Max is one of the young gay men in Germany who’s been stalked and harassed for months on end. He’s still waiting to see justice.
A portrait of Max in one of his favorite bars in Bremen.
, Max walked down the hall at his high school in Bremen, a midsize city in Northern Germany. He opened the glass door of a small office and saw a white cardboard box on the table addressed to him. The school’s director, a teacher, and a police officer were standing next to the box, Max remembered. Contained within it was a funeral wreath with black and dark red roses, as well as a white angel made of faux marble. Attached was a printed card: “We mourn the loss of Max O.”
The men in the room said things like “evidence” and “death threat,” but by that point, Max had already tuned out. In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Max recalled the thoughts that were racing through his mind: Back in class, he didn’t tell anyone what had just happened. He was 17 years old.
Max — whose last name we are not publishing to avoid jeopardizing the ongoing proceedings and to prevent others from targeting him — is one of at least 10 people the District Attorney’s Office in Bremen presumes to have been stalked and harassed by the same perpetrator. The office is actively investigating at least four of the cases. All the victims are young gay men like Max.
The German Federal Ministry of the Interior registered 313 violent hate crimes against LGBT people in Germany in 2018. This actual figure is exponentially higher, however, because experts say these crimes are vastly underreported. For comparison, in England and Wales alone, more than 11,000 crimes based on sexual orientation were reported in 2017. Hatred toward LGBT people is also a part of everyday life in Germany, but it receives little attention in German politics and media.
This is one of the reasons why Max decided to make his case public. Last December, while at a village disco in the Allgäu, he again faced abuse because of his sexuality; it was one of the reasons he decided to come forward, using his own name and face, about everything that has happened to him. “I don’t want to hide anymore,” he said.
The scope of what Max said he experienced is difficult to determine. A 14-page report obtained by BuzzFeed News documents only a fraction of the attacks. Over a period spanning half a year, while he was still a minor, he received hundreds and hundreds of messages and threats, both online and offline. Dozens of fake profiles sprang up on Facebook featuring stolen pictures of Max, claiming to be him. He endured harassing phone calls, fraudulent sales made in his name, and death threats. Over several months, more and more people were swept up in the hateful ordeal, including Max’s family and friends, confidants, and even strangers.
It took Max a while to understand that there was likely a single individual responsible, whose ultimate goal was to destroy his life. For weeks, no one — including the authorities — seemed to understand how dangerous the situation had become.
For months, the alleged perpetrator overwhelmed all of Max’s communication channels to the extent that they became unusable. And what at first seemed like a bad joke ended up poisoning Max’s social life. He became distrustful and suspected his harasser was waiting behind every corner.
For three years, Max has been waiting for the suspect to appear before a court. By now, he said, he’s positive he knows who it is: a man from his hometown who had intentionally targeted him for a harassment campaign. Even though the alleged perpetrator was always close by, no one was able to stop him. Now, it still isn’t clear when the man will stand trial. Max’s case exemplifies how difficult it is to escape an aggressive stalker, especially on the internet, how powerful anti-gay persecution in Germany still is, and how long it takes for its victims to finally see justice.
Max in front of the police station where he said he did not receive help.
Max was just another student, someone who didn’t really stand out. He’s a polite and cheerful person, he’s popular, he likes theater. “The biggest difference between me and the majority is that I’m gay,” he said.
Then, in January 2016, an acquaintance sent Max a message about an account on Facebook pretending to be him. Over the course of weeks and months, Max discovered more and more of these profiles — some of them pretending to be him, others pretending to be his friends or acquaintances. The suspect used these profiles to send Max countless messages threatening and insulting Max and his family, contacting teachers, and spreading rumors accusing Max of stealing. Strangers received death threats from Max’s phone number. The harasser also sold phony soccer tickets, cellphones, and festival tickets in Max’s name on eBay. Eventually, strangers would show up at Max’s house and school, demanding the goods Max had allegedly sold them.
