Exhilarating, open-minded, multicultural – Berlin is one of Europe’s most vibrant and a gay-friendly cities. Queer culture here is pretence-free and very much an integral part of daily life.
Instead of a dedicated ‘gayborhood’ Berlin has various stomping grounds, primarily in historical Schöneberg, alternative Kreuzberg and laid- back Prenzlauer Berg. But trendy Mitte, creative Kreuzberg and Neukölln and student neighbourhood Friedrichshain also have plenty in store for the community. The nightlife is famously liberal and devoid of snobbery, with often blurred boundaries between gay, lesbian and straight venues. From disco to techno, ballroom to darkroom, sneaker boys to leather daddies – Berlin has a scene to match everyone’s taste, 24/7.
The history of Berlin’s lesbian and gay scene
Berlin has been a pioneering force in the gay rights movement ever since Magnus Hirschfeld founded the world’s first homosexual advocacy group – the Scientific Humanitarian Committee – in 1897.
Unabashedly gay life thrived in the German capital in the freewheeling 1920s, luring artists, actors and creatives from all walks of life. This carefree lifestyle came 1933 provisionally to an end when Hitler came to power. The Nazis deported more than 50,000 gay men to concentration camps where a pink triangle affixed to their clothing outed them as such. Scores of them perished. Two memorials serve as sobering reminders of this dark chapter in German history: a pink granite triangle on Nollendorfplatz in Schöneberg and the “Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted under Nazism” on the eastern edge of the Tiergarten park unveiled in 2008.
After the war the lesbian and gay scene was not only revitalized but actually flourished. Today, being gay is a nonissue. Scores of LGBTI tourists make the pilgrimage here to party hearty or explore the latest fashion and lifestyle trends. Hundreds of thousands take to the streets on Christopher Street Day to celebrate and demonstrate for gay rights. For a survey of Berlin’s long and varied queer history, the Gay Museum in Tiergarten district is an essential stop. schwulesmuseum.de
‘Rainbow Village’ Schöneberg
The area around Nollendorfplatz has been a gay mecca since the 1920s. This is where men met at the Eldorado, a famous watering hole also favored by local gals Marlene Dietrich and Claire Waldoff. Another Schöneberg resident was Christopher Isherwood, whose novella Berlin Stories form the basis of the film and musical Cabaret. Pay homage to him at his former residence at Nollendorfstraße 17.
Rainbow flags are ubiquitous in Schöneberg where gay-owned businesses range from boutiques to restaurants and book stores. The Lesbisch-Schwules Straßenfest (Lesbigay Street Festival) is an essential event during Pride Month in June. With more than 350,000 guests its worldwide one of the biggest events of its sort and a warm-up for Christopher Street Day. In September, Folsom Europe draws the international leather and fetish community.
Many bars and pubs in Schöneberg are considered institutions. Case in point: the retro- flavored Café Berio whose sidewalk tables are the perfect people-watching perch. HarDie’s Kneipe is another neighborhood favorite. Foodies should book a table at More a designer nosh spot that serves meals from morning to night. More rustic cuisine is on the menu at the cozy Raststätte Gnadenbrot. cafeberio.de; hardieskneipe-berlin.de; more-berlin.de; raststaette-gnadenbrot.de
Although younger gays tend to prefer other neighborhoods, Kreuzberg especially, for flirting and partying, there’s still plenty happening in Schöneberg, especially along Motzstraße and Fuggerstraße. Perennially packed places for kicking off a night on the razzle include the all-comers Hafen and the modish lounge Heile Welt. Prinzknecht gets kudos for its outrageous theme parties. Girls, meanwhile, gravitate to Begine for dance parties and cultural events. hafen-berlin.de; heile-welt-berlin.de; prinzknecht.de; begine.de
Creative and multicultural: Kreuzberg and Neukölln
Even more than 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Kreuzberg still hones its reputation as a countercultural cauldron. This is where the homo scene skews young, eclectic and alternative, driven by students and creatives. Cafes and bars exude plenty of relaxed queer cred and often keep doors open until sunrise or beyond.