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Volunteer of the month: Joachim Silvela

1. December 2021

Building bridges through communication

Joachim lives in the city he never liked. After Berlin took hold of his heart, he applied at the SMU as a volunteer. After a year’s work in the exhibitions and at the café – unfortunately interrupted by lockdowns – he is now a representative for the volunteers. And Joachim has great plans for the SMU.

SMU: Please introduce yourself in three short sentences: Where are you from, what do you do for a living, what are your greatest passions and hobbies?

Joachim: I am Joachim, I was born and raised in Essen in the Ruhrgebiet. In 2017, I arrived in “the city that I never liked” but which become more and more interesting and important with every visit, so I soon became a new Berliner. I am an educator by profession and long worked with deaf people and people with hearing disabilities, as well as volunteered in queer and cultural projects. I recently retired. My interests are diverse, I especially occupy myself with political and social issues, as well as energetic healing. If I want to relax, I read, especially crime novels, listen music, or cook. Recently, I started to learn dancing.

How did you first come into contact with the Schwules Museum? When and how did you start volunteering at the museum?

When I started to visit Berlin sporadically in 2017, I already knew that I wanted to volunteer. I got a few interesting offers via the Freiwilligenagentur Mitte in early 2020, one of them was the SMU. The perspective to become involved in the museum immediately excited me and I applied right away. Unfortunately, my application coincided with the first lockdown. I could only start to familiarize myself with the museum service and my tasks in May 2020. In November 2021, I was elected as representative for the volunteers in the museum service. I am looking forward to this new assignment.

What do you do in the museum? What are your tasks, what do you especially like to do?

Over time, Thursday became my regular work day in the museum service. I like to get involved and really appreciate coworking with all my colleagues. Apart from preparing the exhibitions for the visitors each day, I make drinks at the café of the SMU and work at the cash register at the front.

What I’m doing as representative of the volunteers? I am not entirely sure after this short time. I especially want to represent the volunteers’ perspectives at the board and the paid employees. Some colleagues recommended me – first, I thought it was a joke. Over time, I saw that the others liked the idea of me candidating. I have come to realize that I can integrate my prior professional and volunteering experience at the SMU. Some issues are also relevant at the SMU for the involvment of volunteers, for example transparency, or efficient communication and organization. I would be happy to contribute to questioning structures and improving them, so volunteers can feel validation not only through words but also in their work on a daily basis. They should think: “Oh, it’s wonderful here! I am supposed to be just here!”

Why is the museum a special and important place for you?

Until recently, I was never in Berlin, also never at the SMU – because Berlin as a city did nothing for me. But I observed with interest that something like the Schwules Museum existed. Maybe it sounds simple… but just because this space exists, it is an important space for me. Certainly, the museum is important and significat in many way, but I simply like that this museum can just exist so naturally, and that’s why it’s special.

What is your fondest memory at the SMU? Is there an exhibition that you especially remember? Or an event?

I can remember a few beautiful or interesting moments at the SMU. The most beautiful moment, for sure, was in spring 2021 when we were able to open again after the second lockdown. Apart from that, I like that the SMU is internationally popular and significant – this is visible and audible almost daily through interested visitors from all over the world.

I still haven’t experienced the museum under “normal” conditions without any regulations, to experience everything that’s happening or can happen.

Unfortunately, I only visited a few exhibitions at the SMU. I heard many remarkable things about prior exhibitions by colleagues who are involved as volunteers for many years. I myself found the exhibition “Rosarot in Ost-Berlin” really interesting and educational because the offered an interesting and important, although short, glimpse into the life situation of queer people in the former GDR.

Is there anything you miss at the museum? Or something that you would like to change or improve?

I would appreciate it if the museum shop would become more significant – at the moment, it appears to have fallen into oblivion, neglected even. And the the café could be conceptualized in a broader way.

How was the SMU founded? Back then, the situation was certainly different. Today, the museum became an institution – in the positive, as well as the negative sense. I would like the feel the spirit of the museum’s origins. Back then, everything was in one hand, I think – it means that the people who founded the museum also curated the exhibitions and organized everything. today, it is necessary to build bridges between the volunteers, the paid staff and the board. As representative of the volunteers, I want to broaden my perspective, learn about the structures and participate in enhancing the communication and flow of information between volunteers, paid staff and the board.