At the time, Max wasn’t out to everyone in his life as gay. But the alleged perpetrator was flagrantly outing Max to his friends and family members, including his father and grandfather. He used a photo of Max photoshopped with text saying he was gay and posted it underneath family photos on Facebook.
“I am still angry that he outed me to my dad,” he said. “I never had the chance to tell him about it myself.“
The posters of Max that were distributed in Bremen.
The alleged perpetrator also warned Max that he would print those photos and pin them up on Bremen’s streets. He was true to his word: In March, posters with Max’s photo showed up near his school in the city center with the caption, in all caps, “Ja ich bin schwul, und das ist auch gut so” (“Yes I am gay and that is a good thing”). Max found out about the posters before going to a party and asked a friend for help. Soon afterward, his friends joined forces and walked through the city together to take them down, some of them searching for the alleged perpetrator around the block. Dozens of classmates and friends showed up to help him, Max recalled. “It was an empowering moment.”
But that particular incident also led to a more sinister realization. “When we found the posters, I realized I was in more danger than I’d thought,” he said. “Before, it was just a man behind his computer.” But now the harassment had spilled into the physical world.
“You think you are immune, because you have your friends who support you,” he said. “But then you realize that certain thoughts that you have toward strangers or acquaintances have been influenced by insecurity. Because during those months I was told, ‘You are worth nothing. You should die.’” At one point, the local newspaper received a request to print Max’s obituary.
A Facebook screenshot of the obituary notice: “But now there is faith, love, hope — these three, but love is the greatest among them (1 Corinthians 13:13). Student Max. In love and gratitude.”
Many of the experiences have blurred together in Max’s memory. He can’t remember exactly how often he went to the police. BuzzFeed News has therefore compared the information he shared with his family members and friends, looked at dozens of screenshots, and contacted the relevant authorities. Since this is an ongoing case, we didn’t receive any answers to our multiple phone and email requests for comment. Not even Max’s lawyer is willing to answer any questions.
In response to a request we made to the school, a secretary wrote, “Unfortunately, I can only tell you that no one is willing or able to say anything about the case involving Max O.”
Several people involved in the case have told BuzzFeed News that the alleged perpetrator threatened to set off a bomb in a supermarket. He was apparently then caught and identified as Max’s alleged harasser. However, after a few hours in custody, he was reportedly released. But the details of the various statements differ, and no official authority is able or willing to confirm them.
BuzzFeed News has obtained the lengthy list of accusations on the charge sheet of the Bremen Municipal Court against the suspect. The charges include breach of public peace, abuse of emergency calls, defamation/libel, threats, robbery, extortion, and fraud.
“In retrospect, I’m amazed that no one else in our family has suffered any major harm,” said Max’s mother, who asked that her name be withheld. She also became a target of the attacks. The alleged perpetrator used a fake Facebook profile to spread misinformation about her, saying she has breast cancer. According to Max, threats were also made against his sister. Over the phone, a distorted voice told him, “I want to fuck her.”
The calls, messages, and cases of fraud took a toll on the entire family. “I felt like I was always somewhere trying to plug up holes,” his mother told BuzzFeed News. Eventually she stopped answering the phone at all. Even now she feels exhausted from that time; she has insomnia and avoids crowds. What really worries her is that the suspect is still free. “I want to forgive him. The hate is poisoning my life,” she said. But “we’re still in the middle of it all.”
Max, however, continued to be active on Facebook throughout 2016, in order to document what happened to him and those around him. He wanted to find a solution on his own, and he wanted to protect the people around him from being harassed. But who was protecting Max?
There were weeks during which the alleged perpetrator wasn’t very active. Other days, he sent dozens of messages. During a particularly difficult phase in the spring of 2016, Max had a breakdown at his best friend’s house. It’s one of the few times that Max actually cried. As Max and his best friend recalled, he then shook himself and said something to the effect of, “This won’t do any good either.”
, shortly after the incident with the posters, it all got to be too much for Max. He finally decided to report what was happening to him.
