“It’s the place where special ways of life are made visible.”
Michael Waentig has been a volunteer at the Schwules Museum since 2016. In the archive he freely lives out his ability to work systematically. In addition to his passion for the cultural scene, there was a decisive reason that led Michael to volunteer work. You can read more about it in the interview.
SMU: Hi Michael! Feel free to introduce yourself in three short sentences.
Michael: I was born in Berlin, in the meantime I was based in Cologne, but I lived in the German capital again since 2000. My profession as an architect and urban planner washed me back to my hometown as a result of the reunification, which I am very happy about. I was in Berlin, even before 2000, very often, almost annually. Advanced training, visiting relatives and friends.
What are your hobbies?
I don’t have many hobbies, I do this and that. I was an amateur gardener for many years in an allotment garden on the edge of the Grunewald. I did that with great passion and went through many experiments. Today I miss the garden.
And then, of course, culture. If I summarize my inclination to many things that fall under the term “culture”, i.e. theater, music, dance, art and literature, as a general passion, then in recent years the Berlinale has emerged as the main passion, i.e. cinema, film, queer cinema in general. In 2010 I was lucky enough to be part of the jury of the Goldelse, which of course strengthened my inclination.
And how did you first come into contact with the Schwules Museum? When and how did you start volunteering at the museum?
You can almost call it banal: At the beginning of the eighties, I met Andreas Sternweiler in the then Berlin Museum, who shortly founded the museum together with friends. From that time on, I always followed his path from afar and visited the museum and its exhibitions during my stays in Berlin, including the large exhibition at the Akademie der Künste in 1997.
At the end of 2015, I visited very purposefully together with my American niece the new museum in Lützowstraße. The special occasion for me was that her son had come out shortly before. This had also increased my niece’s interest in queer issues. In the museum I discovered the flyer for the honorary office. Then I thought to myself, “This kid is so brave and is coming out.” I never did it to that extent and never saw a reason in it. While it was not as clear to me then as it is now that the museum can only exist because of the volunteer force, I felt the need to reward my great-nephew’s courage. I then wrote a kind of application and was invited for an interview.
What exactly do you do at the museum?
Since the beginning of 2016 I have been working in the museum archive and have started there with the so-called “mix boxes”. These boxes, in which the submissions on worldwide queer topics – mostly bequests – have been collected for many years, contain many topics that are then assigned to the different collections. Through this, one gets to know very well the organization of the archive in the basement. Since the spring of 2017, I set my sights on the collection on gay marriage, which can now be included in the new database. Here, since the beginning of 1972, messages, reports, documents have been collected, all revolving around the topic of “marriage”. For many years, this was more or less the topic of civil partnership in Germany, which is now the heavyweight of the collection in purely quantitative terms.
And what do you particularly like to do at the museum?
When I think about what I particularly like to do, it’s precisely this systematic work around a theme. That has always fascinated me. Whether it was microfilming drawings and introducing them to an architectural and engineering firm in earlier years, or a two-day congress on housing construction in the early nineties with all the trimmings.
Why is the museum an important and special place for you?
The answer is relatively simple: It is the place where special ways of life are made visible. And in a broad spectrum that would never have been possible when I was young. Nowadays, that includes social as well as legal acceptance. But since any kind of freedom and cosmopolitanism is endangered, you have to actively engage somewhere – for me, it’s the museum.
What is your most beautiful experience at the SMU?
Basically there are two. Once the long night of the museums in a year, I think it was 2018/2019 when by chance one of my oldest friends from the Rheinland visited in August and accompanied me to the Schwules Museum. Such a boost, moreover, with a wealth of entertaining performances, I had not experienced before in this place, in this house.
The second was similarly spectacular in terms of numbers. The opening of the exhibition on Martin Dannecker, one of the early heroes in our country, who has a similar significance for queer emancipation in the Federal Republic as Rosa von Praunheim. Since I had participated in Martin Dannecker’s questioning of the “ordinary” homosexual in 1972, this was of course an absolute highlight for me.
Is there an SMU exhibition (or several) that has particularly stuck in your memory? What impressed you about it? Or even an event?
A truly gigantic-original exhibition was “Homosexualities”. Not only because of the cooperation with the Deutschen Historisches Museum and the second presentation location in the Landesmuseum in Münster, but also because of the complexity of the topic and the multifaceted presentation. Certainly an absolute milestone. Whereby I personally liked the presentation in Münster even better than in Berlin, because it could be shown there in a spatial context.
But even less spectacular exhibitions like Superqueeros I found not only original but intelligently presented and executed. It was also a topic that I was not at all familiar with to this extent. At the Schwules Museum, by the way, it can always be admired how amazingly extensive exhibitions are created in a very small space, or rather in cramped rooms. With the general over-intellectualization of queer topics and the numerous gender philosophies, I also find it good that art, the artistic aspect, has not been neglected in recent years.
And lastly: What would you like to change or improve at the museum?
For events of any kind, with or without media, you quickly realize how limited the possibilities are in the museum. I would like to see an auditorium-like space, a forum where several people could gather at the same time and media could easily be brought in, and where the air and acoustics are also good. I noticed this particularly at the event on Martin Dannecker, which I praised. Here there were bottlenecks, for example, in the seating of guests of honor, which I think are also very important for a museum that relies on donations.