Gay Clubs, Parties and Events in Berlin

Due to the COVID-19 epidemic, many places are closed or opening hours may have changed. Please check the websites and Facebook pages of the respective venues for the latest information. Update April 2021: Bars, restaurants, gymsTourist overnight stays in hotels are temporarily not allowed.

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LGBTQ+ Berlin – the city’s best gay bars, clubs and saunas

Thanks to a queer scene that’s been thriving for years, the best gay bars, clubs and saunas in Berlin really are all that

When the German government voted to allow gay marriage in 2017, Berliners rejoiced: the city has been renowned for its thriving queer community for years. And while cruising spots and gay bars for men have been around for decades, recent times have seen a more inclusive offering emerge for queer women, trans folk and non-binary patrons too. So get browsing our list of the absolute best gay bars, club nights and saunas in Berlin – you never know who you might meet.

LGBTQ+ Berlin – the city’s best gay bars, clubs and saunas

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About Cologne and its gay life

Although situated in Western Germany, Cologne is sometimes called the ›most southern city of Germany‹. That is partly because the people in Cologne tend to be more easy-going and approachable than in other German cities. And they love to imitate the Southern European lifestyle – as soon as two rays of sunshine hit the city you will see some tables outside in front of many cafes and bars.

Cologne had been extensively destroyed during World War II. And the paradigm of the first after-war and ›Wirtschaftswunder‹ decades to replace everything old by something new unfortunately did the rest to prevent Cologne from becoming one of the most interesting and beautiful cities in Germany. For the sight-seeing traveller it hasn’t much to offer besides the Cathedral, an UNESCO World Heritage site, a wide range of high quality art galleries and museums, and a few other attractions.

But Cologne more than compensates for this with its more friendly and easy-going atmosphere. As one result Cologne became the gay capital of the western part of Germany. Its big rival in the East, Berlin, is bigger, more dynamic and vibrant, which makes the Cologne gay scene look more provincial – but Cologne is also more familiar and warmer.

Our Cologne Gay Map shows the two major gay areas in Cologne: Many of the cafes, bars and clubs around Rudolfplatz have started during the last twenty years and have a rather modern style. Traditional pubs and bars for mixed ages are located mainly in the Old Town.

If you like your travel destinations crowded and with a million people partying on the streets and in the pubs, then the Carnival in winter and the Cologne Gay Pride in summer are made for you.

Other popular annual queer events and highlights in Cologne are the Fetish Pride week in May or June and the Bear Pride weekend in November.

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About Cologne and its gay life

San Francisco

Further strands of the baby bear scene can be traced back to San Francisco. The California city, a magnet for LGBTI people since the early 1900s, was among the first US cities to develop an identifiable gay scene.

As the gay scene grew, it diversified. Leather bars, like the Tool Box, began to emerge in the 1960s. They catered for those turned on by bikers and men in uniform. They became the places to hang out if you were into Tom of Finland-style, rugged men.

This included guys who were hairy or large. Soon enough, bigger guys – who appreciated the fact others found their size attractive – were being identified as their own sub-group: bears.

San Francisco

‘Girth and Mirth’

The term ‘bear’ began to be bandied around increasingly in the 1970s for any gay man who was big and hirsute.

There already existed loose, informal networks of self-identified ‘chubby chasers’ in the US. These became more formalized when a San Francisco man, Charlie Brown, placed a small ad in counter-culture newspaper, Berkeley Barb, in February 1976 calling for a meeting of gay chubbies and chasers.

This led to the first ‘Girth and Mirth’ group, an informal gathering of guys who were chubby or overweight. Girth and Mirth groups soon followed in New York and Boston. As a group to celebrate overweight men and those who liked them, it was very much a proto-bears organization.

In 1979, writer George Mazzei penned an article for The Advocate magazine in which he asked, ‘Who’s who in the zoo?’. It split gay men down into seven different types of animals, and the bear was one of them.

It noted, ‘bears are usually hunky, chunky types reminiscent of railroad engineers and former football greats. They have larger chests and bellies than average and notably muscular legs. Some Italian-American bears, however, are leaner and smaller; it’s attitude that makes a bear.’

This wasn’t just a West Coast phenomenon. There are reports of groups of bearish men meeting at Florida bars such as The Ramrod and Tool Room in Miami and Tacky’s in Fort Lauderdale.

Bear magazine

The pace picked up in the mid-80s. California-based publishers Richard Bulger and his partner Chris Nelson launched Bear magazine in 1987. A friend of Bulger’s, Bart Thomas, began the title as a photocopied magazine of sexy photos and personal adverts. However, he died from AIDS-related illness shortly after it began and Bulger took it over.

One contributor to Bear magazine was cartoonist Fran Frisch.

Raised in Minnesota, Frisch worked in a steel mill for much of his career. But he developed a side-line as a cartoonist. He began to send his artwork of to gay magazines in the mid-80s and selling his bear T-shirts at Bear Hug parties in San Francisco, which he began to visit regularly.

In 1990, he moved to the city. He went on to be one of the co-founders of the 1992 Bear Expo, which developed into International Bear Rendezvous.

Now 70, and retired to Palm Springs, he has fond memories of the early bears scene.

He says big men and bears, ‘weren’t recognized until they started to show their strength as a community, with the Bear Expo (1992) and Bear Rendezvous (1995). They opened up the city, and the gay community opened up their arms to them.

‘Before that, it was underground, a subculture. Then in the late 80s and early 90s, it almost became popular to be a bear in San Francisco.’

The launch of Bear magazine really cemented bears as a gay sub-sect. A year later, Drummer magazine published its own 21-page ‘Mountain Men’ feature – the first time it had devoted such a celebration to bear-ish men.

