Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

"Goodbye to Berlin? 100 Years of Gay Liberation."(historical Exhibition)

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

"Goodbye to Berlin? 100 Years of Gay Liberation."(historical Exhibition)

Article excerpt

Whatever your opinion of outing now, it was definitely not a good idea in 1907. Three top advisers to Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II were exposed as homosexual that year--and the result was a massive backlash against Germany's budding gay rights movement and, worse, an intensification of German militarism that culminated in World War I.

Two of the kaiser's advisers were denounced for their "sick sexuality" by an ostensibly straight right-wing journalist named Maximilian Harden. His aim was to send Germany down the warpath against France by eliminating doves from the kaiser's inner circle. He succeeded, in part because it was impossible to hide the exploits of his main target, Prince Philipp zu Eulenburg, a poet and songwriter who frolicked with scores of working-class men. Imperial intervention allowed Eulenburg to escape prison, but he lost the ear of the kaiser, who then, as historian James Steakley and others have noted, became increasingly bellicose.

Meanwhile, gay firebrand Adolf Brand, publisher of the gay magazine Der Eigene (The Singular), outed Chancellor Bernhard von Bulowo second only to the kaiser. Furious that his entourage was being scandalized--Eulenburg's case made front-page headlines the world over, including in The New York Times--the kaiser rigged a slander trial against Brand. The gay leader was imprisoned for 18 months, effectively quashing his wing of the movement and igniting popular animosity against homosexuals., Not until after the First World War would the gay movement recover.

This is one of hundreds of stories told in an ambitious historical exhibition titled "Goodbye to Berlin? 100 Years of Gay Liberation," held at Berlin's Akademie der Kunste (Academy of Arts). Running through August 17, the exhibition displays 1,400 items culled from 300 institutions and individuals the world over. Germany and the United States dominate the show--there is a Village People album cover and a campaign poster for San Francisco drag artist Jose Sarria, believed to be the first openly gay American to run for public office--but France, Russia, England, and Holland are also well-represented. Overall, the exhibition is an inspiring achievement.

Unfortunately, the show covers only gay men, not lesbians. The justifications--that not enough is known about early lesbian life, for example--ring hollow. As press spokesman Albert Eckert said, the omission is "wrong."

On a positive note, the exhibition is jubilantly erotic--on display are fin de siecle pornographic images, a perfectly preserved 1910 police album of confiscated "indecent" photos, and works by Tom of Finland and Robert Mapple thorpe. …

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