Rosa von Praunheim

Rosa von Praunheim (born 25 November 1942) is a German film director, author, painter and the most famous gay rights activist in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.[1]

He began his career associated to the New German Cinema as a senior member of the Berlin school of underground filmmaking. He took the artistic female name Rosa von Praunheim to remind people of the pink triangle that homosexuals had to wear in Nazi concentration camps. A pioneer of Queer Cinema, von Praunheim has been an activist in the gay rights movement.[2] He was an early advocate of AIDS awareness and safer sex, but has been a controversial figure even within the gay community. His films center on gay related themes and strong female characters. His works are characterized by excess and employ a campy style. His films have featured such personalities as Diamanda Galás, Jayne County, Vaginal Davis, Divine, Jeff Stryker and a row of Warhol superstars.[3]

Rosa von Praunheim
Rosa von Praunheim Berlinale 2015
Rosa von Praunheim, Berlin, (2015)
Holger Bernhard Bruno Waldemar Mischwitzky

25 November 1942 (age 76)
Years active1969-present

Early life

Von Praunheim was born in Riga, Latvia Central Prison during the German occupation of Latvia in World War II. His biological mother died in 1946 at the psychiatric hospital in Berlin Wittenauer Heilstätten. After his birth, he was given up for adoption. He only knew these facts when his adoptive mother, Gertrud Mischwitzky, told him in 2000. He discovered the fate of his biological mother in 2006 after a lengthy investigation. He documented his quest in the film Two Mothers (2007).

He received the name Holger Mitschwitzky and spent his early years in East Berlin. In 1953, he escaped from East Germany with his family to West Germany, first to the Rhineland moving later to Frankfurt am Main. After Praunheim left the classical language high school in Frankfurt (Humanistisches Gymnasium), he studied at the Werkkunstschule in Offenbach. He then transferred to the Berlin University of the Arts where he studied fine arts but did not graduate. He initially worked as painter, but eventually opted for a career in filmmaking.


In the late 1960s, he began experimenting in film and creative writing. He made his debut associated with Werner Schroeter with experimental and short movies, like Sisters of the Revolutions (1968) and Samuel Beckett (1969), with which he soon became famous. In the mid sixties, he assumed the stage name "Rosa von Praunheim", a portmanteau of the Frankfurt quarter Praunheim and German 'rosa' for 'pink', alluding to the pink triangle that homosexual prisoners had to wear in concentration camps. Praunheim married the actress Carla Aulaulu in 1969. The marriage ended two years later in divorce. During this same period, he also collaborated with Elfi Mikesch in a number of film projects.

Praunheim's first big feature film was produced in 1970: Die Bettwurst (The Bolsters), a parody of bourgeois marriage. It became a cult movie, which had a sequel in 1973 (Berliner Bettwurst). In 1971 he also caused a stir with his documentary It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives which led to several gay rights groups being founded and was the beginning of the modern gay liberation movement in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. This movie affected gays in the USA, too.[4]

A prolific and controversial filmmaker, Praunheim has centered his directorial efforts in documentaries featuring gay related themes. In the early 1970s he lived for some time in the United States where he made a series of documentaries about post-Stonewall American gay scene. In Army of Lovers or Revolt of the Perverts (1972–1976) he took on the American gay and lesbian movement from the 1950s to 1976.[5] He was also interested in the underground theater in New York City which was the focus of some of his films of this period including Underground and Emigrants (1975). In 1979 Praunheim obtained a German Film Award for Tally Brown, New York, a documentary about the singer and actress Tally Brown.[6]

Back in Berlin, he made feature films such as Red Love (1980)[7] , Our Corpses Are Still Alive (1981), and City of Lost Souls (1983). These films were shown in film festivals worldwide. His feature film, Horror vacui, won the Los Angeles Film Critics Award for best experimental film in 1985. Anita: Dances of Vice (1988) the life story of a scandalous nude dancer in Berlin in the 1920s, earned international attention.[8]

