The Gay Berliner’s very gay first decade in Berlin
This month marks the beginning of my second decade in this verdammte Stadt. Yes, I’ve been here for 10 long, beautiful, brow-furrowing years. I’m officially German now, I’m definitely a Berliner and, through it all, I’ve remained pretty damn gay. My 10 years may just be a flash-in-the-pan of queer orgiastic mayhem in the German capital – nonetheless, so much has happened.
Hell, the city was run by a homosexual when I got here. When I arrived in 2009 at the tender age of 26, Berlin was presided over by the openly gay SPD “party mayor” Klaus Wowereit. He also gave Berlin turns of phrases that are unforgettable: “Ich bin schwul – und das ist auch gut so.” (“I’m gay – and that’s also a good thing.”) and Berlin’s unofficial motto: “Arm aber sexy” (“Poor but sexy”). At least the first one still applies, but damn if they both aren’t great statements. Wowereit did a lot for the city’s rep, but let’s not forget he also sold off large swaths of public housing and is the man responsible for the BER mess that we still find ourselves in. You win some, you lose some.
I also saw me some gay marriage happen since I got here. Yup, remember in 2017 when Angela Merkel made Homoehe happen in one of the shrewdest political moves of all time? In 2009, in the eyes of most people we already had gay marriage. Eingetragene Lebenspartnerschaften – registered partnerships. For some on the very left, going “full gay marriage” was still something to fight against. I understood the reasons to resist marriage, but now that it’s done, the point seems to be moot. So here we are.
But forget about high-level representation. The things on the ground have gone through changes too. Berlin’s biggest queer social institution got even bigger for one thing. I arrived when SchwuZ occupied the basement of Melitta Sundstrom on Mehringdamm – what’s now known as Maze. I couldn’t imagine anything more. When it moved to its new, enormous premises on Rollbergstraße, it wasn’t their first move in their 40-year history, but it was hard for me to swallow. I was totally attached to that sweaty, smoky, dirty basement. But they’ve totally done great with their new Neukölln digs.
Meanwhile, our holiday in Berlin, ‘Alternative Pride’ – first the TCSD, then KCSD, then XCSD – imploded in 2016. In a spiral of infighting with no foreseeable solution (hint, hint: it was a Palestine-Israel issue), a two-decade-old institution ended. And many queers who didn’t feel a part of mainstream Pride were left with nothing. It was quite a bitter moment for me, too. Some of my best memories come from the Alternative Pride (not to mention my best orgies). And nothing has risen up since to really take its place.
That’s not to say Berlin’s progressiveness is disappearing. When I arrived, one party was spearheading a trend that is still going strong today. PORK’s wild, sweaty, debaucherous and weirdly glamourous aura opened up Berlin’s darkrooms to all genders at Ficken3000. To introduce women (and all other genders) to the traditionally gay male realm of anonymous sex was something to behold. This now happens in a few darkrooms across the city (unfortunately to the chagrin of older gay men) and it was witnessed last month at BOAR, the alternative fetish Easter party.
It is usually the men that have a hard time stepping out of their comfort zones. There are some notable queers newly doing that though. The rise of the RuPaul, professionalised form of drag has taken Berlin by storm in the past few years. When I arrived it was usually Polititunten in cheap wigs and if they went all out, some €2 lipstick from Rossmann’s. Actually a great look and fully Berlin’s own that had developed into an alternative tradition over the years, but in no way did it approach the high-gloss-on-heels look we have today.
More a matter of how you look at it, it has been said that there are those disappearing from the spotlight: lesbians. Lesbian visibility has been more-and-more a topic over the past years. And it’s true: the lack of lesbian nightlife establishments is painfully obvious. On the other hand, four years into my stay here, Manuela Kay and Gudrun Fertig established Special Media publishing, making the city’s queer mag, Siegessäule, and the country’s lesbian mag, L-Mag, very visibly run by two boss lesbians.
I can’t touch on all the things that happened in Berlin over 10 years, but celebrating my Jubiläum, the immensity of shit that went down – both good and bad – still has Berlin on the map as the coolest, queerest city of them all. Here’s to 10 more queer years!