By: Kylie Condon
Lez Explore: Berlin
Berlin is a mecca for LGBTQ persons or anyone who really feels “other.” It’s a city full of history, edgy art, and wild nightlife with bars that stay open past sunrise. I had heard from numerous people that this city was chock-full of great LGBTQ places to explore so naturally I was thrilled to dive right in and indulge in some currywurst (vegan of course). Wanting the full Berliner experience, I decided to start my trip with a little bit of history.
Schwules Museum (Gay Museum)
While Berlin is an accepting and free-spirited city today, you can’t talk about Berlin without addressing its history of horrific persecution during the Nazi reign. However, Berlin does own up to its regrettable past with plenty of moving memorials and detailed museums such as the Schwules Museum. The Schwules Museum, the world’s first gay museum, is located in the Tiergarten district near the beautiful park of the same name. The museum itself is fairly small, but has a lot of great photos and artifacts documenting a complex history. There was an interesting exhibit on the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute of Sex Research). The institute was founded by Magnus Hirschfeld in 1919 and made some of the earliest progress in LGBTQ research. Beyond being just a research facility, the institute also provided many services for the LGBTQ community such as counseling and education in sex, contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, and women’s rights. Very ahead of it’s time!
Unfortunately, in 1933 the Gestapo stormed the institute and burned all of its books and groundbreaking research. Once the war was over, Berlin slowly began rebuilding its queer community to the thriving community it is today. However, everything in the Schwules Museum is an important reminder of what came before us and what can happen if we don’t continue to stand up for our rights as a community. After feeling like I had a good grasp on the city’s LGBTQ history, I thought it was time to celebrate the city’s progress and have some fun.
Lesbisch-Schwules Stadtfest (Lesbian & Gay Festival)
I was fortunate to have my trip coincide with Lesbisch-Schwules Stadtfest, which is a big LGBTQ festival that occurs the weekend before Berlin pride. Though it only has “gay and lesbian” in its name, the festival is inclusive for everyone. Stadtfest is held in the Schöneberg neighborhood, which is arguably Berlin’s gayest area. The streets in the area shut down for a weekend when DJs, entertainers, food trucks, alcohol vendors, and lots and lots of rainbows line the streets of the open-air festival. I’ve been to pride festivals in a number of different cities, but this is by far the BIGGEST outdoor gay festival I’ve ever seen. Just when you think you’ve reached the end of it, there’s a whole new block of colorful vendors. I grabbed a “Wodka Red bull” aka a Vodka Red bull (don’t judge, I was tired from my travels) and took in the sights. This was the perfect place for a newbie to Berlin’s gay scene because there were plenty of booths full of helpful LGBTQ groups. A woman from one of these groups grabbed my map, circled several areas, and then scribbled down the names of a couple places. She told me I couldn’t go wrong in Berlin- nearly everywhere was accepting and a little gay. I thanked her and meandered over to watch a group of men, wearing authentic German lederhosen, dance together as I sipped my Wodka Red bull.
“Mädchendisko” at Möbel Olfe
I was eager to try out the first bar recommendation called Möbel Olfe located in the hip, east side Kreuzberg neighborhood and conveniently a block away from my Airbnb. Perfect, I could crawl home drunk if need be. Möbel Olfe is typically a mixed gay bar, but every Tuesday they have a ladies night called “Mädchendisko.” Excited to be in Berlin on a Tuesday, I strolled down my block to the bar. The bar was in a nondescript run-down looking building, as are most of Berlin’s coolest spots. I had planned on meeting a friend here who also happened to be visiting Berlin. We hadn’t seen each other in awhile and I mistakenly thought this would be a good place to catch up. The dive bar was overflowing with Berlin’s hippest lesbians. All of who seemed to know each other (the stereotype was alive and well). It was definitely cool seeing a large group of queer women in one bar, but it made getting a drink near impossible. Decidedly, this was a terrible place to catch up with a friend, but a great choice if you enjoy being pressed up against your local German lesbians… which I can definitely see the upside of as well. However, for the purposes of being able to hear a conversation and properly move around, my friend and I decided to check out a less-crowded option.
Luckily another bar recommendation, Roses, was about a five-minute walk away. It seemed to be an off-night so we had plenty of space to sit and hang out. The bar itself had an insane décor with kitschy art scattered about and pink fur lining the walls. I promise I wasn’t on drugs- there really was fur on the walls! However, I could imagine this being an amazing sensory playground for anyone that was high on something. Fun oldies were bumping throughout the bar and the drinks were stiff. As the night progressed, more and more people of all shapes, sizes, and sexualities filtered in taking over the disco ball lit dance floor. The overcrowding of the bar became more tolerable than the last because we were now good and drunk. It suddenly occurred to me that this wasn’t necessarily an off-night, it was more so a late night bar. Some gin and tonics later, I checked my phone and realized it was close to 5am. As much as I wanted to stay within those furry walls, I had a long flight the next day that I figured I should probably be somewhat sober for. I exited to the sun rising as people were still filtering in, only just beginning their “night” out in Berlin. The city may have a black mark on its history, but it has since evolved into an accepting, thriving metropolis for lesbians and other LGBTQ members alike. This is definitely a city that can be explored alone or with others; just prepare to be up all night because that’s when the city really comes alive.
**To follow Kylie and see more travel photos, follow her on Instagram @kyliegurrl