Over the past few decades, Germany has evolved to become one of the most gay friendly countries in the world.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Schöneberg in Berlin was famous for being one of the first ever gay villages with a thriving queer culture. Sadly the LGBTQ community of Germany took a massive beating during the Nazi era, either being forced to flee or coerced into concentration camps where they were persecuted and beaten, usually to death. Fortunately, since the 1960s, the community began a great renaissance as they started to rise from the shadows, starting with the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1969.
Fast forward to today: Germany has started to reclaim its fabulous crown as one of the leading LGBTQ friendly countries in the world – a feat it once proudly held in the pre-Nazi era.
87% of Germans believe that homosexuality should be accepted by society
According to the , 87% of Germans believe that homosexuality should be accepted by society – the second-highest score in the world after Spain. In 2017, Germany legalized both gay marriage and adoption rights. In addition, it has an array of anti-discrimination laws and progressive transgender laws, making it one of the most trans-friendly countries in the world as our friend Finn Ballard explained to us.
Is it all rainbows and unicorns? We met up with the affable Marcel Danner in Berlin who was Mr. Gay Germany back in 2019. He told us what gay life is like in Germany as well as his tips for LGBTQ travelers.
Gay Life in Berlin Is Starting to Echo a Darker Era
The right-wing resurgence in Germany recalls prewar Berlin. It may signal an ominous turn for the country’s gay community.
BERLIN—The fetish cruising bar Bull is a place of pilgrimage in Berlin for more than one reason. To patrons, it is a 24-hour safe space that caters to every palate. To the British historian Brendan Nash, it is a symbol of “Babylon Berlin,” a golden decade of LGBT freedom in the city in the 1920s, when the bisexual Hollywood star Marlene Dietrich mixed with prostitutes and transgender dance-hall girls.
“There’s been a gay bar of some kind at this address for more than 100 years,” Nash, an energetic 54-year-old, explained to a walking tour he was leading as he gestured enthusiastically at a neon sign outside, which featured cattle with large nose rings. Chuckling, he told the group that an elderly woman nonchalantly wanders through Bull with a sandwich cart at 5 a.m. in case anyone is hungry. “There is nothing that she has not seen,” he said.
Germany has long been lauded for its liberal attitude toward sex. It recently passed laws allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt, and just became the first European country to legalize a third gender. But LGBT-rights groups have warned of a parallel rise of violent homophobia in mainstream politics.
Since the far-right imprisoned, vowed to repeal gay marriage, and denounced those suffering from HIV. Such attacks not only symbolize yet another seismic, global shift to the right. They are also reminders of Germany’s fascist past and, rights groups worry, signs of dangerous future clamp-downs on vulnerable minorities.
Gay Life Flourished in Berlin Before Nazis Snuffed It Out
Oliver Hilmes, author of Berlin 1936, paints a glamorous and frightening picture of a city that embraced sexual minorities before turning on them with a vengeance.
Last year, close to 13 million people visited Berlin, twice the number of annual visitors recorded 10 years previously. The city is positively bursting at the seams. Not many years ago, a vast number of Berlin apartments stood empty; these days, a pervasive housing shortage threatens to get worse. Berlin is in. But Berlin is also a projection surface for dreams and desires, a promise of a different, freer, better life.
Now, this Berlin enthusiasm is nothing new. Close to a century ago – as the Weimar Republic was nearing its end – Berlin was already a vibrant metropolis the likes of which could not be found anywhere else in the world.
“The city looks to me like a scintillating gem,” the American dancer and singer Josephine Baker observed. “These big coffee shops are like ocean steamers, and the orchestras are their machines that resound all over the place, keeping it in motion. The music is everywhere.”
Visitors both German and foreign, such as the two English writers W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood, felt almost magically attracted by Berlin – by the city’s great size, by its rhythm, but most of all by its gay scene. “Berlin,” Auden remarked, “is a dream for pederasts.” And Isherwood, years afterward, expressed the city’s fascination most succinctly: “To Christopher,” he wrote, “Berlin meant boys.” Everything seemed possible; everything was possible.
As the capital city of the German Empire (the Second Reich, dissolved in 1919), Berlin was already the home of a multibranched, many-sided queer subculture. In the 1920s, Berlin could offer more than a hundred cafés, bars, and taverns that were mainly frequented by queer people of all stripes.
W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood treasured such taverns as the Cozy Corner, near the Hallesches Tor in the borough of Kreuzberg; in this homely little joint, Berlin’s gay scene presented itself undisguised, and there were always half a dozen boys lounging around and drinking beer. Some establishments, such as the fabled Eldorado, on Motz Street in the borough of Schöneberg, even made it into the guidebooks.
The writer Emil Szittya remembered a visit to a transvestite bar named “Mikado”: “At the piano sat the Herr Baron Sattlergrün, who however preferred to be called ‘Baroness.’” Another legendary spot was Silhouette, a small, permanently smoke-filled pub that did a thriving business well into the wee hours of the morning. While the guests ate chicken soup, a pale young man, wearing woman’s clothes and accompanied by a blind pianist, would sing melancholy songs; Marlene Dietrich and the composer Friedrich Hollaender were two of Silhouette’s regular customers.
In the evening hours, certain parts of the Tiergarten (the large park in the middle of the city) were turned into gay playgrounds; moreover, there were veritable gay brothels, camouflaged as bathhouses or massage parlors, where men could meet and have sex.
Permissive and tolerant as the gay scene may have been, the relevant laws were neither. In the common perception of the time, “deviant sexual acts between men” were perverse, and in the eyes of the law, they were criminal. Paragraph 175 of the Reichsstrafgesetzbuch, the criminal code of the German Empire, made homosexual activity a punishable offense; transgressions could entail a penalty of up to six months in prison. However, the Berlin police and judicial authorities did not, as a rule, look too closely. A charge followed only “if the performance of the sexual act ‘resembled heterosexual copulation,’” a criminal defense lawyer remembered. “Of course, only the other partner could testify to that. This absurd practice led, naturally, not to a reduction in the amount of sex being had, but to blackmail by street boys.”
At the same time, though it was true that flamboyantly gay life, with its extravagances and its excesses, was indeed tolerated, it wasn’t always legitimate. In fact, in the heady atmosphere of Paragraph 175, what flourished was criminality. Many a prominent gentleman on a trawl through Berlin nightlife fell into the hands of a blackmailer, who after the sex was over demanded hush money. Not a few paid out enormous sums over a period of many years, practically ruining themselves.
When the National Socialists seized power in January 1933, democracy came to an end in Germany. For queer people, the conditions of life rapidly worsened, especially after the following March, when the Reichstag enacted the so-called Enabling Act, the Ermächtigungsgesetz. With the passage of that law, the principle of separation of powers was abolished and the establishment of a totalitarian regime rendered possible. In 1935 the Nazis increased the severity of Paragraph 175 of the German criminal code, and in 1936 they created the Reich Central Office for Combating Homosexuality and Abortion. Antigay discrimination and a crackdown on sexual “deviance” were now national objectives.
Even leading figures of the day felt the effects of this new ethno-nationalistic Puritanism. In the summer of 1936, the famous gay actor Gustav Gründgens, fearing arrest, made a mad dash for Switzerland. The German regime, however, didn’t want to do without Gründgens; the actor obtained sweeping security guarantees from Hermann Göring himself and soon returned to Berlin. Gründgens’s colleague Kurt von Ruffin wasn’t so lucky – in 1934-1935, because of his sexual orientation, he served a nine-month sentence in the Lichtenburg concentration camp in Saxony, where he endured horrific torture.
Things didn’t go any better for the well-known songwriter and film music composer Bruno Balz, who was locked up in Plötzensee prison for eight months; after his release, Balz had to get married – to Selma, a blond peasant woman from Pomerania. And several thousand uncelebrated other gay people were carried off, mistreated, or murdered.
It was an unsettling concurrence: While gay life was dramatically changing, while pubs and bars were being forced to close and people were disappearing, Berliners and their guests were enjoying themselves quite splendidly. As cynical as it may sound, nightlife in Nazi Berlin carried on at a thoroughly international level. The starting point for nocturnal excursions was often Augsburger Street, which back then counted among Berlin’s entertainment strips. At the intersection where Augsburger Street ended in Luther Street stood the Scala, the capital’s most famous variety theater. Along with the always popular Scala girls, a group of 24 scantily clad female dancers, the bill featured a conspicuous number of American artists: the dancer Mathea Merryfield from California (“America’s prettiest chorus girl”); the diminutive mime artist Fred Sanborn, who also played a mean saxophone; the Four Trojans, a quartet of acrobats performing dizzying tricks at dizzying heights; and Jack and George Dormonde, two slapstick artists on unicycles.
Diagonally opposite the Scala was the renowned Horcher restaurant. Anyone who wished to dine at the Horcher needed a well-stuffed wallet and a great deal of patience, for the small venue did excellent business and was as a rule fully booked. Celebrated actors numbered among the regular guests, as well as many politicians and diplomats. Hermann Göring showed up on a weekly basis. In the Horcher, one ate and spoke French. Otto Horcher – the maître d’hôtel – personally looked after each of his guests; he was acquainted with all his regulars’ culinary preferences and understood how to satisfy them unobtrusively. Almost all the dishes were prepared at the dining tables. The Horcher’s specialties included Medaillons Horcher and Faisan de Presse, whose preparation involved passing a pheasant’s bones through a silver-plated press, thus producing an extremely rich and full-bodied sauce. All of the desserts – for the most part crêpes, in every conceivable variation – were created and flambéed before the eyes of the diners.
