A Short History of Gay Life in Berlin

Did you know King Frederick II was gay?

King Frederick II ruled over Prussia between 1740 and 1786 and was homosexual. Unfortunately, homosexuals were not able to live our their homosexuality. Later, during the “roaring 20s,” Berlin entered a period of prosperity and economic success; finally, it became more open and friendly towards homosexuals and new bars, clubs, theatres and cabarets sprung up everywhere. People just wanted to party- and they did! There were more shades of “grey” than ever before: people started living out their bisexuality and bicurious tendencies. In 1926, the “Eldorado” opened on Martin-Luther-Strasse. In 1928, it´s “little sister” with the same name opened on Motzstrasse. These two bars became famous all over Europe. Christopher Isherwood moved to Berlin in 1929 and famously wrote his novel “Goodbye to Berlin,” set in Weimar Germany, which served as the inspiration for the Tony Award-winning musical “Cabaret.”

These easy days came to a screeching halt around 1933, when Hitler and the Nazis took over power in Germany. Ironically, many of their biggest leaders had frequently attended the earlier gay parties. Hitler ruthlessly persecuted the gays and the ministry of internal affairs ordered more than 100 bars closed in the Spring of 1933. Only a few gay bars were left for observation reasons. Gay organisations were banned and an estimated 100,000 men were arrested as homosexuals, of which approximately 50,000 were officially sentenced. Lesbians were persecuted too, but to a lesser extent. After 1935, the highest punishment for same sex activities was changed from 6 months to 5 years imprisonment or concentration camp. In 2008, a monument was set up in Berlin in memory of the gays that were oppressed during this time.

After the Second World War, West Berlin became famous for its exuberant gay life once again. There was no compulsory military service for the men in West Berlin. In 1969, homosexuality was made legal; consequently the gay community grew tremendously between 1970 and 1980. Prior to this, gays had no freedom to associate or even meet to organise themselves as an organisation and there was little chance to form a gay culture in Europe. In 1979, a few people came together for the first German gay pride march, under the name “Christopher Street Day.” Since then, CSD had grown steadily and with up to 500,000 visitors, it has become the second biggest pride event in Germany every year. The condition for gays further improved in the early 1980s and to mark this, the film “Coming Out” was released in 1989- the same night in which the Berlin Wall fell. Since 1993, there is a street fair around Motzstrasse in Schöneberg, which covers five streets and attracts more than 400,000 visitors every year. It is held the weekend before CSD (the last weekend in June) and is the starting event of the “Berlin Gay Pride Week” every year. Gays, lesbians, as well as straight people join the fair, and it has become the biggest gay street fair in Europe.

Source: www.berlin.de

Klaus Wowereit became the mayor of Berlin in 2001. He is openly gay and his statement, “Ich bin schwul und das ist auch gut so!” (“I’m gay and that’s just fine!”) remains famous today. During his time in office, Berlin became even more of a hot spot for gays around the world. Many facilities were established and customised to cater to gays. New hotels, restaurants, shops and cafes emerged. For instance, Axel Hotel Berlin is a 4-star hotel developed for gays, located in the center of Schöneberg. Other gay hotels include Tom’s Hotel, which is also situated in Berlin’s Schöneberg district. Most gay bars and hotels remain open around the clock. Since 2004, the “Folsom Europe” street festival takes place in Schöneberg. Even though the event received harsh criticism, especially from conservatives, Wowereit defended the event as “fitting to Berlin” and shared a few welcoming remarks every year. Meanwhile, it is the biggest event of the fetish scene in all of Europe.

Source: www.tagesspiegel.de

The most commonly known gay districts in Berlin are Schöneberg, Kreuzberg, Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain.

In Berlin, various festivals are celebrated by the gay community every year. These include New Year’s Eve, the TEDDY-Awards in conjunction with the Berlinale Film Festival (usually in February), the Easter fetish week, the gay and lesbian street festival (usually in June), the Gay Pride Parade (in June) and the Folsom Europe (in September).

The Berlin Pride Celebration or CSD Berlin is one of the most common gay pride parades in all of Europe. Since 1979, the main objective of the ceremony has been to create awareness for the need for equal rights and justice for the LGBT community.

The gay community in Berlin has developed considerably since 1886: there have been major highs and lows. All in all, it has come together and grown strong since the oppressive times of Hitler and his Nazis. The community has triumphed through it all and honestly, the gay community has never seen better times.

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We are free and happy to call Berlin our home and invite you to celebrate with us. See you soon!

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