Berlin is one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world. A vast and diverse set of gay scenes, thoughtful civic amenities and tourist-friendly pricing make Germany’s capital a popular destination. The city is a mecca, and not only for gay people.
Prices here are reasonable compared to other European capitals, and rent-refugees from other EU countries and beyond are flocking in, creating an ever-more-cosmopolitan ambiance. English is firmly established as the second language of most people, especially in the west, so English-only tourists will have little trouble communicating.
Berlin’s — and the country’s — most notable monument is the Brandenburg Gate. Restored over a two-year period, starting in 2000, this iconic structure, located west of the city centre, served as the entrance to the city palace of the Prussian monarchs. The square immediately behind, Pariser Platz, is home to embassies and the luxurious Hotel Adlon Kempinski, which offers a two-star Michelin restaurant, a luxury spa and an outdoor terrace overlooking the gate. Sunday brunch is a sublime culinary experience.
Located in the middle of the Spree River, which flows through the city centre, is the famous Museum Island, consisting of five internationally significant museums: the Old Museum, the Old National Gallery, the Bode Museum, the New Museum and the Pergamon Museum. The entire complex, worth a trip for the buildings themselves, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. Once you get through the extensive collections, or if you need to rest, you can escape by way of the charming cobblestone paths to the island’s hidden gardens, quality restaurants and boutiques to recharge.
Look no further than KaDeWe for your shopping pleasure. Located in the city centre, close to the Wittenbergplatz U-Bahn station, KaDeWe is Continental Europe’s largest department store. The variety of brand names and quality of product is comparable to Holts in Canada, but bigger. The surrounding area features an array of exquisite shops, wonderful restaurants and quaint parkettes. Other shopping districts include Alexanderplatz, Friedrichstrasse, Hackescher Markt, Kurfürstendamm, Tauentzienstrasse, Spandau Old Town, Schlossstrasse and Schönhauser Allee. Flea markets are also very popular and can be found throughout the city.
Gay life is easily found in the Schöneberg, Kreuzberg, Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain neighbourhoods. Best known to tourists are the quiet tree-lined streets of Schöneberg, a little south of the area between Wittenbergplatz and Nollendorfplatz U-Bahn stations. It has a well-established, multifaceted gay community, and you’ll often see same-sex affection and leathermen in full regalia alongside families and kids on bikes. It is also the location of the big summer street events: the Stadtfest lesbian and gay festival and the Christopher Street Day celebrations.
Most of the gay bars, clubs and shops are located in Schöneberg, including the gay-owned and -operated Axel Hotel, which offers chic accommodation, outdoor and rooftop terraces, wellness facilities, bars, and a cocktail lounge and restaurant. Christopher Isherwood, who wrote so evocatively of Berlin, lived in this neighbourhood (at Nollendorfstrasse 17) more than 70 years ago. As in other German cities, the straight folks blend right in. A few minutes’ walk from Nollendorfplatz station is Mann-O-Meter, a queer community centre with information on gay Berlin.
The U-Bahn will take you from Schöneberg to Eberswalder Strasse and Schönhauser Allee stations, in what was once East Berlin. Around and between the two stations, the Prenzlauer Berg neighbourhood is full of interesting sights. East German gay society emerged from an alternative art and political milieu, which came of age under the old regime behind the wall. The district retains, almost a generation later, a distinct appearance and atmosphere from that of the former West Berlin. There are gay sex shops, saunas, restaurants and bars here, but gay sensibilities and perspectives owe less to American and Western European models than to their own historical roots.
Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain districts also have an alternative feel and are growing in popularity with gay people looking for lower housing prices and a more multicultural mix.
There are many beautiful parks scattered throughout Berlin, not least the cruisy Tiergarten, where one can enjoy the summer sunshine without a stitch on and raise nary an eyebrow — not surprising in one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world.
Gay Pride/Christopher Street Day Festival
June 21–23, 2012
Numerous events, a street fair in and around Motzstrasse, Gay Night at the Zoo and festivities along the Spree River, all leading up to a parade.
Folsom Fair Berlin
Sept 8, 2012
Europe’s largest leather and fetish event runs noon until 9pm, with more than 20,000 people attending. The fairground features food and drinking areas, shopping, information booths and live music from Europe’s hottest DJs.
Hustlaball Circuit Festival
Oct 19, 2012
The biggest HustlaBall franchise brings together people from around the world who are looking to explore their erotic senses freely without fear of discrimination.
For more information, visit airberlin.com.
Berlin trip advisor:
Bars & Clubs
Blue Boy Bar
Restaurants & Cafés
Maharadscha Indian Restaurant
Shopping & Services
Saunas & Sex Clubs
Apollo Splash Club
For map locations and website links to over 200 places of interest see our gay Berlin listings pages.
With files from Guidemag staff.