burger Button

Volunteer of the Month: Christian Skerka

“Art, Culture and Being Gay”

An art lover on his own way: Christian grew up as a homosexual boy in the GDR and initially had the dream of embarking on an orchestra career. When the GDR school system made his dream impossible, he decided on a different, but no less artistic path as a stage technician for various cultural institutions. Today he is 55 years old, retired and the longest active employee of the Schwules Museum. We asked him how he found his way to us and gained insights into the theater scene of the GDR, the culture of debate of the SMU and much more.

SMU: Hello Christian! Please introduce yourself! Where are you from and what do you do for a living?

I was born and grew up in Dresden. In 1985 the Semper Opera House had just reopened after it had been renovated. And shortly afterwards, I started working there as a stage technician. I loved it, this environment, it was really easy for me. In the theater scene, nobody was bad-mouthed for being gay or lesbian – it was quite normal. Half of them were gay, I almost want to say (laughs).

Do you have other passions?

I love travelling! After my apprenticeship I first travelled in Eastern Europe with my boyfriend at the time. While hitchhiking in Hungary, we met a couple from Hamburg with whom we stayed for a few days. After three days they said: We know a place where it is relatively easy to cross the border into Austria. My boyfriend wanted to do it, and as crazy and in love as I was, I followed him. But all I really wanted to do was take a vacation. That’s how I ended up in the West; first in Eisenstadt, later in the opera houses of Vienna, Kassel and Stuttgart. Everything there was about art, culture and being gay!

Are you looking forward to the new exhibition at the Schwules Museum on queer culture in the GDR?

I will definitely take a look at it. I’m very interested in other people’s view of that time, I only have my own perspective.

What brought you to the Schwules Museum?

In 1995, I worked in Berlin at the Deutsches Theater until I was diagnosed with MS. That meant I was retired and had a lot of time. Years later I lived with my partner in Kreuzberg near Prinzenstraße which is near Mehringdamm, where the former building of the Schwules Museum was located. I walked past it from time to time and on December 6, 2004 I dared to go inside. Since then I am part of the crew!

Tell me more about your work at the museum! How often are you here and what is your favourite task?

Due to Corona, some things have changed, but in the past I loved working at our events. Now I’m at the cash desk about twice a week, sometimes I still work the bar.

What was your best experience at SMU?

It happened just before the last lockdown. A young man visited us and wrote something very emotional in the guestbook in our lobby. He came to me at the cash desk and said: “It is so great that there are people like you. And when I see all the things that are exhibited in this museum, I remember again how much history there is in it and how many people have fought to reach the point where we are today.” He really had tears in his eyes, and that from such a young person. He was in his early 20s! It was so honest how he thanked us from the bottom of his heart for what we are doing here. Sometimes we forget how unique our work is. That brings back tears to my eyes (laughs).

What is so special about the SMU that you stay with us for so long?

Well, there were times when I struggled with the house and had conflicts with others. I was thinking about leaving and finding another queer gay space. But I noticed that no other gay self-organization is like the museum: They don’t have so much culture, they don’t show so many personal lives. So I decided again and again to stay. And one thing I realized back then and I still say today: There is conflict in every family. It would be absurd to claim that there is a family in which everything runs peacefully. I understood that different opinion are okay; that’s no reason to leave right away. This learning process was possible at the Schwules Museum.

Is there anything you would like to change at the museum?

This sounds a bit crappy now, but I would like to see more communication between staff and volunteers. My wish is that there would be more playful and informal exchange with each other. I think the essential work of the volunteers would be appreciated even more this way.

Photo: Christian Skerka (Yasmin Künze)