Queer activist and neighbourhood personality Richard Stein has been making noise and building bridges around Kreuzberg 36 for decades through three iconic bars: Café Anal, Möbel Olfe and Südblock.
Stein’s bright blue eyes beam from his ever-smiling face; his overall appearance is that of a cuddly Viking. He doesn’t claim sole credit for transforming the Kreuzberg junction from junkie wasteland to all-inclusive gay-friendly hotspot, but his naturally sunny disposition makes him the anchor point for the denizens of Kotti.
What is giving back? It’s just part of, ja, living together, you know?
Stein moved to West Berlin in the early 1980s, but it wasn’t until February 1990, when he assembled a 14-person gay collective and opened the provocatively named Café Anal on Muskauer Straße, that he got truly entrenched in the Kiez. While Gewerbeamt staff scoffed at the name (but found no legal grounds to reject it), parents in the neighbourhood accepted the place enough to bring their kids to the bar’s “Anal-Kinderfest”.
Three years after Anal’s 1999 closure, Stein and friends opened their new bar at the end of Dresdener Straße, naming it after the ex-furniture store that once anchored Kottbusser Tor: Möbel Olfe. The bar became an instant success, attracting gay and lesbian crowds not just from Kreuzberg, but from all over Berlin. When the Easyjetset followed, it bothered no one at Olfe, which remains as lively as ever.
However, as Stein says, “No Turkish mommy will go to Möbel Olfe.” So, with the aim of creating a space everyone in the neighbourhood could use, Stein teamed up with three people, including Tülin Duman, director of the Turkish LGBT organisation GLADT e.V., to open Südblock in 2010. The result was a brunch centre, local bar, evening party spot and political meeting point – the idea of the Turkish anti-eviction protest camp next door was hatched within Südblock’s very walls. The expansive glassfronted venue is patronised by Kreuzbergers new and old, from punks and queers to Turkish grandmothers and blue-overalled construction workers. It’s the kind of place where you might end up sitting with Hans-Christian Boese and Louis Schneider, the owners of the Freiluftkino Kreuzberg, or being served a drink by Marit Östberg, the critically acclaimed director of two of The Knife’s most recent videos.
Südblock is decidedly more than a Kneipe, just as Stein is more than just a barman. But if you ask Stein about his need to give back to the Kiez, he just replies, “What is giving back? It’s just part of, ja, living together, you know?”
Originally published in issue #117, June 2013