Max took several trips to a police station in downtown Bremen, an imposing building of large, sand-colored stone blocks. On multiple occasions, he tried to explain that his and other people’s cases were related, he told BuzzFeed News. (By this point, he had heard from friends and family members that he wasn’t the only one being harassed — one of his friends had also reported similar behavior to the police.) Max remembered having been to the station about three times. He said he was never contacted afterward. Instead, he remembered that the police told him to try going on Facebook less often or to not take what was happening to him too personally. Around May he received a phone call: The police were going to stop investigating his case — with no explanation why.
“He thought he would go there and get help, and he didn’t get any at all,” said his mother. In April 2016, Max’s father got involved and hired a private investigator.
Max described dealing with Facebook as similarly frustrating. He, his friends, and his family were reporting the fake accounts “nonstop,” he told BuzzFeed News. The company announced that it had deleted 1.3 billion fake profiles throughout 2018. But the alleged perpetrator was undeterred; he just kept creating new profiles over and over again.
According to criminal statistics, there were almost 20,000 stalking victims in Germany in 2017.
In Germany, there are four specialized places that stalking victims and offenders can turn to, said Wolf Ortiz-Müller, a psychotherapist and head of the „Stop Stalking“ counseling center in Berlin. “We lament this across the board. There are very few counseling centers, but [there are] a lot of people who need them, especially young people.”
It’s possible that Max’s harasser found his contact info on the queer youth network Du Bist Nicht Allein (“You Are Not Alone”), where he was active. Max said that on multiple occasions, he gave his number to people whom he met there or was in touch with. “It was dumb of me to feel safe there just because I was among other gay people,” Max said.
The local LGBT and counseling experts BuzzFeed News spoke with were already familiar with the case, thanks to earlier media and police reports. Max’s particular experience is unique because he didn’t know the suspect before the attacks, unlike in most stalking cases.
According to five different sources, the alleged perpetrator is in his early thirties and lives near Max’s old school. To avoid jeopardizing the ongoing investigation and putting the victims in distress again, BuzzFeed News did not confront him.
It’s unclear what’s motivating the harasser, but there are multiple theories. “One person in a group is singled out to represent others to show their belief that it’s appalling to live that way,” said Ortiz-Müller, who said Max and the other young men were being targeted because of their sexual orientation. “The alleged perpetrator wants to make an example of him. This boils down to the desire to destroy them all.”
“These attacks — especially in the case of gay people — often take place in spaces that are actually thought of as safe,” Bastian Finke, head of the anti–gay violence project Maneo, wrote in an email to BuzzFeed News. “Perpetrators deliberately invade social spaces believed to be safe, such as dating sites, cruising areas, or bars to flirt with [potential victims] and then blackmail or attack them.”
Max and his best friend in front of Max’s former school in Bremen.
Wolfram Franke looked out the window for a long time, fiddling with his ring, saying nothing. The police officer works in a small police station in the middle of Max’s school. Max went to see him dozens of times in his office at the end of the hall. The two trust each other. When Max visited the officer for the first time in several months earlier this year, Franke hugged him.
After not seeing any progress at the large police station in the city center, where it seemed like no one was working on his case, Franke became Max’s contact. And just like Max, through his own research and reporting, he believes he knows who’s responsible. Sometimes he sees this man walk by the police office window with a smile on his face.
Not even Franke knows when the proceedings will finally begin. “These things can take an eternity and I think that’s extremely sad,” he said. “I admire Max. Others would have been broken by all of this.”
Franke said that no matter how how personally affected he is by the case, in the end, his reports on Max will just be another part of a long paper trail.
obtained by BuzzFeed News, the alleged perpetrator was arrested by police in July 2016 after making a bomb threat. He was released, but afterward the harassment campaign against Max mostly stopped.
Today, Max is 20 years old and applying to a university abroad. He still uses Facebook and WhatsApp to talk to his friends and family. But his social media channels also remind him of a past he wants to put behind him. “The places where it all happened are still there,” he said.
