Rosa von Praunheim

Holger Bernhard Bruno Mischwitzky (born Holger Radtke; 25 November 1942), known professionally as Rosa von Praunheim, is a German film director, author, painter and one of the most famous gay rights activists in the German-speaking world.[1] In over 50 years, von Praunheim has made more than 150 films (short and feature-length films). His works influenced the development of LGBTQ+ rights movements worldwide.

Rosa von Praunheim
MJK 16033 Rosa von Praunheim (Berlinale 2018) crop.jpg
Rosa von Praunheim, Berlin, 2018
Holger Radtke

(1942-11-25) 25 November 1942 (age 80)
Years active1969–present

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, as well as the Frankfurt neighborhood of Praunheim where he grew up.[2] A pioneer of Queer Cinema, von Praunheim has been an activist in the gay rights movement.[3] He was an early advocate of AIDS awareness and safer sex. His films center on gay-related themes and strong female characters, are characterized by excess and employ a campy style. They have featured such personalities as Keith Haring, Larry Kramer, Diamanda Galás, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Judith Malina, Jeff Stryker, Jayne County, Divine and a row of Warhol superstars.

Early lifeEdit

Von Praunheim was born as Holger Radtke in Riga Central Prison [lv] in the German-occupied Latvia during 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 found out 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).[4]

He received the name Holger Mischwitzky 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 von Praunheim left the pre-university high school in Frankfurt (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 a painter, but eventually opted for a career in filmmaking.


In the mid-1960s he assumed the stage name "Rosa von Praunheim". 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 (1969) and Samuel Beckett (1969), with which he quickly became famous. His film Macbeth - Opera by Rosa von Praunheim was shown at the world famous art exhibition documenta V. Von 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 [de] in a number of film projects. At the beginning of his career, von Praunheim also worked as an assistant director for Gregory J. Markopoulos, who dedicated his film (A)lter (A)ction (1968) to him.[5] Rainer Werner Fassbinder staged the play Dedicated to Rosa von Praunheim (1969) for von Praunheim.[6]

Von Praunheim's first feature film was produced in 1971: The Bed Sausage, a parody of bourgeois marriage. It became a cult movie, which had a sequel in 1975 (Berlin Bed Sausage): "Avant-garde cinema also has its masters, its greatest in Germany: Rosa von Praunheim. His film The Bed Sausage, which premiered on ZDF, confirmed once again what his works Pink Workers on Golden Street and Sisters of the Revolution, which have already been shown at many festivals, characterise: A mixture of artistic inventiveness, social awareness and humour that is exceedingly rare in Germany." (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung)[7]

In 1971 the director also caused a stir with his film It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives which led to many gay rights groups being founded and was the beginning of the modern lesbian and gay liberation movement in Germany and Switzerland: "Rosa von Praunheim's film made an epoch." (Frankfurter Rundschau)[8] The film also made Rosa von Praunheim the leading figure of the lesbian and gay movement in Germany: "It is a personal liberation for Holger Mischwitzky [Rosa von Praunheim] - and a wake-up call for all homosexual men. […] With this film, Rosa von Praunheim became the icon of the gay and lesbian movement in Germany almost overnight." (Deutsche Welle)[9] The American film critic Joe Hoeffner wrote in an article about the twelve most important queer films: "Many films have been called revolutionary, but It Is Not the Homosexual… truly earns that description. The breakout film by director and activist Rosa von Praunheim (aka Holger Mischwitzky) became a foundational text of the German gay rights movement, and its call for liberation reverberated through the history of queer cinema."[10] This movie found great resonance internationally. Some artists have referred to the film, for example Bruce LaBruce with the short film collection It Is Not the Pornographer That Is Perverse... (2018).[11]

A prolific and controversial filmmaker, von 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 the post-Stonewall American gay scene. In Army of Lovers or Revolt of the Perverts (1979) he took on the American gay and lesbian movement from the 1950s until the late 1970s.[12] 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 (1976). In 1979 von Praunheim won a German Film Award for Tally Brown, New York, a documentary about the singer and actress Tally Brown.[13] In the USA von Praunheim worked with camera people like Jeff Preiss, Mike Kuchar and Juliana Wang.[14]

