Charlotte Von Mahlsdorf is the subject of the one-person play I AM MY OWN WIFE by Doug Wright, who won both the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award in 2004.
I AM MY OWN WIFE is being presented by the Proud Mary Theatre Company November 1-11 in Spartanburg and Greenville.
Charlotte Von Mahlsdorf was born Lothar Berfelde, to parents Max Berfelde and Gretchen Gaupp in Berlin-Mahlsdorf, Germany. At a very young age she felt more like a girl, and expressed more interest in the clothing and articles of little girls.
Max Berfelde, Lothar’s father, was already a member of the Nazi Party by the late 1920s and he had become a party leader in Mahlsdorf. In 1942 he forced Lothar to join the Hitler Youth. They often quarrelled, but the situation escalated in 1944 when her mother left the family during the evacuation. Max demanded that Lothar choose between parents, threatening her with a gun and leaving her in a room with an hour to choose; when he came in to kill her, she struck him with a rolling pin and killed him. In January 1945, after several weeks in a psychiatric institution, Lothar was sentenced by a court in Berlin to four years detention as an anti-social juvenile delinquent. She did not serve the full term because the jails were opened at the end of the war.
With the fall of the Third Reich, Lothar was released. She worked as a second-hand goods dealer and dressed in a more feminine way. “Lothar” became “Lottchen”. She loved older men and became a well-known figure in the city as von Mahlsdorf. She began collecting household items, thus saving historical every-day items from bombed-out houses. She was also able to take advantage of the clearance of the households of people who left for West Germany.
Her collection evolved into the Gründerzeit Museum, of everyday articles from the Gründerzeit (the time of the founding of the German Empire), which she opened in 1960. The museum became well known in cinematic, artistic and gay circles. From 1970 on, the East Berlin homosexual scene often had meetings and celebrations in the museum.
In 1974 the East German authorities announced that they wanted to bring the museum and its exhibits under state control. In protest von Mahlsdorf began giving away the exhibits to visitors. Thanks to the committed involvement of the actress Annekathrin Bürger and the attorney Friedrich Karl Kaul (and possibly also thanks to her enlistment as an inoffizieller Mitarbeiter or Stasi collaborator) the authorities’ attempt was stopped in 1976 and she was able to keep the museum.
In 1991 neo-Nazis attacked one of her celebrations in the museum. Several participants were hurt. At this time von Mahlsdorf announced she was considering leaving Germany.
In 1992 she received the Bundesverdienstkreuz, The Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. Her decision to leave Germany meant that she guided her last visitor through the museum in 1995 and in 1997 she moved to Porla Brunn, an old spa near Hasselfors, Sweden, where she opened (with moderate success) a new museum dedicated to the turn of the 19th century. The city of Berlin bought the Gründerzeit Museum, and by 1997 it had been opened again by the “Förderverein Gutshaus Mahlsdorf e. V.”.
Von Mahlsdorf died from heart failure during a visit to Berlin on 30 April 2002.
What: “I Am My Own Wife” by Doug Wright
When & Where: Nov. 1-3, 2017 at Unitarian Universalist Church, 210 Henry Place, Spartanburg
When & Where: Nov. 10-11, 2017 at The Ninjaplex, 188 Kerns Ave., Greenville
Time: All shows are at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.