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Teresa Tammer: "Warme Brüder" im Kalten Krieg. Die DDR-Schwulenbewegung und das geteilte Deutschland in den 1970er und 1980er Jahren (= Quellen und Darstellungen zur Zeitgeschichte; Bd. 138), Berlin: De Gruyter 2023, XI + 292 S., ISBN 978-3-11-108552-4, EUR 49,95
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Rezension von:
Craig Griffiths
Manchester Metropolitan University
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Peter Helmberger
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Craig Griffiths: Rezension von: Teresa Tammer: "Warme Brüder" im Kalten Krieg. Die DDR-Schwulenbewegung und das geteilte Deutschland in den 1970er und 1980er Jahren, Berlin: De Gruyter 2023, in: sehepunkte 24 (2024), Nr. 4 [15.04.2024], URL:

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Teresa Tammer: "Warme Brüder" im Kalten Krieg

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In 1974, the Homosexual Interest Group Berlin (HIB), East Europe's first gay liberation group, laid out plans to open a 'communication centre' for gays and lesbians. Activists reassured the municipal authorities in East Berlin that their solution to the problems facing homosexuals was 'with and in socialist society' (99). Isolation, uncertainty, and difficulty forming relationships all had their roots not in the socialist present, but in the capitalist past, with the legacy of Church teaching and especially the 'persecution of the fascists'. The HIB offered themselves as a conduit through which the SED state party could exert influence on queer youth; the communication centre would be a vehicle to better steer 'development to socialist personalities'. The HIB failed in its effort. Indeed, the group never even won official recogniton. But in their letters to state authorities, as Teresa Tammer deftly shows in her impressive book, gay activists did not take silence or rejection lying down. Instead, they sought to take advantage of official language - and Cold War logic - in resourceful expressions of willfulness; of "self-will", in the sense of Alf Lüdtke's Eigen-Sinn (101).

The savvy way activists sought to navigate German division is the kind of East-West entanglement (Verflechtung) placed at the heart of Teresa Tammer's history of the East German gay movement in the 1970s and 1980s. Tammer leaves behind notions of a neat transfer of ideas or inspiration from the West, finding fault with the idea of West German gays as "transmitters" and their counterparts in the East as "receivers" (96). Entanglements were not a one-way street. Consider sexologist Rudolf Klimmer. Klimmer struggled to publish in the East, forcing him to rely on West German presses. [1] Yet, Klimmer's argument that the GDR's repeal of Paragraph 175 in 1968 should serve as a positive example for West German authorities was cited during a parliamentary debate in Bonn (47). The GDR replaced Paragraph 175 with a new law, Paragraph 151, which saw a higher age of consent for homo- as opposed to heterosexual relations (18 and 16 respectively). This law was then repealed on 1 July 1989. In the West, Günter Amendt suggested that this reform should be celebrated in Hamburg, as part of that year's CSD (Christopher Street Day) festivities (175). An East German legal threshold would then become a lesson of history for the FRG, which failed to repeal Paragraph 175 until 1994. CSD events are more often seen as the ultimate case of global queer transfer from the West, since the first CSD in 1970 in New York commemorated the Stonewall Riots twelve months earlier. But Tammer shows in detail how activists adapted transnationally salient dates for their own ends. As one of her interviewees, Eduard Stapel, recounts, since he and his fellow activists could not march through the streets, they laid down wreaths: the first East German CSD, in 1984, did not commorate a riot in public space, or the autonomy of a commercial gay scene, but the Nazi persecution of homosexuals (175).

Tammer draws upon a wealth of diverse source material, including Stasi files, records from other East German authorities, petitions (Eingaben) by East German gays and lesbians, West German queer magazines, AIDS public health materials, her own oral history interviews, and oral history collections such as Jürgen Lemke's Ganz normal anders. [2] She also engages with a broad range of English- and German-language scholarship, including interdisciplinary literature on social movements. The result is a detailed and nuanced portrait of a gay movement which is convincingly presented as much more assertive and connected rather than isolated or limping behind the West. Tammer thus builds on a recent historiography which has challenged negative assumptions about queer life in East Germany. At the same time, she remains clear-eyed about the oppressive nature of the regime. For example, she agrees with Samuel Huneke that a significant opening of the East German state to the concerns of queer citizens took place in the 1980s, but underscores that this change of course was in the interests of the SED, which offered an enhanced integration for queer people in order to further its own control and to contest the influence of the Church (123). Responding to Huneke's claim that the Stasi became homosexuals' 'greatest institutional proponent' [3], Tammer points out that surveillance of activists continued without interruption; she describes the Stasi as the movement's most significant opponent (134).

Tammer's book successfully provides a transnational perspective, in the sense of situating gay activists' struggles in the Cold War conflict. I was left wondering about the significance of other countries in the Eastern bloc, if not in terms of social movements then at least in sexological traditions (for example, Poland, Czechoslovakia and even the Soviet Union are very rarely mentioned). At times, Tammer's German-German story was a little hermetic in scope. It is also a story almost entirely about men. I do not wish to criticise Tammer on this issue, since much work in queer history - including my own - suffers from the same imbalance. Moreover, Tammer draws sustained attention to the absence of lesbians, highlighting those instances when female homosexuality was either ignored, blended out, or simply not comprehended. Still, two of the main structural conditions leading to separate gay and lesbian movements in West Germany - a sodomy law which only targetted sex between men; a commercial gay scene to which men had far greater access than women - were absent in the East. Thus, the historicization of gays and lesbians in a separate as opposed to an entwined manner requires further explanation in the context of the GDR. Some readers may have liked to hear more about trans woman Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, or lesbian activist Ursula Silge, or perhaps frau anders, a lesbian feminist magazine which started publishing in 1989. [4] Given the issues identified by Tammer regarding textual sources, it is a little surprising that she interviewed no women among her 11 oral history interviews.

With "Warme Brüder" im Kalten Krieg, Teresa Tammer adds her voice to a growing and vibrant scholarship in queer German history. Her book is essential reading not only for those interested in East German social movements, in HIV/AIDS and health policy, or in the role of the Church, but for anyone methodologically interested in writing entangled transnational histories. Moreover, in reconstructing and historicizing the perspectives and fantasies of West German gay activists on their fellow queers the other side of the Berlin Wall, Tammer's book makes an important contribution to the history of the Federal Republic.


[1] Rudolf Klimmer: Die Homosexualität als biologisch-soziologische Zeitfrage, Hamburg 1958; 'Zur Frage des Schutzalters bei homosexuellen Handlungen', in: Medizinische Klinik 36 (1970), 1603-1606.

[2] Jürgen Lemke (Hg.): Ganz normal anders: Auskünfte schwuler Männer, Berlin 1989.

[3] Samuel Huneke: States of Liberation: Gay Men between Dictatorship and Democracy in Cold War Germany, Toronto 2022, 206.

[4] For more on this magazine, see Lorenz Weinberg: Feminist Sex Wars in the East German Lesbian Movement? The SM Discussion in the Magazine frau anders in the Early 1990s, in: Christopher Ewing / Sébastien Tremblay (eds.): Reading Queer Media. Queer Print Media in the German Speaking World, London, forthcoming.

Craig Griffiths