February is reliably the coldest month in Berlin, but no matter how cold it gets here, it can’t beat where I spent my holidays: Alaska. Try ringing in the New Year in -18C weather. It didn’t freeze the gay away, but stuck in a 95km drive northwest of the nearest big city, I was on an anthropological expedition through my iPhone’s touchscreen. I spent many a late evening on Grindr chatting with the local homosexual fauna and getting invited to something called “car play” which is in no way a part of the Berlin gay vernacular.
In comparison with Berlin, one thing really stood out to me: Alaska seemed to be a lot more diverse. The guys were of different body types, ages and styles, working class being particularly prevalent. In every picture, it seemed like they were relatively content with who they were and not trying to prove anything. Maybe Alaska only seemed more diverse because as of late, Berlin’s homos seem to have become more homogenized. In the past, Berlin, and particularly Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain and Neukölln, attracted a certain kind of bohemian: alternative, rough around the edges, hungry for the unknown and not always conventionally attractive.
Every time I open Grindr in my flat, I get a checkerboard of square-jawed start-up clones. Either equipped with man-buns or the close-shaved buzz-bowl top. All with a load of tattoos so fresh, the ink is still dripping off them – a sign that getting tattoos isn’t what sets you apart from Spießer society (and this term doesn’t just apply to Germans), but allows them to fit in. Everyone looks like they are ready to take part in a reality show called something like Deutschland sucht den Schwul.
Is Berlin a victim of its own success as the place to be? For years Cologne was known as the gay capital of the Bundesrepublik, its infamous Bermuda Dreieck drawing the typical mainstream gay into its orbit for nights of house music and cranberry vodkas. But now Berlin is the gay capital, instead of just the alternative gay capital. Not only does it make the kind of people one encounters in Berlin less diverse and interesting, it’s more expensive too. The kind of people that never would have set foot in Kreuzberg five years ago are crawling all over Kottbusser Tor in a wave of gay gentrification. Inevitably, more cash goes to the front of the line, pushing out those marginalised, alternative queers that have been building this city and these specific areas for decades.
Maybe we need to stop broadcasting that Berlin is the coolest place ever and we’ll stop attracting the kind of people who think cool is just designer clothing and ordering Uber Eats from the hippest fusion restaurant of the month. Alaska doesn’t broadcast how cool it is to anyone and that’s what made its gay selection so appealing to me. Berlin never used to feel the need to broadcast itself as the coolest either, it was content to be its own secret. Maybe Berlin should take a cue from Alaska and chill.