With the eruption of the AIDS epidemic, Praunheim worked in a tetralogy of AIDS themed documentaries. A Virus Knows No Morals (1985), was one of the first feature films about AIDS. The documentaries Positive and Silence = Death, both shot in 1989, deal with aspects of AIDS activism in New York. Fire Under Your Ass (1990) focuses on AIDS in Berlin.[9]

In Germany, Rosa was very vocal in his efforts to educate people about the danger of AIDS and the necessity of practicing Safer Sex. These efforts alienated many gays who came to consider him a moralistic panic-mongerer. He would remain a highly controversial figure in his native country. On 10 December 1991, Praunheim created a scandal in Germany when he outed, among others, the anchorman Alfred Biolek and the comedian Hape Kerkeling in the TV show Explosiv - Der heiße Stuhl as gay. After the show several celebrities had their coming out. In 1999, he made Geisendörfer Medienpreis for Wunderbares Wrodow, a documentary about the people in and around a German village and its castle.

In over 50 years, Praunheim has made more than 150 films (short- and longfilms). Besides homosexuality, his subjects include older, vital women (for example, Evelyn Künneke and Lotti Huber) and since the later 1980s, AIDS prevention.

Until 2006, Rosa von Praunheim taught directing at the Film & Television Academy (HFF) "Konrad Wolf" Potsdam-Babelsberg. He lives in Berlin with his companion and assistant Oliver Sechting.

At the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival, he was awarded with the Berlinale Camera.[10]


  • Männer, Rauschgift und der Tod. 1967
  • Oh Muvie. 1968, Fotoroman mit Elfie Mikesch
  • Sex und Karriere. Rowohlt TB-V., 1978, ISBN 3-499-14214-7
  • Armee der Liebenden oder Aufstand der Perversen. 1979, ISBN 3-88167-046-7
  • Gibt es Sex nach dem Tode. Prometh Verlag, 1981, ISBN 3-922009-30-1
  • Rote "Liebe" : ein Gespräch mit Helga Goetze.. Prometh Verl., 1982, ISBN 3-922009-47-6
  • 50 Jahre pervers. Die sentimentalen Memoiren des Rosa von Praunheim.. Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1993, ISBN 3-462-02476-0
  • Folge dem Fieber und tanze: Briefwechsel mit Mario Wirz. Aufbau-Verlag, 1995
  • Mein Armloch. Martin Schmitz Verlag, 2002, Gedichte
  • Die Rache der alten dicken Tunte. 2006, Fotobuch
  • Die Bettwurst und meine Tante Lucy. 2006, Fotobuch

Selected filmography


  1. ^ "Germany`s most famous gay rights activist: Rosa von Praunheim". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 2018-06-14.
  2. ^ Haggerty, George E. (2000), Gay Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia, Taylor & Francis, p. 753, ISBN 0-8153-1880-4
  3. ^ "The Films of Rosa von Praunheim at Anthology". The Village Voice. Retrieved 2017-04-17.
  4. ^ "Film: "Not the Homosexual"". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-04-17.
  5. ^ "Rosa von Praunheim: Army of lovers or revolt of the perverts". germanyinnewyork. Retrieved 2017-04-17.
  6. ^ "Tally Brown, 64, Dies; Singer and an Actress". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-04-17.
  7. ^ "'RED LOVE,' RADICAL VIEW". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-04-17.
  8. ^ "'Anita - Dances of Vice' by von Praunheim". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-04-17.
  9. ^ "Of AIDS, Frustration And Fury". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-04-17.
  10. ^ "Berlinale Camera 2013 for Isabella Rossellini and Rosa von Praunheim". Berlinale. Archived from the original on 2013-01-31. Retrieved 2013-01-28.


  • Kuzniar, Alice. The Queer German Cinema, Stanford University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-8047-3995-1
  • Murray, Raymond. Images in the Dark: An Encyclopedia of Gay and Lesbian Film and Video. TLA Publications, 1994, ISBN 1880707012

External links

A Virus Knows No Morals

A Virus Knows No Morals (German: Ein Virus kennt keine Moral) is a 1986 German film directed, written and produced by Rosa von Praunheim. The film is a black comedy about the AIDS epidemic. Made with a low budget, campy style and no professional actors, it covers many aspects of AIDS and its effects as well as attacking the rumors surrounding it in a satirical way.


