Whether you are staring up at the Brandenberg Gate or gazing into the eyes of the blue eyed blonde you just met in Schoneberg, Berlin will make you smile. There is a vast and diverse gay crowd in Berlin, so if beautiful blondes don´t do it for you, the bear of your dreams may be just round the Strasse. Everyone is so incredibly open and friendly making it one of the top gay destinations in Europe. This city truly has something for everybody.
Street cafes, fabulous restaurants and tree lined strasses. Loads of late night clubs, saunas and sex bars. Superb gay festivals and parties and if you lean toward Marlene Dietrich, monocles, martinis and beautiful boys and girls, Berlin has that too (well maybe the not the monocles). It´s good to be gay here…
Berlin´s history is Europe´s history and it is evident all over the city. The wall came down in 1989 bringing reunification to Germany and you can trace exactly where it stood right through to the last bricks remaining at the Eastside Gallery in Friedrichshain near the Oberbaumbruke.
The city has several districts, each with its own unique ambience and personality and all of them are gay friendly. Schoneberg in Nollendorfplatz is the most prolific for gay culture and nightlife while Prenzlauer Berg is complete with fashion stores and gay and lesbian parties that never seem to end. Kreuzberg remains the hippy happening and Friedrichshain keeps the younger gay and lesbian crowd happy and has a strong student population. Mitte is the trendy end and has specific gay and lesbian parties on a very regular basis.
It wouldn't be a stretch to declare that Berlin has evolved into the first major gay city of the 21st century - it rivals London, Paris and New York in sheer enormity, cultural importance, and 'it' factor, and more than any of other prominent world capital. Its gay scene is defined less by clusters of discos and drag bars and more by the remarkable degree to which GLBT residents and visitors permeate the fabric of numerous neighbourhoods.
To be fair, plenty of other big cities - including those mentioned above - have seen a trend away from gay ghetto-ization, and Berlin has a Gay Village (around Nollendorfplatz, in Schoneberg) that bears a striking resemblance to Sydney's Oxford Street, West Hollywood's Santa Monica Boulevard, and countless others. But outside of this still highly charming district of campy bars and cafes festooned with rainbow flags, your 'gaydar' is likely to detect critical mass all over the city, in areas that fall both west of the former Berlin Wall, and east of it.
Particularly among the younger generation of queer Berliners, there's a sense that every intersection blessed with a few sidewalk cafes and diverting boutiques qualifies as miniature anchor of gay society. And yet in the most buzz-worthy of these areas - such as Oranienstrasse in Kreuzberg, Schonhauser Allee in Prenzlauer Berg, and Boxhagener Platz in Friedrichshain - people care not a lick about one's sexual orientation.
Berlin is an expansive city with excellent, though sometimes a bit complicated, public transportation (a legacy from the city's Cold War-era division). One highly enjoyable way to acquaint yourself is to choose a different neighborhood each day, and explore it. Here's a look at a few of the city's most alluring districts, and the exact streets and squares where you're likely to find the great concentrations of noteworthy shops, galleries, restaurants, nightspots and attractions.
This is Berlin's city centre, home to many smaller sections, a considerable number of international hotels and restaurants, and dozens of prominent attractions. Plan to focus a good bit of your time here, exploring Museum Island (home to the Old Museum, New Museum, Old National Gallery, and Pergamon Museum), as well as Brandenburg Gate and the nearby Holocaust Memorial, a moving and incredibly striking site. Across the street, on the edge of Tiergarten park, you can also view the small but poignant Holocaust Memorial that specifically honours the plight of gays and lesbians. Many other prominent museums are located here.
Just west of Mitte, you'll find Tiergarten, which is the name of both a neighbourhood and the huge park for which it is named. First, let's point out the exciting part: the area of grassy lawns and light woodland just southwest of Siegessaule (Victory Column), just off of Hofjageralle, is a notorious haunt of gay sunbathers. And in Berlin, you're perfectly welcome to laze about in public parks completely nude.
Tiergarten also abounds with noteworthy attractions, such as Germany's key institutions of government, which include the Bundestag, occupying the infamous Reichstag building. The park is beautiful to walk through and is also home to a mix of classic and postmodern monumental buildings, from Berliner Philharmonie concert hall to Neue Nationalgalerie (modern art museum).
