“Garden Of Stars”
AIDS, the Stillborn & The Brothers Grimm
The Alter Sankt-Matthäus-Kirchhof is in the Schoneberg section of Berlin. It is famous as the burial site of the Brothers Grimm. However, this film is isn’t about them but about a man whose life has become linked to the cemetery.
Ichgola Androgyn is a gay drag queen who used to be involved in experimental art and various other slightly hippy-like pursuits. Almost accidentally he got involved with the cemetery, which he helped change it from Victorian institution to something more welcoming that is designed as much for the living as the dead.
He began his association with the graveyard during the AIDS crisis, when it almost became the ‘gay cemetery’ due to the number of young men being buried there. The cemetery now includes a beautiful AIDS memorial. Ichgola also helped found the ‘Garden Of Stars’, a place to bury stillborn children. Ichgola specializes in this work— he organizes the funerals for these babies, and makes sure that the Garden is both a place of sadness and solace, covered with bright colors and flowers. He also gives tours of Alter Sankt-Matthäus-Kirchhof and helps to run a small café in the cemetery’s ground.
This film is Ichgola’s story and it introduces us to him and his ideas. He’s an interesting man, who manages to mix the seemingly contradictory qualities of being a bit of a bohemian dreamer with practicality.
We see how his sexuality influences everything about him while not taking over his personality or mean that everything he does is ‘Gay’ with a capital G. Ichgola’s life in the cemetery is undoubtedly informed by growing up gay before it was accepted and getting involved in a more free-thinking culture outside the mainstream. This allowed him to look at a graveyard that was stuck in a time and see what it could be. What he has created respects the past, while looking to the future and makes us realize that death is part of life.
We see some moving moments and get an interesting look at a gay man “whose freethinking life and attitudes have been translated into a new and potentially better way to handle death”.