Not far from Kurfürstendamm was the elegant Sherbini Bar. Berliners regarded this establishment, owned and operated by the Egyptian Mostafa El-Sherbini, as the capital’s “Jazz Eldorado,” the African-American trombonist Herb Flemming and his band played the Sherbini from 1935 to 1937.
Another Egyptian ran the Ciro Bar on Ranke Street. Achmed Mustafa offered his guests jazz music exclusively: “We could get away with a lot, because we had an international clientele, and that international clientele naturally attached great importance to hearing the same repertoire that they enjoyed in foreign countries,” a contemporary witness recalled.
Kurfürsten Street also showed an international flair. The posh nightclub Quartier Latin belonged to a Romanian who placed a high value on exclusivity; only guests wearing tuxedos or evening dresses were allowed in. Admittedly, the Nazis who frequented the place remained unaware that the proprietor was, on top of everything else, a Jew.
Ernst “Teddy” Stauffer and his “Original Teddies” performed at the famous Delphi Palace on Kant Street. Stauffer played, almost without exception, an American repertoire, including the hottest swing music and Broadway tunes. “Practically the whole playlist comprised worldwide hits by successful Jewish writers, composers, and publishers,” Teddy Stauffer wrote in his autobiography.
American swing music, “colored” jazz musicians, and French restaurants, along with Egyptian and Romanian entrepreneurs running exclusive bars where international businesspeople enjoyed themselves side-by-side with well-known Nazis – none of that seems to fit the commonly held image of Nazi Berlin.
My book Berlin 1936 proposes a portrait of a contradictory time, in which Adolf Hitler’s popularity with the German people attained record heights while, simultaneously, 10,000 spectators in Berlin’s Olympia Stadium cheered a black American, the exceptional athlete Jesse Owens. The book examines political, cultural, and everyday history, reassesses supposedly great and supposedly trivial events and circumstances, and discusses culprits and victims, heroes, passive followers, and careerists, courageous resisters, and silent rebels. Translated by John Cullen
Gay Germany – Europe’s Most Queer Country
Germany is Europe’s most queer country according to a new LGBT report
Germany, as it turns out, is a great destination for gay and lesbian travelers. According to a recent study from Berlin’s Dalia Research GmbH, Germany has the largest LGBT population in Europe—estimated at 7.4%. This despite the lack of federal recognition for full same-sex marriage. Germany is still relatively progressive with its LGBT equality laws, offering same-sex adoption, civil unions (lebenspartnerschaft), and the legal right to change gender. Germany has long been a hotspot for LGBT tourists, and the news out this week about the country being one of Europe’s most queer, is only going to help.
The welcoming country offers countless cultural experiences—everything from extreme nightlife to wine-tastings in the countryside. Germany’s largest cities are also home to large gay and lesbian populations and plenty of activities to keep any discerning tourist happy.
Travel guide to Berlin’s gay area and other gay neighbourhoods
…especially when you arrive at the Wittenbergplatz in gay old Schöneberg, to be greeted by the cutest, gayest, rainbow-clad super-kitsch kiosk of Fritz & Co selling particularly yummy currywurst German sausages. More about Fritz & Co below, but as our first impression of Berlin, we knew we were in for a gay old time here! Berlin is notorious for being the city of sin – a truly liberal and diverse hub where anything goes. The absolute wurst…and we live for it!
Schöneberg is considered to be the main gay area of Berlin, the traditional heart and soul of Berlin’s LGBTQ gay community, where the bulk of its gay bars, clubs and hotels can be found. The city also has several other exciting gay neighbourhoods to check out, each with its own unique character, vibe and queer hangouts. The main ones are Kreuzberg, Neukölln, Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain.
We’ve been to Berlin several times and usually base ourselves somewhere in Schöneberg, which we love. For us, Schöneberg remains the best gay neighbourhood of Berlin – the true Queen of the Scene! We also love venturing out to the bars and parties happening in the other gay districts of Berlin such as Möbel Olfe in Kreuzberg, SchwuZ in Neukölln, Flax in Prenzlauer Berg, and the infamous Berghain in Friedrichshain. The Berghain super club is almost like an entire gay neighbourhood in its own right! This is reason alone why we rate Berlin as one of the top gay friendly vacation destinations in the world.
We’ve put all our notes and stories from our many travels to Berlin in this comprehensive gay guide to help inspire your own holiday to this crazy and super exciting city including the best of the gay scene, gay hotels, parties, events, things to do and more.
What You Need to Know About Gay Berlin
Berlin is a vibrant, gay-friendly city—one of Europe’s most popular destinations for LGBTQ tourists. But like any tourist to Berlin will discover, there’s a lot more to the city’s gay scene than the traditional gay hotspots. The beauty of Berlin as a travel destination lays in the fact that this is a growing city, evolving out of a turbulent 20 th century to become one of today’s leading cities—politically, economically and culturally. It’s no wonder that Berlin makes it to the top of most “best gay travel” lists! But, most gay guides to Berlin don’t fully showcase the diversity of LGBT travel options—that uniqueness that’s made Berlin so special and so gay-friendly.
Luckily, I’m here in Berlin to share the coolest things to do—those gay events, festivals and parties that make Berlin special. The ones that make this one of the world’s best gay cities. For anyone visiting gay Berlin, though, here’s the things you need to know. And for more about Berlin, check out my full gay guide here.
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.
Every summer the Pride Weeks are celebrated with the lesbian/gay city festival, CSD on the Spree and many other events. The highlight is without a doubt the annual CSD Berlin, where the streets of Berlin play host to demonstrations for equal rights but also to celebrations. This year the CSD takes place digitally.
Tips for gay Berlin
How the gay and lesbian scene in Berlin emerged
Back in the 1920s, Berlin had already become a haven and refuge for gays and lesbians from all over the world. There are 170 clubs, bars and pubs for gays and lesbians, and well as riotous nightlife and a gay neighbourhood. But parties aren’t the only thing being organised – several political associations are founded in Berlin to fight for equal rights. However, the Nazis‘ rise to power spells the death knell for this diversity, and it would take several decades for Berlin to return to its status as a global centre for the LGBTQ scene. Learn about how Berlin became a hotspot for gays and lesbians over the course of the 20th century, and how its scene attracted people from all over the world – and continues to do so today.
About Berlin and its gay life
Berlin’s origins go back more than 780 years. In 1701 Berlin became the capital of the kingdom of Prussia and in 1871 of the German Empire. Although Prussia was ruled by a gay king from 1740 till 1786 (Fredrick II), Berlin’s gay career started only hundred years later. In the 1920s (the ›Golden Twenties‹) Berlin was seen as the city with the most lively and advanced gay subculture in Europe. That, of course, ended after 1933 when Hitler and the Nazis were given power in Germany. (A memorial for gays persecuted by the Nazi regime was opened in Berlin in 2008, long overdue after more than 60 years. Map
After the end of World War II in 1945 and with the start of the cold war, Berlin had been divided into West Berlin (controlled by the Western Allies) and East Berlin (controlled by the Soviet Union).
West Berlin, although an island in communist ruled East Germany (G.D.R.), became the gay capital of Germany again. Not only due to its population of about 3 million people, but partially also because the compulsory military service of West Germany (F.R.G.) didn’t apply to men in West Berlin, which attracted many men from the younger generations to move to West Berlin. After homosexual contacts had been legalised in 1969, the gay scene and gay movement in West Berlin grew fast in the 1970s and 1980s.
The legal situation of gay men in East Germany was the best within the Eastern Bloc and even better than in some Western countries, but in an authoritarian state like this gays and lesbians had no rights to organize themselves in a civil rights movement and there were only a few possibilities to develop a gay scene and subculture. End of the 1980s the situation improved, and the peak of that process was the premiere of the legendary movie ›Coming Out‹ – ironically in the night of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
In 2001 Berlin got an openly gay mayor, Klaus Wowereit from the Social Democrats. To prevent his outing by opponents during the election campaign he outed himself on a party congress with the legendary words ›Ich bin schwul, und das ist auch gut so‹ (I’m gay and that’s just fine).
Traditionally, there have been gay neighborhoods in the districts of Sch�neberg and Kreuzberg (both in the western part of Berlin) as well as in Prenzlauer Berg (eastern part). Most of the gay hotels, bars, cafes and shops in Berlin are located in the Sch�neberg district which had dance halls for men already back in the 1920s.
Annual highlights and queer events in Berlin are, among others, the Berlinale film festival in February (including the Queer Film Award Teddy), the LGBTI street festival and the Gay Pride parade in July and Folsom Europe in September.
You will notice in our guide that many gay bars and clubs don’t indicate closing hours. That’s mainly due to the fact that Berlin has no closing hour anymore. Moreover, Berlin’s public transport system, urban railway (S-Bahn), underground (U-Bahn), trams and busses, operates the whole night and at least half-hourly at weekends.