Southwest of Tiergarten and adjoining the swanky Charlottenburg neighbourhood, Schoneberg is itself a rather upscale district with wide, tree-lined streets and handsome homes and apartments. Shoppers flock to KaDeWe, a massive department store comparable to Harrods and Bon Marche.
Within Schoneberg, chiefly along the streets just west of Nollendorfplatz (the former home of W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood), you'll find Berlin's lively and cruise-y Gay Village. You'll find the majority of the gay bars and sex shops along Motzstrasse, but be sure to venture along Fuggerstrasse and Eisenacher Strasse, too. If you can't get into trouble (in the fun sense of the word) in this part of Berlin, you may as well pack it in and go home.
Creative spirits and a slightly at-odds mix of self-conscious hipsters and anti-establishment artists favor this enormous swath of handsome 19th-century apartment blocks northeast of Mitte, in the former East Berlin. Although teeming with gay hangouts, Prenzlauer Berg is the least gay-ghetto-ized of any Berlin neighborhoods - along such fashionable streets as Schonhouser Allee, Kastanienallee, and Greifenhagener Strasse, you'll find cosmopolitan cafes, notable art galleries, fashion-forward boutiques, and elegant boutique hotels. There are few genuine attractions in this neighborhood, but much to see for fans of dining, shopping, and neighborhood exploring.
Just south of Mitte, Kreuzberg was a lower-income immigrant district of West Berlin during the pre-reunification days, but it's steadily developed cachet in recent years as a haunt of radical activists (queer and otherwise). This is especially the case near the Kottbusser Tor metro station, where you'll find arty bars, authentic Turkish restaurants, and bohemian bookstores and cafes along Oranienstrasse. The more gentrified SW61 section, around Mehringdamm metro station, is home to the Schwules (Gay and Lesbian) Museum as well as several gay-popular eateries and bars, and an exceptionally good food market, called Marheineckplatz (considered by some to be the finest in the city).
Like Kreuzberg, which it was administratively joined with in 2001, Friedrichshain is a somewhat hardscrabble neighborhood that's lately become fashionable, at least in certain sections. It's the area around Boxhagener Platz that has the greatest concentration of indie shopping and dining. It's also worth walking along Karl-Marx-Allee, which leads into the district from Mitte, and is lined with imposing Stalinist architecture. One of these buildings contains Klub International, a retro-fabulous cinema that morphs into a gay disco the first Saturday of each month.
A history as a Gay Capital
Berlin has undoubtedly had an eventful history. First founded in the 13th Century it later became the capital of Prussia and was eventually proclaimed the capital of the German Empire in 1871. Following the devastation of World War II the city was split in half, with one side becoming the Federal Republic of Germany and the other forming the capital of the Soviet-run German Democratic Republic. Eventually in 1989 the Cold War began to thaw, and the city was officially reunited a year later following the dramatic destruction of the hated Berlin Wall.
Visitors to the city can still see many of the famous landmarks of Berlin’s troubled past. The colossal Reichstag building in the Platz der Republik was completed at the end of the 19th Century to house the Empire’s parliament, but became a potent symbol of the rise of Nazism when it was burnt out in 1933. Now completely restored it includes a stunning dome and viewing gallery designed by Sir Norman Foster.
The nearby Checkpoint Charlie (Freidrichstr. 43-44) was once a border crossing between the American and Soviet sectors of the divided city, and was the site of many tense standoffs between the two sides. The gates and barriers may be gone but one of the original watchtowers remains and a small museum includes details of some of the death-defying escape attempts from East to West.
Berlin was one of the first cities in the world to develop a gay scene, and as early as the 1920’s the notorious Eldorado club in Motzstraße attracted stars such as Marlene Dietrich and Christopher Isherwood. Isherwood’s book Berlin Stories offers a fascinating glimpse of the era and was the inspiration for the Oscar winning movie Cabaret.
Hitler brought this period of decadence to a close in the 30’s, but by the late 1960’s Berlin was again regarded as a Gay Mecca. In general, the people of Berlin have an extremely laid-back attitude towards homosexuality and the gay community tends to be fairly well integrated into city life as a whole. In fact Berlin elected its first openly gay mayor, the Social Democrat Klaus Wouwereit, in 2001, and he continues to hold the post today.
Eighty years on Motzstraße is still one of the city’s gay centres, with bars such as Omnes at number 8 and Hafen at number 19. The nearby Fuggerstrasse is also worth checking out for its small collection of gay venues.