Affengeil (German: Affengeil: eine Reise durch Lottis Leben) is a 1990 German documentary film directed by Rosa von Praunheim. The film recounts the eventful life of Lotti Huber, a dancer, actress and cabaret performer, who was the star of the director’s previous films: Anita: Dances of Vice and Our Corpses Are Still Alive. The film consists of extended interviews with Huber using photographs, film clips and field trips to recreate her life. The ten year professional relationship between the film director and his subject is explored. Rosa von Praunheim appears arguing about the control of the direction of the film as Hubert insist to be portrayed "Just as I am"

Army of Lovers or Revolt of the Perverts

Army of Lovers or Revolt of the Perverts (German: Armee der Liebenden oder Aufstand der Perverse) is a 1979 German documentary film directed by Rosa von Praunheim. The film, mainly shot in San Francisco, chronicles the rise of gay activism in the United States between 1972 and 1978 in the aftermath of the Stonewall riots and before the arrival of the AIDS epidemic. It explores, among other themes, the initial unity formed post-Stonewall era, splintered into numerous factions. The American gay liberation movement, strengthened by the assault of the Anita Bryant-led anti-gay initiatives, appears foundering into polarization and self-interest groups in an increasingly fractured leadership. The film discusses whether overt sexual expression and promiscuity were helping or hurting the cause of gay rights.Those interviewed include a gay Nazi; gay porno movie stars; spokespersons from the Gay Activists Alliance and its more conservative counterpart, the National Gay Task Force; leaders of the Mattachine society; the founders of the Daughters of Bilitis; and novelist John Rechy, who defends gay male promiscuity against the director’s contention that what is hurting the gay men’s movement is the obsession with “discos”, baths, and orgy bars”. Grace Jones appears at a rally singing "I Need A Man" and is sharply criticized for doing so by a Lesbian feminist.

City of Lost Souls (1983 film)

City of Lost Souls (German: Stadt Der Verlorenen Seelen) is a 1983 German film directed by Rosa von Praunheim. The film is a low budget musical satire, a fictionalized account about the lurid lives of a group of eccentric cabaret artist who have come from America to Berlin looking for social acceptance and a place to give full reign to their creative nature. The film star black singer and drag artist Angie Stardust, transgender punk singer Jayne County and transvestite Tara O'Hara. County gave the film its title and wrote its theme song.

Der Einstein des Sex

The Einstein of Sex: Life and Work of Dr. M. Hirschfeld (German: Der Einstein des Sex)

is a 1999 German film directed by Rosa von Praunheim. The plot follows the life of the Jewish doctor Magnus Hirschfeld, who was a sexologist and gay socialist. In 1897, Hirschfeld founded the first gay political group in history.

In the film three of Hirschfeld's closest friends are portrayed: Baron Hermann von Teschenberg, Karl Giese and Dorchen (a transsexual). They establish the first Institut für Sexualwissenschaft in Berlin in 1919 and try to keep the institute open during the rise of the Third Reich in the early 1930s.

Although inspired by Hirschfeld's life, the film is a work of fiction containing invented characters and incidents and attributing motives and sentiments to Hirschfeld and others on the basis of little or no historical evidence. Hirschfeld biographer Ralf Dose notes, for instance, that "the figure of 'Dorchen' in Rosa von Praunheim's film The Einstein of Sex is complete fiction."

Dolly, Lotte and Maria

Dolly, Lotte and Maria (German: Dolly, Lotte und Maria) is a 1987 German documentary film directed by Rosa von Praunheim. The film recounts the lives of Lotte Goslar, Dolly Haas and Maria Ley-Piscator, three German women performers who achieved success in Berlin in the 1930s. All left Nazi Germany for reasons of conscience, and eventually settled in the United States. After the war, all three remained in America and continued actively pursuing their careers, with mixed success. Each discusses her beginnings as a performer, her achievements in Europe, the reasons that motivated her to leave Germany, her decision to move to the U.S., and her current activities.

