Schöneberg, Berlin, 1977. Ancient and strict Athenian gods warn a young man: “You! You told me you have been in a public toilet!” “I think you called it a ‘pick-up place’. And that you fucked a stranger in the ass there! And you even found it extremely satisfying!” “I find this to be totally objectifying and alienating.”
The boy answers the gods rudely: “Have not you ever been fantasizing about being fucked by a big dick without all the usual ranting first?”
The Greek gods can’t believe their own ears, and they are certainly also a bit envious: “This is completely shocking! Have you never heard of tenderness and equal relationships between men? Is that not what you demand?”
The audience at the night club Schwuz laughs at the god moralists. It is also not that long ago since Summer of Love created warm sensations in many a gut in the Western world – when the, at the time, left-wing had not yet been able to become the sexual-political knipeonkel.
It is the idealistic theater group Homosexual Action Westberlin who has made the theater piece the scene is taken from. The young members of the HAW meet every
Sunday afternoon to discuss homosexuality and capitalism, with the belief that it is possible to defeat this unfair economic system together with ordinary workers.
The group turns up with its own gay unit in the many demonstrations made by the left-wing in West Berlin. Always just in front of, or right behind, the anarchists – the only ones who really accept them. Many of the other “lefties” grab the flyers out of their hands.
HAW soon realize that their “federal fellows” are just as prejudice as the right-wing and the bourgeois: for straight people of all kinds, being gay is not political, but rather something private and pervert – just like the Norwegian AKPml considered homosexuality as a “civil deviation”.
My Wonderful West Berlin is a cinematic journey in what did not become Hitler’s dream, Germania, but rather the opposite – Gaymania. It travels from the hornyness and joy of the 60s, through the 80’s Aids disaster, to our present-day adaptability. The director, Jochen Hicks, depicts the decades when homosexuality went from being a disease and a personal problem to a quality one can be proud of and likes to talk about on television.
The economic growth of the 1950s had created a generation of youth that was not only educated, but that also had the opportunity to create a space to share experiences, where they, together, could determine who they really were – and not who the parents meant that they should be. They had money between their hands and were able to experience what freedom is in its essence: to be able to choose. A whole new world was created.
Going into the age of individualism, there were only three places where you could fully live out your homosexuality: Berlin, Amsterdam and Cologne. Thus, young men went to the big cities to have a gay (“fun”) time. In Berlin, the venues were often hidden inside the ancient half-ruins of World War II. Here you could dance with other men, something that was forbidden in Hamburg and Munich. “I had 50 marks when I arrived in Berlin,” Rene Koch says, a make-up man, stylist and one of My Wonderful West Berlin’s narrators. Soon he got a job at Kleist Casino, where the cash was flowing.
That women could have sex with each other without men participating, seemed odd to most people. Thus, anti-gay laws, like the German paragraph 175, did not include female homosexuality, which was similar to the Norwegian paragraph of law. Though the women followed eventually. They quickly made their own groups when they discovered that the gay guys were exactly the same sexist alfa men as their hetero brothers. “For all men, sex is the first priority,” one of them says. Once, some of the guys in HAW painted dots all over the Sunday meeting room. The commentary from the lesbians in the theater group was clear: “You’re even more patriarchal than those others out there!”
Hick’s film also captures the many gay films made in the city from the 70s onwards. When I attended the Berlin Festival as a filmmaker myself, I funnily enough, met several of the now pretty old directors the film mentions. One of these, Wieland Speck, the powerful head of the Panorama section during the Berlinale, created both films and porn when he was young, the latter to fund his films. He has now become a gray-haired man who answers the following to the question of what the state of him and sex is, these days: “Very little. I was not interested in older guys when I was young – so I do not see myself as a sex object anymore.” The gays of the 50s did not get a place at the film school in West-Berlin – nor did celebrities like Lothar Lambert, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Rosa von Praunheim. Von Praunheim’s film It’s not the homosexuals who are the perverse was canceled before it was going to be broadcast on German television but rather got it’s premiere at the Berlinale in 1971.
Freedom to be something else is the sum of the first decades of My Wonderful West Berlin. Unlike today, the gay struggle seems to have decayed into a desire to live as close as possible to the hetersexual norm. The old heterosexual formula “one wife, two children, three rooms and four wheels” has been exchanged for “one man, one shared lover, two bought children, six rooms and eight wheels”. Normality, just like the petty bourgeoisie sees it, has become the purpose of life itself.
The gays in Berlin, on the other hand, founded “gay communes” in the 70s – collectives where anything was aloud, everyone slept with everyone and the world was a little freer. “I do not do anything political these days. I focus on my homosexuality”, says a man in the opening part of the film.
Something else that has changed, even for an old radical like myself, is an acknowledgment that previously seemed impossible. One of the creators of HAW, Wolfgang Theis, puts it this way: It was capitalism that liberated us. Capitalism needed our hedonism and shopping. The fact that the gay movement was to become part of the labor’s struggle, was just nonsense.
The best part of Jochen Hick’s directing is that he, today, lets us meet the same men and women that we saw in the first ruffled amateur movies made 40–50 years back – those who survived the Aids, the disease that stole their boyfriends and friends. The fear of becoming old and unattractive has not changed over time. The ancient Greek gods were most of all sour because they did not get anything, up there in the kingdom of heaven.
In one of the movies we get to see parts of, Taxi Zum Klo (1980), a young man drives around in a sports car, eternally on the search in a Berlin vibrating for the one who has the youth’s capital to offer: “I wonder how it is going to be when I grow older. Will I still feel so restless? I hope the pension allows me to buy myself a young boy. Because I do not want to be one of these old pissoir sluts.”