Twenty years post-Wall, Berlin stands proud as one of Europe’s hippest go-to metropolises. Artists, scenesters, bohemians, and gays alike continue to flock to Germany’s capital to revel in its ever-evolving, nonstop culture, nightlife, and – bonus! – affordability.
Berlin was originally founded as two cities, Berlin and Coelln, almost 760 years ago. Come the 1960s, Berlin again found itself split as East and West Berlin, an infamous wall erected through the two halves. After 28 years standing as a visible symbol of the Cold War, on November 9th, 1989, the wall was demolished and the city reunified.
Queer life was certainly different while the wall stood – secretly shot gay dramatic films “Westler, West of the Wall” and “Coming Out” took place in repressive East Berlin during this period. Several museums are dedicated to the era, like the Checkpoint Charlie Haus, and so is the tongue-in-cheek “Communist Retro” theme hostel, Ostel, and tacky-with-a-cause East Berlin gay bar, Haus B. Those institutions aside, the distinct airs of East and West have pretty much dissipated today, sometimes to the chagrin of locals who miss the edgy differences.
The turn of the century brought a sparkling, nouveau facelift to the city – the once decimated Potsdamer Platz was transformed as if Superman’s Fortress of Solitude into a crystal-like, angular, futuristic development of entertainment, shopping, food, and high-end hotels, as well as headquarters and main screening venues for the annual Berlin Film Festival. The Berlin Wall once ran through the Platz – a section still stands (and its footprint runs down the street).
There are no shortage of nods to the past despite Berlin’s facing future-forward. The striking Jewish Museum, designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, and Peter Eisenman’s sprawling 2005 Holocaust Memorial – composed of over 2,700 stone slabs – are both rich testaments to this, while fans of Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus style can feast their eyes at the Bauhaus Archiv Museum of Design.
There’s something to see and do (and buy!) in every Berlin neighborhood, from the city center of Mitte to West Berlin’s Charlottenburg to the East Village-esque Kreuzberg. Hipsters take note: in-the-know “it” ‘hood of the moment is the area where Southeastern Neukölln touches Kreuzberg, around Hermannplatz. Formerly a cultural wasteland, hot new pubs and bars are proliferating at record speed.
Speaking of record speeds, Berlin led the way in gay life and rights during the 1920s. Yes, the Nazis put the kibosh on that for a few decades and Germany took about forty steps back. But 21st Century Berlin boasts an openly gay (and handsome) Mayor while queer club and bar culture thrives for men and women alike, mostly concentrated in several distinct districts: Kreuzberg, Schöneberg, Prenzlauer Berg, and, as of late, burgeoning Friedrichshain. There is also a bevy of parties and venues devoted to more “alternative” scenes – leather and rubber and bears, oh my! Free gay maps, publications and websites will keep you up to date.
Of course, be sure to keep June in mind when Berlin Pride Fest and its climactic Christopher Street Day take place. Achtung, baby!
– with contributions from Bryan Chin and Manuela Kay