In many ways, Berlin is the gayest city on Earth. It is brash and bold, sophisticated but gritty, pulsing with energy and vitality. The city’s storied past is manifest in its expansive boulevards and magnificent museums — of which there are over 170 — as well as monuments to its darker chapters, one of which was a painful decades-long division against itself, to which gay people might relate all too well.
But like the international gay community itself, the unified Berlin of today is vibrant, at the cutting edge of global trends, and one hell of a good time. Here’s what you need to know before dropping down in this gay hotspot.
Flying to Berlin
Once overlooked by airlines and alliances in favor of other hubs like Frankfurt and Munich, Berlin’s Tegel airport now sees more international traffic than ever.
The major airline operating here is, aptly enough, airberlin, which is a member of the Oneworld alliance, along with other carriers like American and British Airways. The airline now flies to Berlin either nonstop or via its hub in Dusseldorf from eight U.S. cities: Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York (JFK), Orlando and San Francisco. Travelers today have more options than ever for getting to the German capital.
Staying in Berlin
As one of the world’s major capitals, Berlin has no shortage of hotels, which run the gamut from budget-friendly to decadent deluxe, and everything in between. First-timers might opt for a hotel in central Mitte, close to many of the major sights, like the Brandenburg Gate and Museum Island. Business travelers tend to gravitate west to the high-end chain properties of Charlottenburg, while those looking for something fresher and funkier might venture east to Prenzlauer Berg.
Before booking, be sure to check Visit Berlin’s list of Pink Pillow partner properties. Member hotels have taken a pledge to treat all guests with courtesy, dignity, tolerance and respect, and to contribute actively in support of Berlin’s LGBT community.
That list currently includes 63 properties, such as the Sofitel Berlin along the tony shopping street of Kurfürstendamm, the boutiquey Hotel i31 in Mitte, and even the environmentally conscious Almodóvar, a vegetarian organic hotel in former East Berlin’s trendy Friedrichshain neighborhood.
There are also hotels like the Intercontinental Berlin, the Westin Grand Berlin and the Autograph Collection Hotel am Steinplatz for those looking to earn or redeem hotel points from a major loyalty program during a stay.
Eating and Drinking in Berlin
Forget the heavy traditional German cuisine you might be familiar with. Berlin has developed a world-class dining scene almost overnight, with exciting new restaurants in neighborhoods all over the city.
Stay central, in Mitte, to find some of Berlin’s hottest restaurants. Among the hardest reservations to get are those at chef Micha Schäfer’s Nobelhart & Schmutzig, a short stroll from Checkpoint Charlie. Dinners here are served at a communal bar overlooking the kitchen, and are mind-boggling 10-course journeys through Germany’s edible bounty. Around the corner from Unter den Linden, the focus at Cookies Cream is on gourmet vegetarian tasting menus, while Cordobar serves up hard-to-find German and Austrian wines with Mediterranean small plates.
The erstwhile Jewish neighborhood of Scheunenviertel is another must-hit locale thanks to dining establishments at both the low- and high-brow sides of the spectrum. When you get to the former girls’ school on Auguststrasse in the Scheunenviertel neighborhood, you have a choice. Either go for an enormous, juicy pastrami sandwich at Mogg & Melzer, or the more elevated fare in the elegant dining room at Pauly Saal just down the hall. Either way, you can’t go wrong. Unless, that is, you skip the weekend brunch in the garden-like dining room at the hipster-friendly House of Small Wonder a few blocks away.
Go edgy with an evening out in one of the city’s up-and-coming neighborhoods, Neukölln. Stop for nibbles and natural wines at Wild Things or contemporary Teutonic tapas in a former distillery at Eins 44, then end your evening with creative cocktails at Tier, and maybe a final currywurst with fries from a street vendor before calling it a night.
Partying in Berlin
Like the city’s restaurant scene, its nightlife venues are varied and spread across several distinct neighborhoods. The traditional home of Berlin’s gay nightlife (and we’re talking since the early 20th century) is in Schöneberg near the Nollendorfplatz U-Bahn station in former West Berlin.
Most of the bars here are around Motzstrasse and Fuggerstrasse. The crowd at Hafen is always friendly and ready for an impromptu dance party, which is true at Heile Welt as well. If you want to kick your evening up a notch, the bears at WOOF are more than happy to help you out, while the leather daddies at Mutschmann’s will know what to do in case you get a little too naughty.
These days, the east side of the city tends to be more trendy, so head to Friedrichshain for pop-up parties like Pet Shop Bears or Cocktail D’Amore. Or try your luck with the notoriously strict doormen at Berghain, the former East Berlin power plant that these days is the world’s most notorious nightclub for EDM and shirtless (and sometimes pants-less) men. You can also invoke the city’s musical past with karaoke at Monster Ronson’s Ichibank Karaoke or kitschy fun at Zum Schmutzigen Hobby.
The myriad bars in Kreuzberg are ideal for low-key evenings out. The compact Bar Saint Jean is pleasantly packed with hipsters and muscle boys alike on weekends, while the crowd at Betty F*** tends to be a bit campier but convivial.
See the Sights and Go Shopping in Berlin
Berlin is one of the world’s cultural capitals thanks to an unparalleled collection of galleries, museums, concert venues and shops.
History buffs should plan a day on Museum Island absorbing the artworks of the ancient world at the five museums there, notably Babylon’s storied Ishtar Gate at the Pergamon Museum. More recent masterpieces find a home at the Gemäldegalerie, while the works of contemporary artists are on view at the Neue Nationalgalerie, both near Potsdamer Platz.
The city’s Jewish Museum, strikingly designed by Daniel Libeskind, is a somber look at nearly 2,000 years of Jewish history, while the more recent tensions between East and West playing out on Berlin’s streets is still palpable at Checkpoint Charlie, the Allied Museum and the Berlin Wall Memorial.
Berlin’s Schwules Museum is one of the world’s largest and most highly regarded institutions for exhibiting, archiving and conveying LGBTQ history and culture. Founded in 1985, it showcases diverse exhibitions and hosts numerous events throughout the year related to history, art and culture.
Clear your head with a stroll or bike ride around the park at the former Tempelhof Airport, or indulge in some retail therapy along fancy Kurfürstendamm at high-fashion brands like Louis Vuitton and Prada. Around the corner on Tauentzienstrasse, pay a visit to Berlin’s most famous department store, KaDeWe, renowned for its phenomenal display windows and a mouthwatering food hall.
Luxury hotels or low-key B&Bs, fine dining or street food, drag bars or dance clubs — no matter what your tastes, Berlin has plenty to offer first-time and repeat visitors alike. The only hard part is deciding amongst the city’s endless possibilities.
This Gay Guide Berlin is sponsored by Visit Berlin
Featured image by South_agency via iStock