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V. Congress of the European Federation of Sexology (EFS)
XIV. DGSS Conference on Social Scientific Sex Research
Berlin, June 29 - July 2, 2000

Awarding the Magnus-Hirschfeld-Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Sex Reform to Oswalt Kolle, Amsterdam

Laudation for Oswalt Kolle
by Rolf Gindorf, Düsseldorf

Dear Oswalt,
Dear Colleagues,

It is a great honor for me, and, at the same time, a great pleasure to give today a laudation speach for someone whom I have known for more years now than I care to remember. For someone whose name became a synonym, a household word for sex - and for enlightened presentation of sexuality in the mass media. Someone who has probably done more than any single person - and certainly more than any academic sexologist I know - to help bring about a more tolerant, understanding, and accepting individual and public attitude towards the sexualities. Someone who, although not a scientist himself, has been a long-time member of the DGSS. Someone who - while pushing 72 - is still at it with a vigour that puts to shame much younger people. Someone --- But stop, I am getting ahead of my story.

Oswalt Kolle was born in 1928, in Kiel, at the Northern, Baltic shore of Germany, as son of the noted psychiatry professor Kurt Kolle, who eventually moved to Munich and a life tenure position. But young Oswalt decided against an academic career for himself. He choose to become a journalist, working for such popular newspapers as "Frankfurter Neue Presse", "Nachtausgabe", "BILD", and "BZ Berliner Zeitung". - Of course I am wildly speculating now, but maybe it was this early connection to Berlin, the "birthplace of sexology", which set him on the sex track that was to mark all his later life ...

His attention sharpened by his father's work, he began to write in daily newspapers about psychiatry as a repair shop for a society that was sexually inhibited, uptight, and hypocritical. In the early Sixties he broke the big taboo, in the mass media and society as a whole: he began publishing articles about human sexuality. Not in exclusive journals but in large-circulation illustrated weeklies (I suppose some of them can be called tabloids); not in intellectual, scientific lingo but in plain language. These articles were highly informative, advocated an open atmosphere about sex, were immensely popular, and reached a vast audience. Because of their tremendous success, book publications followed the original magazine versions. Some of these stories, or rather serials, and the subsequent books were titled:

  • Your Child, That Unknown Being (published as a book in 1963)
  • Your Husband, That Unknown Being (book 1967)
  • Your Wife, That Unknown Being (book 1967)
  • The Miracle of Love (book 1968)
  • Sexuality 70 (1970).
  • These and other books were made into eight full-length motion pictures that were seen by 50 million people in the German-speaking countries alone. (These include, in addition to Germany and Austria, Luxembourg, and parts of Switzerland, Belgium, and Italy.) Worldwide there were over 100 million viewers.

    To nobody's big surprise, they met with harsh resistence: by Christian churches, especially the Roman Catholic church, by the "Volkswartbund", or "People Guardian Alliance" (an influential reactionary pressure group claiming to protect the German people from what it considered un-Christian, un-German, licentious, or liberal ideas), and the "Bundesprüfstelle", a conservative government censorship authority charged with protecting the young - notably from sexuality. Kolles writings and films were accused of being obscene, advocating fornication, corrupting youth. In a number of court cases, courageous sexologists (like the former DGSS-President Helmut Kentler) testified in court that Oswalt Kolles articles, books, and films were neither. Eventually, their evidence prevailed.

    What about TV, you may ask. Now let us remember: The sixties, in Europe, were largely a slim-TV era, and difficult as this may be to imagine for young people of today: all this came about pretty much without television. For many years German TV was some sort of public TV with only two national and no local channels, where the conservative parties along with the churches could control programs. That changed with the advent of private TV and a growing number of stations competing with each other and with public tv. While the overall quality of programs could not said to sky-rocket with the appearance of private TV, one thing did change: enter sex. So, rather belatedly, some 30 years later, private TV stations jumped on the Kolle bandwagon, and RTL - the biggest and most popular among them - featured in 1992 seven of those early films in an abridged version edited by Oswalt Kolle himself. Again, they were immensely successful, with millions of viewers even for their late-night repeats in 1994.