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Which areyour favorite places in Berlin to go for a gay night out?
Möbel Olfe in Kreuzberg is my favourite bar. It’s the first gay bar I ever went to so it will always have a special place in my heart. I love the cuddly pink fluffy bar called Roses, which is just around the corner from Möbel Olfe on Oranienstraße. Also, Bar Saint Jean in Mitte is another favourite of mine.
Gay Neighbourhoods in Berlin
Berlin’s core of LGBTI* activity is Schöneberg in the south west just beside the city zoo. In the 1920s, it enjoys a well-deserved reputation for some of Berlin’s best nightlife, as well as restaurants, cafés and shops frequented by the LGBTI* community in particular. This identity continues to flourish today. Other rainbow neighbourhoods in Berlin not to be overlooked include its neighbour Kreuzberg, a quarter famous for Café Sundström and the SchwuZ nightclub just behind it. There are also shops along the Bergmannstraße as well as live music venues where LGBTI* citizens and visitors meet and have fun. The Mitte neighbourhood also has pockets of LGBTI* hotspots including Weinbergpark.
Kreuzberg 36 for LGBTI*
Location Kottbusser Tor10999 Berlin Kottbusser Tor10999 Berlin
Kreuzberg 61 for LGBTI*
Location Mehringdamm10965 Berlin Mehringdamm10965 Berlin
Mitte for LGBTI*
For a long shopping tour the area around the Hackescher Markt to Rosenthaler Platz is perfect. You find numerous flagship stores of big labels and also berlin style fashion shops like Claudia Skoda, Herr von Eden or Firma. It’s especially worth it to take a look at the side streets if you are
Location Hackescher MarktHackescher Markt10178 Berlin Hackescher MarktHackescher Markt10178 Berlin
Prenzlauer Berg for LGBTI*
Location Kollwitzplatz 10405 Berlin Kollwitzplatz 10405 Berlin
Schöneberg for LGBTI*
Location Nollendorfplatz10777 Berlin Nollendorfplatz10777 Berlin
Berlin before the Nazis: Century-old photos show German capital as a liberal hub with open drug-dealing, thriving gay clubs and raucous parties during the roaring twenties
Published: 08:05 EDT, 30 July 2019 | Updated: 09:20 EDT, 30 July 2019
Women buying cocaine, open homosexuality and raucous revellers dancing into the early hours of the morning are featured in these remarkable photos which reveal what Berlin looked like in the roaring twenties.
Before Hitler completed his march to power in 1933, the German capital was a liberal hotbed where people indulged their sexual and hedonistic appetites in Berlin’s nightlife and party culture.
The century-old photos, from Germany’s Federal Archive (bundesarchiv), show Berlin’s relaxed social attitudes.
It meant that same-sex bars, nightclubs and cabarets catered to gay men, lesbians and trans people flourished in the exciting city.
Here they are shown for the first time in the press.
Fritz Lang with his wife, the writer Thea von Harbou in their apartment in Berlin, 1924. Fritz Lang directed Metropolis, one of the most famous films of the early 20th century. Before Hitler completed his march to power in 1933, the German capital was a liberal hotbed where people indulge their sexual and hedonistic appetites in Berlin’s nightlife and party culture
Performance group of the Jutta Klamt School, Berlin, January 1926. Experimental art such as this would have likely been banned by the Nazis.
Berlin’s relaxed social attitudes also meant that same-sex bars, nightclubs and cabarets catered to gay men, lesbians and trans people flourished in the exciting and sometimes precarious city. Left: A lady straps cocaine to her legs to conceal it in the decadent world of Berlin in 1925. Right: War invalids resorted to begging on the streets of Berlin, Germany, 1923
As Berlin was left ravaged by World War I, prostitution rose in the capital city as a means of survival for both men and women. It became normalised to a degree and a part of the city’s underground culture and economy by the 1920s.
Crime developed in parallel with prostitution and Berlin acquired a reputation as a hub for drug dealing in substances such as cocaine, heroin and tranquilliser.
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The German capital’s unusually liberal law enforcement and its pleasure-seeking reputation turned the capital city into a hedonistic and open-minded mecca which was unmatched across Europe.
Berlin’s tolerance for behaviour that was technically still illegal saw writers, poets, artists from across the world to indulge in the uninhibited nightlife and a thriving gay subculture.
It was also an era of great creative productivity creative experimentation for the city – with multiple cultural contributions in the fields of literature, art, music, dance, drama and cinema.
Tea dance in the garden of the Esplanade hotel, Berlin, Germany, 1926. In the „Golden Twenties“, the Esplanade became the scene of popular tea and dancing afternoons, which were regularly broadcast on the radio. Stars like Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo stayed here.
The world famous Hagenbeck circus rolls into Berlin, Germany on elephants in July 1926. The photos, from Germany’s bundesarchiv, show Berlin’s relaxed social attitudes also meant that same-sex bars, nightclubs and cabarets catered to gay men, lesbians and trans people flourished in the exciting and sometimes precarious city. Here they are shown for the first time in the press
Political discussions in the Lustgarten, central Berlin, where civilians were still free to express their beliefs in May 1928. Berlin was seen as a left wing city, the Nazis called it ‚the reddest city in Europe‘ after Moscow. Berlin’s unusually liberal law enforcement and its pleasure-seeking reputation turned the capital city into a hedonistic and open-minded mecca which was unmatched across Europe
Relaxed beach-goers sunbathes at the Strandbad Wannsee Badeleben swimming area, Berlin, Germany, 1930
A film industry ball in Berlin, Germany, 1929. Film-making at that time was notoriously liberal, and often promoted homosexuality. Berlin’s tolerance for behaviour that was technically still illegal saw writers, poets, artists from across the world to indulge in the uninhibited nightlife and vast homosexual subculture
By the 1920s, Berlin was home to an estimated 85,000 lesbians, a thriving LGBTQ-media scene, and around 100 gay bars and clubs.
And in 1919, physician, Magnus Hirschfeld established his revolutionary ‚Institut fur Sexualwissenschaft‘ (Institute for Sexology) where he openly lobbied for the decriminalisation of homosexuality and helped transgender men to apply to live legally under their new gender.
Audiences, straight and gay, queued up at notorious ‚Eldorado‘, a famed Jewish-owned nightclub where trans women and drag queens performed and gave paid dances to visitors.
The Beauty Queen of Germany with the judging panel which includes famous movie director Fritz Lang, at the Berlin Sportpalast, Germany, March, 1927. It was also an era of great creative productivity creative experimentation for the city – with multiple cultural contributions in the fields of literature, art, music, dance, drama and cinema
Eldorado, a famous nightclub in post-war Berlin that catered for the gay community, but was a hit amongst locals and tourists alike. By the 1920s, Berlin was home to an estimated 85,000 lesbians, a thriving gay-media scene, and around 100 LGBT bars and clubs. Audiences, straight and gay, queued up at the famed Jewish-owned nightclub where trans women and drag queens performed and gave paid dances to visitors
The International Alliance of Women congress in Berlin, Germany, June 1929
Left: Lesbian magazine, Die Freundin, May 1928. There were twenty-five to thirty separate homosexual German-language periodicals that were appearing in Berlin, weekly or monthly in the 1920s. Openly nudist and homosexual titles were displayed in the kiosks. Right: A scene from Different from the Others (1919), a film made in Berlin, whose main character struggles with his homosexuality. Cinema in Weimar culture did not shy away from controversial topics, but dealt with them explicitly. Different from the Others (1919) dealt with a homosexual man’s conflict between his sexuality and social expectations. By the end of the decade, similar material met with little, if any opposition when it was released in Berlin theatres. William Dieterle’s Sex in Chains (1928), and Pabst’s Pandora’s Box (1929) deal with homosexuality among men and women, respectively, and were not censored. Homosexuality was also present more tangentially in other films from the period
Two women buy cocaine on the streets of Berlin from a man known as ‚Coke Emil‘. He sold the deadly drug for 5 Deutschmarks in small capsules, and the man in his background is working with him to warn the drug dealer when a stranger approaches, May 1929
Drag Queens were also spotted at balls and afternoon teas in venues across Berlin.
There were also around 30 separate gay German-language periodicals that were circulating in Berlin, weekly or monthly. These explicitly nudist and gay titles were openly displayed in the kiosks.
When Hitler and the Nazi Party took power in 1933, Berlin’s vibrant underground culture, experimental artistic endeavours and liberal ideals came to an end.
People dance in the early morning at the Berlin Six-Day Races event, November, 1927
Left: The presentation of a giant speaker at the International Radio Exhibition in Berlin, Germany, August 1929. Right: The Fratellini brothers, Europe’s most famous clowns in Berlin, Germany August, 1929
The first spring arrival of the General German Automobile Club in Berlin, Germany, April 1928
Men drink booze bought from a ‚flying liquor seller‘, (left) who sells illegal alcohol on the streets of Berlin for one Deutschmark per glass. He constantly changes his location so to avoid police, Berlin, Germany, May 1929
Afternoon teas and large costume balls were held at institutes across Berlin as another venue for flamboyant cross-dressers. The balls attracted young male prostitutes along with flamboyant cross-dressers and prominent, open homosexuals. This picture was taken at Platz der Republik, central Berlin, 1927
A woman playing with a Yo-Yo on Charlotten street, central Berlin, circa 1926.
