What’s it like to be Gay / Queer in Berlin?

*You are reading the Needle’s Queer Guide to Berlin

Berlin is both a great place to be queer / gay and a challenge.

Tell me the good bits first…

-It’s great from a legal standpoint (with same-sex marriage, civil protections, a police force that is usually understanding)

societally (Berliners basically don’t give a damn what you do; being gay is usually a non-issue; it’s not a problem generally on the job market; the former Berlin mayor was gay)

-and in terms of services (excellent doctors who cater specifically to gay / queer health, various state-sponsored and free counselling and mental health services, and many different organisations dealing with gay life and offering activities).

-and as a welcoming place of exile. Berlin is a place where many gay people from oppressive countries have come to live (the Russian queer-rights NGO Quarteera is based here, for example, and many refugees from Syria have developed a scene here).

Considering all of the above, Berlin could be described as a gay paradise.

Demonstrators from the Russian Queer Collective, Quarteera, at CSD (Gay Pride) 2018, highlighting civil rights abuses in Russia.

And what are the challenges?

It can be a challenge in different ways:

I know many people here find it hard to find a partner because Berlin is such a revolving door of talent. One friend explained that everyone is always moving on to the next best thing. Sex can be easy to come by, but good conversation with strangers can be rather more difficult. Excellent flirts might find themselves not using their talents as much as they’d like.

That said, as the Berlin scene internationalizes, it certainly is becoming friendlier and less serious/aggressive in its mating rituals. In my opinion, I think it’s up to all of us who go out in Berlin to smile, be friendly, engage in conversation with strangers, and ‘soften’ the scene a little.

Or, in the words of one club organiser, Danilo Rosato, we need to create an ‘antidote to the technicality of the German fuck, which is too obvious, too serious. You go to a club here and, bang, you’re fucking, but it’s too serious, efficient, and not a lot of fun.  We Italians eat not just to fill our bellies, but for the pleasure, to enjoy. It’s the commedia of the fuck. There’s intrigue, some courtship, flirtation, some ambiguity, tension. You need these things. Otherwise, eroticism is missing’.

I think the ‘contamination of the Berlin scene’ that Danilo is speaking about is working. If you talk to people who know the Berlin queer scene from the 90s, they will tell you Berlin today is much more friendly, has moved beyond old-fashioned definitions, and is becoming more queer.

Let’s put it another way: you’ve arrived in the ‘coolest city in the world’, but who told you that in order to be cool you need to act like an unfriendly dick? Actually, being cold and bitchy is a sign of insecurity and makes you an asshole. Don’t be an asshole. Flirt a little instead. You’ll find the sex you get later will be better for it too. And you’ll be making Berlin a better place.

What about PDA’s here?

It’s worth noting that you don’t see PDAs (public displays of affection) as often in Berlin as, say, in countries farther south. So the romantic hand-holding thing in public is not as common here regardless of your sexuality, I’d say. Add to that that Berlin is a big city with many different communities, some of which are more or less accepting of public displays of affection. Like in other cities, wealthier and more gentrified areas tend to be more friendly than, say, blue-collar neighbourhoods, or ones with with more conservative voting politics, or ones with high levels of immigrants who come from societies where homosexuality is less in the open (gay minority communities in those neighbourhoods are trying to change things, you can read about that here).

It is unlikely you will experience violence in any part of the city, and you might want to bring visibility to the streets here. Walking down a street in Mitte or Prenzlauer Berg or Schoeneberg hand-in-hand is going to be less problematic than, say, parts of immigrant Kreuzberg and Neukölln, or blue-collar neighbourhoods like Lichtenberg or Spandau, of AfD-voting areas of the former East.  Sometimes I see people walking naked down the street in Schoeneberg. More handholding in the city might just be an important part of the revolution.

Is it easy to meet people online?

Berlin is actually a city where people continue to go out to bars. This is partly because beer is so cheap. And partly because you can have sex on premises in a lot of Berlin bars, which many find easier and safer than inviting a stranger to your house. It’s also perhaps because many report that Grindr is a lot of looking and not a lot of doing in this city––maybe you’ll find your phone is relatively quieter in Berlin than many other cities? If so, it’s a reason to put on your shoes and go out of the door and meet people here in real life, the way other Berliners do. If you are online, then the usual suspects are popular: Tindr (more for relationships and dates), Daddyhunt (for bears and silver daddys), HornetScruff and Grindr (more for ‘right now’).

What is Gay Romeo/ Planetromeo?

Gay Romeo (now ‘Planetromeo’) used to be the one and only gay online platform in the city. Similar to the white pages, or yellow pages, it is called the ‘blue pages’ because of its browser’s background colour. Gay Romeo is so well known in Germany, and was so well-used, it was simply called ‘GR’. But since Tindr and Grindr have entered the market, and can be more user-friendly, they have given GR something of a run for its money. GR is still around, but is certainly not as popular as it once was. But it’s definitely far from dead.

Where else can I meet people in Berlin?

In Berlin, groups are very popular places to meet people, especially those for sports. Vorspiel is an organization (and clever play on words, meaning ‘foreplay’) for gay and queer male sports. A huge variety of sports are offered and many participate in the Gay Games. Gay Yoga is also a very popular activity. There are also a number off-beat community centres, such as The Village, which offers seminars, massage, hugging sessions, contact improv, film nights, etc.. Mann-o-Meter offers conversation and help groups for young gay people, gay AA, etc., as does the Schwulenberatung, a huge enterprise which offers counselling to gay men. The Lesbenberatung is the Lesbian equivalent. There are also a number of bars which tend to be talkier than others (see above neighbourhood sections) and it’s worth noting that night clubs tend to be much more interactive than bars in this city, where people might end up spending time with friends rather than mixing right away. So don’t go home early!

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Gay / Queer Calendar

What times of the year are there special events?

You might plan a trip here based on an event (the months event occur can change from year to year):

-February: Berlin Film Festival / Berlinale (Look for the queer films in the Teddy section). I’d add that every Monday at Kino International there’s a Mongay series of Queer/Gay films.

-July: Gay Pride Weekend (CSD, or ‘Christopher Street Days), running several days with parade and many many parties.

-July: the Street Fair (Lesbisch-Schwules Stadtfest) in Schoeneberg, a huge street event.

-September: Folsom Europe, a massive fetish street fair

-September/ October: Berlin’s Gay Wiesn / Octoberfest (once a week over six weeks: needs to be seen to be believed, with everyone dancing on tables and singing Schlager).

-October: Pornfilmfestival (including many gay, queer, trans, etc., films)

-October: Hustlaball (an enormous circuit party)

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More Information / Links

What are the gay / queer rags of Berlin?

Siegessäule (‘Victory Column’) is the most popular gay magazine in the city, along with Blu. It has day-by-day listings of what’s going on, and provides listings for gay services (such as doctors and testing sites, etc.). Other good resources are a number of blogs:

Any good books / resources you’d suggest?

The Spartacus Berlin Gay Guide is very good.

For a history of gay life, then try Robert Beechey’s Gay Berlin.

Berlin also has one of the world’s only Gay* Museums, with regular exhibits and events (the Schwules* Museum).

For some classic gay Berlin docu-fiction, try the Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood. You can even see where he lived on Nollendorfstraße.

On this blog, you can read many articles about gay and queer issues by browsing the posts.

And The Needle has the web’s longest running and most popular Moving to Berlin Guide.

And, finally, my own book, a portrait of Berlin, has a section on gay life in the city.

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