Echoes of Liberation: The transformative impact of Berlin’s queer archives

Echoes of Liberation: The transformative impact of Berlin’s queer archives

Romain Pinteaux in the Archive of the Schwules Museum

Entrance to the Schwules Museum

In the vibrant center of Berlin, amidst its historic streets and variety of cultures, a treasure trove of queer history is waiting to be discovered. Berlin’s gay archives have grown significantly in the past few decades, with collections containing thousands of memorabilia artifacts that illuminate the queer community’s diverse and resilient narratives. From historic newspaper articles to personal letters defying persecution to protest banners advocating for equality, these archives act as memory curators and activists for change. Why do queer archives contribute to preserving and documenting LGBTQ+ history and culture in Berlin?

According to Romain Pinteaux, a member of the Schwules museum’s archive team, their archive has collected a large number of pieces throughout time. The Schwules Museum has over a thousand queer related artifacts such as films, posters, books, and other general information. Many of these artifacts have been collected throughout Berlin and some have been donated to the Museum for educational purposes. However, the supplying of such items mostly take place within the Berlin community rather than outside the German capital. ‘’I don’t know if there’s a specific reason for this. However, I think there’s quite a big possibility that other cities in Berlin aren’t as fast with queer integration than Berlin since our city hosts a lot of different types of cultures which makes it more inclusive and progressive’’. People go to the spaces in which they see themselves represented and respected, so if their identity is missing, or is present and ridiculed or demeaned, they will not show up. According to Hosfeld, since the 1990s, there has been a boom in visibility for transgender and nonbinary individuals, along with the reclamation of the word “queer” as not only a group category but a complete individual identity.

Aisle of queer related artifacts (historic articles, film, photos)

Public library at the Schwules Museum

The Archive in the Schwules Museum hosts a variety of artifacts but the people don’t know how big this collection is because it doesn’t get shown to the outside world or hasn’t been identified yet.  ‘’If I show you the archives, you will notice that only 3% of our archival content is processed. The remaining items still have to be processed. It’s kind of categorized. Sometimes not even. We only have this material. Sometimes we know we’ve got it. Sometimes we don’t know where we are. Sometimes we don’t hold the copyrights to the material, therefore we can’t do anything with it.’’ The archives can offer some positive aspects on preservation and documenting. The affects of this is also seen through the changes happening in the neighbourhood. “It’s interesting to note that some shops not directly associated with the queer movement or activism, such as pharmacies, proudly display rainbow flags.

”It reflects a sense of integration into the LGBTQ+ community”

Pharmacy in Berlin showing the LGBTQ+ flag

Public transport map at Nollendorfplatz

‘’If you mention Bruno’s to a queer person, especially a gay male, they’ll likely know it. Despite being a sex shop with all imaginable items, it’s an established institution in Schöneberg, notably located on Nollendorfplatz. Its widespread recognition reflects Schöneberg’s enduring influence as a gathering place for the LGBTQ+ community in Berlin or there’s also a queer Christmas market on Nollendorfplatz in the LGBTQ+ neighborhood, known as an institution in Berlin. It attracts visitors from across the city, not just queer individuals.’’

Entrance to Media Company Bruno’s

Another example of why the implementation of queer archives supports the preservation of the LGBTQ+ community is the gentrification of certain areas such as Neukölln. ‘’Neukölln, a poor neighbourhood back in the day, underwent and is undergoing rapid gentrification, displacing many with immigrant backgrounds. Despite this, there are still pockets of diverse communities. However, the fast-paced growth is causing many queer spaces to relocate, reflecting broader trends in the area.’’ Romain explained.

Streetview of Moßstraße

The Scwhules Museum contributes to preserving queer culture in their own way as ‘’They host numerous events, including workshops tailored to marginalized communities within the LGBTQ+ community.’’ These workshops provide artifacts from the archive both from old and contemporary times, which helps the purpose of educating people. However, these workshops have primarily drawn people from nearby areas limitating the possibilities of expanding the knowledge archives’ provide. There’s a significant impact of queer archives on Berlin society. However, while institutions of queer Archives in Berlin are merging together  to expand their space for artifacts, and therefore broaden the ways in which archives contribute to societal knowledge, there is still a long road ahead. Many institutions have opened their doors over the years to provide workshops for society, but to a limited extent, since the importance of the Berlin queer archives and queer history hasn’t reached a global scale yet.

Aisle with queer pornography magazines and movies

Aisle of porn magazines and films

Collection of queer films

Processed collection of Gay Times magazine in the Archive (partly donated by other institutions)

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