Staging Stonewall

Fifty years on from the famous 1969 riots, two festivals celebrate Berlin’s queer past, present and future.

Image for Staging Stonewall

Photo by Lutz Knospe

Fifty years on from the famous 1969 riots, two festivals celebrate Berlin’s queer past, present and future.

It was a riot that reverberated around the world: rocks flew down Greenwich Village’s Christopher Street and an international gay liberation movement was born. Fifty years on from Stonewall, two of Berlin’s most forward-thinking institutions pay tribute with festivals celebrating queer history, identity and futures.

Gorki Theater kicks off the festivities with its annual mini-festival Pugs in Love – Queer Week, now in its third year and hosted in their Studio R and Lichtsaal while their main stage undergoes some much-needed renovations. The (German-language) panel discussion Wem gehört Stonewall? – who does Stonewall belong to? – on June 12 gets the ball rolling, with Südblock owner Tülin Duman, author and queer activist Bernd Gaiser and journalist Tobias Sauer touching on queer liberation, myths and reality, and the riots of tomorrow. A highlight is Isabella Sedlak’s From Hell with Love (photo), starring Gorki’s usual suspects Orit Nahmias and Yousef Sweid, alongside Swedish actor Lindy Larsson. Sedlak’s English-language performance is a tale of demonised characters who free themselves from the shackles of oppressive binaries, be they good/evil, male/female or top/bottom. American film director and Berlin socialite Yony Leyser will also make his theatrical debut during the festival with a world premiere of a personal history of queer Berlin, as told through various international voices of the LGBTQ* community: W(a)rm Holes.

However, Stonewall isn’t the only key date in queer history worthy of celebration, as HAU makes clear with its interdisciplinary festival The Present Is Not Enough: Performing Queer Histories and Futures. 2019 also marks 100 years since the German theorist Magnus Hirschfeld founded the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft in Berlin – a pioneering institution for trans rights that was light-years ahead of its time and was ultimately closed and destroyed by the Nazis in 1933. Opening the festival is Ukrainian artist Maria Kulikovska’s video and sculpture installation Let Me Say: It’s Not Forgotten – a series of life-sized sculptures of the artist that cast a feminist perspective on regional conflict in her homeland the artist has experienced first-hand. African dancer, choreographer and activist Mamela Nyamza has also been invited to the festival with Black Privilege, a dance performance that stages her intersectional experience as a black, lesbian mother through a contemporary choreography to comment on racist, power and tribal structures in her native South Africa. Meanwhile, Polish theatre director Michał Borczuch’s co-production with HAU, Untitled (Together Again), offers a glimpse into private histories and public archives in a theatre performance that deals with queer grief from the HIV/AIDS epidemic to the present day.

Half a century later, the radical legacy of Stonewall is all too often whitewashed, as five minutes at Berlin’s annual CSD parade will make glaringly obvious. What does a middle-class booze-parade through Schöneberg have to do with trans people of colour’s necessarily violent struggle for their last remaining free space within a repressive, transphobic society 50 years prior? The strength of both these queer festivals lies in their championing of diversity on the one hand, and their ability to escape the rut of forever romanticising queer struggles of the past on the other, instead providing a critical yet optimistic look towards a queer utopia of the future. And that’s something worth celebrating.

Pugs in Love – Queer Week Jun 12-15 Maxim Gorki Theater, Mitte | The Present Is Not Enough: Performing Queer Histories and Futures Jun 20-30 Hebbel-am-Ufer, Kreuzberg