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Volunteer of the Month: Olaf Eberhardt

1. May 2022

„It makes me happy to see all the queer life, from topics ranging from inter* to trans-gender, and all the other things out there.“

After Olaf Eberhardt moved to Berlin from Wiesbaden, the museum immediately offered him a place of welcome. He has been able to experience almost every area of volunteering at the SMU and has a lot to say about the multifaceted experiences. Read more here in the interview.

SMU: Feel free to introduce yourself in three short sentences

Olaf: I’m Olaf, I’ve been living in Berlin for about 22 years and I’m originally from Wiesbaden. I’ ve visited Berlin several times during my school years and I thought to myself: “I can imagine living here.” I then moved here when I lost my job in Wiesbaden. Back then, rents were also cheaper in Berlin. My main job is as a customer consultant for an insurance company. I like to read, play table tennis, ride my bike and watch and engage with movies.

A quick question by the way: What kind of movies do you like to watch the most?

Movies that deal with society or family constellations. To give you an example: “Everybody’s talking about Jamie”. It’s about a young student who discovers his feminine side and becomes interested in drag shows. It’s a musical film and it’s set in England. But in itself, I don’t really have a focus.

Okay, and how did you become aware of the Schwules Museum? When and how did you start volunteering at the house?

At that time, the museum was still on Mehringdamm and I lived two streets away. I often walked past it and looked at one or the other exhibition. At some point it turned out that they were looking for someone to take on an volunteer workposition in the administration. I could see myself doing that because I had completed an education as an office administrator. Then it came to the interview with Tom and the then head of administration. At some point, the museum moved, and since I’m interested in literature, I worked in the library for a few years. I did various things there, such as taking in books, returning books, and also advising visitors. I did that once or twice a week, which was also very nice – until I unfortunately became quite seriously ill. That’s how I ended up in the supervisory service.

We’re lucky to have you! What does your volunteer work as a supervisor look like?

Turning on the technology, then turning it off, and occasionally answering visitors’ questions. As a supervisor you get to see the different exhibitions and there is more contact with the other volunteers than in the library. But in perspective, I am toying with the idea of returning to the library again. As a supervisor, you can also deal directly with the exhibits, meditate, think about the exhibition and the concept. With the exhibitions, it shows what all there is within the queer community, such as the exhibitions “Mercury Rising – Inter* Hermstory[ies] Now and Then” and “Encantadas: Transcendental Brazilian Art.” The whole thing is very horizon-expanding. When I started here at the museum, the focus was more on gay life/gay movement. After the move, it has spread much more toward queer, and that’s a development I really like.

That’s so very sweet of you! Why is the museum such a special place for you?

Well, another reason that made me join the museum was that I experienced quite some discrimination back in Wiesbaden from family and friends. That really triggered me to become involved in the community and their institutions. I think it is super important to have a museum with lots of visibility, that people talk about and that represents queer life. I am glad to be a part of that and able to help out. It makes me happy to see all the queer life, from topics ranging from inter* to trans-gender, and all the other things out there.

What was the nicest experience you made at SMU?

That would have to be the move from Mehringdamm to this location. It was such a celebration! Klaus Wowereit, other culture senators and many community celibrities were a part of that. It was so nice to get to know these people, or at least experience their presence for once. Anyway, it was huge with something between 200 and 300 guest, or more! I love looking back on these memories. At the same time, there are those small encounters at the museum, with visitors or other volunteers, that make it worth it.

Is there one, or multiple exhibition/s from the SMU that stood out to you?

One exhibition that I experienced to be special was the “100 Objects”. In this exhibition, the archive basically went public and showed different things, such as art pieces, paintings, books and posters. This way, various areas of queer life were represented. Also recently, there was the exhibition “arcHIV. eine Spurensuche”. This one stood out to me, because its visitors, again, gained access into the library and the archive, along with the struggles that those sectors had to face in the past. It also nicely told a story about the HIV Aids and its movements. I think its remarkable that all objects were from the SMU’s archive, and that part of the curator’s team was made of volunteers from here. And not to forget, the exhibition “Anders als the Andern”, which showed the first gay movie from 1919. The whole room was plastered with posters and film clips. I simply love how many different exhibitions the SMU always hosts.

Is there something that you are missing at the Schwules Museum?

That we rename the Schwules Museum. Many visitors come here with wrong expactations. Maybe a name like “Museum for Queer Life” would be more fitting. Another idea of mine would be to have exhibition texts in simple language, because many of those are currently kind of complex and use terminology from Gender and Queer Theory. That is not very accessible for many visitors, including me.