The opening of the International Alliance of Women congress in Berlin, Germany, June 1929.
Nazi Minister for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels began the synchronisation of culture, by which the arts were brought in line with the Nazi’s anti-Semitic goals.
The Nazis also implemented several policies which changed the sexual practices of the German people. They created policies encouraging the birth of Aryan children and prohibiting sexual relations between Germans and foreigners.
Gay organisations were banned, scholarly books about homosexuality, and sexuality in general (such as Berlin’s Institut fur Sexualwisenschaft) were burned and any LGBTQ people within even the Nazi Party itself were murdered.
The Iron Closet Documentary Explores Gay Life in East Germany
In 1968, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) legalized homosexuality. Same-sex relations had long been proscribed by the infamous Paragraph 175, the Nazi-era law that not only criminalized homosexuality but led to the imprisonment and murder of thousands of gay people during the Holocaust.
The GDR’s lifting of the ban on homosexuality was portrayed by many as an example of its progressivism and forward-looking nature. Indeed, it took West Germany another year to follow the East’s lead and decriminalize homosexual relations between consenting adults. Yet decriminalization hardly signalled a new era of freedom for gays in the GDR, as activists continued to be spied on and harassed by the Stasi, the East German secret police. The contradictions between this surface-level tolerance and state-sponsored repression are explored in the new documentary, „Out in East Berlin — Lesbians and Gays in the DDR,“ a film by directors Jochen Hick and Andreas Strohfeldt which premiered at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival.
The case of Günter Litfin, the first East German citizen to be shot for attempting to cross the Berlin Wall, provides an example of the ways in which anti-gay sentiment could be utilized as a political tool against regime opponents. A week after his death on Aug. 24th, 1961, , the official newspaper of East Germany’s Socialist Unity Party, published an article accusing Litfin of being a homosexual who tried to flee the country because he had been caught performing unspecified „criminal acts.“ Responding to the creation of a makeshift memorial by West Berliners to commemorate Litfin’s murder, the paper published an article entitled, „A Memorial to Dolly?“ („Dolly“ apparently being Litfin’s homosexual pet name).
It may seem ironic to some, but many gays and lesbians found comfort and organizational support from the church, which itself was emerging in the 1970’s and 80’s as a major fount of resistance to the communist regime. Numerous gay „working groups“ arose in congregations across the country, actively aided by sympathetic church officials. Many, if not all, of these organizations — oftentimes little more than discussion clubs — were secretly monitored by the Stasi, which considered any sort of grassroots political action as a threat to the hegemony of the communist regime. The flim depicts several of its subjects, long time targets of Stasi surveillance, poring over their files, astonished at the extent to which the regime monitored their activities in an operation dubbed „Orion.“ „Romeos,“ single, attractive men recruited by the Stasi to sexually blackmail the secretaries of high-ranking West German officials in Bonn, were also used to infiltrate the nascent gay liberation scene throughout the East by coming on to gay political activists.
While homosexuality had been officially decriminalized in much of the East Bloc by the end of the 1960’s, it merely provided a mask over a deeply ingrained homophobia that existed within many socialist milieus. One of the more fascinating interviews comes not from a German but rather the British gay activist Peter Tatchell. In 1973, he visited East Berlin for the World Youth Festival, a quadrennial extravaganza hosted by the communist bloc where tens of thousands of leftist young people from around the world gathered for massive processions and conclaves discussing ways to overthrow capitalism and imperialism. He tells the interviewers that he was the only openly gay delegate in East Berlin that year, a status that earned him harsh verbal and at times violent abuse from his comrades. Most of the participants, Tatchell recalls, saw homosexuality as a „bourgeois perversion.“ When Tatchell tried to march in the festival’s parade with a sign promoting gay rights, Stasi officers chased him through the crowd. It was, Tatchell says, „probably the first gay rights protest in a communist country.“
Even the most innocuous expressions of gay political consciousness were viewed with suspicion. A chilling example comes in the story recounted by a group of gay women who wished to lay a wreath commemorating the „lesbian sisters“ who perished at Ravensbrück, a Nazi concentration camp for women, as part of the 40th anniversary of the camp’s liberation by the Soviet Red Army. When one of the women, Marina Krug, arrived at the florist shop to pick up the order she had made a few days earlier, the shopkeeper gave her a wreath with no inscription, curtly stating that it could not be printed. Krug’s suspicion that the florist had informed the Stasi was confirmed when the women were conspicuously followed to the ceremony by a pair of men and later interrogated for attempting to stage an „unauthorized riotous assembly.“
No matter how much loyalty one showed to the GDR, he was always at risk of being labeled a subversive, particularly if he was gay. „We didn’t want to be an enemy of the state,“ Michael Eggert, the son of a high-ranking GDR official who later worked as a translator for official trade delegations, earnestly says, recalling how, as a young boy, he dreamed of being the leader of the GDR himself. „We didn’t want to destroy socialism.“ In 1986, following a visit to Cuba, Eggert was expelled from the party after an opportunistic trade official wrote a report complaining about Eggert’s revelation of his homosexuality. Shortly after the Berlin Wall fell and as East Germans started leaving the Socialist Unity Party in droves, Eggert, nostalgic for what was being lost, successfully appealed to have his expulsion rescinded. „I realized a country was starting that was no longer mine.“
The film ends with a coda to the story of Günter Litfin. Today, Litfin’s brother Jürgen works as a tour guide at the guard tower from which an East German border officer fired the bullets that killed his sibling, talking to tourists, school children, and anyone else who will listen about the history of the GDR. When a reporter from approached him for an interview in 2001, Litfin first insisted that the paper retract what he describes as its „defamation“ of his brother as a homosexual, which the paper eventually did. Litfin tells the filmmakers that he knows nothing about gays other than that „they are always well dressed, polite and courteous to women.“
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Who is Adam?
I quit my job as a graphic designer to travel the world, writing this blog along the way. I’ve lived in Berlin, Tel Aviv, London, Sydney, Boston, and Dallas—but since early 2018, I live in New York City (Brooklyn, duh).
On my travel blog, you’ll find gay stories, nightlife tips, photos, and all-too-personal essays from my adventures around the world. Read how Iceland changed my life and set me on a path as a professional travel blogger & award-winning writer.
Where is the main gay area of Berlin?
The main gay area of Berlin is based in Schöneberg. It is the traditional heart and soul of Berlin’s LGBTQ gay community, dating back to 1897 when the world’s first-ever LGBTQ organisation was founded right here: the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee. From this point on, the area blossomed, becoming the Gay Village capital of the world.
Schöneberg reached its zenith in late the 1920s when it had over 80 LGBTQ venues, with gender attraction fluid celebrities like Marlene Dietrich and Claire Waldoff calling it their home. This was also the time when British author Christopher Isherwood wrote about his adventures in the liberal gay Berlin scene of Schöneberg, which became the inspiration to one of our favourite musicals, the Liza Minnelli Cabaret!
Today, Schöneberg is still very much the thriving epicentre of Berlin’s gay scene, containing the bulk of the city’s best gay hangouts, as well as gay hotels like Tom’s Hotel and the two Axel “heterofriendly” hotels.
So you’ve just touched down at Schönefeld Airport and you need to negotiate your way to Berlin City Centre. Fear not, we’ve got you covered in our comprehensive guide on the best ways to get from Schönefeld Airport to Berlin City Centre. If you’re arriving at Tegel Airport, then be sure to check our other guide on how to get from Tegel to Berlin City Centre.
Gay hotels in Berlin
Berlin is one super gay city where we felt completely safe and welcome! There are very few places we feel comfortable walking the streets holding hands, and this is one of them, especially in the gay hotspots like Schöneberg and Kreuzberg. The Berliners are one very open-minded bunch. Whether you’re gay, lesbian, transgender, bi, dressed in leather or simply curious, people don’t care. In Berlin, you can come just as you are. The same applies to the hotels in Berlin. We never had an issue getting a double bed in any of the places we stayed in Berlin.
This is our summary of some of our favourite gay hotels in Berlin, along with a few “hetero-friendly” options:
Gay bars in Berlin
The first thing we noticed when researching where to go out in Berlin is that there are literally tons of gay bars sprawled around the city. Berlin really is one very gay place!
The bulk of the gay bars of Berlin are concentrated in Schöneberg and Kreuzberg with a sprinkling in Neukölln, Prenzlauer Berg and a few underground ones in Friedrichshain. We’ve only selected what we think is a snippet of the best ones as otherwise, our list would go on forever! The main tip from us, look out for the evenings when the bars do 2 for 1 drink promotions as that’s when they will be most busy.
Gay clubs in Berlin
Berlin is packed with tons of clubs! The general Berlin club theme we got used to seeing is smoky underground-type dancing venues, set in former industrial warehouses pumping out electro house – complete with obligatory darkroom. Boom-boom is in the air here- you can literally inhale the hot loving pheromones as you enter most places!