On a winter day earlier this year, when it seemed it was about to snow at any moment, Max was taking a walk through downtown Bremen with his best friend. A message on the entrance of a fancy clothing store read, “If you are racist, sexist, homophobic, or an asshole … don’t come in.” In a café a few buildings down, Max told his story again.
Only now does Max realize how bad his experience actually was. In his conversations with BuzzFeed News, he kept naming the mistakes he feels he had made: He should have gone to the police earlier. He shouldn’t have thought he could handle it all by himself. He shouldn’t have isolated himself.
For a few weeks, he has been going to a stalking counseling center for emotional support and legal advice.
Every once in a while, he still gets messages on Instagram. Max thinks he recognizes the alleged perpetrator based on the way he writes. “You develop a sense for it,” he said. “I want him to stop. Knowing that someone is out there potentially pushing young gay people to kill themselves and that this is still going on in the 21st century makes you question our society.”
The spokesperson for the municipal court of Bremen was unable to comment on when there will be a trial, and if it will be public. Max himself has repeatedly said that not even he knows where things will go from here. So he is waiting. Waiting until he can finally put it all behind him.
Sometimes he imagines how he would behave in the courtroom: vulnerable or strong? “I want to show him what he did,” said Max. “But I also want to show him that he didn’t achieve his goal.” Max is still here — surviving. ●
Max and his best friend take pictures in a photo booth.
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.
Hidden Homophobia Is Germany Really as Liberal as It Seems?
A gay couple that was seeking to open a restaurant near the Bavarian town of Freying received an anonymous letter early last year. „Stay away. We don’t need people like you here,“ it read. Additional threats followed, including a faked obituary and an open, though anonymous, letter claiming that one of the two was HIV-positive and that there was a danger that diners could be infected. The restaurant was never opened.
Can a story like be really be true? In Germany of all places, a country that was last week enraptured by the coming out of former professional footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger and where it seemed like the entire country supported him?
Hitzlsperger made his announcement in the influential weekly chose the exact same headline, marking one of the very few times when the two publications have concurred. Everyone in the country seemed to be in agreement when it came to Hitzlsperger’s courageous step.
Yet the jubilation was so great that it at times seemed a bit too much for the occasion. A former football player came out. Is that really such a monumental event? Of course its progress when it is made clear that homosexuality exists in the world of football as well. No player the caliber of Hitzlsperger had thus far gone public with his homosexuality.
But the rejoicing sounded suspiciously self-serving and smug: „We are so amazingly liberal that we can even get excited about a gay professional football player,“ the message seemed to be. „Germany is so much better than Russia, where homosexuals are openly discriminated against, and superior to France, where hundreds of thousands take to the streets to protest gay marriage.“
One could almost feel the relief at the fact that the positive reaction to Hitzlsperger’s announcement was large enough to cover up the normal hostilities, clichés, stereotypes and discrimination against gays that exist in Germany. But they were there. Even as pronounced its „respect“ for Hitzlsperger, the paper’s columnist Franz Josef Wagner wrote in an open letter to the former German national team player: „Nobody thought that you are gay. You were athletic, a power-player.“ The prejudice was clear, even as it was hidden behind the admiration.
Wagner’s bias came despite Hitzlsperger telling that „it is pure nonsense that homosexuals are ‚unmanly.‘ One is confronted by this preconception again and again.“
While Hitzlsperger was being celebrated across the country, the main churches in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg announced last Friday that they were opposed to a plan to include lessons on homosexuality in the school curriculum.
This parallelism comes closer to the German reality. Another element to consider is Chancellor Angela Merkel’s strict opposition to adoption rights for homosexual couples. How great really is the cause for celebration in Germany?
