As a truly year-round destination for gay travellers of all stripes, there’s certainly no bad time to come to Berlin, but late June with its Christopher Street Day (Berlin’s equivalent to Gay Pride), Kreuzberg CSD (its alternative Gay Pride) and Stadtfest, (its popular street party) are obvious highlights.
Things kick off with the raucous Stadtfest (City Festival) on June 20, 21. This long-standing event takes place in the gayest area of the city, Schöneberg, once the haunt of Christopher Isherwood during the Weimar era, and famous as the setting for Cabaret.
The area of West Berlin around Nollendorfplatz is where you’ll find the largest concentration of gay bars, cafes, restaurants, hotels and nightclubs in the city anyway, but over Stadtfest this grows exponentially, with almost every gay entity in the city having a stall, a float or a truck on the streets that throng with visitors – straight and gay – all day long on both days. There are several stages with live acts, cocktails and beers everywhere and street food in all directions.
Hot on Stadtfest’s heels the following weekend is Gay Pride proper, known locally as Christopher Street Day after the street in New York where the modern day gay liberation movement began with the Stonewall riots in 1969. This is a citywide event and starts on June 27 with a huge march through the centre of Berlin attracting tens of thousands of colourfully attired participants.
The march begins on Kudamm at midday and ends at the Brandenburg Gate at 4pm, where the crowds stay to see a huge show that goes on until around midnight. The atmosphere couldn’t be more carnivalesque and fun, though if speeches about gay rights in German aren’t your thing, then there’s plenty of music, drinking and the green spaces of Tiergarten to enjoy instead.
This being Berlin though, there’s of course a reaction against such mainstream and consumerist events, and that’s perfectly encapsulated in the highly alternative, Kreuzberg CSD celebrations on the same day. This is where those who identify more as ‘queer’ than ‘gay’ might want to head, for a far more challenging and politically diverse demonstration that begins at 4pm at Platz der Luftbrücke and ends a few hours later at Oranienplatz, where an equally anarchic street party is held.
The entire event is certainly more ‘Berlin’ in the common understanding of the word, and would always be my personal choice over the mass demos of CSD proper.
If crowds, street parties and demos aren’t so much your thing, then there’s still endless choice for gay and lesbian visitors to Berlin, both in late June and during the rest of the year. As with the gay pride celebrations, the city quite neatly divides for the rest of the year between mainstream Schöneberg and far edgier districts of Kreuzberg and East Berlin in terms of the different crowds who frequent each area. Many younger gay travellers find themselves making the mistake of assuming that everything goes on in Schöneberg, only to find themselves constantly travelling east for the more adventurous and cool happenings that are to be found in Kreuzberg, Neukölln and Friedrichshain.
If the traditional gay village (Soho or West Village style) is what you’re after then Schöneberg’s Nollendorfplatz is indeed the place for you. Try long-standing bar Hafen, a well-known meeting place for gay men of all ages, or the younger crowd at Blond, a popular pre-clubbing spot. Clubbing in Schöneberg is centred on Connection, though many just keep to bar hopping until the early hours.
If you want to explore the more alternative, younger and mixed gay scene then try eclectic masterpiece Roses and bearded hipster central Möbel Olfe in Kreuzberg, perhaps the two best queer bars in the city, and both places popular with lesbians. Alternative clubbing is centred on Berghain, perhaps the world’s most famous nightclub, where Saturday and Sunday are the gayest nights. Elsewhere, revolving monthly parties Cocktail d’Amore and Homopatik continue to attract huge crowds with their days-long parties, stellar DJ lineups and outside chillout spots.