Back in Berlin, he made feature films such as Our Corpses Are Still Alive (1981) and Red Love (1982).[15] In 1983 von Praunheim's revolutionary film City of Lost Souls (1983) with Jayne County and Angie Stardust was released: "This riotous and massively ahead-of-its-time intersectional queer-punk musical has gone on to greatly influence transgender politics." (Australian Centre for the Moving Image)[16] These films were shown at film festivals worldwide. His feature film Horror Vacui won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for best experimental film in 1985. Anita: Dances of Vice (1987), the life story of a scandalous nude dancer in Berlin in the 1920s, attracted international attention.[17] The film was shown, for example, at the New York Film Festival and the Chicago International Film Festival.[18]

With the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic, von Praunheim worked on films about the HIV-related disease. A Virus Knows No Morals (1986) was one of the first feature films about AIDS internationally: "A Virus Respects No Morals, a savage, imaginative, scattershot Brecht-like allegory set largely in a gay bath, became one of the earliest and most provocative attacks on the hypocrisy, ignorance, politics and economics surrounding the AIDS crisis." (Los Angeles Times)[19][20] 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.[21] For the so-called AIDS trilogy, von Praunheim was awarded the LGBTIQ-Film-Prize of the Berlin International Film Festival.[22] The Guardian, one of Britain's most important newspapers, wrote in 1992: "Silence = Death and Positive: The best AIDS films to date [...]."[23] The Los Angeles Times summed it up: "In short, Praunheim is just the man for the job he has taken on with Silence = Death and Positive: he has the breadth of vision, the compassion and the militance and, yes, the sense of humor necessary to tackle the AIDS epidemic in all its aspects."[19] The renowned critic Jerry Tallmer, co-founder of the Obie Award, wrote in the newspaper The Record: "[...] Rosa (originally Holger) von Praunheim, the brilliant, acerbic director of such breakthrough gay-revolutionist works as Silence & Death and A Virus Knows No Morals."[24]

Von Praunheim was a co-founder of the German ACT UP movement and organized the first major AIDS benefit event in Germany. He was very vocal in his efforts to educate people about the danger of AIDS and the necessity of practicing safer sex. On 10 December 1991, von Praunheim created a scandal in Germany when he outed the anchorman Alfred Biolek and the comedian Hape Kerkeling in the TV show Explosiv - Der heiße Stuhl [de] as gay to call for public solidarity with the stigmatized gays from homosexual celebrities, of which there were hardly any in the German public at that time. Because of this, von Praunheim was considered a controversial figure in his home country for a long time, even within the queer community. But after the public outing action several celebrities had their coming out. In retrospect, the outing action improved the public image of gays.

In the early 1990s, von Praunheim developed the first queer TV format in Germany, but continued his film work at the same time. His film Life Is Like a Cucumber with Lotti Huber was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival (1991).[25] He was honored with two FIPRESCI Awards for his films I Am My Own Woman (1992) and Neurosia (1995).[26]

Von Praunheim's film Transexual Menace (1996), named after the American transgender rights organization The Transexual Menace, was after City of Lost Souls again a very progressive film about transgender people and premiered at the Frameline Film Festival in San Francisco and was also shown at the Outfest in Los Angeles: "Von Praunheim's Transexual Menace dispenses with the usual cliches and brings us bang up to date with a profile of the new generation of politically-active transsexuals […]." (The Independent)[27][28] The New York Times wrote: "[...] Transexual Menace is a cornerstone of documentary filmmaking about transgender people."[29]

Von Praunheim's film The Einstein of Sex (1999) about Magnus Hirschfeld premiered at the Locarno Festival and was nominated for the Golden Leopard.[30] His film Can I be your Bratwurst, please? (1999) with Jeff Stryker and Vaginal Davis has been shown at over 250 film festivals around the world (a world record-breaking festival utilization). Moving Pictures Magazine chose the film as best title in Cannes.[31] In 2000, he was awarded the Robert-Geisendörfer-Preis [de] for Wunderbares Wrodow, a documentary about the people in and around a German village and its castle. His film Cows knocked up by fog (2002) premiered at the Venice Film Festival.[32]

From 1999 to 2006 von Praunheim was professor of directing at the Film University of Babelsberg. Von Praunheim has also taught at various film and art schools, including San Francisco Art Institute, where Abel Ferrara was one of his students.[33] Former Praunheim students, filmmakers Tom Tykwer, Chris Kraus, Axel Ranisch, Robert Thalheim and Julia von Heinz, made the film Pink Children (2012) about their mentor.[34]

