Your guide to historic, modern, gay friendly Berlin
Berlin has long been known as both city of decadence and tolerance, making the atmosphere in the German capital as gay-friendly as it gets. Which means whether it’s architecture, art, fashion, nightlife, history or checking off some of the characteristically alternative tourist spots, Berlin is pretty much at your service.
THE SIGHTS, THE SOUNDS
The obvious sites are always on hitlists – be it the Brandenburger Tor, the Reichstag or the Holocaust memorial. But there are other ways to get a new perspective on the city. Berlin’s higher altitudes offer amazing panaromas, whether it’s Norman Foster’s Reichstag dome or the needle like Fernsehnturm (TV Tower) at Alexanderplatz. Check out the Panaroma Platform at Potsdamer Platz, where you can go from ground floor to 100m above the city in 20 seconds. And come summer, the roof of a shopping centre in Neukölln is transformed into Klunkerkranich (HTTP://WWW.FACEBOOK.COM/DERKLUNKERKRANICH), the city’s newest and hippest high-spot for sipping on a drink and watching the sun go down.
On the ground, wandering around the hip areas of Mitte, Kreuzberg, Prenzlauer Berg and Neukölln will get you knee deep in local living. Then there are Berlin parks, including Tiergarten right in the centre of the city and just off from the Reichstag. The combination of wide-open space, memorials a plenty and quaint roads make Tiergarten the perfect choice for a romantic stroll. And come St. Christopher’s Day (HTTP://CSD-BERLIN.DE/EN) in Berlin, the park is a symbol of pride, in every sense of the word. And since it’s resurrection as Berlin’s newest public park, the former airfield at Tempelhof has become an incredibly popular destination to skate, bike, barbeque or just pop a squat and remind yourself that you are sitting on a runway.
Berlin’s gay friendly atmosphere pre-dates the heady days of Weimar, but it was the time of cabaret and the “anything goes” optimism of the republic that really shaped it. A trip on the Isherwood Walking Tour (HTTP://WWW.CABARET-BERLIN.COM/?P=482) offers a new way to explore the era. The one-hour tour not only delivers a sideways glance at life of Christopher Isherwood, one of Berlin’s most famous adopted sons, but you also get the added bonus of acquainting yourself with the area around Nollendorfplatz, traditionally the heart of Berlin’s gay scene.
THE HIDDEN HIGHSTREET
Shopping is spread across the city, which benefits from having numerous districts each offering their own spin on style. The more upmarket head to Kurfürstendamm (or Ku’Damm) for designer labels and a bulging array of luxury goods (a trip to the KaDeWe store is a must for 1920’s style opulence and a quick glass of champagne). Berlin’s more contemporary fashion set hang out in Mitte, where the emphasis is on boutiques, local designers and quirky stores – check out the growing array on Torstraße, and the surrounding areas of Auguststraße and Weinmeisterstraße and for galleries, boutiques and plenty of directional clothing. If you’re looking for vintage treasures, head out to the Kleidermarkt chain of stores, particularly in Kreuzberg (Bergmannstraße) and Schöneberg (Ahornstraße). Each is a cavernous space of second hand joy, with sections dedicated to clothing available by the kilo. Pack light and bring a spare suitcase.
Design nuts will also go mad for the hipster hobbycraft appeal of Modulor at AufBau Haus in Moritzplatz. You’ll also have a good excuse to pop into the nearby Prinzessinengarten (HTTP://PRINZESSINNENGARTEN.NET/) for a breath of fresh air and green living in this portable community garden. Afterwards, sate your appetite at Coledampf’s and Co. for some freshly made, practically gourmet flammkuchen. Or, for those obsessed with coffee table ornamentation, head to Sophienstraße and to Gestalten Space, a haven for art and design books that boasts it’s own publisher and gallery and the nearby Barcomi’s cafe.
From weekday to weekend, Berlin is also a city of markets. Maybachufer in Kreuzberg has a twice-weekly market filled with fresh produce and local trinkets, and is the best place to get a gözleme (a pancake filled with potato, spinach or cheese) in a nod to the area’s Turkish influence. On Sundays, Berlin’s shops generally remain closed, and the town heads out to flohmarkts – flea markets – adhering to the maxim of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. Kollwitzplatz in Prenzlauer Berg offers a more upmarket take on the flohmarkt whereas Boxhaegner Platz in Friedrichshain is filled with retro and quirky finds. The daddy of flohmarkts is Mauerpark in Prenzlauer Berg, which has transformed what was once part of Berlin’s death strip into a playground for the old and young, including a pit for public karaoke in the warmer months. Another recent addition to the scene, Markthalle Neun, reflects Berlin’s current obsession with artisanal produce and their weekly event, Street Food Thursday, is a feast for all your senses.