Secondary school teacher Gabriel Stängle is likewise concerned about public school students in Baden-Württemberg. The 41-year-old, lives in the Black Forest and launched an online petition in November of last year that had been signed some 90,000 times by last Friday evening. His campaign is entitled: „Future — Responsibility — Learning: No Curriculum 2015 under the Ideology of the Rainbow.“ Stängle’s primary concern is what he describes as sexual „reeducation.“
Stängle is angry with the state government — a coalition of the center-left Social Democrats and the Green Party — which is currently developing an educational program for public schools which will include the „acceptance of sexual diversity.“ Students are to learn the „differences between the genders, sexual identities and sexual orientations.“ The goal is to enable students to „be able to defend equality and justice.“
Stängle sees this as being in „direct opposition to health education as it has been practiced thus far.“ Completely missing, he writes, is an „ethical reflection on the negative potential by-products of LSBTTIQ (which stands for „lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals, transgender, intersexuals and queer people) lifestyles, such as the increased danger of suicide among homosexual youth, the increased susceptibility to alcohol and drugs, the conspicuously high rate of HIV infection among homosexual men, the substantially lower life-expectancy among homo- and bisexual men, the pronounced risk of psychological illness among men and women living as homosexuals.“
Most of the petitions‘ signatories live in the rural, conservative regions of Germany’s southwest and the majority wishes to remain anonymous. Some signed with handles such as „The Gay-Hater.“
Baden-Württemberg Education Minister Andreas Stoch (of the SPD) finds the petition to be „wrong and discriminatory.“ The claim that his ministry wishes to reeducate students is „completely absurd,“ Stoch says. „We want to educate children to be open and tolerant.“
Peter Hauk, floor leader for Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union in the state parliament, on the other hand, says he can „understand the fears.“ He is bothered by the fact that the state government has elevated sexual diversity to a „guiding principle.“ Education, he says, must be oriented towards Christian and Western educational and cultural values, as is enshrined in Article 16 of the state’s constitution.
The churches agree. Children and youth should not be influenced as they search for their sexual identity, reads a joint statement released by Catholic and Protestant churches in Baden-Württemberg. „Functionalization, instrumentalization, ideology and indoctrination must be defended against,“ the statement reads. That, of course, has long been the churches‘ strategy: avoid influencing people, particularly when it comes to sexual orientation. At least as long as heterosexuality was the predominant order of the day.
The well-respected Frankfurt-based sexologist Volkmar Sigusch, on the other hand, sees the Baden-Württemberg plan for its curriculum as a „long-overdue step toward educating children and youth about the cultural normality in our country.“ The issue of sexual diversity „badly needs to be (normalized) so that children can develop sexually in an atmosphere free of fear.“
It looks a lot like Baden-Württemberg is sliding into a culture war — despite the onset of the age of Hitzlsperger.
It’s a situation that has been seen before. During last year’s Christopher Street Day — the name given in Germany gay pride parades and events — the Baden-Württemberg government flew the rainbow flag over the state capitol building for the first time. But this show of solidarity with gays and lesbians went too far for the deputy head of the state’s CDU chapter, Winfried Mack. He criticized the move as „undignified and dumb“ adding that only the state flag should be raised above the capitol.
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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”.
One Man Is Allegedly Targeting Gay German Teenagers In A Sweeping Harassment Campaign
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The Meaning of ‚Gay‘
Baden-Württemberg, of course, is not the only German state where such examples can be found. One need only look at how the meaning of the term „,“ or gay, has evolved over the years in Germany. Originally it was used condescendingly or even in hostile ways. Those uses are still around, but today gay is more of a neutral synonym for homosexual and is even used this way by openly gay men.
But there is a second development which has seen „gay“ come partly decoupled from its sexual meaning while still maintaining a negative connotation. An example from a schoolyard in Berlin: A student doesn’t want to tell his classmates that he enjoys reading books at home because such a hobby is considered „gay.“ Feminine or uncool is the meaning here, just as the word „gay“ can be used in English.
At the beginning of 2013, the city of Zweibrücken in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate published a calendar that was designed to keep young men and women away from drugs and alcohol. The slogan „sober (is) cool, drunk (is) gay“ was used. „This calendar is homophobia funded by public money,“ said a spokesperson for the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany. The city answered by saying that it was youth slang and was not directed at homosexuals. The calendars were destroyed, however.
