2017 Winner: Male Homosexuality in German Cinema: The Lurid Ride Through the West and the Discrete Cruise Through the East

Project Information
Male Homosexuality in German Cinema: The Lurid Ride Through the West and the Discrete Cruise Through the East
HIS 196G - Modern Germany and Europe
In my paper, I follow the changing attitudes towards homosexuality during the German Empire, Weimar Republic, and post-war East and West Germany, as represented through film and first-account interviews. Throughout modern German history, the implementation and adherence to Paragraph 175––which criminalized homosexuality––caused traumatizing hardships for the homosexual population, and although Paragraph 175 was stricken from the German criminal code by the late 1960s, gay individuals still expressed fear of being open about their identities well into the latter years of the 20th century.
Under Paragraph 175, gay individuals were persecuted for their "unnatural desire" by imprisonment during the German Empire years. Following WWI and during the Weimar Republic, homosexuals experienced more tolerance. Berlin was the capital of this "gay Eden," and in 1919, Different Than the Others, the first film about homosexuality, was produced.
However, this was only a moment of reprieve, as during WWII, homosexuals were deported and sent to concentration camps, where they were harassed for bearing the pink triangle. It was then when being outwardly indistinguishable from a heterosexual became extremely valuable for survival, as those who could pass as straight survived the camps. This was stated by numerous interviewees in Jürgen Lemke's book Gay Voices from East Germany.
After WWII ended, Germany was split into two, and this was also the moment when the attitudes and film depictions also split. Capitalist West Germany was freer in principle and in practice, and this was reflected in their films. Frank and ordinary portrayals of homosexuality in films such as Fox and His Friends (1975) and Taxi to the Toilet (1980) helped normalize homosexuality and encourage general acceptance. Meanwhile, in socialist and totalitarian East Germany, despite Paragraph 175 being outlawed in 1968, one year prior to West Germany, there was a stronger propensity to hide. The only feature film directly centering on homosexuality, Coming Out, premiered only in 1989, on the night the Berlin Wall fell.
My paper ends with a suggestion of considering the 25 years that have passed since Germany's reunification. Attitudes have undoubtedly changed again, and perhaps contemporary films reflect this change as well.
PDF icon 923.pdf
  • Serene Tseng (Oakes)