A city long-recognized for its freedom of expression, Berlin has a long history as an LGBTQ hotspot with edgy and alternative queer things to see.
Berlin has a long history as an LGBTQ hotspot, dating back to the flamboyant 1920s during the age of cabaret and the relatively liberal Weimar era when arts and culture flourished. In the past few decades, the city has rebuilt itself as one of the world’s most vibrant queer cities (it’s regularly voted among the most LGBTQ-welcoming cities). Berlin was one of the first cities with an identifiable gay neighborhood (or gayborhood): the district of Schöneberg. Between the two world wars, Schöneberg was home to Berlin’s cabaret community and a famous gay club the El Dorado. With writers, creatives, and performers like Marlene Dietrich and Christopher Isherwood calling Schöneberg home, it was a relatively safe spot for the city’s LGBTQ community—until the rise of fascism. Today, Schönberg is still the heart of Berlin’s gay community with famous clubs, sex shops, bookstores, and other gay-owned businesses. But with an expanded population and a thriving culture, Berlin’s queer life can be found across the city in every central neighborhood.
Things to Do in Berlin
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For a taste of Berlin’s gay history, the Schwules Museum is one of only a few museums around the world dedicated to documenting queer history. The archive includes photos, videos, and documents—many specifically about Berlin’s place in LGBTQ history. It’s only a few blocks from Nollendorfplatz, which has been Berlin’s most traditional “gay village” since the early 20th century. The rainbow-roofed U-Bahn subway station at Nollendorfplatz houses a “Pink Triangle” memorial for LGBTQ victims of persecution. And just down the street at An der Urania is an outdoor memorial titled Gegen das Vergessen (Never Forget) which memorializes AIDS victims. During the annual Christopher Street Day pride celebrations, Nollendorfplatz comes alive with street parties and even more rainbow flags donning the street corners and shop windows.
Other LGBTQ memorials and monuments in Berlin are located in Tiergarten park. A memorial plaque to Magnus Hirschfield, an early German sexologist and LGBTQ rights advocate, sits along the Spreeufer canal, while just steps away from the iconic Holocaust memorial commemorating Jewish victims is the Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted under the National Socialist Regime. Often overlooked, the memorial was opened in 2008 by Berlin’s gay mayor at the time, Klaus Wowereit. A solid stone slab, there’s a small inset which plays a looped video of two men and two women embracing in a kiss.
Bars and Clubs
To many, Berlin is a symbol of freedom—a place where expression of oneself is often safe and easy. A mecca of artists and bohemians, the recent influx of young and diverse individuals from around the world has only solidified the city’s identity as a place for creative freedom. That’s best represented by its hedonistic nightlife with all-weekend techno parties, underground DJ sets, sex-positive spaces, and a burgeoning and inclusive drag culture. Berlin’s most famous nightclub, Berghain, has legendary lines to get in and attracts the world’s best techno DJs, and while it’s a site worth experiencing, there are other queer clubs and spaces which attract crowds. The indie-queer club SchwuZ in Neukölln hosts live queer performers regularly, as well as weekly drag shows and pop dance parties (including a Madonnamania night every season).
In Schöneberg, there are a handful of popular gay bars along Motzstrasse such as Hafen, Heile Welt, and Tom’s Bar. They’re all cozy, comfortable spots with small dance floors. Tom’s Bar is famously men-only with a dark room in the basement and a popular two-for-one happy hour every Monday night. While there are plenty of gay bars and clubs in Schöneberg, there is also plenty of queer nightlife in Kreuzberg and Neukölln—Berlin’s newest trendy neighborhoods. Möbel Olfe is located in a former furniture shop at Kottbusser Tor with a white flag proudly proclaiming it a “homo bar.” Nearby, Roses on Oranienstrasse has rosy-pink, fur-lined walls and its late night, debaucherous crowd makes it one of the liveliest LGBTQ bars in Berlin.
Drag in Berlin
In a city as sexually liberated as Berlin, drag culture is an important part of the city’s nightlife. One of the city’s newest drag queens, PANSY, hosts parties around the city with her House of Presents—a drag show every Tuesday night at Monster Ronson’s Ichiban Karaoke. PANSY also puts on regular shows and parties at Berlin’s iconic punk-rock club SO36, including diva nights dedicated to today’s pop icons. At SilverFuture in Neükolln, expect alternative and edgy performances, as well as nights dedicated especially to Berlin’s LGBTQ refugee population. But Berlin’s longest-running drag performances come from Chantel at her Thursday night House of Shame parties at Suicide Circus. Nearby, the tiny Bar zum Schmutzigen Hobby hosts a Wednesday-night drag show, as well as screenings for Germany’s Next Top Model and other LGBTQ favorites.
Shopping and Cafes
While Berlin’s nightlife is unquestionably an important part of the city’s LGBTQ culture, there are also plenty of queer cafés and shops to entertain during daylight hours. The LGBTQ-owned bookshop Another Country hosts monthly LGBTQ storytelling nights and serves as a community meeting spot. And Prinz Eisenherz bookshop in Schöneberg is one of Germany’s most iconic LGBTQ bookstores with an extensive collection of books and magazines. Berlin’s sex-positive culture means there are also plenty of sex and fetish shops. The city also hosts Folsom Europe—one of the largest BDSM and leather subculture fairs. Shops like Bruno’s and Mister B sell a variety of gear, but also are helpful for finding out about LGBTQ things to discover in Berlin with their extensive local brochures, magazines, and guides. Don’t miss the monthly Siegessäule magazine which includes English-language listings in every issue.
Also in the neighborhood, the Romeo und Romeo café serves rainbow cakes and other café treats in a relaxed and friendly environment, while Café Berio just a short walk away has a popular outdoor patio where you’ll find LGBTQ visitors all day and night watching the passersby. For any LGBTQ tourist, there are countless options for things to see and do—any night of the week and throughout the city. As Berlin continues to grow and develop with more and more diverse populations, its queer culture is only going to continue to grow.