There are further examples. In 2012, the Bund der Historischen Deutschen Schützenbruderschaften, a group that is comparable to a socially conservative fraternity in the US, banned its annually chosen „king“ from openly showing his homosexuality in a parade. The king’s partner had to walk in the second row while the king, the group said, should bring a woman „because of Christian tradition.“
There is also the case of Tanja Junginger, who had a temporary contract with a Catholic kindergarten in the city of Neu Ulm. After she came out as a lesbian, her contract was not extended due to her alleged „unnatural lifestyle.“
Furthermore, gay men in Germany are still not allowed to donate blood despite there being no medical reason to exclude homosexuals from doing so.
Are they all simply isolated cases? Of course German society has become more tolerant on the whole, particularly in large cities. When gay couples kiss at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, few take notice anymore. It is normal. But there remains a quiet, widespread and diffuse bigotry, and it is present in the political classes as well.
„To be honest, I still have a problem with complete equalization,“ Chancellor Merkel said during the election campaign last year in response to a question regarding adoption rights for gay and lesbian couples. „I am not sure when it comes to the good of the child,“ she said.
Merkel had voiced her discomfiture with the issue before. Then too, however, she failed to mention any concrete reasons for her unease. She is certainly not homophobic and she maintains a good and friendly relationship with former Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, the first high-level politician in Germany to have come out as gay. It is likely more of a diffuse feeling that two men or two women cannot be as good at parenting as a man and a woman. The granting of full adoption rights for gay couples in Germany was not included in the coalition agreement she recently concluded with the Social Democrats. The SPD was in favor, but was not inclined to put up a large fight over the issue.
Merkel, of course, praised the coming out of Thomas Hitzlsperger last week. But, wonders Sönke Rix of the SPD, „What are Ms. Merkel’s praiseworthy words worth when inequality still exists? (German conservatives) should consider whether they should use the current debate to rethink their outmoded position. Political action rather than laudatory words are needed.“ She notes that the current coalition agreement certainly wouldn’t stand in the way. On the contrary: „The existence of unequal adoption rights for homosexuals is discrimination,“ Rix says. One could approach the issue on that basis, she continues.
German conservatives do have some prominent homosexuals in their party, such as the former Hamburg Mayor Ole von Beust and the healthcare expert Jens Spahn. Still, Merkel’s government only extended tax benefits to homosexual couples of the kind available to heterosexual couples last year after being forced to do so by the German Constitutional Court. Skepticism of same-sex relationships is one of the last refuges of conservatism in Merkel’s party. It isn’t openly homophobic. But the words of the party’s former parliamentary floor leader Friedrich Merz said it best: „I have nothing against gays,“ he said „as long as I don’t have to participate.“ It is unknown whether he was ever asked to do so.
The debate about how homosexuals are treated is not solely about homosexuals. The issue has become a measuring stick for the liberalness of a society. Lobby groups, of course, are partially responsible for that shift, but there is a kernel of truth in the approach. How liberal a society is can be seen in instances where people are susceptible to discrimination. And by that measure, Germany’s society is far from being liberal to its core.
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All of Germany seemed to support former professional football player Thomas Hitzlsperger’s announcement last week that he is gay. But is German society really so liberal? Here, participants in a Christopher Street Day parade in Frankfurt in 2011.
German society has become much more tolerant in recent years when it comes to sexual orientation. But in contrast to major cities like Berlin, where this gay pride parade was held in 2012, bastions of conservatism and even bigotry remain.
Former German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle paved the way for top-level politicians in Germany to come out as homosexual. But Hitzlsperger was the first prominent professional athlete in Germany to come out.
Even Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, which is more conservative than German society on the issue of gay rights, has some prominent gay men in its ranks, including former Hamburg Mayor Ole von Beust.
Mass-circulation tabloid Bild praised Hitzlsperger last week. But the paper’s columnist Franz Josef Wagner was unable to completely avoid homophobic stereotypes in his editorial on the issue.
Thomas Hitzlsperger played professional football in Germany, Italy and England in addition to playing over 50 matches for Germany’s national team. He retired in 2013.
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