“We’re a queer museum now”
There is no way of imagining the Schwules Museum without Klaus Kruska. This doesn’t come as a surprise, since he is among the longest-serving volunteers to have been caring for the museum and its visitors. In this interview, Klaus tells us, amongst other things, about the former location of the museum at Mehringdamm, and his hunt for a job as a gay theology graduate in the GDR during the late 1960s.
SMU: Dear Klaus! Tell us, for how long have you been at the Schwules Museum?
Ever since 2009. So that is my eleventh year. Back then, we were located in an old house in a backyard on the Mehringdamm, close to the Bergmannstraße. That wasn’t as comfortable as it is now at our current location. The opposite was the case, it was visitor-un-friendly: People in wheelchairs weren’t able to access the exhibition halls on the first and second floor because the elevators were too narrow. It was pretty much unsuited, nonetheless it had a very peculiar charm to it, which radiated from the location, to the employees, even onto the visitors. The atmosphere was very familial, that doesn’t exist in this manner anymore – and I’m not even saying that to be critical.
What made this charm?
The feeling of being acquainted and everything that was improvised, as well as doing our best with every situation and also transferring that on the visitors. We only had access to a very small kitchen with only one sink, one fridge and no warm water. We were able to solely cook coffee there. But when we had a vernissage, we had to make it work – which we can now do from behind an amazing bar. We brought the counters of the pub out to the yard and we always had to clean the few glasses we owned very quickly. Everybody helped out. It was exhausting, yet special.
What has been your favorite experience of eleven years in the Schwules Museum?
That’s a question I cannot really answer. But I had a worst experience. In the old building, we were just about to close when a horde of slightly drunk, rightwing skinheads came around. They were shouting and aiming directly towards the museum. The only thing I did was lock the door and hide in a corner thinking “What do I do now?” The whole situation got easier since there was solidarity from neighbors such as SchwuZ and other colleagues. I was able to open a door and the rightwing skinheads turned out to be not that aggressive and homophobe after all. I could breathe again and close down the museum afterwards. But it really was a tricky situation.
Since you are working at the ticket office of the museum, can you notice the visitors’ first impression?
Not at first sight. We have primarily young tourists here, who are visiting for the first time. After seeing the museum, we often get a lot of positive feedback: “Great exhibition!” or “Great house!” Visitors from Berlin are often astonished by the size of the museum, since they often only know the old building. Especially a lot of old people are criticizing that there is no permanent exhibition. At the old location we had an exhibition that was a tour through 150 years of gay history. We couldn’t have taken that over the way it was, so we didn’t. Obviously, the museum has evolved in the past couple of years. In a sense, we’re not a gay museum anymore, but a queer museum. However, I still believe that there should be a permanent exhibition besides all the changing ones.
What do you do when you are not in the museum?
I like being here a lot. When I’m not I enjoy my retirement with my significant other. For 20 years, we had a theatre-ticket-office at big rock concerts, and also at the philharmonic orchestra near Kurfürstendamm. 10 years ago we kind of gave that up and only kept it going with our regular costumers – because of Corona this is currently not possible, though.
What did you do before volunteering at SMU?
I studied theology, however after finishing my degree I did not pursue being a pastor for various reasons. Through my studies I gained access to my faith, which is why it became hard for me to convey a simplistic version of faith, as many people want you to. In the GDR’s late 60s, there were furthermore problems with being gay. As a vicar, I would have had to start at a small town in Brandenburg. People would have started asking questions: “Why do we always see him alone? He is not married!” I wouldn’t have been able to act out on being gay there. Since the job opportunities outside of the clerical office were close to zero, I got very lucky: through relations I obtained a position at the State Museums of Berlin in the Directorate General. After three years of my assistance, I became employed at the Kunstgewerbemuseum Köpenick and worked in Public Relations there.
Can you think of something, that you would like wish upon the gay or queer movement?
More tolerance! More tolerance and equality towards the movements in the queer development. Sometimes there are some strange looks from the queer side towards the so called gay, old, white men, for example. I feel depreciated when that happens, and that shouldn’t find a space. Even the old, white, gay men did their part for the things that are possible today, things that weren’t even imaginable back then.