Fassbinder's Women

Fassbinder's Women (German: Für mich gab's nur noch Fassbinder - Die Glücklichen Opfer Des Rainer Werner F) is a 2000 German documentary film directed by Rosa von Praunheim. The original German title translates as Fassbinder Was the Only One for Me: The Willing Victims of Rainer Werner F.The film consists of several interviews with the women who formed part of the professional and personal lives of the German film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. These include: Hanna Schygulla, the director's favorite actress; Ursula Strätz, who founded the Munich Action Theater, where Fassbinder began his career on the stage and actresses Barbara Valentin and Brigitte Mira, the star of Fassbinder’s Fear Eats the Soul.Four of the director’s male collaborators: assistant director Harry Baer; cinematographer Michael Ballhaus; musician Peer Raben and producer Peter Berling, also talk about Fassbinder's working methods and personality.

The film opens with actress Irm Hermann, who worked in nineteen films with Fassbinder while he made life a living hell for her. Juliane Lorenz, Fassbinder’s last female partner, film editor and executor of his estate after his death, is also interviewed. Fassbinder’s ex-wife, actress and singer Ingrid Caven, briefly talks about him in a phone conversation. Missing from the lineup are onscreen collaborators Margit Carstensen and Barbara Sukowa. There are no clips from Fassbinder’s films.

Horror vacui (film)

Horror Vacui (German: Horror Vacui - Die Angst vor der Leere ) is a 1984 German film directed by Rosa von Praunheim. Shot in a neo-expressionist style, the film is a satire on cults of any kind. The plot follows Frankie and Hannes, a young gay couple living in Berlin. One is studying art and the other medicine. Their happy life is disrupted when Frankie attends a lecture and quickly becomes involved in a sinister cult operating as a self-help group called "Optimal Optimism". 'Madame C', a former Nazi party member, is the leader of 'Optimal Optimism'. When the cult members discovers that Frankie is gay, he is repeatedly raped by both men and women of the group. Hannes must find a way to rescue him.

I Am My Own Woman

I Am My Own Woman (German: Ich bin meine eigene Frau ) is a 1992 German film directed by Rosa von Praunheim. The film, a documentary-drama, follows the life story of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, an East German transsexual who survived the Nazis; the repression of the Communists and helped start the German gay liberation movement. The film is based on Mahlsdorf's autobiography: Ich bin meine eigene Frau, published in 1992, published in English as I Am My Own Woman (1995) and I Am My Own Wife (2004).

It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives

It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives (German: Nicht der Homosexuelle ist pervers, sondern die Situation, in der er lebt) is a 1971 German camp film directed by Rosa von Praunheim. The plot follows the adventures of a young gay man from the province who arrives in Berlin. He gradually leaves behind his innocence led by his increasing appetite for excitement in the big-city gay scene. He moves from one gay milieu to another caught in his addiction for fashion and sexual experiences.Scenes from Daniel's life and the various milieus he frequents are accompanied by voice-overs that are sometimes commentaries about the different gay life's styles and sometimes represent dialogue or narrations. There is no synch sound. The voice over and dialogue recorded do not match what is on the screen.

The reception of the film was controversial. Many viewed the harsh view of gay men culture depicted as such attack that it prompted the videotaping of a short, Audience Response to Its not the Homosexual…, shot during a screening and discussion interview with von Praunheim in 1973 at New York's Museum of Modern Art, and currently precedes many of the film's screenings.

Men Heroes and Gay Nazis

Men, Heroes and Gay Nazis (German: Männer, Helden, schwule Nazis) is a 2005 German documentary film directed, written and produced by Rosa von Praunheim. The film focuses on gay men who align themselves with hardcore right-wing views, white power skinheads, and Nazis.

Rosa von Praunheim stated of the subjects featured in the documentary, “Some may be shocked that I do not take a stand in my film and do not portray gay neo-Nazis as monsters, but as people living their lives in dramatic contradiction.”

