I heard that Volkspark Hasenheide, a park in Neukölln, has some of the best cruising in Berlin — and it’s only a five-minute walk from the flat I’ve been renting. I was surprised to hear that a park in this hood, of all places, would have any cruising at all. It’s an eclectic place full of artists, Arab people and hippies; with my Lebanese skin tone and far-left liberal sensibilities, I fit right in. Still, I just couldn’t imagine a large cruising area here, amongst the shabby cafes, Döner kebab shops and hole-in-the-wall bars.
I decided to check out the park at 6:30pm on a Sunday evening, knowing that cruising in parks typically get busier as the sun goes down. As I entered off Karlsgartenstraße, I came to a large field full of people enjoying the last ounce of evening sun. There were Frisbees being thrown, some hippies twirling hula hoops and others walking on tightrope between trees, all set to Turkish music and obscure hip-hop. You could hear Spanish, German, English, Afrikaans and even a dialect of Arabic from a young group of Muslim girls in hijabs, laughing and picnicking in the grass.
I crossed the field toward the southwest corner of the park where the cruising apparently occurred. Funnily enough, I came across a narrow strip of midway: an actual midway, with rides, games and junk food stretched across one area of the park. It was an odd sight to see, what with the greenery and sun. It was something you expected in an empty parking lot or fairgrounds off the side of a highway, but I guess that’s Berlin: void of rules of how things “should” be.
Why not just check it out? I thought to myself. The cruising will only get better as time goes on, anyway.
It was everything that you’d expect from a midway, with a rollercoaster, bumper cars, junk food (brotwurst instead of corndogs, of course), seemingly drunk carnies and the most eclectic mix of pop music from Led Zeppelin to Rihanna. There were many Muslim families roaming about too, reminding me of my own. My parents immigrated from Lebanon, so I had a strict, religious upbringing. Sure, my coming out was rough and it made me somewhat reject my heritage. It was hard work to find common ground with my family and find respect for one another — it took years, but we managed.
Not only was Berlin allowing me to further explore my sexuality, but it was helping me embrace my heritage again — I started visiting Lebanese shops in Neukölln and carrying on conversations in Arabic whenever the store owners couldn’t speak English. It was sort of a reconciliation of both worlds for me. It made me feel strangely proud to be Lebanese.
I exited the midway at the southern tip and continued along the trail toward the pond. There was little consensus online where the actual cruising happens in the park; it’s always very confusing to parse through the information. It often seems out of date, and people’s comments can be contradictory. At Volkspark Hasenheide, for example, the cruising either happens around the pond or behind the naked sunbathing area, wherever that was. It was a massive park.
It was relatively quiet around the pond but you could still hear laughs and screams from the midway rides. There was a dock that went around different parts of the water so I walked along it, then stopped and looked out at a swan, swimming freely alone. There were two other guys lurking about — neither my type — so I moved on.
As I kept wandering through the park, I came across a patch of grass with sunbathers, some of who were completely naked. Behind them was a large forested area. This must be it, I thought. I realized that it would’ve been too obvious to walk past them into the woods, so I continued along the trail to the side of the forest until I found a path into the bushes.
I quickly looked behind me, then entered, pushing branches out of my way. There was a large network of dirt paths in there, going every which way. It seemed quiet at first, but as I went in further I found tens of men roaming through the forest, scoping each other out. Turns out that everything people have said about the cruising in this park was true.
This was exactly what I loved about Berlin. It’s not just that its gay scene is a throwback to 1970s New York City — which is pretty amazing — but that these different sexualities, ethnicities, languages, and subcultures can coexist with one another in great harmony. It helped me realize that I don’t need to be just queer or just Arab, or just a writer or activist — true acceptance of one’s self is the freedom to be all those things at once, and Berlin was letting me do that.