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June 20, 2010

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If you’re looking for gay pride this month, gay pride you shall find – two times over. As the city gears up for another round of celebrations on June 26, we find out why Berlin's CSD is doubly fabulous.

The mainstream Christopher Street Day parade (June 19) is a Berlin institution, with its disco tunes, glitzy cocktails, dykes, fags, trannies, fairies and fabulous people dressed as angels (which are, incidentally, the theme this year). It takes its name from the Stonewall riots that famously happened on Christopher Street in New York on June 28, 1969 – in Germany and Switzerland, “CSD” is synonymous with gay pride.

 Approximately 60 flatbed trucks participate, with the majority promoting political messages; all the major political parties will be in attendance, as well as the trade union Ver.di, Vivantes HIV clinic and Mann-O-Meter, a youth-oriented community project. Corporate floats are not allowed, but exceptions are sometimes made for companies that have a specific LGBT tie-in: this year’s parade featured a float devoted to IKEA’s diversity program.

CSD Berlin does, however, welcome a long list of typical corporate sponsors: the event costs €200,000 to put on and is funded by these backers, as well as drink sales, donations and membership fees. The city doesn’t put any money into it, but Berlin also has its official stamp all over the parade, from our “...und das ist gut so!” mayor Klaus Wowereit’s participation to the Brandenburg Gate finale. But amid the glossy politics, some rather interesting radical recognition took place. As well as speeches, DJ sets and musical performances, this year’s finale boasted an appearance by the renowned gender theorist and feminist Judith Butler, who was offered a “Civil Courage Prize” for her work on heteronormativity. But this boast turned out to be bittersweet, as the most interesting person at CSD Berlin did the most interesting thing at the event: she turned the award down. On stage, she took her moment to reject the award on the grounds that CSD is racist and too commercial. She also took the moment to plug a different pride event, the Transgenialer CSD.

There are several ways of approaching political liberation, so when CSD Berlin decided to charge ‘float fees’ in 1997, some left-wingers with a strictly non-commercial agenda refused to pay. In protest, they showed up in the “Rattenwagen” (rat wagon) inspired by former CDU chairman Klaus Landowsky’s notorious anti-leftwing statement: “Where there’s trash, the rats are breeding.” The Rattenwagen was a flatbed truck decorated with a large paper maché rat and a bathtub full of mud, in which the pranksters bathed. As the day progressed, some of them started to take a more literal aim at their targets: mud began to fly. CSD Berlin’s organizers were not amused, and the police were called. This split inspired a second gay pride event in Berlin: Transgenialer CSD (“Transgenialer” is a play on transgender and genialer, or “genius”, that the original organizers came up with; June 26). Its politics are unabashedly left-wing and it runs on zero sponsorship.

This year’s motto speaks for the Transgenialers’ heartfelt radicalism: “Gewaltige Zeiten – Gewaltiger Queerer Wiederstand”. Gewaltig can mean “massive” or “violent”. But despite all the rabble-rousing (or perhaps because of it), there’s still plenty of fun to be had. This year’s program includes plenty of politically charged gender-play and drag performances, contributions from left-wing and human rights groups, and four underground queer music groups, spanning from trash electro to hard rock/ electro hard rock to some deliciously fun hip hop by the likes of Miss Fish, Randy Twigg, Monotekktoni and Scream Club. All the usual lefty causes (anti-racism, anticapitalism, anti-gentrification) will be represented, but you can bet the protesters will add plenty of glitter!

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June 20, 2010

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