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The Gay Berliner: Brandishing the big 4-0

Walter Crasshole goes out to celebrate two long-standing queer institutions

Image for The Gay Berliner: Brandishing the big 4-0

Photo by Prokura Nepp

Walter Crasshole goes out to celebrate two long-standing queer institutions

Image for The Gay Berliner: Brandishing the big 4-0
Illustration by Agata Sasiuk

Everyone’s told that things get better with age and while I never would have agreed in my twenties, as I crawl through my early thirties it’s something I have to come to grips with. As it were, two towering icons of queer Berlin, or Berlin in general, are celebrating the ripe age of 40 this summer and show no signs of slowing down: SO36 (Aug 11) and CSD (July 28), Germany’s Gay Pride. Let’s get up close and personal, shall we?

I’ll start with SO36, which isn’t in name a queer institution, but its support for queerness over four decades has in part kept it alive. In the early days, openly gay and queer performers like Berlin’s Die Tödliche Doris or England’s Throbbing Gristle were welcomed there with open arms. This is the kind of stuff that makes the punk faggot in me shriek with joy. But it was really in the 1990s and beyond that “Esso” started showing its punk approach to not just being “punk”. From 1995 to 2005, it was their Electric Ballroom that was “important for fully establishing techno [in Berlin],” as photographer Christian Vagt explained to me, and drawing a truly mixed gay and straight crowd. And a mini-revolution happened when Fatma Squad and DJ Ipek started the legendary gay “oriental techno night” in 1997 – still a line-draw to this day. Meanwhile, Kiezbingo is hosted by two drag queens, Gisela Sommer and Inge Borg, and the Ich Bin Ein Berliner concert series, celebrating its tenth birthday on August 10, boasts several queer-leaning acts.

SO36 hasn’t been without its minor hiccups in operational capacities (there’s a book out there explaining that, hun), but for the most part, it’s remained strong and independent by sticking with its punk ethos and supporting queer Berlin along the way.

And what about the CSD, which actually began in 1979 but is celebrating its 40th edition? It’s popular in alternative circles to flat out dismiss the CSD, but doing so erases the history of gay, lesbian and trans* people who fought hard for rights back in the 1970s and through today, and especially when the AIDS crisis was hitting. It’s even in the name: Christopher Street Day – referring to the Stonewall riots in 1969 in which trans and gay people stood up to an oppressive police raid in New York City. Throughout the years, hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ* people have marched and celebrated for their own struggles. But it’s not without cost. A quick look at 2017’s sponsors show Uber, Coca-Cola and quite a few corporate alcohol brands among them. Not exactly the independent fighting spirit that I’m hoping to support.

The big 4-0 is scary to a lot of people, but neither of these two seem ashamed to brandish the numerals. One strong and independent, the other ashy, brash and moneyed. And although my heart lies closer to SO36 (which also pitched in for Kreuzberg’s now defunct alternative Pride), I’ll take part in celebrations for both. The idea itself deserves honouring. And what the hell else will I do with no alternative?