How queer-friendly Berlin sets itself apart

Germany is ranked among the most LGBTQ-friendly countries in the world, and its capital is the queer-friendliest city. DW's Chiponda Chimbelu reports

Berlin has the highest number of LGBTQ individuals living in one place (Photo: DW)
Berlin has the highest number of LGBTQ individuals living in one place (Photo: DW)


Berlin is Germany's most LGBTQ-friendly city. And yes, I can't count how many times people (mostly straight) have asked me if Cologne isn't Germany's LGBTQ-friendliest city, but my conclusion is based on research and lived experience.

Let's start with the basics. Berlin is the country's most populous city. It has the highest number of LGBTQ individuals living in one place – with more resources and infrastructure to bring them together, including the city's transportation network. And if you're new to the city and want to explore quickly, you can head to Nollendorfplatz. That's where many queer bars, clubs and cafés are located.

Every once in a while, I pay a visit to one of my favorite queer bookstores there, Eisenherz. That is where I always go to buy novels with LGBTQ characters in English, French or German.

But for anyone looking for a hot party tip or even a queer-friendly event on a given day, I'd suggest heading to the webpage of the local queer magazine Siegessäule. It has an overview of things to do every day, and it also lists mental and sexual health resources tor LGBTQ individuals.

Berlin directness

Having lived in Bonn for seven years, I often visited the nearby metropolis of Cologne, especially the city's Schaafenstrasse, which is known for its gay bars and cafés. People were friendlier there and more open than in many other German cities.

Most people say that Munich is uptight, Hamburg snobby, and Berliners are known for their directness, which some find impolite. And though experiences can differ depending on where one goes and what they do, I find some truth in these generalizations. For example, directness helps Berliners articulate what they want, regardless of their identities.

One doesn't have to be shy about experiencing the German capital as a sex positive place where people are freer and more open about their sexual and gender identities than in other parts of the country.

Yet, Berlin's queer scene is multicultural and not only made up of native Berliners. In addition to LGTBQ people who call the city home and appreciate its open-minded atmosphere, Berlin also attracts queer tourists from all over the world. Each year, the Christopher Street Day parade in July draws upwards of 100,000 people, making it Germany's biggest Pride Event.

A dark side

Nevertheless, there's a very dark side to the German capital. It is home to Germany's highest number of queer and transphobic incidents – 456 of the 1,005 cases registered in Germany in 2021, according to figures from the German Interior Ministry. Perhaps the numbers may have to do with a higher queer population and a readiness to report incidents.

However up to 90 percent of queer and transphobic attacks in Germany aren't reported, according to the German Lesbian and Gay Federation (LSVD). However, it says authorities in the capital do a better job of recording such incidents than in other cities.

Berlin is the only German city where queer people in my social circle have been physically attacked for their identities. So staying safe when going out is always on my mind. It's always better to avoid places that you are unfamiliar with, especially when it is dark. And perhaps taking a taxi is the safer choice when moving around in the wee hours of the morning.

But despite some of these considerations, I still feel more comfortable in Berlin than I ever have in Cologne, Frankfurt, Hamburg, or Munich. That's because there are many diverse and intersectional communities — African, Black, queer, the list goes on.

'A continuous tradition of queerness'

There's a documented history of queer life in Berlin, and that can make a difference because LGBTQ people have been visible here for more than a hundred years.

The world's first sexology research institute was founded by the gay physician and sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld in 1919. And it was in Berlin's Tiergarten, where visitors can find a memorial to the gay victims of the Holocaust at the edge of the park today.

The German capital's queer history is shown in a Netflix documentary, "Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate" which was released on June 29. In it, filmmaker Benjamin Cantu explores the history behind Eldorado – a Berlin nightclub that was popular during the Weimar Republic in the 1920s.

"It's often said that Berlin's most continuous tradition is its queerness and hedonistic lifestyle (or liberalness) because we can relate so much to life a hundred years ago, in the 1920s," Cantu told me.

And it's something historians like Robert Beachy have pointed to, as well.

"(Berlin) played a huge role in the creation of a subculture and a visible community of individuals who identified themselves in a particular way," explains the author of "Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a modern identity."

"This played a huge role in the creation of a subculture and a visible community of individuals who identified themselves in a particular way (in Berlin)," Beachy told me.

The Nazis shut it down in 1932 along with other places that were frequented by gays, lesbians and other gender nonconforming people. As a result of that disruption of queer life during Nazi rule, there is no juncture between queer life then and today.

But a century on, one can walk the streets of Berlin knowing that queer people were visible here a hundred years ago. And every time I visit my favorite queer bookstore Eisenherz on Motzstrasse I walk past the building that once housed Eldorado. The neighborhood is still a magnet for LGBTQ individuals from around the world.

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