In 2008, his film Two Mothers was shown at Tribeca Film Festival and was nominated for the Jury-Award. At the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival, he was awarded the Berlinale Camera as one of the most important representatives of German cinema.[35][36] Von Praunheim also received the Berlinale Special Teddy Award for his outstanding contributions to queer cinema.[37] In 2012, he was awarded the Grimme-Preis for his documentary Rent Boys. In 2015, he received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. In 2020, he was awarded the Max Ophüls Honorary Award for his life's work.[38] Von Praunheim also received the Honorary Award of the Swiss Pink Apple Film Festival.[39]

On occasion of his 70th birthday (2012), von Praunheim made 70 short and medium-length films for German regional television station RBB under the title Rosa's World. Never before has a documentary filmmaker received so much airtime on German television. Rosa's World has also been shown at film festivals, for example in Vienna (Austria).[40]

Von Praunheim has written several books that have been successfully published by publishing houses such as Rowohlt Verlag.[41]

Von Praunheim has been painting since his early youth and occasionally exhibits in galleries and museums, for example in the Migros Museum of Contemporary Art.[42][43] He curated exhibitions himself, for example in the Lincoln Center, and was director of the film and video arts department at the Academy of Arts (2015 - 2018).

Rosa von Praunheim had many large and well-regarded film screenings and premieres in the USA, for example at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City (more than 15 times), at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, in the Wheeler Hall of the University of California, Berkeley and at film festivals across the country. For example, he won the Creative Vision Award of the Rhode Island International Film Festival.[44] The American Cinematheque in Hollywood honored von Praunheim with a retrospective in 1997 as "a fearless international pioneer of gay cinema".[45] In 1986, the first edition of the Gay Cinema Festival in Toronto held a Rosa von Praunheim retrospective to honor the director as "the dean of Berlin's underground filmmakers".[46] In Canada, his films were also shown at the Montreal World Film Festival, among other places. Several of the director's films premiered in Great Britain at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and in Australia at the Sydney Film Festival. The Tate Modern in London also showed Rosa von Praunheim's films.[47][48] Mardi Gras Film Festival Sydney honored von Praunheim in a film series about the most important queer filmmakers.

Rosa von Praunheim with his husband Oliver Sechting, 2008

Queer film festival Ciclo Rosa (Zyklos Rosa) in Bogotá was named in honor of Rosa von Praunheim.[49] In South America, von Praunheim's films were shown at the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema and São Paulo International Film Festival, among other places. In Asia, for example, at the Shanghai International Film Festival, the Hong Kong International Film Festival, the Taipei Film Festival and the Tokyo International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival.[50][51][52] Von Praunheim was represented at many A film festivals[53] worldwide, often several times. He had more than 20 films at the Berlin International Film Festival, making him record holder there,[54] and had numerous retrospectives in many countries.[55]

His films are also evaluated in an academic context and shown at universities, for example at Beaux-Arts de Paris, The Courtauld Institute of Art London,[56] University of Pennsylvania,[57] Columbia University[58] in New York City and Harvard University[59] in Cambridge.

Von Praunheim's work has found its way into various academic papers and publications,[60][61][62] including from Stanford University[63] and Oxford University.[64]

His film Survival in New York (1989) became von Praunheim's most commercially successful film in Germany, which was followed 20 years later by the sequel New York Memories (2009).[65]

He is also successful as a theater director, winning the Jury-Award at the Theater Authors Days (2018) at the Deutsches Theater Berlin for his play Hitler's Goat and the King's Haemorrhoids.[66]

The magazine The Advocate selected von Praunheim among the world's 50 most important queer people in the fields of activism, art and culture. On the occasion of von Praunheim's 75th birthday (2017), President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier thanked him publicly for his artistic work and social commitment: "My congratulations go to an exceptional artist who, with his extensive cinematic oeuvre, has succeeded in intervening in social reality and changing it [...]."[67][68] Von Praunheim has received numerous awards for his films and queer political work.

Personal lifeEdit

Von Praunheim lives in Berlin with his husband Oliver Sechting [de], a German author, director and activist for Mental Health.

