Just how gay is Berlin?
Our correspondent Nick is cavorting through Europe on his “Eat Gay Love” rainbow adventure. First stop? Berlin! His full guide for gay travel in Berlin is below.
Very. That could probably be the entire article, but you might want to learn a bit more about what makes Berlin so gay.
When I would tell friends of Dorothy back home that I was headed to Berlin, I almost always got the “ohhhh” and a devilish grin of assuming what was to come. Yes, it’s debaucherous but so much more than that. Before we go further, I need to acknowledge that this article should NOT try and speak to all attractions and perspectives of the LGBTQ experience in Berlin. So, please share any interesting articles or thoughts in the comments below. Would love to hear from you!
Also, we need to move away from “here are the 10 things you must do in said city.” It’s like the tourist version of only listening to the Top 40 radio on repeat. Take each list as a starting point, one friend’s grab bag list for gay travel in Berlin. Then cultivate your own rainbow adventure itinerary. Some of this grab is stuff I know from first hand and others are from things people have told me about…sort of like pleading the fifth on my rainbow adventure.
Map of all Berlin recommendations
Freikörperkultur (FKK) is a VERY German philosophy that translates to Free Body Culture. It’s basically a movement embracing being nekkid in nature. And the gays take advantage of it, especially in the summer months. There is a large section of the Tiergarten (like Berlin’s badass version of Central Park) known as “faggot’s meadow” with nude sunbathing. Talk about reclaiming words and symbols. Amiright?
Also, there is a LOT of cruising in Berlin. Pretty much all of the parks have cruising areas where men meet up and many bars have back rooms or clothing optional nights. Seriously.
I’ve been told that the Germans (include the straights) really embraced FKK after the end of WWII. It became an act of political defiance against the crackdown and a right that they take very seriously. So, there are very few tan lines in Germany and even fewer legal regulations on public nudity.
History and Gay Politics
It’s impossible to talk about gay life in 2019 without addressing the atrocities carried out on homosexuals by the Nazis. So let’s not dance around the subject. In a little more than 10 years during and before WWII as many as 100,000 were arrested, most of which served prison time and many in concentration camps and forced to wear the pink triangle, which is a symbol that has since been reclaimed. If you are reading this, you probably already know that. But it was not until 2002 that the German government apologized to the gay community. Highly recommend the Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted during this time in the Tiergarten. Striking and moving.
The Equal Treatment Act went into effect in 2006 banning sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics in employment and the provision of goods and services. See how easy that was?
Also, in 2017 the Federal Constitutional Court ruled that civically law must allow a third gender option and hate speech based on sexual orientation and gender identity is banned in some areas including Berlin.
Gay couples were able to register as such in 2011. In 2017 Germany passed marriage legislation. So, meet your match at a leather bar and get hitched. You do you, Berlin.
In the states, we are grappling with a Cheetoh-in-Chief wielding all kinds of racism against migrants seeking asylum in the US. Despite its history of atrocities, there are divisions on the acceptance of refugees many of whom are LGBTQ and escaping unspeakable violence in their home countries, especially Syria.
But it seemed that the gay community in Berlin is active in helping to welcome those queer refugees. Learn more. Please.
Bonus political points
The former Governing Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, was elected to office in 2001 shortly after coming out. When he coined a now-famous phrase, “Ich bin schwul, und das ist auch gut so.” (“I’m gay, and that’s a good thing.”) I love that, even though I find it hard not to say it like Martha Stewart would say it.
I’ve heard from locals he’s been spotted at and about at night living his best gay life. Keeping in line with the German’s respect for privacy, I won’t share the fetishes he’s been rumored to take part in out in the open. But let’s just say, only in Berlin.
So, there is a “gayborhood.” But it’s sort of all gay, especially now. Queer folks and LGTBQ establishments are all over the city. But the famous gay area is Schöneberg dating back to the 1920s and early 1930s during the Weimar Republic. Speaking of gay, Christopher Isherwood lived just around the corner on Nollendorfstraße. This apartment was the basis for his book Goodbye to Berlin (1939) and later the musical Cabaret. So wonderfully gay. Not far from here is the Schwules Museum, (Schwules means gay) and while I was there, there was a very moving exhibition about his life and love.
Nightlife for gay travel in Berlin
There are pretty endless nightlife options in Berlin to satisfy pretty much every taste. It’s a city that parties hard and parties late. Here are just a few. There are still some “male only” signs and the toxic “masc4masc” mentality is something (like in the states) is in need of conversation and reflection. But nightlife it’s becoming more queer, at least I hear.
Also, don’t overdo it. Embrace the FOMO and save time for some museums and reflecting on the history of the city. You’ll see just how gay Berlin is without going out every night.
Berghain, set in a former East Berlin power station is epic. It’s probably the world’s most infamous club that’s a little bit gay all nights, but especially on Sundays. In the same building is Lab.Oratory. Neither are for the prudish. Again, only in Berlin.
Young, cute happy hour crowd. Lots of expats. A little too much smoke perhaps, but friendly vibe.
Known as one of the nicest saunas (aka bathhouses) in Europe. Der boiler is a spot that is really packed on Sundays. It’s worth noting that German’s take Sunday rest pretty friggin seriously. So, a sauna is a natural choice and common for a group of friends to go to have a beer…and maybe make some new friends.
Sunday nights are a popular party called GMF. More pop music. What can I say, I like a lyric and a melody.
Super famous. Like many Berliners it’s technically straight, but can go pretty gay on some nights.
Museums and stuff
Ya’ll, there are so many museums and galleries it’s not even funny. My fave is the Hamburger Bahnhof, in an old rail station. Museum Island is pretty incredible as well. Welcome Pass for unlimited public transport and museum discounts. Or if you are going to be an Uber queen, go for the 3 Day museum pass that will get you into a ton of museums for one ticket.
Oh, and of course Schwules Museum (aka the gay museum.) It’s on the small side but a must visit.
Lodging for gay travel in Berlin
There is a gay hotel (The Axel) with a gym/masseurs onsite and a gay hostel with a communal shower. So, that’s pretty gay. (It’s called Gay Hostel.) Neither are really necessary to get your gay on, but go do your thing.
I’m not really sure what would make food gay. But McDonald’s was offering a rainbow donut with an iced coffee during Pride month. Maybe just do what I did, grab a Doner Box to go and listen to Kim Petras on your headphones.
Idk, I like to travel with a carry on. You can shop online when you get home.
Have more suggestions for gay travel in Berlin? Please let us know in the comment section below!