Jochen Hick, Andreas Strohfeldt: Out in East Berlin-Lesbians and Gays in the GDR (2013)

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Paragraph 175, which made homosexual behavior punishable by law, was abolished in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1968. At that time, heterosexual nuclear families constituted the center of socialist society, and homosexuality was considered a peripheral issue in the GDR. Out in East Berlin—Lesbians & Gays in the GDR tells the impressive-to-absurd personal histories of gay men and lesbians in the GDR, from the post WWII years until the fall of the Berlin Wall. The experiences of lesbians and gays, on the path to a self-conscious, out sexual identity shared one specific and sinister perspective: they were accompanied by the watchful eye of the Ministry of State Security (Stasi), which recorded their actions in the bedroom and in innumerable personal files. The founders of East Berlin’s LGBT movement, the “Terrorlesben (Terror Lesbians)” from Prenzlauer Berg, gay Communists, and gays in church groups, all wanted to change the system and hoped for a society in which they could be more open about their sexuality. Some applied to leave the GDR for West Germany when they no longer believed that they could find equality and freedom from surveillance at home.

Through compelling interviews with lesbians and gays—from those who were activists to those who collaborated—filmmakers Jochen Hick and Andreas Strohfeldt elucidate the struggles of queer life in the GDR, in which citizens were monitored and spied upon. In addition, some East German gays and lesbians were pressured to betray the cause of homosexual emancipation. Using historical material never shown before, Out in East Berlin creates a fascinating, character-driven portrait of a nascent queer underground, which grew despite the strict tenets of mainstream socialist society—a society that, ironically, sought to create freedom for all of its citizens.

*Jochen Hick,  was born in 1960 in Darmstadt, Germany. Between 1981 and 1987 he studied film at the University of Fine Arts of Hamburg and also in Bologna. In 1994, he founded the film production company Galeria Alaska Productions. He is a freelance writer, journalist, director and producer of film and television, based in Hamburg and Berlin, Germany. Hick’s theatrical and TV productions have received more than 300 international film festival invitations, including nine films shown in the Berlin International Film Festival, several awards and numerous reviews. His films have been distributed and shown in several countries.

From 2007 until 2010 he was Commissioning Editor and Deputy Director of Programmes at TIMM television channel in Germany, where he was also Head of Factual Programming (editor-in-chief) and head of program acquisition, including legal and budgeting. Hick is also a part-time lecturer at the German Film and Television Academy Berlin, on various topics, including No/Low-Budget-Filmmaking and preparations and first steps in the professional world for filmmakers, producers and directors.

*Andreas Strohfeldt, Born in 1962 in Eberswalde, East Germany, Strohfeldt studied at the Institute of Foreign Relations in Moscow from 1983-1988. He later moved to Saint Petersburg where he organized Queer Cinema screenings and retrospectives. He has written and directed various short films. He worked as a researcher, executive producer and translator (Russian) on documentaries and feature films with Elfi Mikesch(Mon Paradis – The Hermitage, 2000); Ulrike Ottinger (12 Chairs, Berlin International Film Festival, 2004), Kevin Sim (The Secret Life of the Berlin Wall, 2009) and others. Strohfeldt was the co-director with Michael Amtmann of The Lost Sky about German art in the St. Petersburg Hermitage (2001, TV film) and was author and co-director with Jochen Hick on GDR under Rainbow (2011, TV film).

He worked previously as assistant director with Jochen Hick on Hick’s documentary East/West – Sex & Politics, which was shot in Moscow, post-produced in Berlin, and premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2008.