Video: Folsom Europe Berlin 2009 – street fair
Berlin's origins go back more than 750 years. In 1701 Berlin became the capital of the kingdom of Prussia and in 1871 of the German Empire. Although Prussia was ruled by a gay king from 1740 till 1786 (Fredrick II), Berlin's gay career started only hundred years later. In the 1920s (the ›Golden Twenties‹) Berlin was seen as the city with the most lively and advanced gay subculture in Europe. That, of course, ended after 1933 when Hitler and the Nazis were given power in Germany. (A memorial for gays persecuted by the Nazi regime was opened in Berlin in 2008, long overdue after more than 60 years.
After the end of World War II in 1945 and with the start of the cold war Berlin had been divided into West Berlin (controlled by the Western Allies) and East Berlin (controlled by the Soviet Union).
West Berlin, although an island in communist ruled East Germany (G.D.R.), became the gay capital of Germany again. Not only due to its population of about 3 million people, but partially also because the compulsory military service of West Germany (F.R.G.) didn't apply to men in West Berlin, which attracted many men to move to West Berlin. After homosexual contacts had been legalised in 1969, the gay scene and gay movement in West Berlin grew fast in the 1970s and 1980s.
The legal situation of gay men in East Germany was the best within the Eastern Bloc and even better than in some Western democracies, but in an authoritarian state like this gays and lesbians had no rights to organize themselves in a civil rights movement and there were only a few possibilities to develop a gay scene and subculture. End of the 1980s the situation improved, and the peak of that process was the premiere of the legendary movie ›Coming Out‹ – ironically in the night of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
In 2001 Berlin got an openly gay mayor, Klaus Wowereit from the Social Democrats. To prevent his outing by opponents during the election campaign he outed himself on a party congress with the legendary words ›Ich bin schwul, und das ist auch gut so‹ (I'm gay and that's just fine).
Traditionally, there have been gay neighborhoods in the districts of Schöneberg and Kreuzberg (both in the western part of Berlin) as well as in Prenzlauer Berg (eastern part). Recently, the district of Friedrichshain developed as another area with a couple of gay-friendly clubs and bars. Most of the gay hotels, bars, cafes and shops in Berlin are located in the Schöneberg district which had dance halls for men already back in the 1920s.
Annual gay highlights in Berlin are, among others, New Year's Eve, the Berlinale film festival in February (including the Queer Film Award Teddy), the Easter fetish week, the gay & lesbian street festival in Berlin-Schöneberg in June, the Gay Pride parade end of June, and Folsom Europe in September.
You will notice in our guide that many gay bars and clubs don't indicate closing hours. That's mainly due to the fact that Berlin has no closing hour anymore. Moreover, Berlin's public transport system, urban railway (S-Bahn), underground (U-Bahn), trams and busses, operates the whole night and at least half-hourly at weekends.