Books (selection)Edit

  • 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 filmographyEdit


  1. ^ "Germany's most famous gay rights activist: Rosa von Praunheim". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
  2. ^ Schock, Axel und Fessel, Karen-Susan. Out!. 800 berühmte Lesben, Schwule und Bisexuelle. 5. Aufl. Berlin, Querverlag 2004.
  3. ^ Haggerty, George E. (2000), Gay Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia, Taylor & Francis, p. 753, ISBN 0-8153-1880-4
  4. ^ Welscher, Alexander (6 December 2022). "Colorful, unconventional, shameless... and born in a Rīga prison". Public Broadcasting of Latvia. Retrieved 6 December 2022.
  5. ^ "(A)lter (A)ction (1968)". IMDb. Retrieved 17 December 2021.
  6. ^ "Plays". Fassbinder Foundation. Retrieved 21 November 2021.
  7. ^ "Die Bettwurst". Basis Film-Verleih (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 1972). Retrieved 29 April 2022.
  8. ^ "Schwulendemo: Das bis dahin Selbstverständlichste wird in Frage gestellt". Frankfurter Rundschau. 28 April 2022. Retrieved 28 April 2022.
  9. ^ "Rosa von Praunheim wird 75". Deutsche Welle. 25 November 2017. Retrieved 20 April 2022.
  10. ^ "12 Films that Chart the History of New Queer Cinema". Joe Hoeffner, 20 August 2022. Retrieved 31 August 2022.
  11. ^ "It is Not the Pornographer That is Perverse..." TOP Kino. Retrieved 5 December 2021.
  12. ^ "Rosa von Praunheim: Army of lovers or revolt of the perverts". germanyinnewyork. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  13. ^ "Tally Brown, 64, Dies; Singer and an Actress". The New York Times. 9 May 1989. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  14. ^ "Rosa von Praunheim". imdb. Retrieved 4 December 2021.
  15. ^ Maslin, Janet (4 October 1983). "'RED LOVE,' RADICAL VIEW". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  16. ^ "City of Lost Souls". Australian Centre for the Moving Image. September 2022. Retrieved 20 September 2022.
  17. ^ Canby, Vincent (3 October 1987). "'Anita - Dances of Vice' by von Praunheim". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  18. ^ "ANITA - DANCES OF VICE". Retrieved 20 November 2021.
  19. ^ a b "MOVIE REVIEW : Praunheim Trilogy Takes On the AIDS Crisis". Los Angeles Times. 25 July 1990. Retrieved 24 April 2022.
  20. ^ Judell, B. (1996). "The work of Rosa von Praunheim: tackling AIDS in Germany through film". Journal of the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care. 2 (10): 42–44. PMID 11363912. Retrieved 25 March 2022.
  21. ^ Maslin, Janet (4 May 1990). "Of AIDS, Frustration And Fury". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  22. ^ "Berlin International Film Festival (1990)". IMDb.
  23. ^ "Catalog: Sixteenth International San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Film Festival". Frameline Film Festival, 1992. Retrieved 6 April 2022.
  24. ^ "Playing the fool". Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (University of California) - The Record, 1995. Retrieved 20 April 2022.
  25. ^ "LIFE IS LIKE A CUCUMBER". Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  26. ^ "Rosa von Praunheim". International Federation of Film Critics. Retrieved 20 April 2022.
  27. ^ "Hollywood comes over all queer..." The Independent. 13 March 1997. Retrieved 25 April 2022.
  28. ^ "TRANSEXUAL MENACE". Retrieved 22 November 2021.
  29. ^ "A Queer-Film Historian Discusses Movies That Provoke". The New York Times. 9 June 2022. Retrieved 10 June 2022.
  30. ^ "Rosa von Praunheim - Awards". imdb. Retrieved 25 November 2021.
  31. ^ "MIKE DOWNEY Prize for best title". Ziegler Film. Retrieved 21 November 2021.
  32. ^ "COWS KNOCKED UP BY FOG". Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  33. ^ "Seven nights with Abel Ferrara". American Cinematheque. Retrieved 17 May 2023.
  34. ^ "Rosakinder". filmportal. Retrieved 21 November 2021.