The Berghain is, of course, the mama of all gay clubs in Berlin. There are a bunch of other options available in case you’re not allowed in – which is very likely given how exclusive it is!) As with the gay bars of Berlin, there are tons of clubs here, particularly in Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg and Neukölln, so we’ve only selected a handful of our favourites:
Gay cruising in Berlin
There are many gay cruising places in Berlin, both indoor and outdoor. What’s interesting is that whilst Grindr has almost destroyed the gay outdoor cruising in most other cities, in Berlin it’s still going strong. This is one city where there is no shortage of spaces for good old fashioned anonymous encounters!
Oh and on the subject of gay apps? As well as Grindr and Scruff, we also recommend using Planet Romeo in Berlin – also referred to locally as “die blauen Seiten” (the blue pages). We’ve split this section into the best outdoor gay cruising areas and the indoor, which are essentially bars with a prominent darkroom area.
Gay saunas in Berlin
For a city that oozes hedonism so liberally, it’s quite lacking in gay saunas, particularly when compared to somewhere like the (which has loads!). Despite this, Berlin is home to one of the most famous gay saunas in Europe – possibly the world – der Boiler! We’ve also included a unique gay Tคntrค experience worth checking out:
Gay cafes in Berlin
Germans love their coffee as much as they like cheeky cuddles in bed… There’s a cafe on almost every other street corner in Berlin along with several gay ones sprinkled around the city, particularly in Schoeneberg – Romeo & Romeo our personal favourite. We’ve set out the best gay cafes in Berlin below, but remember, as with the bars, there are loads: this list is not exclusive!
Gay restaurants in Berlin
German sausage jokes aside, the Currywurst is a must! When you first arrive in Schöneberg’s Wittenbergplatz, you’ll no doubt see the famous gay Fritz & Co stand. There are of course many excellent restaurants to check out in Berlin. We checked out some of the best gay restaurants in Berlin and have summarised our favourites right here:
Gay events in Berlin
When it comes to annual gay events, Berlin leads the way! It’s like our European answer to San Francisco, from the Pig parties of Folsom to the քorɳ event of Hustlaball. Here’s our summary of some of the best gay events in Berlin to look out for:
Plan your trip to Berlin
We’ve put together some handy hints and tips to help you plan your own trip to Berlin. Read on to find out everything the gay traveller should know before they go.
How to get there: There are excellent transport links to Berlin from throughout Europe. You can get there via car, bus, train or by flying into Schonefeld or Tegel Airport. We usually fly to Berlin and then get a private airport transfer with Welcome Pickups to our accommodation. They are reliable, always on time and you get a big car all to yourself with an English speaking local driver.
Visa requirements: If you’re coming to Germany from many countries like the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia then you won’t need a visa to enter the country (and other countries in the Schengen Area) as a tourist. This means you can visit Berlin quite easily but make sure you check your personal visa requirements before you travel, especially if you are planning to visit other parts of Europe as well.
Getting around: Berlin is a huge city with an extensive public transport system made up of the U-Bahn (subway), S-Bahn (light rail), buses and trams. The city is divided into three different fare zones: A, B and C. We recommend you pre-purchase the Berlin Welcome Card as it gives you unlimited travel in the zones you choose for the whole duration of your stay as well as lots of discounts on popular attractions.
Power Plugs: Power plug socket F is used in Berlin, and the rest of Germany, which is also compatible with plugs for types C and E. If you’re travelling from within Europe you shouldn’t have a problem, but travellers to from the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia and many other countries will need to bring a travel adaptor with them.
Travel insurance: No matter how well you plan and prepare, sometimes things just go wrong when you’re travelling. We recommend all travellers to Berlin ensure they have travel insurance so you’re protected in the case of accident, illness or even just lost luggage. We’ve been using for years and love them. They provide affordable and comprehensive cover, plus it’s easy to make a claim online when you need to.
Vaccinations: Before travelling to Berlin, make sure you’re up-to-date with routine vaccinations like measles, mumps, chickenpox, etc. Depending on what you are planning to do in other parts of Germany you may also need vaccinations for Hepatitis A and B as well as rabies. Check the most recent advice on the CDC website and talk to your doctor before you make any travel arrangements.
Currency: The currency used in Berlin is the Euro, just like the rest of Germany and 18 of the other countries that are part of the European Union. The symbol for the euro is € and $1 US converts to about 90 euro cents while £1 is worth around €1.17.
Tipping culture: Berlin does have a tipping culture, but only if the service warrants it so don’t ever feel forced to tip. Usually, you can round up your bill to the nearest euro, or give a few euros to the housekeeper at a nice hotel. Here’s some more detailed information on tipping in Berlin.
Internet access: There are lots of free public WiFi hotspots in Berlin, which don’t require registration and provide unlimited access. Here is a list of all the free WiFi hotspots but if you don’t want to be wandering around trying to get online you might prefer to hire a portable WiFi device.
Online privacy: Germany as a whole is very gay friendly, so you’re unlikely to encounter anything in the way of internet censorship or difficulty accessing gay dating apps while you’re in Berlin. If you just prefer to keep your online activities private then we recommend using a VPN like those from ExpressVPN. They provide very reliable and affordable online privacy for when you’re travelling so you can maintain your anonymity.
Accommodation: For more accommodation options in Berlin make sure you check out which is our favourite place to find accommodation at the best prices. They have a huge selection of properties, many with free cancellation and provide excellent 24/7 online customer support.
Sightseeing and adventure: There are also lots more exciting things to see and do in Berlin beyond what we’ve mentioned in this guide. We like to use to plan our adventures since they have many wonderful options, an easy to use online booking system and 24/7 online customer support.
When to visit: Berlin is an exciting city with things happening pretty much all throughout the year. When you visit will be based on specific events you may want to attend or your own personal weather preferences. It can get hot during summer which is from June-August in Germany. Spring and autumn are both mild, with pretty flowers or colourful changing leaves. While winter can be harsh it can also be magical, especially around Christmas!
Gay map of Berlin
Here’s our gay map of Berlin to show you where everything we’ve mentioned in this article is located. Use it to find out where all the best gay hotels, bars clubs, restaurants and activities are for your own visit to Berlin!
Who is Adam?
I quit my job as a graphic designer to travel the world, writing this blog along the way. I’ve lived in Berlin, Tel Aviv, London, Sydney, Boston, and Dallas—but since early 2018, I live in New York City (Brooklyn, duh).
On my travel blog, you’ll find gay stories, nightlife tips, photos, and all-too-personal essays from my adventures around the world. Read how Iceland changed my life and set me on a path as a professional travel blogger & award-winning writer.
Berlin was a liberal hotbed of homosexuality and a mecca for cross dressers and transsexuals where the first male-to-female surgery was performed – until the Nazis came to power, new book reveals
Published: 07:56 EDT, 25 November 2014 | Updated: 08:24 EDT, 25 November 2014
Police mugshots of Berlin prostitute Johann Scheff, arrested in July 1932. Youths dressed in women’s clothing who successfully passed for women, descended on department stores en masse stealing large quantities of merchandise.
The cover of Die Intel, December 1930, advertising a serialized installment of Men for Sale (Manner zu verkaufen). German gay magazines also offered gay and lesbian friendly services to the gay subculture including medical doctors specializing in ’sexual disturbances‘, detective agencies offering to investigate blackmail threats, as well as dressmakers and restaurants
Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey starred in the film version of Carbaret in 1972
Transvestite prostitutes sitting on the laps of gay men in the popular Berlin gay bar Marienkasin
Hansi Sturm, was the winner of the Miss Eldorado transvestite pageant in 1926
Transvestites having drinks in the Eldorado club that was not hidden away but celebrated in the golden age of the gay bar and club scene in Weimar Berlin. It was a hot spot for high society and partying until dawn was the norm
Picture postcard of the gay club Silhouette, popular in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Always under a blue haze of cigarette and cigar smoke, film stars, cabaret artists and wealthy nobility were regulars including a young Marlene Dietrich alongside princes, counts and barons.
Nazi officials sort through ‚un-German‘ and ‚perverted‘ materials in the debris of the Institute for Social Science, that was ransacked on May 6, 1933, for a book burning event they staged four days later.
Schwules Museum* (Gay Museum*)
In Berlin’s Gay Museum you will take a journey through the eventful history of the gay, lesbian and transgender scene. The Schwules Museum*
Good to know for LGBTI*
Berlin has a long and proud history of inclusion. Practical information for LGBTI * visitors is available from dedicated organisations here
Founding of the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee
The Scientific-Humanitarian Committee – the very first gay and lesbian organisation in the world – was founded in Berlin. Its founder is the Jewish doctor Magnus Hirschfeld. His guiding principle: “Justice through science”. His goals: freedom from persecution by the state and religious oppression, the fight for emancipation and social recognition. The Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, remains the most politically influential association with its lobbying activities, its alliances and awareness campaigns, right up until the early 1930s.A column erected opposite Charlottenburg Town Hall serves as a memorial to its historical birthplace.