The area around Schonhauser Alle metro station has its own scene with a selection of cruisey bars including Pick Ab at Greifenhagener Strasse 16, Greif Bar at Wicherstrasse 10 and the appropriately named Darkroom at Rodenberg Strasse 23.
Berlin has only a handful of proper gay clubs, as the locals seem to prefer one-off parties and one-nighters which are held regularly at venues across the city. Check the local gay press for up to date details.
Last but not least Berlin is famous for its hardcore leather and fetish scene. Cubs such as New Action at Kleistrasse 35 and Bose Buben at Lichtenrader Strasse 32 offer regular S&M action, while huge parties are organised throughout the year by groups such as Safer-Sex-Party and SNAX Club.
With approximately 300,000 homosexuals living in Berlin, the German capital ranks as the third largest gay metropolis in all of Europe, with only London and Amsterdam boasting greater numbers. Long gone are the days when gay and lesbian life was tucked away in the catacombs of Berlin subculture. For many years now, this thriving, dynamic and diverse scene has greatly contributed to and enriched the city's vitality. There is a plethora of activities, services and institutions in Berlin specifically designed by and for gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, drag queens, drag kings etc. This includes 150 gay bars as well as a gay bar owners' union, two free city magazines, a broad spectrum of publishing houses and bookstores, pharmacies, sports clubs, same sex dance lessons and studios, language courses, specialty outfit boutiques, even a gay French fry kiosk, radio broadcasts focusing on gay related topics, the TEDDY film award, countless organizations, meeting places, counselling services, associations and other resources.
No matter where you are in Berlin, you're only a few steps from a neighborhood pastry shop. There's probably one in the city's graveyard so departing souls can have one last strudel and some eye-popping espresso before meeting St. Peter. You'll need plenty of caffeine to handle the fast-paced excitement of Berlin. So slap on your sensible flats, grab a little something at that pastry shop and hit the pavement -- this is a huge city and you've got a lot of ground to cover.
Berlin's excellent U-bahn system is a fast and efficient way to see this immense metropolis (stations are marked by a big "U"). For your three days here, buy a 72-hour WelcomeCard pass for only EUR 21; not only will you get unlimited public transit rides, you'll get significant discounts at museums, theaters and other attractions.
Start at the Brandenburg Gate, proud symbol of the city's rich history found at the eastern edge of the Tiergarten. Another must-see in the area is the stunning Reichstag, the glass-domed home of Germany's parliament. Stroll east on the lovely Unter den Linden Boulevard, chock-full of buildings left over from the Prussian Empire, as well as modern embassies. Stop and contemplate the sights and sample another sweet treat. Nowhere in Berlin serves better apple strudel than Cafe Einstein (Unter den Linden 42; +49-30-204-3632). Apfelstrudel a la Einstein comes smothered in delicious warm vanilla sauce. Savory options are plentiful, as they also serve breakfast till after noon. Intense students, high fashion femmes and artistic gay clusters spill over tables in this stately and stylish old style coffeehouse. Humboldt University (named after the gay geographer) is along the expansive avenue, as are the Palace of the Republic and the German Historical Museum (Unter den Linden 2; +49-30-203-040).
All that casual strolling makes one famished, so head for Mitte's Monsieur Vuong (46 Alte Schonhauser Strasse; +49-30-3087-2643; EUR 8-12), which attracts hipsters for its excellent and affordable Vietnamese dishes and buzzing, energetic atmosphere in the Mitte district.
On and around Schonhauser Allee, the main drag through Prenzlauer Berg, you'll find plenty of shops and other attractions of interest to gays and lesbians. Another popular shopping area is Wilmersdorfer Strasse in the Charlottenburg district.
Conveniently close to Kreuzberg's nightlife is intriguing -- or perhaps perplexing -- dinner option Abendmahl (Muskauer Strasse 9, Kreuzberg; +49-30-612-5170; EUR 10-18 ), which translates as "Last Supper." Providing imaginative vegetarian and fish concoctions in a kitschy religious atmosphere, the menu is laden with madly monikered meals such as the vegetarian Kissing Like a Wild Dog (saitan) and News From the Moon (trick chicken and shiitake in mango chili). Desserts include a Transvestite Dessert and a chocolate and rum fruit ashtray. One of either the most amusing, or most insane, restaurants in the city.
