Berlin LGBT City Guide
The capital of Germany, Berlin has an active LGBT community and a long and incredible history in gay rights and culture. Schöneberg, one of the city’s many gayborhoods, is not only the biggest in the city but also the first gay district in the world.
How Gay-Friendly is Berlin?
The German gay rights movement began as early as 1896, when a small circle of Berliners began the publication of the first ever gay magazine ‘Der Eigene’.
However, Der Eigene was not written as a means of political activism, and only a year later when Magnus Hirschfeld, a German physician, creates the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee (as a subset of Berlin’s Institute for the Science of Sexuality) did the community start to actively lobby for the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people. His organization was not only the first of its kind in Europe, but the first gay-rights movement worldwide.
During the golden age of the 1920s and 30s, pre-Nazi Germany was incredibly tolerant towards the LGBT community allowing gay culture to thrive in Berlin, unlike anywhere else. The world’s first gayborhood, Schöneberg, prospered with its many gay and lesbian bars and nightclubs, as did gay artistic expression through films, music, theatre and print. The first ever gay demonstration also started in Berlin, the year was 1922.
But with the rise of fascism in 1933, the city’s homosexual community became under serious threat. Officials closed down bars and banned gay publications, forcing the LGBT community into hiding or into camps. Homosexuality would only be decriminalized many decades later. Today, contemporary Berlin actively promotes tourism in gay neighborhoods, including the historical Schöneberg.
LGBT Hotspots in Berlin
At least 5 of Berlin’s 12 boroughs qualify as gayborhoods, but none warrants a visit more than the historic Schöneberg. The area around Nollendorfplatz is the stuff of pink legend, given world-class rank by a history of celebrities such as English writer Christopher Isherwood and the very own Schöneberg-born screen icon, Marlene Dietrich. The whole area is effortlessly gay, with palpable remnants of an old-world European sensibility, sustaining a range of both new and well-established gay bars, cafés and shops.
As for the rest of the city, nearly everywhere feels gay-friendly. Pockets of lesbian and gay inspiration can be found in several quarters such as the gentrified Prenzlauer Berg, tourist hotspot Mitte, and the alternative and partly disused Friedrichshain (all in ex-East Berlin). It is in the latter that you’ll find one of the best clubs in town, Berghain. The building is a Communist-era power station transformed into a cathedral of techno on two floors, with the mixed Panorama Bar upstairs and Berghain below. Saturday nights the club is packed with gay men sweating it out on the dance-floor, or in the famous darkroom at the back. Another must when in Berlin, is to try one of the gay saunas. Der Boiler, the largest gay sauna in the city, is relatively new and has immediately become very popular for its clean, cool and contemporary interiors and maze-like cruising area.
On a more serious note, if gay history is of interest, make sure you’ll get a chance to visit The Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism, on the Ebertstraße, and the Schwules Museum on Lützowstraße, just outside the Schöneberg. Opened in 1985, the Schwules is a private institution dedicated to preserving, exhibiting, and discovering of gay and lesbian history, art, and culture.
LGBT Events in Berlin
From Europe’s BDSM and leather subculture street fair, Folsom Europe, to the Berlin Pride Celebrations, and popularly known as Christopher Street Day, Berlin has no shortage of big and bold pink events. Taking place in October, Hustlaball Berlin, is the world’s biggest Erotic benefit party with gay celebrities and renowned DJ’s; and another popular gay event.
LGBT-Friendly Hotels in Berlin
Take a look at some of our favorite digs in Berlin, or check all our LGBT-friendly hotels in Berlin here.
The gay-friendly Nhow Berlin is much more than a hotel. Europe’s first music hotel, this stylish 4 star is located right on the banks of the River Spree, and at the epicentre of Berlin’s music, fashion and artistic scene, on the fittingly-vibrant Friedrichshain district.From €89. Book the Nhow Berlin.
The Mandala Hotel
On the exhilarating Potsdamer Platz, the gay-friendly Mandala Hotel is all about purist luxury and sophistication. The hotel’s hip QIU lounge and FACIL restaurant have become destinations in themselves for the horde of Berlin socialites, bringing guests into contact with the local glitterati. From €210. Book The Mandala Hotel Berlin.
Nollendorfplatz. Oh-Berlin.com via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Schwules Museum. Visit Berlin Image by Dirk Mathesius via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Berlin Pride. BEROLINO via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)