Last Saturday, Christopher Street Day returned to Brandenburg Gate. Berlin’s first post-pandemic Pride parade attracted 65,000 people (compared to almost a million two years ago). There were fewer trucks, to reduce risks of infection, but otherwise the event was the same as always: a supposedly apolitical celebration of rainbow capitalism, sponsored by BMW, Bayer and the CDU.
Just a few kilometres away, at a radically different demonstration, a speaker called out: “Pride is political!” And it’s true: Pride is supposed to commemorate the Stonewall riot against police violence in 1969. But in the last few decades, official events have been co-opted, so numerous alternatives have popped up.
Berlin’s Internationalist Queer Pride began on Saturday at 5pm at Hermannplatz and marched slowly through Kreuzberg to Oranienplatz. There were 5,000 people with plenty of party vibes and fetish gear, but also plenty of radical slogans.
“We are not free until everyone is free!” declared a speaker with bright pink hair. The event was all about solidarity. There were flags of the Mapuche, Kurdish and Palestinian peoples fighting for self-determination. There were speeches by Black trans refugees. And just like in the early days of queer liberation, people chanted, “Fuck the police!”
These days, police drape themselves in rainbow flags once a year, but these same police continue to persecute queers. I saw this in New York City two years ago, where police harassed a trans liberation march at the exact same time that the mayor was leading the official Pride demonstration a few blocks away. Berlin was no exception here: police arrested at least one steward at Internationalist Queer Pride, after they had been badgered by a counter-demonstrator.
The Berlin Left is far more international than just a few years ago, and typical lefty positions are replacing weird German hangups.
In Berlin, alternative Pride events like the Transgeniale CSD have existed since 1998, but they have been racked by controversy. Why? Because many German leftists think they can call themselves anticapitalists and simultaneously support one particular capitalist state. At the so-called Radical Queer March in 2019, the organisers actually called the police (!) to eject a group of Israeli and Palestinian “Queers for Palestine.” In 2016, there was even a case where German politicians from the SPD and DIE LINKE physically attacked Jews and Palestinians who had dared to hold up protest signs against a speech by the Israeli ambassador. It was impossible to hold a truly emancipatory protest while censoring criticism of Apartheid.
Now, just two years later, Berlin’s lefty queer scene has undergone a sea change. Last Saturday, “Queers for Palestine” were not confined to the back of the demonstration. Every speech talked about struggles again colonialism, imperialism and racism, and how they intersect with queer struggles.
What caused the change? Two things. Firstly, the Black Lives Matter movement made the whole world look at the legacy of colonialism with new eyes — and this includes the colonisation of Palestine. Secondly, Berlin’s demographics are changing rapidly. At Internationalist Queer Pride, I heard just a handful of people speaking German. The Berlin Left is far more international than just a few years ago, and typical lefty positions are replacing weird German hangups.
This is all thanks to immigration, and especially Jewish immigration, to the city. People at the march identified themselves with such signs as “Jewish queer for a free Palestine,” “Anti-Colonial Jewish Princess,” or “Jew for BDS(M).” Germany’s political establishment likes to accuse anyone even vaguely critical of Israel of being an antisemite. But such defamation is recognisably absurd when so many of the critics are Jewish or Israeli.
Almost exactly 50 years ago, Berlin’s modern queer movement began demonstrating and occupying houses. They called for the complete liberation of all oppressed people. Decades of co-optation have made the official Christopher Street Day conservative. But a sector of the queer movement is recovering some of that original radicalism, and Internationalist Queer Pride was a historic day for the Left in Berlin.
Nathaniel Flakin is working on an anticapitalist Berlin guide book, including a chapter on the history of queer struggles in the city. It will be published by Pluto Press in April 2022.