One of the first gay venues in Berlin, notorious for frequent raids by the police, had already been open in Jägerstrasse since 1885. In 1900, Magnus Hirschfeld is aware of six pubs known to be venues for gays and lesbians. By 1910 there are twice as parks such as Tiergarten, public baths and a range of railway stations traditionally provided places for many homosexual men to meet. These also included public urinals, facetiously known as “Café Octagon” in Berlin due to their shape.
Starting in 1901, the literary and artistic bohème gather in the Dalbelli trattoria on Schöneberger Ufer, where they hold evening lectures and cabarets. Among others, Peter Hille and Else Lasker-Schüler, Erich Mühsam and John Henri Mackay recite poetry there. This is also where Else Lasker-Schüler makes friends with Magnus Hirschfeld. Mühsam and Mackay start contributing to the “unique” from this point on.
The co-owner of the restaurant, Alma Dalbelli, continues running the business as the Como from 1905 on: it was Berlin’s very first gay wine bar.
Lesbians generally became involved in bourgeois feminism as a way to assert their interests and to fight for the right to their own careers and independence, as well as the right to political activity and the right to vote. Their ranks include feminists and suffragettes famous across Germany, such as the Berlin-based Helene Lange and Gertrud Bäumer, who live together as a couple.A number of lesbian women, including Johanna Elberskirchen and Toni Schwabe, take a pro-active stance and fight to become actively involved in the gay movement, arguing in favour of having their say in Magnus Hirschfeld’s Scientific-Humanitarian Committee. Their persistence pays off when Toni Schwalbe is elected to the Chairmen’s College, the governing body of the committee, in 1910 and Johanna Elberskirchen in 1914.
The Scorpion, the first lesbian novel, is penned by the Berlin author Elisabeth Weihrauch in 1919. Furthermore, the first gay film, entitled Different from the Others (directed by Richard Oswald), is shown in Institute for Sexology, headed by Magnus Hirschfeld, opens in Berlin’s Tiergarten. It is a doctors‘ clinic and, at the same time, a centre for the gay and lesbian emancipation movement. Congresses and campaigns focussed on sexual reform make it internationally renowned. It proves to be a crowd-puller with its functions to increase public awareness and its museum on the history of institute stood at the site where the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of the Cultures of the World) now stands in Tiergarten. There is a column not far away to commemorate it.
The gay and lesbian movement rapidly gains pace with the Friendship Associations and their local branches all over Germany, which are founded from 1919 on. In 1923, the associations are united under the leadership of the publisher Friedrich Radszuweit in the Association for Human Rights. The same year, he opens the first bookshop for gays and Berlin, around 40 venues open as meeting places for men – and increasingly for women as well. In 1921, there is an International Travel Guide to promote them – the very first gay and lesbian guide. A number of barkeepers join forces to support the movement.Magazines for gays and lesbians are available at public kiosks and in the venues: they include Die Freundschaft (Friendship), the Blätter für Menschenrecht (Magazine for Human Rights), Die Freundin (The Girlfriends), Frauenliebe (Women’s Love), and Das dritte Geschlecht (The Third Sex) for transvestites and transsexuals.
The competing gay and lesbian associations are united in their fight against Paragraph 175 (which criminalises homosexual acts). The Scientific-Humanitarian Committee had been filing petitions since 1897 calling on the Reichstag to abolish the special law against homosexual men. More than six thousand prominent personalities from the German Empire and, later, the Weimar Republic have signed the 1922, the gay and lesbian‘ associations briefly unite to form an action group to ensure their voices are heard during an upcoming criminal justice reform. The Scientific-Humanitarian Committee drafts an alternative concept that gained much attention, and in 1928, the criminal justice commission responsible decides to reform Paragraph 175. However, the hopes of newly-found freedom are soon dashed by a conservative government that is elected to means that the Berlin Police Headquarters at Alexanderplatz remains a credible threat of force despite its policy of tolerance towards the gay and lesbian scene. This site is now occupied by the Alexa shopping centre, with its size and colour serving as a reminder of the former red behemoth.
There are now around 80 venues for gays and lesbians in Berlin: beer-soaked dives and distilleries, bourgeois restaurants, wine bars and clubhouses, dance halls and dance palaces, ballrooms and cosmopolitan night-time bars. From 1925 on, large-scale events are held in the ballrooms in Alte Jacobstrasse and Kommandantenstrasse, or in the Nationalhof in Bü the manager of the Violetta Ladies‘ Club, Lotte Halm, along with several hundred of her fellow female members, helps shape major sections of the lesbian movement and entertainment scene from 1926 on. She unites her association with the Monbijou Women’s Club in 1928, which also includes transvestites and transsexuals, cooperating with the Association for Human Rights and constantly finding new venues for events.Numerous hotels and guest houses, beauty and hairdressing salons, tailors and photo studios, doctors and lawyers in private practice, libraries, cigarette and shoe shops, and even a car rental company, a travel agency and a distributor for potency pills advertise in gay and lesbian magazines.
A travel guide for lesbians is published in 1928: Berlin’s Lesbian Women. The author Ruth-Margarete Roellig describes 12 venues in it, all of which are located in the lesbian hotspot of Schöneberg. This includes the popular café and bar for dancing and entertainment, Dorian Dorian Gray opened at Bülowstrasse 57 in 1921. Every evening, there is a stage programme or live music to dance to, along with carnival costume balls and literary readings. The highlight of the weekend is the variety shows and performances by famous stars of the scene, including the dancer Ilonka Stoyka. Her portrait was even printed on the cover of the lesbian magazine Liebende Frauen (Loving Women) the end of the 1920s, the British author Christopher Isherwood arrives in Berlin to sample the pleasures of its liberal gay nightlife. His Berlin Stories were written during his time in Berlin, and would later provide the inspiration for the musical Cabaret. Another icon of queer life in Berlin in the 1920s is the singer Claire Waldoff, who also lived in Berlin with her female partner.
Following the seizure of power by the National Socialists and conservatives, a campaign is launched against alleged “public immorality” under a new policy of “national moral renewal”. In May 1933, Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexology is closed and plundered. The new police director in Berlin had already had 14 of the most famous gay and lesbian venues closed in March. Local police departments pass further prohibitions in the city’s urban districts. The gay and lesbian associations also feel coerced into abandoning their efforts.
The owners of the all-night bar for lesbians, Mai & Igel, are also affected by the forced closures, while the carnival costume balls for gays and lesbians held at the In den Zelten amusement strip in Berlin’s Tiergarten, which were also hugely popular among heterosexuals, are banned with immediate effect. The artists‘ bar Chez Eugen, known as Moses, feels the full force of the ban: thugs from the SA raid the bar and drive its Jewish owner into exile.
A period of disguise and retreat into private groups of like-minded people begins for gays and lesbians. There are still a number of bars, camouflaged as artists‘ bars, to visit, and despite police surveillance, raids and bans, new bars still open up, allowing brief moments of freedom to be enjoyed.Homosexual men are particularly affected by persecution. Following raids by the Gestapo, the first prisoners are sent to concentration camps from 1934 on. With the tightening of the anti-homosexual laws in 1935, the number of convictions has tripled by 1939. They result in the loss of friends, freedom, wealth and profession, and lead to marginalisation and social ostracism, ultimately making intimate life a source of trauma. Only a small number of those persecuted survive the increasingly frequent deportations to concentration camps occurring during the war. So far, the names of around 400 Berlin men who fell victim to the terror against homosexuals have been identified.
Rising from the ashes and defying the post-war austerity, gays and lesbians re-emerge, holding their first balls again in the midst of the rubble of the destroyed city from 1946 onwards. The organisers are flamboyant female impersonators with names like Mamita, Ramona and Cherie Hell. In 1949, there are more than 20 bars open again to cater to men and 15 for women. They offer a sanctuary and a place to socialise, and they encourage their customers to dream of a better life and fight for new freedoms. Many still have compelling memories of Berlin in the 1920s, yet are also traumatised by their experiences of persecution during the Nazi too is a legend reborn in 1947, with the transvestite bar Eldorado reopening and remaining open until the end of the 1960s.
A Berlin-based group from the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee was founded in 1949 to resume the efforts made by the first gay and lesbian movement. In 1950, the association was registered under its new name as the Berlin Society for the Reform of Sexual Law. It is part of a homophile movement becoming established across Germany. In Berlin, an Association of Friends was founded in 1952, and a new Association for Human Rights was established in 1958, in which Lotte Hahm – the Berlin woman who fronted the lesbian emancipation movement during the Weimar Republic – was also an active women are involved in establishing homophile associations, they are also a minority. They meet privately and in women’s bars, such as Ida Fürstenau in Kreuzberg, or in Gerda Kelch’s Cabaret in Schöneberg, with a venue called Bei Kathi und Eva opening in a laundrette in Schöneberg in 1958.
Venues for gays and lesbians are once again threatened by police raids from the mid-1950s on. Many men once again become the victim of state prosecution under the law against homosexuals, a Nazi law that remains on the books and has since been tightened. When the Berlin Wall is built in 1961, the divided city of Berlin loses its leading role, and its appeal, as the city of freedom for gays and lesbians for a decade to the gay and lesbian associations disband, the bar scene in West Berlin stands its ground. The number of bars increases, and by 1966 there are 28 different venues. Men continue to meet in Elli’s Bier-Bar, or go dancing in Kleist Casino or Trocadero. Chez Nous becomes an attraction in Berlin with its travesty shows. In 1963, Christel Rieseberg opens Club 10 together with her girlfriend in Schöneberg, which acquired prominence as Club de la femme and Dinelo. An intimate club and bar called Inconnu opens in Charlottenburg in 1966.
