"Berlin meant boys". Sorry to shatter any illusions as to why the creator of Sally Bowles and Mister Norris came to Berlin, but as Christopher Isherwood himself puts it, getting laid was actually his main motivation. Although the days are long gone when gay intellectuals fled the constraints of pre-war England, Berlin still acts as a magnet for those with same-sex inclinations. Looking for love, romance or just a casual shag with someone of the same gender? If the hype is true, then you're in the right city. Or are you?
The statistics are certainly on your side. According to local government estimates around about 10 percent of the city's population are that way inclined. And as far as the social life goes you shouldn't exactly be bored. At last count there were 145 cafes and bars, 59 restaurants and 35 nightclubs catering to a gay clientele. Not all of them necessarily that good, but they're there. And of course, if you just want to cut to the chase and are feeling too stingy to shout someone a drink, there's always the Tiergarten. Whatever your thing, as long as you manage to get past the bland, trendoid uniformity that is so often referred to as "the scene", you stand a fair chance of finding likeminded souls: buff boyz, moustachioed musclemen, tanktopped trendies. (Are you going to tell them that tanktops went out with trance, or shall I?) Whether your look is out, in or not yet happened, rest assured, it exists in this city somewhere. Unfortunately.
And yes, there is even a little something for lesbians, who contrary to popular belief don't just sit around knitting, talking about women's rights. Well, maybe some do, but getting off your head on a Friday night is not necessarily the sole preserve of gay men. Compared to many other cities, where girl-on-girl action is restricted to a hearty, feminist debate, Berlin is a veritable Eldorado for chicks looking for Miss Right. According to Manuela Kay, of Siegessäule, Berlin's gay and lesbian city magazine, Germany's capital has the best infrastructure for lesbians in Europe. Nevertheless, as usual, it is still the blokes who get most of the attention. Just flick through any of the gay listings city-rags, and you'll see the plethora of events on offer for the homo male, against which the stuff for the girls seems paltry.
Did someone say that the gay scene is self-seeking and hedonistic? Well, they were right, although probably a wee bit jealous too. What's wrong with hedonism anyway? If you can actually be bothered, there are, however, other things to do, which don't involve alcohol, bars and clubs. Admittedly, though it can take a bit more finding, and you might be a little bored once you get there. Screenings of gay films, discussion and support groups for every minority you can think of, as well as quirky queer stage events and literature readings.If you're on the pull though, take note of the the worthier the cause, the less attractive the fella. Unfortunate but true. Ironically it is a lot easier to stumble on the shady activities which the more hard-core care to indulge in, possibly because the full-on publicity seems to spring up at you in the gay press: spice up Sunday afternoons with "Kaffee, Kuchen und Perversionen" at one Neukölln establishment or leave your clothes in a black bin-liner at the door of a dodgy joint in Prenzlauer Berg. Of course "fist-fucking, naked piss-orgies" aren't for everyone. But then, neither are literature readings.
However much there is to do, human nature dictates that we are never satisfied. Never mind that you grew up in a hick town, where your only contact with "gay culture" was the Christmas TV repeats of The Wizard of Oz. Before you know it, you find yourself complaining that the guys are too trendy / too square, the club too big / too small or the music too soft / too hard. A short spell in my hometown on the coast of North-West England, where men aren't gay but rather "confirmed bachelors" with an interesting penchant for cravats, usually cures of me of that particular bout of dissatisfaction with gay life in Berlin. By comparison, the myriad of activities for the third sex in Berlin is in theory limited only by the imagination. Why, then, are so many gay men still single, despite professing to want otherwise? No idea, and don't expect this column to give you the answer. If I knew that, I'd have a boyfriend myself. What this column will do for you though, apart from improve your quality of life immeasurably, is inspire you to get out, get down and get it on. Give yourself a treat and discover what is going on in the seedy underworld of gay Berlin. And if you're not gay? Do it anyway. It could be an eyeopener.