GAY CAPITAL OF EUROPE
by Reed Ide
(Page 3 of 3)
In Kreuzberg, another of the
Western districts that bordered the East, gay life developed
as well. In 1985, the Schwules Museum was established,
and quickly became a cultural center for all Berlins
gays and lesbians. Following the events of November,
1989, new gay establishments appeared in Kreuzberg.
Café Anal was one popular Kreuzberg spot
that seemed to blend East and West values successfully.
The interior was decorated by its patrons, and the bartender
stood beneath a giant seashell to dispense his wares.
On hot afternoons, young gay men could gather and drink
beer outside while soaking their feet in the cold water
of a childs wading pool. The young people it attracted
were from all parts of the city, united by their piercings,
brightly dyed hair, and dress-down clothing. They were
the AIDS activists, the gay rights advocates, the transvestites,
the radical lesbians, and those who simply needed a
welcoming queer home bar. One writer said it was a place
that was open to anything and closed to no one.
Sadly, the bar closed several years ago, having outlived
the needs of its patrons and the interests of its owner.
Other bars and clubs opened in Kreuzberg, and a significant
gay presence remains and grows in the district today.
Those who do remember the old
days tend to still think in terms of East and
West. In the East we have seen the development
of a creative and alternative parallel universe,
said Polzer. The knitting together of East and
West still continues. For those who have recently moved
to Berlin, I think it looks all the same.
The citys gay East and gay
West have both come together and have not, said
Ostrowski. The scene in the East is now certainly
as strong as the West, but I think there is still a
border in the minds of those who established themselves
and their gay identity in one sector or the other. People
in the East tend to go out in the East. And I would
say the same for people in the West.
Time, of course, has its own ways of
blurring old distinctions and even creating new ones.
Today, a generation has grown up with no real memory
of living under the Soviet-controlled regime in the
East. Another generation is coming right behind, and
others after that. It is left for those under the age
of 30 to make the final shifts that will further diminish
and eradicate that social boundary. Already it is happening.
Young people in their 20s seem completely unconcerned
with whatever differences there may be. If you
go out in Prenzlauer Berg today, most of the young people
are from the West, says Polzer. Others, including
Ostrowski, agree that the bars in the East today attract
a younger crowd from throughout the city. The West seems
to be gradually aging.
The sands are even shifting in Prenzlauer
Berg. Gay establishments remain a strong presence, but
the district is now known more for small, young families
more than for edgy gays and students. Moms pushing prams
dot the sidewalks on balmy afternoons. Younger gays
are seeking residence in the cheaper Friedrichshain
(former East), or in Kreuzberg (former West).
The frontiers of gay nightlife exist
in areas of the former East Berlin. There are still
areas that Berliners refer to as uncontrolled,
meaning not yet zoned for different land uses. In these
areas, clubs and parties can spring up and operate unfettered
by concerns about law or neighborhood custom. Some of
these parties are only announced by word of mouth, or
on certain gay websites.
At the moment, the hottest attraction
is located in an aging Stalinist era power station in
Friedrichain. It has been named the Berghain
(because of its location near the Kreuzberg border in
Friedrichain). Here, huge dance parties attract over
2,000 people in an anything goes atmosphere
where photography is strictly forbidden. Each Easter
Eve there is a huge fetish party that draws people from
across Europe. The basement houses, what many say is,
the most hard-core fetish club on the continent.
There are few cities where gay culture
pushes the boundaries so far. It is impossible
to make a scandal about anything in Berlin, said
Ostrowski. Absolutely impossible. If you can imagine
it, if you can do it, no one will be offended. Just
Karl-Heinz Steinle enjoys taking people
through the Schwules Museums permanent exhibit
on the history of homosexual life. He points to photographs
from various periods during the past century: a picture
from the pre-Nazi days when Magnus Hirschfeld first
began advocacy on behalf of those attracted to the same
sex; a picture from the 1950s showing men in very bad
drag; a photograph of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf in her
museum; a shot of 1970s gay rights demonstrators in
It is so interesting to look to
the past and see the beginnings and early efforts that
brought us to be who we are today. They may have had
horrible clothes and wigs, but these are my ancestors.
In the years since the wall came down,
the queer men and women of Berlin have propelled their
community forward, consolidating gains and breaking
new ground. Their daring, brazenness, courage, and determination
have brought the city to a new understanding of the
myriad ways in which we can all express ourselves and
our sexuality. Those qualities, perhaps more than anything
else, making Berlin Europes leader in the ongoing
evolution of gay life.