Berlin: Poor but Sexy (and rich in gayness)
Berlin ist arm, aber sexy, “Berlin is poor, but sexy” or so declared the reunited city’s openly gay mayor Klaus Wowereit in 2004 when interviewed on the city’s tremendous reliance on federal funding and staggering unemployment rate. Even now, 22 years after reunification, Berlin is one of the least prosperous parts of Germany, but relishes in state supported infrastructure and culture that attracts so-called “creatives” from the world over. As gay culture is concerned, Berlin has something for every flavour and stripe…
- Magnotta arrested in Berlin: report
- Berlin’s Mayor Pits Pink against Green
- Thousands protest Pope’s anti-sex policies
As gay culture is concerned, Berlin has something for every flavour and stripe, from anti-capitalist queers squatting in caravans, to the trust-funded hipsters glutting the bars of Kreutzberg and Prenzlauer Berg, two respectively hip and less hip neighbourhoods. Indeed, Berlin is a city obsessed with its own hip-ness, and if you can get over that, you will have a very, very sexy time.
For travelers more familiar with European capitals like Paris and Rome, you will be struck by two things when you visit Berlin: so much of it is new or reconstructed; and there are gays everywhere. Berlin is one of the rare cities in the world where the gays have so thoroughly infiltrated all levels of culture and society that they no longer see the need to restrict themselves to a Village. Indeed, the very idea of restricting goes against the zeitgeist of this impossibly vibrant and culturally self-aware metropolis: the remnants of the demolished wall, both psychological and physical, are everywhere. Almost as soon as it fell, gays (and their brethren artists and social radicals), spread across the city in various pockets defined by cheap rent (or no rent, as was the case for the squatters) and now, there’s no turning back.
Staying at the Gay Hostel in Schöneberg was a geil way to get a feel for Berlin’s historic gay village, near the Nollendorfplatz U-Bahn. Resembling in many ways gay villages in North America, the strip of businesses along Motzstraße includes the popular Hafen bar where you can mingle with regulars and other tourists, and the infamous Tom’s Bar, where what goes down in the dark-room stays in the dark-room. Tom’s Hotel, a well-known part of the strip, is the well-to-do daddy of the nifty, tangerine-themed Gay Hostel, which you access off a side street. With only three rooms— spacious as they may be with lockers, high ceilings, and a common room— the Gay Hostel was a relaxing lift-off point to get spiffed up, away from the prying eyes of omnipresent hipsters. And for only 22 € a night in the heart of a European capital, it’s a steal. The concierge was cute too, a Greek-born film-maker who looked like he would have helped me with more than just directions.
The night I was there, my room-mates were an excessively attractive Italian, a Costa Rican boy who spoke 4 languages, and a British couple who were there for the weekend to party. As it so happened, we were all on our way to the same club that night. Bassy, the eclectic and Katacombes-like venue in gentrified Prenzlauer Berg is home to a weekly Thursday performance and club night called Chantal’s House of Shame, which was unanimously chosen by the tourists and insiders alike as the place to be on a Thursday (before which the young gays and trendy-bears might be spotted pre-drinking at Kreutzberg’s green-lit watering hole the Möbel-Olfe).
To my utter shock, the cover at Bassey was a whopping 10€ (about $14), which might sound normal for Paris, but was obscenely pricey for Berlin, where cover usually hovered at 3-6€, if there was any at all. But the place delivered, with a British electro vamp (think Katy Perry with a Pet Shop Boys beat) singing live with sexy projections of her new video, backed up by middle-aged guys on lap-tops. Chantal herself was a heavy-drinking, bleach-blonde grande dame whose German I couldn’t understand any better than my Berlin-born fag-hag for the night, Masha. Further proof that this “very gay not pervy party every Thursday” was the place to be was the trio of branché Montrealers who showed up just in time for the show, and stayed dancing until 6am (did we mention there is no last call in Berlin?). Bassy: expensive drinks/cover (boo), great music/show/crowd (yay).
I was impressed that I had managed to stay awake that long after really making the most of my day. Starting with the requisite coffee and croissant at Goldhahn and Samson on Helmholtzplatz, I had ventured over to see the land art exhibit at the sprawling Hamburger Bahnhof, a train station which has been converted into one of the world’s foremost contemporary art museums. While the installations were awesome in their own way, the magnificent collection of Keith Haring works in the permanent collection really made my gay day, along with a staggering suuply of Warhols, Rauschenbergs, Naumans, Kiefers and photos by Canadian art-star Jeff Wall. Then for complete contrast, my Québécoise exile friend and I hopped the S-Bahn all the way down to Treptower Park to visit the mythical location of the alt-queer film festival known as Entzaubert. Based in a Wagenplatz, or caravan squat in a bush-shrouded stretch of green space on the outskirts of working class Neuköln, the renegade queers of the Schwartzerkanal host a mighty DIY film festival reminiscent of Radical Queer Semaine or Pervers/cité, with an extensive Canadian programme that featured Montréal’s own Jessica MacCormack, whose collaborations with musician Rae Spoon were part of the short film programme.
After a day of wandering the canals of Kreutzberg with an old high school friend, I hopped the U-Bahn and returned to Prenzlauer Berg, ready to accept my fate that I had already partied enough, and thought I would just get some rest to make the most of my last day. But to my surprize, my NGO-consultant friend got her second wind, and before I could say “Ja wol!” we were meeting up at the city’s gayest all-night all-day club: the converted power plant that is the Berghain. Famous throughout the homo universe for its Friday night LAB.oratory all-male sex party, from Saturday at midnight to Monday morning the Berghain is a temple of house and electro dance-mania with a crowd of beautiful, hard-core, dilettante and unflappable hotties, hand-picked by Markus, the dictatorial doorman who chooses who goes in and who doesn’t with a nod or shake of his slicked-back head. Tips for not getting turned away include not looking preppy, and not speaking English too loudly (it helps to go with a native speaker or tag along with one). And the reward is worth the precarious hour-plus line-up: a gigantic dance floor, with adjoining rooms for bars on 3 floors, cushioned lounging “cubes”, and an espresso/ice-cream bar (yay!), as well as a second floor dance club called Panorama Bar, where opening the shutters to let in daylight is used to crowd-rousing effect. Before the outdoor garden opens at 10am, make sure to check out the shadowy back-room on the main dance floor, where the cutest, sexiest ones-you’d-least-expect hound around for sticky play. Needless to say, it made up for missing out on a trip to Tom’s.
My last day there amounted to biking around and having one last hang-out at the alt-queer café SilverFuture (Weserstraße 206), following by a final tryst at the absurdly tasteless and purely enjoyable Ficken 3000 (Urbanstraße 70, U-Bahn Hermannplatz), where the Pork nights involve dancey beats, louche regulars, anglo twinks wearing pig snouts, and an authentic downstairs back-room where you can have one last make-out before you return to reality and say auf wiedersehen, mein schwulenfruenden!
Chantal’s House of Shame @ Bassy Club, Schönhauser Allee 176A, U-Bahn Senefelderplatz
Hamburger Bahnhof: Invalidenstraße 50-51, S-Bahn Hauptbanhof, www.hamburgerbahnhof.de
Tom’s Bar: Motzstraße 19 +49 (0)30-2134570; U-Bahn: Nollendorfplatz www.tomsbar.de
Möbel-Olfe: Reichenberger Str. 177 (entrance via Dresdener Straße), U-Bahn: Kottbusser Tor. www.moebel-olfe.de