The exhibit featuring photos of gay men in public restrooms was surprisingly sponsored by the official public transportation service of Berlin.
Before Grindr, Scruff, Manhunt and even Craigslist, men who sought sex with other men had to cruise in the real world—many times at great danger from police, criminals and blackmailers. A new exhibit at Berlin’s Schwules Museum explores the intimate disappearing world of gay sex in public toilets.
The exhibit, “Fenster Zum Klo: Public Toilets, Private Affairs,” showcases the photographs of French Photographer Marc Martin.
Some of the photographer’s earliest sexual encounters were in public restrooms—a tidbit that he shares in an intro to the show.
“And I’m proud of them! … These places, where men were constantly coming and going, were instrumental in my sexuality, aroused my desires and quenched my curiosity,” Marin writes.
“In there, I also had the most unlikely, unexpected encounters. “Cottages” (or “Tearooms”) were no heaven, granted. But they were no hell either.”
“Differences were blurred and otherwise separated cultures briefly mixed,” he continues. “Despite being disparaged as sleazy and dirty, they allowed for immediate, anonymous sexual contacts. They were a godsend to those who could not entertain at home and expose their sexual proclivities to the outside world”
Quotes about urinals from writers like Jean Genet and Rimbaud appropriately complement the photos.
Although most of the subjects in Martin’s photos are models, many of the backdrops are notorious cruising grounds. Surprising as it may, the show is sponsored by Berlin’s public transport service, the BVG (Berliner Verkehrs-Gesellschaft), which owns most of the bathrooms featured in the series. As many of these legendary cruising spots were shuttered in 1990, the BVG gave Marc Martin the keys to photograph and document these scenes which were an integral part of the gay fabric of Berlin.
Dr. Kevin Clarke, spokesperson for the Schwules Museum said in an interview with Gay Star News, ‘The necessity of gay men to “hide” and meet in “secret” places such as parks and public toilets is an important aspect of gay history.
So it’s important for us, as a museum, to present this topic with as much background as possible, for a younger generation accustomed to Grindr and other apps to understand how homosexual men organized their sex life decades ago, but also to make clear the incredible dangers they faced from police, criminals and blackmailers.
All of these elements are part of Marc Martin’s exhibition; which is why we chose to include it in our program.”