ARCHITECTURE, DESIGN AND ART ON EVERY STREET
Museums are manifold across Berlin, covering the ancient world to the modern day. Highlights on Berlin’s Museum Island include the Pergamon Museum and David Chipperfield’s incredible renovation of the Neues Museum. Martin Gropius Bau, Mies Van Der Rohe’s fantastic Neue Nationalgalerie and the former train station Hamburger Bahnhof (HTTP://WWW.SMB.MUSEUM/MUSEEN-UND-EINRICHTUNGEN/HAMBURGER-BAHNHOF/HOME.HTML) showcase more contemporary works. The highlight for modern art lovers melds history, art and design into one unique space. The Boros Collection (HTTP://WWW.SAMMLUNG-BOROS.DE/) is a private collection housed in a former bunker, with 80 rooms showcasing a veritable who’s who of contemporary artists, including Olafur Eliason, Ai Weiwei and Thomas Ruff. Book before you arrive to guarantee a spot on their private guided tours.
In terms of architecture, wandering through the city allows you to sample everything from the ornate Prussian façades to more Soviet stuctures – just take a walk down Frankfurter Allee for some harsh-lined perspective. One recently lauded brutalist highlight is St. Agnes’ church, a perfect example of Berlin’s ongoing predilection for turning abandoned and unlikely spaces into cultural hubs. The former church now houses OBERTNEUN, fashion and culture mag 032c, mini publishing house The Green Box and the PRAXES Center for Contemporary Art, with 800sqm earmarked by Arno Brandlhuber for the Berlin gallerist Johann König in 2014.
If you are looking for nightlife, Berlin doesn’t disappoint, with a relaxed attitude to weekend routines that often sees people turning up to clubs at 3pm on a Sunday. Although the club scene is often talked about, the numerous neighbourhood bars offer a informal and into the early hours socializing scene and it’s worth remembering many locals head out at 10pm or so to catch an “evening” drink (and in some bars, smoke their way through a few packets of cigarettes).
That’s not to say you shouldn’t try a pilgrimage to Berghain, particularly on a Sunday when the crowd is filled with hedonists who pay no heed to office hours on Monday. The near-ish Zum Schmutzigen Hobby on Revaler Straße is the perfect warm up to a Berghain weekend, with enough music into the early hours to almost scupper your plans. Other hotspots include Möbel Olfe, an insanely popular bar just round the corner from the kitsch-overload of the infamous Roses bar. Nearby in the Kreuzberg area, Barbie Deinhoff’s (HTTP://WWW.BARBIEDEINHOFF.DE/) is a quieter legend amongst gay bars, compensating in size with heritage – this is the spot where Peaches used to spin records, and Charlie Le Mindu would hold pop up hair salons.
If you are looking for a quieter night out, your options are still plentiful. For relaxation, the Badeschiff cannot be beat. In the summer, this waterside spa come public pool comes as close as you can to dipping your toe in River Spree without catching something. In winter, the steamy windows of the pod-like space house Berlin’s best wintertime sauna, providing a very literal take on the great Berlin pastime of people-watching.
There’s also the perennially popular Clärchen’s Ballhaus (HTTP://WWW.BALLHAUS.DE/) on Auguststraße, which ups the class quota on Sunday evenings with a classical music concert in the magnificent Spiegelsaal. Or try another take on run-down decadence in the Stummfilmkino Delphi, a former 1920’s theatre further afield in Weißensee, once the Little Hollywood of Berlin and the workplace Miss Marlene Dietrich. After being rescued from obscurity late this year, big plans are afoot for the space, which houses performances, film showings and exhibitions.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
From the UK, Easy Jet, Ryanair, BA, and Lufthansa all fly to Berlin.
Berlin has two airports – Tegel in the North-West, and Schönefeld in the south. Both offer buses to the nearest U-Bahn (subway) station, which will take you into the city centre. Berlin is a city that knows how to do public transport – with train, subway, tram and bus all following regular intervals.
It’s hard not to fall in love with the city on a sunny day, particularly on two wheels, so hiring a bike is also a good option. And of course, in certain areas, you can just head out on foot and see where the journey takes you.
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Main points of interest such as the Brandenburg Gate and the parliament buildings are a short 15-minute walk away. The famous Scheunenviertel culture and nightlife scene is just around the corner, as are many art galleries and museums. Numerous underground, tram and bus lines are within five-minutes walking distance.