    Regrettably, but perhaps unavoidably, he has also been misunderstood and misrepresented: as a guru of sex performance, as an advocate of sex as a competitve sport, as a propagator of a sexual meritocracy. Nothing could be farther from the truth. What he does say, over and over again, is that people should enjoy each other - if they so choose, and howsoever they choose. In so doing, he helped sexuality come out of that traditional teleological and biologistic "procreation ideology" corner where sexuality had been "allowed" only for the pupose of producing offspring.

    At the height of his popularity, Oswalt Kolle's name was probably known to more people than that of the German Federal Chancellor. His fame took strange forms: like whenever someone wanted to raise the subject of sex, at home, at work, or at a party, he or she might begin by asking: "Say, whaddaya think of Kolle?" ("Was hältste denn von Kolle?") - By the way, the same question was often used to suggest and initiate sexual play.

    After his serial, movie, and TV successes Oswalt Kolle stayed busy, producing more books on sexuality and partnership. Let me quote three examples:

  • All Of Us Need Tenderness (1976), and
  • Lust Without Taboos (1981).
  • Open To Both Sides (1997).
  • In this latter book, written jointly with the young MD Sabine zur Nieden, he came out as a practicing bisexual. What better tribute to his pioneering work and the attitude changes it helped bring about than the fact that this did not cause any publicly raised eyebrows!

    As for his private life, Oswalt Kolle has been married for 47 years to Marlies Kolle. The couple have three adult children and two grand-children. The whole Kolle family live in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, to where Kolle emigrated 32 years ago. He is now a Dutch citizen. (And so we can stick to our tradition of not awarding the Magnus Hirschfeld Medal to Germans ...)

    At 72 soon, Oswalt Kolle continues to write articles and columns on sexuality for popular weeklies, notably for "Neue Revue". But he is also an Invited Speaker to scientific and medical meetings: from sexologists to gynacologists to urologists to general practitioners to psychologists - you name them, he's been there. In 1996 - six years after the DGSS historic first scientific conference on "Bisexualities" in Berlin - Oswalt Kolle gave the opening address to another international symposium on bisexuality, likewise in Berlin. That same month, he gave yet another opening speech - at the exhibition of the German Museum for Hygiene, Dresden, about "The Pill". Tomorrow, in case you did not know, he'll speak to us about "Sexuality and Aging" - right in this hall, at 6:30 p.m. This is a subject to which he has increasingly given his attention.

    With this, let me come to the end and attempt a summary. This is roughly the English translation of what the document says, in German, that goes with the medal.

    Throughout the decades of his professional life as a journalist, science publicist, film, TV and book author, popular talk-show guest, and invited speaker to academic conferences, Oswalt Kolle has made a truly tremendous contribution to the sexual education and enlightenment of ordinary people. His tireless and monumental work helped bring about a better understanding of human sexualities.

    Ever since his first articles in popular illustrated weeklies some 40 years ago, he addressed - in a clear language understandable to all - what was then strictly a taboo subject: sexuality. He was attacked, ridiculed, and victimized by the religious and poltical right, threatened by court actions, faced with bans and censorship. Despite this, his books were translated into 17 languages, and his films were seen by more than a hundred million people world-wide. In Germany, his name became known to virtually everyone, and got to be a household word for an affirmative sexual information and education effort in the mass media.

    As sexologists, we bow in awe and envy to such success, such popularity, such outreach, such effect, such vision, such courage, and such circulation figures. We owe very much to him as he admirably spread many of our research results, helping them to have effects on people's lifes that are normally beyond our reach. In honoring Oswalt Kolle today, we are at the same time paying tribute to the example and aims of our great sexological pioneer, Magnus Hirschfeld.

    Dear Oswalt, today the German Society for Social Scientific Sex Research takes pride in awarding you the Magnus-Hirschfeld-Medal for outstanding service to sexual reform. May you keep up the inspiration and strength you have been showing over the past years! Thank you for all this.

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