Tonight is your first night in Berlin, so you might as well stay out as late as possible (not a problem in Berlin, where nightlife typically starts late). Kreuzberg's Oranienstrasse is one of the city's main gay drags. Pop your head into Roses (87 Oranienstrasse; +49-30-615-6570) and your eyes will pull the rest of your body inside. The fake fur-lined walls and ceiling and the kitsch interior of this Kreuzberg institution attract a mixed male/female crowd of chatty, friendly folks most nights of the week. Just a few doors down, SO36 (190 Oranienstrasse; +49-30-6140-1306) is a lively, funky, super-fun dance club that is popular on the weekends, and is famous for its gay Turkish dance nights, where straights, gays and drag queens alike belly dance the night away to Arab rhythms.
A Day Out
A little cappuccino will cure that pounding headache you got from last night's festivities. Go easy on the culture today and stroll over to the famous shopping and café district along Kurfurstendamm, where stunning designer boutiques rub elbows with falafel joints and T-shirt shacks. The centerpiece of this shopping megaplex is KaDeWe (Tauentzienstrasse 21-24), the largest department store on the European continent, famous above all for its gourmet food department on the 6th floor. Everything you'd expect in a major store, only in quantities and varieties to make the Queen of Sheba green with envy. For edible gifts and a bite to eat, don't miss their 6th floor gourmet shop.
For a little insight (but not too much -- you had a rough night,l), cross the street to visit the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (Lietzenburger Strasse 39; +49-30-218-5023; free), located just south of the Zoological Garden and Aquarium (Hardenbergplatz 8; +49-30-254-010; EUR11 each, EUR16 combination ticket). The cathedral's immense, bombed-out shell is preserved as a solemn reminder of the tragedy of war -- and the tragedy of souvenir hawkers, the vultures of commerce, who can degrade just about any memorial.
Sashay off chic shopping street Kurfurstendamm to Café am LiteraturHaus (Fasanenstr. 23; EUR10-19), an elegant stop for lunch, with white linen and a charming conservatory area. After you've got your strength up, visit the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (1 Cora-Berliner-Strasse; +49-30-740-729-29). Little can prepare you for the impact of this powerful memorial designed by American architect Peter Eisenman and opened in May 2005. Intentionally situated in the heart of Berlin, this grid of 2,711 concrete slabs powerfully evokes emotion as it references the horror of the Holocaust and the interplay between the living and the dead, the past and the present. The excellent underground Information Center (located beneath the southeast corner of the Memorial) surveys the Nazis' extermination policy and tells the story of the Holocaust through a powerful focus on the victims, the places of extermination and today's memorial sites worldwide. Leave yourself time to experience the Memorial in an unhurried manner.
For a rather different take on the aftermath of war, a short trip on the S-bahn to Oranienburger Strasse brings you to an exciting stretch of hip stores, cafes and eateries and to Tacheles (Oranienburger Strasse 54-56; +49-30-282-6185, fax +49-30/282-3130), a bombed (and only semi-restored) Jewish department store turned café/arts center. Ogle industrial art over coffee. The impressive New Synagogue (Oranienburger Strasse 28-30; +49-30-8802-8300) stands nearly opposite. Turn about and walk back up Oranienburger Strasse to Friedrichstrasse. Do some more shopping at the big name stores that line this 1920's theater district.
Before heading out to sample some more of the city's nightlife, get your fill of substantial German fare at Zur letzten Instanz (Waisenstrasse 14-16, Mitte; +49-30-242-5528; EUR12-15). Berlin's oldest restaurant, established in 1621, serves up a limited but tasty selection of traditional Berlin fare. German leaders have accompanied a succession of heads of state here to sample specialties such as Eisbein. This old East eatery is overlooked by tourists in otherwise often overcrowded Mitte. Luminaries who have graced its tables and toasted themselves by the stove include Mikhail Gorbachev, Gerhard Schroder, Jacques Chirac and, allegedly, Napoleon.
Those with a yen for musical theater might want to try and score tickets for one of Berlin's many theater and opera venues. Check the listings in Siegessaule, a comprehensive Berlin gay magazine that also has a good web site, albeit in German, at www.siegessaeule.de. Their annual Out in Berlin guide is as comprehensive as it is indispensable. Another great source for local info is the small pocket guide that came with your WelcomeCard; included is a list of theaters, operas and offbeat stage productions.
