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by Reed Ide
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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 Berlin’s 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 child’s 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 city’s 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 do it.”

Karl-Heinz Steinle enjoys taking people through the Schwules Museum’s 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 West Berlin.

“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 Europe’s leader in the ongoing evolution of gay life.

[Published: February, 2010]

Facebook Twitter Bookmark Berlin the Gay Capital of Europe at Google Bookmarks Digg Berlin the Gay Capital of Europe Mixx Berlin the Gay Capital of Europe Bookmark Berlin the Gay Capital of Europe at YahooMyWeb Bookmark using any bookmark manager! Print this article! E-mail this story to a friend!

It is true, Berlin is not only the gay capital of Europe, it's the gay capital of the world as well. The free rules when it comes to sex, the free openhours of the clubs, the massive and different kind of fetish clubs you can't find elsewhere.
- Joseph , Stockholm

One main reason West-Berlin drew so many gay men into town from the 1960s till unification in 1990 was that residents were exempt from compulsory military service because Berlin was officially not sovereign and still occupied by the Allied Forces.
- Neram , Berlin, Germany

I would do some research before moving to Berlin. I spend a lot of time in both Berlin and Munich, and I prefer Munich. There is a great deal of difference in the personalities of the Germans in the north and south. Best to research
- Al , Fort Lauderdale, FL and Paris,

I've been thinking about moving to Berlin for months now, then i read this article. It got me very excited! However, I'm a bit skeptical....would anyone else really consider it the gay capital of europe???
- Dave , West Hollywood, C

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