I am gay, and that's good the way it is!' ('Ich bin schwul, und das ist auch gut so!') declared Berlin's then-mayor Klaus Wowereit in 2001. Over a decade later and Berlin's reputation as one of the world's most dynamic gay capitals continues to thrive cheerfully.
For Berlin's LGBT scene, it's pretty much a non-stop party, with the saunas, darkrooms, bars, clubs, cafés, festivals, balls, carnivals and gay parties making it a hedonist's paradise, a sensualist's haven, an aesthete's delight and a raver's Mecca, all in one package.
This phlegmatic approach to life means that the city's gay community and healthy influx of visitors can get on with the business of enjoying life to the full without much impediment. The scene includes much more than the venues listed here, especially in terms of cultural events: there are plays, drag performances and the Gay Teddy award for the best gay film at the Berlin International Film Festival. Queer films can be seen on Mondays at Kino International (Karl-Marx-Allee 33, Mitte, 2475 6011). Gay art and history are documented at the Schwules Museum which also has an archive. And, of course, the Berlin scene offers sex parties for every taste and perversion.
Cruising is (almost entirely) safe and completely legal, with designated areas around the city's main Tiergarten and Grunewald parks, whilst you'll find gay-friendly establishments of every stripe across the city. However, traditionally, it's the Schöneberg district - especially the streets between Motzstrasse and Fuggerstrasse as well as Nollendorfenplatz (formerly home to Christopher Isherwood) - that's been the epicentre of the gay scene since the 1920s. This is also the geographical nexus for the annual gay calendar of events including Gay Pride - here called CSD (Christopher Street Day) - andPride Week. Meanwhile, across town, (especially in Kreuzberg and Prenzlauerberg) saunas, bars and clubs offer all manner of diversion and recreational fun, ranging from the relatively innocent to pretty much as wild as you want to get. So, where to head to first?
Gay bars in Berlin
It’s an odd location for a gay bar, wedged among Turkish snack bars in a down-at-heel 1960s housing development, but this unpretentious place has been packed since the day it opened, mainly with gay and lesbian beer lovers, thanks to the good range on offer. The crowd has broadened out in recent years with the addition of students, artists and hipsters, but the infamous Thursday nights are still a blast, though lesbians may prefer the vibe on lady-heavy Tuesdays.
Tiny, tasteful and terribly nice, this mini bar caters to an upscale Mitte crowd mainly pouring in for a post-work cocktail or two. Proprietor Johann Courgibet has lovingly created a homage to his hometown (hence the name) using details such as the boat planks piled atop eachother to create the distinctive central bar. Often crowded in early evenings, so get there in good time, or be really late.
Local legend Nina Queer runs ‘Zum Schmutzigen Hobby’ as part of her sprawling Berlin empire and a trashy, schlocky-fabulous place it is too, where an up-for-it crowd congregate nightly for hi jinks and low-down boogie. You’ll find the cream of the Berli queer scene here, as well as the occasional international celeb slumming it in style – Rupert Everett and uh, Tara Reid have all been spotted here. It’s in Friedrichshain on Revaler Strasse and whilst perhaps a little alarming at first, offers a very friendly, easygoing atmosphere for trannies, gays, lost tourists and local bohos and hipsters. Get down for a wild night out – but this being Berlin, Sunday nights are devoted to screenings of national crime serial ‘Tatort’.
Established in the early 1970s, this is one of the city’s oldest gay cafés and is located off the beaten Schoneberg track. The former name Anderes Ufer (‘The Other Side’) was changed to Neues Ufer (‘The New Side’), symbolising a new beginning. A favourite hangout of David Bowie’s, during his late-1970s Berlin exile (he lived a few doors down on Hauptstrasse). Relaxed daytime scene.
Monster Ronson's Ichiban Karaoke has ten karaoke booths, but why would you want to keep your yowling to yourself or just your friends – when there’s a stage right there in the middle of this huge, kitsch karaoke palace…? This is undoubtedly Berlin’s best karaoke joint, with a queer-friendly programme that sees rotating regular events, from Monday’s ‘MultiSexualBoxHopping’ to Bäraoke (‘Bearaoke’) and the Tranny Olympics.
