Ich Bin : Charlotte von Mahlsdorf

Lothar Berfelde

18 March 1928 – 30 April 2002

German collector, museum creator and early gay activist. Preferring the term transvestite, von Mahlsdorf survived persecution by her abusive Nazi father, detention as a juvenile delinquent for his murder, the end of the war and the post war communist control of East Berlin. Through it all she collected the goods of everyday life as they were found in the ruins of Berlin.

Her Grüderzeit Museum presented the interior furnishings of the German Empire Period between 1870 and 1900 in a building she saved from destruction under the communists who were far more interested in monumental housing projects. She horded and saved from destruction of much of these lesser-valued items - furniture, clocks, lighting fixtures, dishes, glassware, heaters, mirrors, costumes – enough to eventually fill 23 “period rooms” of the museum.

From its beginning in the early 1960’s, her museum was used as a source of materials for period movies. By the 1970’s a recreated gay bar, the Mulackritze, functioned in the basement of the museum. The growing Homosexual Interest Group of Berlin used it as a meeting place.

Although there have been some questions of Charlotte’s collaboration with the East German Stasi police, and the way some of the objects in her collection came to be available, what is not open for discussion is the fact that an effeminate young man could survive the post war period, the East German Communist Block and the unification of Germany, and do it all in pearls and a twinset.Charlotte has become best know because of the play, I Am My Own Wife by Doug Wright.

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