Britain embraces bears and big men

In 1993, Bulk opened in London. It produced a regular newsletter (Bulk Delivery) for members and launched as a fortnightly club at the Block in Islington. It was an instant success and soon sought a weekly Saturday home.

‘The whole concept of “bears”, was drifting over from the US,’ promoter Bobby Pickering recalls to Gay Star News.

‘My partner Derek and I wanted to develop a club space on a much bigger scale, drawing all types of gay guys together – chubbies, bears, body builders, gainers, older guys.

‘The time was just ripe, as the demographics of the gay scene were shifting. Guys were getting a bit older, and many found they were feeling unwelcome at main gay venues. Also, there was a real “no fats / no fems” mentality about a rigid acceptable gay identity at the time that we felt needed challenging.’

The club ran until the late 1990s. After its closure, promoter Mark Ames opened up XXL in 2000, which has gone on to become the biggest weekly bears club in the world. It currently occupies the 5,000-capacity Pulse near London Bridge.

Bear festivals: From Berlin to Bangkok

With the growth of gay bars and clubs, there’s been a similar growth in big bear gatherings.

Lazy Bear Weekend has been running since 1996 in Guerneville, California. Bear Week Provincetown arrived in 2001 – and the first Bear Week in Sitges – one of the biggest bear events in Europe – in 2006.

The early bears scene was very white and hairy – reflecting its roots in the populist imagery of American blue collar workers. However, that image has diversified. For example, Chubby Bear Bangkok is a regular bears gathering in Thailand, while BearMex attracts bear lovers to Mexico City.

In the US, Big Boy Pride hosts events and a big annual gathering aimed at African American big guys. You will find a bear or big boy event in almost every country where there is a gay scene, from Iceland to Argentina, Germany to Canada.

The bear world has become a broader church. However, it remains a curiously queer phenomenon. Where is the equivalent straight worship of the husky big man?

By contrast, we have gay bear underwear brands, web shows, movies, musicians, bear cabaret performers and go-go’s, porn stars and hairy and beary Instagram thotties.

Dating apps

From online bulletin boards to geo-location dating, another big unifier of the bear scene was the arrival of Growlr. US entrepreneur Coley Cummiskey launched the app in 2010. He announced its sale last month to big tech company Meet for $12million.

That perhaps demonstrates another aspect of the bear scene’s evolution. From informal groups of friends meeting in bars and turning out photocopied newsletters, to big business and high-production values.

It’s perhaps lost some of its community bonhomie along the way. Fran Frisch remembers the early days of Bear Expo as feeling like he was part of a ‘fraternity’.

‘It’s changed from its grassroots to what it is now,’ he concedes. ‘The muscle bear and pretty bear type of thing … I guess it’s just progressed the way the rest of the gay scene has progressed. Whereas we were grassroots people, they’re now enjoying the beardom without the hard work!

‘I think that’s partly the internet. But it doesn’t upset me,’ he laughs. ‘It’s just how it works.’

For many, whether online or in real life, the evolving bears scene continues to provide a sanctuary: a self-empowering celebration of the big, hairy and plus-size beautiful.

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2. Möbel Olfe

It’s an odd location for a gay bar, wedged among Turkish snack bars in a down-at-heel 1960s housing development, but this unpretentious space has been packed since the day it opened, mainly with gay and lesbian beer lovers, thanks to the excellent range of brews on offer. The crowd has swelled in recent years, with students, artists and hipsters now in the know, but the infamous Thursday nights are still a blast.

4. Schwules Museum

As well as being one of Berlin’s most prized museums, the Schwules has a quiet café for those looking for something more downtempo. Pop into one of the rotating exhibitions on gay, lesbian and trans history, peruse the abundant books and magazines stored upstairs, then chill out over a quiet coffee or beer.

7. Neues Ufer

Established in the early 1970s, this is one of the city’s oldest gay cafés and is located off the beaten Schöneberg track. Formerly Anderes Ufer (‘The Other Side’), Neues Ufer (‘The New Side’) was a go-to hangout for David Bowie during his late-1970s Berlin exile; he lived a few doors down on Hauptstrasse. Come here for a chilled-out daytime latte. 

9. Betty F***

It was over a century ago that the queers of the Wilhelmine period would congregate around the bars and cafés of Mitte’s Mulackstrasse. Today, as one of the few gay bars left in Mitte, Betty F*** remains a favourite for gays, hipsters and fashionistas looking for a kickstart to the evening.

2. Südblock

A former beer-slinger from Möbel Olfe opened this bar for Kreuzberg’s fast-expanding gay population in 2010. Located under the housing development on the roundabout at Kottbusser Tor, the mixed crowd enjoy drinks and dancing night after night, as well as many one-off rock parties. Check what’s on the schedule beforehand, but expect talks, pub quizzes, club nights and more. Südblock also dishes up hot plates, ranging from breakfast to midnight snacks.

3. SchwuZ

This popular club and hangout moved from its Kreuzberg home to a new location at Rollbergstrasse 26 in Neukölln a few years back, with a 25-hour opening-night party that saw 56 DJs play across three dancefloors, pumping out that signature SchwuZ mix of indie, pop, retro-kitsch and electro. But SchwuZ isn’t just hands-in-the-air bangers, this is where you come for art installations, LGBT-friendly talks, live music and drag shows with international queens.

Police who raided LGBTI bookstore and broke man’s arm deny wrongdoing

For those tumbling on to the gay scene for the first time today, it might be tempting to think bears have always been with us. However, although gay bars – both underground and overground – existed for much of the 20th century, the commercial bears scene is a more recent phenomenon.

Most agree that the nascent bear scene gained traction in California. In his seminal and authorative Bear Book, historian Les Wright says there are two entries for ‘bear club’ in the minutes of a Los Angeles-based Motorcycle club in 1966.