Positive (1990 film)

Positive is a 1990 documentary film directed, written and produced by Rosa von Praunheim. The film follows Silence = Death as the second part of von praunheim and Phil Zwickler’s trilogy about AIDS and activism.This film documents New York City’s gay community’s response to the AIDS crisis during the 1980s as they were forced to organize themselves after the government’s slow response to stem the epidemic. Activist who are interviewed include New York filmmaker and journalist Phil Zwickler, playwright and gay activist Larry Kramer and musician Michael Callen who co-founded people with AIDS Coalition. Framing the individual stories of these three men is a chronicle of the creation of the Gay Men's Health Crisis, ACT- UP and Queer Nation as the gay community confronted the AIDS epidemic.

Red Love

Red Love (German: Rote Liebe) is a 1982 German documentary film directed by Rosa von Praunheim. The film, divided in two interspersing completely different segments, deals with two women deprived of independence for many years because of either their family obligations or an authoritarian spouse. One segment is a documentary interview; the other is a fictional tale.The fictional narrative, made in the style of an early 20th century morality play, is based on Red Love (1927), a novel by Alexandra Kollontai, a feminist writer who was the first Soviet ambassador to Norway. It tells the story of a young woman Vassilissa (Sascha Hammer) who breaks with her early ideals to enter into a conventional bourgeois marriage and learns how to stand up to her womanizing husband (Mark Eins).

The second part is a documentary about Helga Goetze, a West German woman in her fifties, who after thirty years of a sexually boring marriage, left her husband and their seven children to join the Otto Muehl Commune in Vienna in order to live a life of sexual freedom. She became radicalized and oversexed claiming that all she wants to do is to have sex. While advocating for sexual liberation, she holds outrageous sexual ideas.

Rent Boys

Rent Boys (German: Die Jungs vom Bahnhof Zoo) is a 2011 German documentary film directed, written and produced by Rosa von Praunheim. The original German title translates as The guys from Bahnhof Zoo.

The film focuses on male prostitution oriented to gay men in and around Bahnhof Zoo train station, a central transport facility in Berlin that has been a meeting place between gay men and male prostitutes for more than forty years.The film consists of interviews with current and former hustlers (mostly immigrants from Eastern Europe), their male customers, and the social workers who try to help them.

Silence = Death

Silence = Death is a 1990 documentary film directed, written and produced by Rosa von Praunheim. The film centers on the response of some New York City artists to the AIDS epidemic. The interviewed includes East Village artist David Wojnarowicz, poet Allen Ginsberg, graffiti artist Keith Haring (who died from AIDS three months before the movie's release), Peter Kunz, Bern Boyle, and many others. It is the first part of von Praunheim and Phil Zwickler's trilogy about AIDS and activism it was followed by Positive (the third part, about the AIDS epidemic in Germany, was never released).

Tally Brown, New York

Tally Brown, New York is a 1979 documentary film directed, written and produced by Rosa von Praunheim. The film is about the singing and acting career of Tally Brown, a classically trained opera and blues singer who was a star of underground films in New York City and a denizen of its underworld in the late 1960s.

In this documentary, Praunheim relies on extensive interviews with Brown, as she recounts her collaboration with Andy Warhol, Taylor Mead and others, as well as her friendships with Holly Woodlawn, and Divine. Brown opens the film with a cover of David Bowie's "Heroes" and concludes with "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide." The film captures not only Tally Brown’s career but also a particular New York milieu in the 1970s.In the same year of its release, the documentary won the Film Award in Silver at the German Film Awards for Outstanding Non-Feature Film.The documentary is also noteworthy for being the first of Von Praunheim's many portraits of women, usually aging legendary performers, who have become cult figures among the LGBT community.

Tough Love (2015 film)

Tough Love (German: Härte) is a 2015 German drama film directed by Rosa von Praunheim and starring Hanno Koffler.

The film tells the story of Andreas Marquardt who was sexually abused by his mother as a boy, became a karate champion and later a pimp. It was screened in the Panorama section of the 65th Berlin International Film Festival where it won the 3rd place prize in the Panoroma Audience Award.

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