Gay and Queer Berlin

Traumatised by Gay Oktoberfest

I traumatised a friend visiting from Los Angeles by taking her to Gay Oktoberfest.

Oktoberfest, Berlin, Gay? Do all these things go together? Sure they do, in the Hauptstadt. And, please, if there’s any chance to showcase one’s buttocks in leather, then you can count on this community.

We stumbled into a barn of beer-swilling men, all dressed in lederhosen. We’re in Friedrichshain, at Zum Schmutzigen Hobby’s new location.

‘Where have you taken me? What is she throwing at us?’

We had arrived for a yodel-Drag act in Tracht. I must say this is an unusually culturally specific experience. The Alpen maiden was throwing mushrooms aggressively at the gay men dancing on tables.

‘I will dream about this, and they won’t be good dreams’, my friend tells me.

Oktoberfest is of course a Bavarian specialty. But the gay men of Berlin relish the opportunity to really get down, talk to each other, and stop being so damn cool.

What everyone really wants is to dance on the tables until they break, spill beer from an enormous Stein on one’s neighbour in hope that an apology will lead on to something more direct, and sing songs with perhaps the most inane lyrics ever invented–– about unrealised visits to New York or Hawaii, or rubber rafts, or sunshine in Mediterranean places–interrupted at regular intervals with collective cheers: ‘Ein Prozit, ein Prozit!’ as your neighbours tumble off the tables and benches, too anaesthetised to notice their injuries.

Gay Wiesn, the Monday gay Oktoberfest party at Hauptbahnhof, is the mother Mary of all nightmares for your Alpine pastor. Running through to the end of the month, the party attracts hundreds and hundreds of gay men and their friends, many of whom had the good sense to reserve in advance. Beer cannot be ordered in quantities less than one litre. The mass inebriation leads to many lager-stained kisses in embarrassing traditional dress. Men are under the tables that threaten to break, they tear off each other’s suspenders, wonder just how padded those leather shorts are. The drag queens are hiking up their Dirndl to show their powerful Bratwurst-fed calves. There is complete and utter abandon, not simply for the furniture which will hardly last the night, but also for one’s liver and ears and more anatomical parts if one’s lucky.

All this on the anniversary of German Unification, 3 October. And isn’t it appropriate that Gay Oktoberfest is in a tent located where the old East-West Wall border once stood, practically in no-man’s land? I imagine what people staring across this divide thirty years ago would have thought, whether they could possible have expected this? in all its international, camp, polysexual, multi-regional, commercial and inane splendor.

‘Still traumatised?’

‘Yes, but now it’s about time we had some fun’.

Joseph Pearson

Joseph Pearson (1975) is writer and historian based in Berlin. Born in Canada, he was educated at Cambridge University, UK, where he received his doctorate in history in 2001. Since 2008, he has written The Needle, which has become one of Berlin's most popular blogs. His portrait of the German capital, Berlin, for Reaktion Press was published in 2017. His second book, My Grandfather's Knife, was published by HarperCollins and the History Press in 2022. He is also the essayist and blogger of the Schaubühne Theatre, one of Berlin's best known state-funded institutions. His writing has appeared widely in the press, literary and academic journals, and has been translated into Italian, German, French, and Arabic. Having taught at Columbia University in New York City, he lectures in Berlin at New York University Berlin (since 2012) and the Barenboim-Said Academy.