In gay district Schöneberg, call into gay information center, Mann-O-Meter (Bulowstrasse 106: +49-30-216-8008), then scamper in Marlene Dietrich's footsteps for an evening stroll down Motzstrasse, the area's rainbow flag-adorned drag, to lovely Viktoria-Luise-Platz. Bars are scattered along Motzstrasse and nearby Fuggerstrasse. Swing by Tom's (19 Motz Strasse; +49-30-213-4570), a catchall name for a number of gay bars in Europe, and this dark bar is no exception. Not as leather as it wishes, but with a video room and darkroom. Other options include the venerable Hafen (Motzstrasse 19; +49-30-211-4118), café Berio (Maassentrasse 7; +49-30-216-1946), stylish lounge Heile Welt (Motzstrasse 5; +49-30-2191-7507) and Prinzknecht (Fuggerstrasse 33; +49-30-2362-7444) with its darkroom and beer garden. Prinzknecht opens up its hard hitting techno dance club, Connection, on Friday and Saturday nights.
Women should head for 30-year-old Pour Elle or "pe-BAR" (Kalckreuthstre. 10; +49-30-218-7533) or Begine (Potsdamer Str. 139; +49-30-215-1414), where exhibitions line the walls of this friendly, elegant space.
The Day After.. What's next?
For a little R&R, start your last day in the beautiful Tiergarten, the lovely park at the center of the city. In warm weather be sure to check out Tunten Wiese or "Queen's Meadow," where many gays nude sunbathe (as Germans often do in public places). The meadow is just southwest of the golden, angelic Victory Column, made famous in Wim Wenders' "Wings of Desire."
Berlin offers over 100 other museums, including institutions devoted to dogs, sugar and hairdressing! One unique addition near Kreuzberg is the tiny Schwules Museum (Mehringdamm 61; +49-30-693-1172), Germany's only gay museum with temporary exhibits of famous gay Germans and local gay artists. The only drawback is the lack of English translations. Before getting back on the culture grind, get a coffee hit from Café Sundstrom (Mehringdamm 61; +49-30-693-4414), a warm café bar popular with lesbians and local gay men to the front of the gay museum. Good coffees and tantalizing cakes tempt passers-by in off the busy street.
For those requiring more substantial -- or savory -- sustenance, stylish SUMO (Bergmanstrasse 89; +49-30-6900-4963; EUR 7-10) is just round the corner on colorful Bergmanstrasse. Second-hand clothes stores, eclectic junk outlets, bookstores and funky gift emporia line the street. SUMO, a haven of Ikea minimalism with cool décor, matching sounds and delicious modern Japanese fare such as crispy duck on spicy curry, lurks calmly amidst the street's color, characters and chaos.
Culture vultures should also pay a visit to as many of the following as your weary legs can carry you: the Egyptian (Aegyptisches) Museum (Schlossstrasse 70; +49-30-2090-5555) featuring the bust of Queen Nefertiti; the enormous classical collection in the Charlottenburg Palace (Luisenplatz 1; +49-30-320-911); the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery; Museumsinsel Bodesstrasse 1-3; +49-30-2090-5555) housing 19th century masters; the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery; Potsdamer Strasse 50; +49-30-2090-5555), a stunning modernist glass block with 20th-century art; and the world-famous Pergamon Museum (Bodestrasse 1-3; +49-30-2090-5555) with its unsurpassed collection of European antiquities and Islamic and Near-Eastern art. Most of these museums are part of the vast Museum Island complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Most of the above museums share a Web site at www.smb.spk-berlin.de. Day tickets, valid for all state museums cost EUR12, three day tickets are only EUR15. For those planning on more extensive museum visits over a lengthier stay, an annual pass costs EUR44. None of these passes is valid for temporary exhibitions.
If you're feeling peckish about now, you're in luck -- just around the corner in Kreuzberg is Café Orange (Oranienburger Strasse 32; +49-30-283-85-242; EUR8-15), a good stop for informal but well-executed German and Mediterranean cuisine. Crowds flock for the vast portions served at Amrit (Oranienstrasse 200; +49-30-612-5550; EUR12-23) one of the best Indian restaurants in Berlin. Food, service and prices are good so reserve your table in advance. An eclectic mix of exuberant Berliners take over tables and devour delicious East Indian dishes. Das ist gut.
This is just a sample itinerary of what you can do with a few days in Berlin. There is something for everyonhe, from culture vultures to leather hedonists. WE have detailed information on the sex clubs, cinemas, and weekly parties conveniently grouped together in different sections of the guide.