A Berlin institution, in the midst of the grungy Schlesischesstrasse, just by the Spree. Sure, this is a queer performance space, but most people come to its casual, colourful rooms for the young, pan-sexual crowd, the top-notch local DJs and the hilarious art on the walls. Tu-tu Tuesdays are popular, attracting a particularly skint Kreuzberg crowd from 7pm to midnight and winter Sunday evenings see the ‘Sunday Cocktail Special’ hooking in the hordes.
It was over a century ago that the queers of the Wilhelmine period would congregate around bars and cafés of Mitte’s Mulackstrasse. Today, as one of the few gay bars in Mitte, Betty F*** remains a favourite for trannies, gays, hipsters and fashionistas looking for a kickstart to the evening.
Gay clubs in Berlin
The hippest and hardest electronic music club in Berlin, if not Europe. The building is a Communist- era power station transformed into a concrete cathedral of techno on two floors, with the mixed Panorama Bar upstairs and Berghain below. Saturday nights see Berghain awash with pumped-up, shirtless gay men sweating it out on the dance-floor (or in the darkroom at the back) well into Sunday afternoon. In summer, the party pours over into the garden chill-out area, bar and dance floor. Arrive after 6am to avoid the massive queues. Once on Am Wriezener Bahnhof, just follow the stream of taxis to reach the door. Cameras are prohibited and taken at the door and returned later. But you won’t need photos to remember it.
A former beer-slinger from Möbel-Olfe opened this bar for Kreuzberg’s increasingly large gay population in 2010. Located under the round- about housing development at Kottbusser Tor, the mixed (but girl-heavy) crowd enjoy nightly drinks and dancing, as well as many one-off rock parties. The Kottywood party is a popular go-to for gays and lesbians looking to cap a Friday night grinding to Latin, retro and pop music. Südblock also serves food, ranging from breakfast to midnight snacks.
Thirty years old, this bar/cafe/club recently moved from its Kreuzberg home to a new location at Rollbergstrasse 26 in Neukolln, with a 25-hour opening night party that saw 56 DJs across three dancefloors, pumping out the signature Schwuz mix of indie, pop, retro-kitsch and electro). But Schwuz is not just about hands-in-the-air, this is where you come for art installations, LGBT-friendly talks and presentations, live music, food and coffee, gossip and a warm welcome every time. Look out for the regular ‘London Calling’ Britpop indie nights as well as the ‘Madonnamania’ (self-explanatory) parties.
In 1999, Monster Ronson – aka Ron Rineck – moved to Berlin from Salt Lake City with $7,000 in his pocket. As his savings dwindled, he began sleeping in his car, bought a second-hand karaoke machine, and soon was driving to squat houses all over Europe, throwing karaoke parties and getting paid to do it. Eventually, he saved up enough to open his very own karaoke bar and today Monster Ronson’s Ichiban Karaoke is packed out most nights of the week. Aspiring divas can belt out songs in one of several different karaoke booths, some small and intimate, others complete with their own stage area where transsexual hosts often compete on weekends.
Gay saunas in Berlin
A relatively new addition to Berlin’s sauna scene, Kreuzberg’s Der Boiler is a local favourite, renowned for its lively steam room and maze-like cruising area. Cabins, saunas and chillout areas all combine to provide a pretty opulent experience and the guests are always a variable mix. Clean, cool and contemporary interiors make this the ideal spot to hunt down some steamy action.
Tucked in the first courtyard (buzz for entry), this has become a big favourite, especially with students and youngsters, and, on Sunday afternoon, those P’bergers who failed to pick up on Saturday night. Facilities include dry sauna, steam room, whirlpool,cycle jet, solarium, a shop stocked with toys and lubricants, and cabins equipped with TV and VCR on a first-come, first-served basis. Internet access, too. During the week, there’s a variety of medicinal and therapeutic massage treatments on offer.
This huge labyrinth of sin with 250 lockers and 80 cabins has been given a major revamp in recent years – at least on the first floor. Upstairs has a spa feel, while downstairs retains elements of the place’s former Brazillian theme. There is a bar, cinema, dry and steam saunas, a massage area, pool, plunge bath and jungle-style cruising area. Check the website for regularly changing theme nights, such as foam parties and a fantasy do called Splash Dreams.