Heinz-Diego Leers passed away on New Year’s at the age of 78. By the morning of Jan. 1, his heart had stopped after he was hospitalized with a bad cold, his daughter Serena Goldenbaum told t-online.
The neighborhood legend will not only be remembered by his survivors. Because: With the “powder keg” Leers had created a life’s work in the Hamburg neighborhood. The restaurant is not only one of the most well-known drag cabarets in Germany but is also one of the largest drag theaters in Europe.
He managed the fortunes of the restaurant for 47 years before Leers handed over the management to two former regulars in mid-2021 due to his age and for health reasons. He never fully recovered from a pulmonary embolism he suffered in 2014.
“Pulverkeg” founder Leers made travesty socially acceptable
He made the travesty socially acceptable in Europe and got it out of the dirty corner, says a statement that the “powder keg” published in May 2021 on the occasion of his farewell. He also founded the Crazy Boys. Since then, Men-Strip has become an integral part of many events.
The history of the theater begins in 1973 in St. George. His father runs a restaurant on Pulverteich Street, which Heinz-Diego Leers takes over. He actually wants to turn the shop into a discotheque.
At the time, he invited travesty artists to the reopening, which the manager of “Chez Nous” in Berlin lent him. They are so well received that a business idea emerges from them – but initially with moderate success. “Back then we often sat alone in the store. People didn’t dare to come in,” said the restaurateur in June 2021 of the “Hamburger Morgenpost” (Mopo). At that time the travesty was still relatively unknown and was considered disreputable.
His daughter still remembers the beginnings very well. “I grew up there as a little girl. For as long as I can remember, there’s been a ‘powder keg’ with artists, artists, music, hair,” says Serena Goldenbaum t-online. That also shaped her professionally: The Hamburg native is a make-up artist, including for the presenter Sylvie Meis.
Leers revolutionize drag shows in Germany
When the “powder keg” finally started doing better, Leers had to deal with other problems first: the better the shop was doing, the more his father increased the lease. “He went through the store in the morning and counted the empty bottles to see what I was doing in terms of sales. Then he asked for more money,” said Leers of “Mopo”.
After his father’s death in 2001, Leers moved to the former “Oase” cinema on the Reeperbahn with the “powder keg” from St. Georg. This is where the cult story begins.
Leers is the first in Germany to offer food in addition to the shows – which at that time contained more bare skin. It was already common practice in Paris at the time, reports the magazine “Schwulissimo”. There are around ten artists on stage every evening – there are revues, singing, comedy, and striptease. Today the shows are more like Las Vegas productions.
“It was just his life and he kept developing it,” says Goldenbaum. “I think he also paved the way a bit to create tolerance for the travesty. He literally gave the whole thing a stage – against all social resistance.”
Many great drag artists started out in the “powder keg”.
Over the years, scene greats like Angie Stardust from New York have taken the stage, and artists from Brazil and France have also come to Hamburg. Many great artists become famous in the “powder keg”: Olivia Jones and Mary & Gordy dare to take their first steps on Leer’s show stage. Today burlesque stars like Eve Champagne dance there.
The shows are also well-received by celebrities. Mary Roos, Vicky Leandros, Catharina Valente, Udo Lindenberg, and Verona Pooth already enjoyed themselves in the shop on Germany’s “sinful mile”.
According to his own statements, James Last once spent a local round for all guests, Mary Roos fell in love with the evening dress of a travesty artist and appeared in it on a television show. Pop singer Andrea Berg also celebrated here after a concert in Hamburg, according to the website of the “powder keg”.
Male fantasies and a broken marriage
But a look at Leers’ past also reveals less dazzling sides: Before he took over his father’s restaurant, he was a retail salesman. Together with his wife, with whom he has a daughter, he owned and operated two Spar supermarkets. Heinz-Diego loves his wife but realizes that he is also attracted to men. He wants to live it up and sometimes “go away alone”.
At some point, his wife hires a private detective who catches him in a gay bar. The end of the marriage after eight years. His ex-wife takes over the supermarkets – and for Leers his career begins as the string puller of drag shows.
Goldenbaum says of her parents’ separation: “I was sad because I had less of him because of it. I always missed him.” She had been a daddy’s child since she was little. “But I was already aware back then that he had to go the way he had gone. Otherwise, he would not have been happy.”
By the way, Leers never even wanted to go on stage. “I’m too male for that,” he once said of “Mopo”. He preferred to work in the background, putting the shows together, taking care of the staff, and looking for new artists.
Saying goodbye to the “powder keg” was difficult for him
The pulmonary embolism in 2014 and the two-week coma were a “serious shock” for the whole family, Goldenbaum recalls. “Luckily the hospital managed to pick him up again and he’s regained consciousness.” This gave her father another chance to enjoy his life.
Nevertheless, he finally gave the “powder keg” in the hands of two regulars in mid-2021. This decision was very difficult for him, says Goldenbaum. But her father noticed that he was no longer able to muster the necessary energy every day. Nevertheless, Leers remained connected to the restaurant even after he left: under the new management he received a contract as a consultant.
The funeral service should be colorful and flashy
Now Heinz-Diego Leers is to be laid to rest in the Ohlsdorf Cemetery. A special funeral service (January 11, 12:30 p.m.) in honor of Heinz-Diego Leers is planned for chapel 13 next week. It should be colorful and shrill – just like his life was. “My father didn’t like black, so everyone can come as they want. Everything can, nothing has to,” says Goldenbaum.
At the request of the family, his urn will then be buried anonymously in a private setting. It was his wish, reports the daughter. “It’s not me, but I would like to fulfill his will.”