  35. ^ "Berlinale Camera 2013 for Isabella Rossellini and Rosa von Praunheim". Berlinale. Archived from the original on 31 January 2013. Retrieved 28 January 2013.
  36. ^ "Rosa von Praunheim". Berlin International Film Festival. Retrieved 26 November 2021.
  37. ^ "28. TEDDY AWARD". Teddy Award. Retrieved 12 December 2021.
  38. ^ "Leading German filmmaker and LGBTI activist Rosa von Praunheim". Screen Daily. Retrieved 26 January 2020.
  39. ^ "PINK APPLE FESTIVAL AWARD 2019 GOES TO ROSA VON PRAUNHEIM". Pink Apple. Retrieved 23 November 2021.
  40. ^ "Rosa von Praunheim". filmportal. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  41. ^ "Rosa von Praunheim". ZVAB. Retrieved 23 January 2022.
  43. ^ "Praunheim". Akademie der Künste (in German). Retrieved 12 December 2021.
  44. ^ "RIIFF Highlights 2005". Rhode Island International Film Festival. Retrieved 12 December 2021.
  45. ^ "Saluting Rosa : An American Cinematheque series honors a fearless international pioneer in gay cinema". Los Angeles Times. 4 September 1997. Retrieved 1 April 2022.
  46. ^ "Toronto to play host to gay cinema festival". The Edmonton Journal. 21 October 1986. Retrieved 7 January 2022.
  47. ^ "LITTLE JOE: CITY OF LOST SOULS". Tate Modern. Retrieved 12 December 2021.
  48. ^ "MIKE KUCHAR 5: MISERY LOVES COMPANY". Tate Modern. Retrieved 12 December 2021.
  49. ^ "Rosa von Praunheim y las políticas de inclusión ciudadana". University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved 1 April 2022.
  50. ^ "Tough Love". m-appeal. Retrieved 1 May 2022.
  51. ^ "Shanghai Film Festival Opens Saturday". Retrieved 1 May 2022.
  52. ^ "The History of the Tokyo International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival". Tokyo International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. Retrieved 1 May 2022.
  53. ^ ""A" List Film Festivals". FilmFestivalLife. 13 September 2012. Retrieved 18 January 2022.
  54. ^ "Rosa von Praunheim ist Berlinale-Rekordhalter". Berliner Morgenpost. 6 February 2015. Retrieved 6 April 2022.
  55. ^ "Rosa von Praunheim zum 60". Basis Film-Verleih. Retrieved 6 April 2022.
  56. ^ "Close to the Knives: Art, Activism, and HIV/AIDS". The Courtauld Institute of Art London. Retrieved 30 November 2021.
  57. ^ "Gen/Sex: Film Series – Nicht der Homosexuelle ist pervers, sondern die Situation, in der er lebt (Rosa von Praunheim, 1972)". University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved 30 November 2021.
  58. ^ "Gay People At Columbia". Village Voice. Retrieved 25 March 2022.
  59. ^ "AIDS Activist Film and Video and the Emergence of Queer Cinema". Harvard University. Retrieved 25 March 2022.
  61. ^ "Focus on German Studies, Volume 19 (2012), "Und in dieser Position ... ging's dann los": Acknowledging Cinematic Mindfulness in two films by Rosa von Praunheim". University of Cincinnati. Retrieved 7 December 2021.
  62. ^ "La Schwulenwebegung alemana y el cine de Rosa Von Praunheim". National University of La Plata. Retrieved 7 December 2021.
  63. ^ Kuzniar, Alice A. (2000). The Queer German Cinema - ALICE A. KUZNIAR. Stanford University Press. ISBN 9780804737487. Retrieved 7 December 2021.
  64. ^ Griffiths, Craig (2021). 'It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse'. Oxford University Press. pp. 57–92. doi:10.1093/oso/9780198868965.003.0003. ISBN 978-0-19-886896-5. Retrieved 31 December 2021.
  65. ^ "New York Memories". filmportal. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  66. ^ "Hitler's Goat and the King's Haemorrhoids". Deutsches Theater Berlin. Retrieved 18 April 2022.
  67. ^ "Bundespräsident Steinmeier gratuliert Rosa von Praunheim". Retrieved 18 April 2022.
  68. ^ "Rosa von Praunheim wird 75". Männer Media. 25 November 2017. Retrieved 28 June 2022.


  • 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
  • Zielinski, Ger. Rebel with a Cause: An Interview with Rosa Von Praunheim. Cinéaste, vol. 37, no. 3, 2012.

External linksEdit