Academic journal article German Quarterly

Queer Berlin: Lifestyles, Performances, and Capitalist Consumer Society1

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Queer Berlin: Lifestyles, Performances, and Capitalist Consumer Society1

Article excerpt

I

"Ich bin schwul und das ist auch gut so!" When Berlin's Governing Mayor Klaus Wowereit used this memorable phrase during his election campaign to out himself, it seemed that being gay and being a prominent public figure was not only quite compatible but added an intriguing gender aspect to the capital's aggressive self-promotion as a dynamic space for innovative self-invention. In his introductory essay to the collection Die bewegte Stadt, Thomas Krtiger, who was a member of the first freely elected GDR Volkskammer and later active in SPD cultural politics, describes Berlin at the end of the 1990s as a "Stadt der Unentschiedenheit," where the social elites of both former partcities are undergoing rapid delegitimation and aging. Ghetto formation and social tensions are increasing while processes of suppressing harsh realities are beginning. Thus, melancholic and retrogressive attitudes are still dominant in the city. At the same time, however, after reunification many newcomers have appreciated the city as a tabula rasa for their own lifestyles and as a projection screen for new biographies and ideas, creating a professional and international culture of communication: "Berlin bietet in den Neunzigern als schnelles, vielfaltiges und dynamisches Ideen-Labor beste Voraussetzungen fur die individuelle Inszenierung völlig unterschiedlicher und differierender Lebensstile." Explaining that the diversity of activities is particularly strong in the economic and cultural spheres, Kriiger continues: "Das Experiment, das Spontane und Unkonventionelle, das Schrage und Wilde, kurz: das Individuelle ist gefragt" ("Die bewegte Stadt" 22). The author's language, vague and coolly assertive at the same time, seeks to capture the ambiguous and free-wheeling atmosphere of a pluralistic capital in transition that must continually negotiate its path, from the divided city with a ruinous past to its aspiring role as a metropolitan center, actively participating in late capitalist consumer society, cosmopolitan culture, and the global economy.

Among the various lifestyles portrayed in. Die bewegte Stadt we find Elmar Kraushaar 's portrait of Oliver, who escapes from his provincial origins, lands a job in a large advertisement agency and finds himself a stable boyfriend. His easygoing lifestyle which features shopping sprees around Kurfurstendamm is suddenly endangered when he is accosted by three young Turkish thugs in the subway. In response to the homophobic assault, Oliver defiantly decides that he wants to stay on in Berlin despite Turks and neo-Nazis, sublimating his anger by focusing on stereotypical aspects of a hedonistic gay consumer culture: "Er fuhlt sich wohl und stellt keine Diagnose. Er ist dabei, sich neu zu entwerfen und will nichts aus der Hand geben. Kein Zufall soil mehr dazwischen kommen, keine lähmende Routine und keiner, der inn bespuckt" (Kraushaar, "Oliver" 106).

Oliver's story is emblematic for what it tells about the ideology of queer self-invention and lifestyles in the consumer capitalist society of post-reunification Berlin. Yet the recent deluge of critical Berlin literature is marked by a curious absence of queer topics.2 If the proverbial symphony of the big city of Berlin really continues in the new millennium, then it often sounds like a heterosexist composition without the polyphony (and dissonances) of queer voices. This is all the more surprising considering the fact that the legitimizing urban myth continually evoked by the new capital's quest for self-identity centers mainly on the Weimar Republic, whose vitality, of course, rested in no small measure on its thriving gay culture.3 It is hard to say whether the lack of scholarly interest in queer Berlin is due to a tacitly heterosexist bias in German cultural studies, or whether queer issues are over-shadowed by other important topics, such as German reunification, the Holocaust, the GDR legacy, or ethnic minority problems that dominate the debate on Berlin's cultural significance. …

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