A new generation with a new urge for freedom loudly demands to be heard. As so-called Rosa Radikale (pink radicals), they reinvent homosexuality, understanding it as a political and anti-capitalistic promise of liberation. Rosa von Praunheim’s film, It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives (1971) inspires the gay scene to establish new associations. This is the launching pad of the gay and lesbian movement.Homosexuelle Aktion Westberlin is founded in Berlin in 1971, from which the feminist awakening emerges in 1975 with the founding of the Lesbian Aktionszentrum – along with the lesbian archive Spinnboden as an initiative for the discovery, and preservation, of female love. The gay bookshop Prinz Eisenherz opens in 1978. The first Gay Pride Parade/CSD is held in 1979.A new awakening is being ventured in East Berlin as well: the Homosexuals‘ Interest Group is founded in 1973. One year later, the transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf opens a venue for gays and lesbians that will later become legendary in her museum dedicated to artefacts from the late 19th century.
The Schwule Museum (Gay Museum) opens in 1985, followed by Begine, a women’s bar and alternative project. Both remain self-administered venues today. While autonomous and free spaces are coming into being, other initiatives are promoting integration. They are active in trade unions, political parties and churches. Choirs, sports associations and hiking groups add diversity and vibrancy to the scene in Aids-Hilfe is formed in 1985, and benefits from widespread support and becomes a new actor in the gay movement. In 1993, an opera gala at the Deutsche Oper marks the beginning of one of the most successful fund-raising events for Aids-Hilfe.
In East Berlin, gays and lesbians are able to emancipate themselves from 1983 on with the protection of the Protestant Church. In 1986, away from the church, the Sonntagsclub (Sunday Club) opens as a cultural space. It still exists today.
On the same evening as East Germany’s first gay-themed feature film Coming Out celebrates its première, the Berlin Wall falls: it’s 9 November CSD parades become more and more colourful and diverse, and much larger, in the reunited capital, and a high-spirited party accompanies the list of political demands being called for. The Transgeniale CSD is held from 1997 to 2016, an alternative event typical to Berlin at which a focus is directed at the political 1997, Berlin celebrates 100 years of the gay movement with an exhibition in the Akademie der Künste (Academy of Arts). Although the lesbian movement is largely neglected by this exhibition, no public protests occur (yet). A gay-lesbian reunification occurs in 1999: the gay and lesbian association is formed and tries out a new era of cooperation
The controversial discussion around same-sex marriage, which first started in 1992, becomes the topic of public debate in 1999. In 2001, it results in a registered partnership, before the right to marry is finally extended to same-sex couples in 2017. A run on Berlin’s registry offices adopting the colours of the rainbow and the word queer, new homopolitical alliances are being formed. Queer becomes a political agenda, and a new label for the LGBTIQ+ movement. Rainbow flags are part of the urban landscape, fluttering in front of the community’s businesses and venues, and flying proudly from the town halls in Berlin on the occasion of the annual CSD initiative “Berlin supports self-determination and acceptance of sexual diversity” is launched in 2009, showing the Berlin state government’s support for diversity and equality of Germany’s largest LGBTIQ community.
There are now 150 venues where events are held for the LGBTIQ community: cafés, restaurants, bars and a club scene that is unique in Germany. The range of services, shops, associations and entertainment fills a business directory of its own, which includes more than 1,000 30 June, Federal Parliament enacts a draft law by the Federal Council that allows same-sex couples to September 2017, a monument to the world’s first gay and lesbian emancipation movement, which was initiated by the gay and lesbian association, is unveiled on Magnus-Hirschfeld-Ufer, behind the Federal Chancellery. It is formed by six towering, colourful calla lilies – a plant that features both female and male flowers. It is a symbol of the diversity of sexuality and gender, and a metaphor for a confident, flourishing scene – a landscape that was first conceived of, put to the test, and made possible in the 1920s – when Berlin was a role model for an international gay and lesbian capital in which all queer people could find a haven and 1 October 2017 – a Sunday – the first gay and lesbian couples marry in Germany, including Volker Beck, a politician for the Green party, who marries his spouse in Berlin-Kreuzberg after a long fight to be able to say “I do”.
Stefan is the co-founder, editor, and author of the gay travel blog As a travel nerd, he has explored more than 80 countries across 5 continents. What he loves the most about traveling is discovering the local gay scene, making new friends, and learning new cultures. His advice about LGBTQ travel has been featured in Gaycation Magazine, Gaycities, Gay Times, Pink News, and Attitude Magazine. He has also written about gay travel for other non-gay-specific publications including Lonely Planet, The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post. Stefan is also a qualified lawyer, having practiced as a commercial property litigator in London for over 10 years. He left his lawyer days behind to work full time on Nomadic Boys with his husband Sebastien. Find out more .
If I were a lot younger and met Marcel, I might be his Mr. Right. I grew up in the ’70s in the USA and there were classmates that made fun of me for being bad in sports. When AIDS came about in the ’80s, there were homophobic people saying „F*****s die of AIDS“ and „Vampires wouldn’t bite fags because they’d give them AIDS“. Lesbians are less likely than other people including heterosexuals to get AIDS but violence against them increased as well.
The things people used to say! So amazing to see how far our LGBTQ family has come since those days eh?
Is there was (or is right now) any changes at schools from your time period about gay/feminine people?
Very much so! When I was growing up in 1990s and early 2000s, Section 28 was very much law in the UK. This was a law passed by Thatcher in the 1980s which made it illegal for teachers to promote „homosexual content“! Not too dissimilar to Russia’s awful anti-gay propaganda law 🙁
Fun article and best of everything to Marcel. I would like to have a ‚hard copy‘ of gay news mailed to me. I’m of that generation who loves to read but I get tired at the computer. Better to relax with good coffee. Thanks
Thanks Tom. Sadly access to a printer is a challenge for us…!
Hello, Bonjour and Welcome to our travel blog. We are Stefan and Sebastien a French/Greek gay couple from London. Together, we have been travelling the world for over 10 years. Nomadic Boys is our gay travel blog showcasing all our travel adventures as a gay couple.
It’s Time to Drop the ‘LGBT’ From ‘LGBTQ’
Berlin is a powerfully queer place—gay culture, politics, activism, clubs, and sex reverberate through the city. Crowds here dance under confetti rain at annual Christopher Street Day, or gay pride, parades. A fierce campaign is under way to protect intersex children from surgery, and antiracism protesters regularly drown out far-right rallies. But “Germany is not the shiny, progressive country it wishes to be portrayed as,” says Katrin Hugendubel, the advocacy director of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association in Europe (ILGA-Europe), which represents more than 1,000 LGBT organizations.
In 1918, when Bull’s predecessor first opened, Weimar-era Germany was embarking on a scandalous decade. Gay communities in New York, Paris, and London faced the threat of imprisonment, financial ruin, murder, or even execution. Berlin’s reputation for wild immorality and its unusually liberal law enforcement, by contrast, helped turn the city into Europe’s undisputed gay mecca.
By the 1920s, Berlin was home to an estimated 85,000 lesbians, a thriving gay-media scene, and around 100 LGBT bars and clubs, where artists and writers mixed with cross-dressing call girls who supposedly inspired the Some Like It Hot director Billy Wilder. Magnus Hirschfeld’s revolutionary Institute for Sexual Science openly lobbied for the decriminalization of homosexuality and helped transgender men apply with government agencies to live legally under their new gender. Audiences, straight and gay, queued up at Eldorado, a Jewish-owned nightclub where trans women and drag queens performed and gave paid dances to visitors. There, patrons watched the drug-addled, bisexual Anita Berber star in naked dances named after narcotics. In 1929, the British writer Christopher Isherwood, whose pivotal years in Berlin were brought to life in the film Cabaret, wrote in his diary: “I’m looking for my homeland and I have come to find out if this is it.”
Isherwood is something of a passion for Brendan Nash. With a shaved head, a hooded jacket, and an endless supply of racy anecdotes, Nash is not your average armchair academic. For the past eight years, he has transported tourists and earnest gender-theory students back in time to search for the ghosts of their pioneering heroes, as part of his popular LGBT walking tour around West Berlin’s “gayborhood” of Schöneberg.
But lately, the tour has taken on a different meaning. Instead of merely teaching history, he’s drawing parallels with the present.
“1932 was the 2016 of its age,” Nash explained to a rapt group, muffled in thick coats in the bright, cold sunshine. Passing around a 90-year-old one million Deutsche Mark note—a legacy of the period’s hyperinflation, which drove many people to embrace populist politicians—that he had found at a flea market, he added: “Desperate people in poverty were being promised jobs, that they could ‘take back control’ and ‘make Germany great again.’”
