part of the job to operate in the background.

Now you weren’t always in the background, because your darling tells a different story…

That’s true (laughs).An important anchor point for me in Cologne was rik magazine, for which I wrote the column Nickie O. – a terrible name that the editor-in-chief and my best friend came up with.Nickie O. then provided lesbian visibility in a very gay magazine.I mainly portrayed lesbian artists, with interviews and photos. When I started at the SMU in 2019, I realized that I had already been present in the museum’s archive for a long time, precisely through rik magazine: my entire time in Cologne in politics and voluntary work is depicted in it.

What does that do to you?

That was funny, everything is in rik . Of course I noticed how we sent out magazines.It only makes sense that every issue ends up in Germany’s largest movement archive.I then realized that I could become active in and for the archive myself.For example, I then acquired the posters of the queer Playboy issues for the SMU archive.

Is there perhaps something from your younger years that you wish hadn’t been archived for all time?

My weird hairstyles! (laughs) There are some really funny pictures with terrible outfits.

It’s all in again now!I can’t wait to browse through the rik myself and get inspired.Thank you Nicole!


(Interview: mino Künze)

Image: Yu Mitomi