Rosa von Praunheim was born in 1942 as Holger Mischwitzky in Riga, Latvia. His artist name Rosa refers to the pink triangle (rosa Winkel) that homosexuals were forced to wear in the Nazi concentration camps. He has made more than 70 films, many of which deal with his favourite subjects: homosexuality, older women, New York City.
He had a “wonderful childhood, growing up with goats and chickens”, he says. The family fled what had then become East Germany to Frankfurt in West Germany when he was 10 years old. Much later, he learned from his adopted mother that she was not his birth mother. The revelation resulted in his 2007 documentary Two Mothers. “She told me she found me in Latvia, stole me and took me to Berlin. I thought it was sensational at first, but I researched and it became like any other research project,” he says.
He found out he was born in a Latvian prison hospital and that his mother died in a psychiatric hospital in Berlin. Von Praunheim now calls Berlin his home. The city was the subject of his 2017 film Survival In Neukölln. “Berlin is changing and becoming like Paris or London, but there were many creatives still living in Neukölln, taking advantage of cheap beds,” he says.
He first moved to Berlin in the 1960s when it was a “city of lost souls”, he says. “I have many friends here. I don’t like to travel anymore. It’s superficial to travel. I’m old and I need the time to do my work. I lived in New York until 1995, but didn’t find it creative anymore.”
Von Praunheim became a cult figure in the early 1970s with the release of It Is Not The Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But The Society In Which He Lives. Conversations ignited by the film led to the founding of some of the first gay-rights groups in Germany. He went on to make more than 80 documentary and fiction feature films, many focusing on LGBT+ issues. These included The Bolsters (Die Bettwurst) in 1971, a parody of bourgeois marriage, and Tally Brown, New York in 1979, a documentary about the singer and actress of the title.
He made a film about Adolf Hitler’s sexuality, looking at a relationship the dictator may have had with a young conductor, August Kubizek. The conductor wrote a book called The Young Hitler I Knew in 1953.
“I think Hitler was very involved with men, until the late 1930s,” von Praunheim explains. “Much later he had women on his side, as this musician wrote his memoirs in 1953.”
With the black comedy A Virus Knows No Morals (1985), he produced one of the first feature films about AIDS. The documentaries Positive and Silence = Death, both shot in 1989 and dealing with aspects of AIDS activism in New York, together with Fire Under Your Ass (1990) about AIDS in Berlin, composed the AIDS Trilogy.
In Germany, Rosa was very vocal in his efforts to educate people about the danger of AIDS and the necessity of practising Safer Sex. These efforts alienated many gays who came to consider him a moralistic panic-monger.
*article completed from different sources