The electorate voted, and the National Socialist German Workers‘ Party, which would become the Nazi Party, in November 1932 won the largest share of the vote, taking up 196 seats in the Bundestag, a shocking result for a group that had garnered less than 3 percent of ballots just four years earlier.*
On May 6, 1933, the Institute for Sexual Science was looted and same-sex dancing was banned. From 1933 to 1945, an estimated 100,000 LGBT individuals were arrested. An extraordinary decade of sexual freedom was over.
Nash talked ardently of the comparisons between the rise of fascism in the 1920s and 1930s and modern German rhetoric. “When I read political speeches from 1932, I think to myself, I heard someone say that on the six o’clock news last night,” he said.
The current political mood in Germany is unstable, with old fractures reopening between the conservative East and affluent West. In September 2017, the AfD made history when it became the first overtly far-right party to sit in the Bundestag in 60 years. Founded in 2013 as a fringe, anti-migrant group with alleged neo-Nazi links, it is now the third-largest party, with 92 seats in the Bundestag and a representative in every state.
Since the AfD’s arrival, the LGBT community has experienced “unbearable incitement of hatred,” says Micha Schulze, the managing editor of the LGBT news site He cites AfD politicians calling same-sex marriage a “national death” and posting an obituary on their website mourning “the German family.” Reported hate crimes against LGBT individuals in Germany rose by roughly 27 percent in 2017, according to the German Interior Ministry—a figure that Schulze and other LGBT groups claim is “the tip of the iceberg.”
In October, the AfD co-leader Alexander Gauland, who has vowed to repeal same-sex marriage, was accused of paraphrasing a 1933 speech by Adolf Hitler. The same month, the party launched websites to recruit child informants to spy on teachers expressing political opinions, including those in favor of LGBT rights, in the classroom. The party pushed the youths to then “denounce” the teachers anonymously online. Christian Piwarz, the culture minister in the state of Saxony, called the move a “despicable mindset of the times of the Nazi dictatorship or the Stasi.”
On December 7, the sexual-health charity AIDS-Hilfe Sachsen-Anhalt Nord e.V. criticized the AfD representative Hans-Thomas Tillschneider for a Facebook post that echoed Nazi-era propaganda against homosexuals by claiming that HIV sufferers were “martyrs of a disinhibited, hedonistic, hypersexualized society.”
Given the AfD’s homophobic reputation, it is perhaps surprising that 39-year-old Alice Weidel, its other co-leader, is a lesbian who lives with her female partner and children. But instead of advocating for LGBT rights, the former investment banker wants to protect gay Germans from “dangerous” Muslims whom she has called “headscarf girls, welfare-claiming knife-wielding men and other do-nothings.” The party even has a vocal LGBT group called “Alternative Homosexuals” that opposes migrants.
When questioned about her comments, Weidel has blamed the media for spreading “propaganda” and insisted to Der Tagesspiegel, a German newspaper: “I’m being credited with being involved in a supposedly homophobic party, but that’s not the reality.”
Anti-LGBT sentiment appears to be spreading beyond far-right parties, too. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s replacement as leader of the ruling Christian Democratic Union is Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the party’s former general secretary. She has previously claimed that same-sex marriage could lead to the legalization of incest.
“You could argue that we live in a climate of hate speech,” says Markus Ulrich, the spokesperson for the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany, an influential lobbying group. While Ulrich believes that the majority of the mainstream left and center-right parties have “made their peace” with recent pro-LGBT legislation and would fight attempts to repeal it, the growing influence of far-right politicians is worrisome. “This is definitely a step towards concrete, violent action against the LGBT community,” he adds.
For now, Berlin’s sexual subcultures continue to walk in the footsteps of their pioneering forebears from the 1920s. It remains, still, a place for The Other.
At around 2:50 a.m., in the dark and pungent night club SO36 in the hipster neighborhood of Kreuzberg, Pansy, the blonde-wigged, gold-leotarded, hairy-legged host of the Miss Kotti drag-queen beauty pageant, leaned into the microphone.
“It gets so bad, sometimes it’s impossible to get out of bed. Being suicidal when you are queer is no fucking joke, and it happens far too often in this city,” she told the beer-soaked crowd. “But the one thing that keeps me going is drag. Coming to rooms like this and seeing everything right with the world.
“The only way that we get over it,” she said, to drunken shrieks of approval, “is when we come together as human beings and celebrate each other. You know what I mean?
Everything I heard from Germans before first visiting Cologne is the fact that it’s Germany’s biggest gay city. Berlin may have the international reputation as one of the coolest cities in the world, and its nightlife is legendary, but Cologne apparently has locked down the title as Germany’s Most Gay City.
As Germany’s fourth largest city, Cologne is big but not overwhelming. The population is diverse and while the city is spread out, it’s completely manageable with easy public transportation. Downtown near the Deutz Bridge is the Heumarkt—the center of Cologne’s summer Christopher Street Day gay pride, but, the best area to spot Cologne’s many hip cafes & trendy bars is around Rudolfplatz and the Belgian Quarter. The three neighborhoods make up what is called Colongne’s “Bermuda Triangle” of gay life.
Café Rico at Rudolfplatz is a popular hangout for more than just gays with a reputation as one of Cologne’s best brunches. Nearby you’ll find the equally popular gay bar Bastard, with an outdoor garden popular on summer evenings. The Kettengasse street is home to Germany’s most popular gay shop: Bruno’s—where you’ll find books, magazines, DVDs and fashion…plus brochures and information on local LGBT initiatives and hotspots. In Cologne, you’ll also find a memorial to the gay and lesbian victims of the Holocaust—one of just three in Germany.
Also in the area is Cologne’s main shopping street, Schildergasse, where most international brands have their shops. But in the fashion-friendly Cologne, the best fashion is often found in the boutiques and independent stores throughout the Belgian Quarter. Spend some time wandering around Brüssler Platz for fine international food, trendy pubs and great shopping. The Magasin 2 shop features men’s & women’s fashion, and their sister shop around the corner sells music records. For nightlife, stay close to Brüssler Platz and check out the young & hip all-night club Sixpack, or a short walk away is Schaafenstraße where you’ll find the city’s gay nightlife.
Berlin—the city of history & hipsters, fashion & freedom. It’s often called “the place to be” and thanks to its friendly environment, all-night lifestyle and enough restaurants & shops to keep you busy for a lifetime, Berlin is one of Europe’s greatest cities. Thanks to its unique history and growing diversity, Berlin is also incredibly queer-friendly.
Berlin’s gay history goes back to the 1920s when the capital city was a hotspot for artists & intellectuals—not that much different than the city’s current reputation as Europe’s creative & cultural capital. International artists and an open-minded attitude have turned Berlin into a city full of life. Gay-friendly cafes and bars can be found throughout the city, though historically the streets around Nollendorfplatz in Schöneberg were the gay-friendly hotspots. Today you’ll find an entire museum dedicated to Berlin’s gay history: the Schwules Museum.
And yet today, much of Berlin’s life is further east in the neighborhoods of Kreuzberg, Neukölln, and Friedrichshain. From legendary hetero-friendly clubs like BerghainNina Queer), Berlin is far from boring. Popular gay club nights include themed nights at SchwuZ, the Sunday night GMF party or monthly parties such as Gegen at KitKat Club or Cocktail d’Amor at Greissmühle.
Besides nightlife, Berlin has plenty to offer—whether it’s trendy cafes (try Silo Coffee in Friedrichshain), boutique shopping or more history than can easily be consumed. The city is home to hundreds of museums spanning everything from German TV and cinema (the Deutsche Kinematek) to WWII and soviet history museums.
The northern port-city of Hamburg is home to every type of character imaginable. As one of Germany’s more iconic cities for tech start-ups and other creative & media professions, it’s had a long history as one of the country’s more vibrant, creative cities. The alternative neighborhood of St. Pauli and the more yuppified (ie, trendy) area of Saint Georg are popular for tourists and locals alike. It’s a great weekend city with a nightlife that lasts until dawn (and then a Sunday fish market that opens as the clubs close). The legendary Reeperbahn area has a mix of sex clubs, seedy bars and greasy food. It’s the famous red-light district of Hamburg, but the city is so much more.
A short walk from the seedy strip clubs & nightclubs along the Reeperbahn to hip & trendy bars in the Schanzenviertel brings to the front a whole other side of Hamburg. The Schanzenviertel is home to former art squats turned nightclubs (try Haus 73 for as a cool nightclub). Much of the gay nightlife is just off the Reeperbahn on Talstrasse, but the nearby Hamburgerstrasse has plenty of queer-friendly bars mostly full of twenty-something hipsters. 3 Zimmer Wohnung is a popular gay bar & club—a kitschy interior and a basement made for underground dance parties. Hamburgerstrasse is a street where you’ll find many young locals—hipsters and students playing kicker in smokey dive bars.
Hamburg has as many art & boutique shops as bars. The Karolinenviertel neighborhood is home to shop-after-shop with local designer goods (Herr von Eden is a famous men’s fashion design shop for those with bigger budgets). To really embrace the Hamburger lifestyle, though, it’s best to shop local. Try the shop Hanseplatte for local music selections. For art-lovers, Hamburg has everything from the big-city museums (Hamburger Kunsthalle) to small galleries and boutiques selling local designer products & fashion (Kaufhaus Hamburg).