Berlin is a vibrant, gay-friendly city—one of Europe’s most popular destinations for LGBTQ tourists. But like any tourist to Berlin will discover, there’s a lot more to the city’s gay scene than the traditional gay hotspots. The beauty of Berlin as a travel destination lays in the fact that this is a growing city, evolving out of a turbulent 20th century to become one of today’s leading cities—politically, economically and culturally. It’s no wonder that Berlin makes it to the top of most “best gay travel” lists! But, most gay guides to Berlin don’t fully showcase the diversity of LGBT travel options—that uniqueness that’s made Berlin so special and so gay-friendly.
Luckily, I’m here in Berlin to share the coolest things to do—those gay events, festivals and parties that make Berlin special. The ones that make this one of the world’s best gay cities. For anyone visiting gay Berlin, though, here’s the things you need to know. And for more about Berlin, check out my full gay guide here.
5 THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE VISITING GAY BERLIN
Berlin has a long history of gay activism and gay culture.
Any gay guide to Berlin requires a bit of a history lesson. It’s not just the current trendy gay bars and clubs, but also the history that makes Berlin so important for LGBT tourists. Why? Because in 1918 a doctor named Magnus Hirschfeld created in Berlin an Institute for Sex Research that was later burnt down by the Nazis (during the famous book burnings of 1933). Decades later, the gay mayor of Berlin declared the city “poor, but sexy,” catapulting the city yet again as one of the world’s most sexual destinations. Berlin was also the site of one of the world’s first gay pride events, taking place in 1919 near Nollendorfplatz—at that point, the gay mecca of Europe.
When Christopher Isherwood, that gay icon from Britain who made Berlin his home in the 1920s, wrote about Berlin, he captured the free-spirited culture that made the city so liberal and open in-between the world wars.
For more about Berlin’s gay history check out the book Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity by Robert Beachy, just $12.99 on Amazon. Also, until December, make sure to visit the Deutsches Historishes Museum and Schwules Museum for the exhibition on Homosexulität_en—a collaborative effort by the two museums to document Germany’s queer history and contemporary politics of LGBT rights.
Summer isn’t the end of gay Berlin – things heat up in the winter, too!
Berlin is gay all year long. However, weather isn’t always so friendly in Berlin, independent of your sexuality or beliefs. For those who enjoy the amazing freedom of the naked body, the FKK (Freikörperkultur, as Germans call it), the summer months are best. Sexy guys on bikes, in short pants, reading on a bench or lying naked on the grass mostly in Tiergarten park… However, winter has its own secrets, and the gay scene thrives in Berlin’s gay saunas, clubs and bars.
While in many cities around the world, winter signals the end of going out and the beginning of a season of Netflix, in Berlin, this isn’t the case. Nightlife is as good as ever. Clubs like Berghain keep their cool, with the famous Saturday night queue often just as long as in summer. Regular gay parties (see below) are a part of going out in winter—coat checks are just more popular (but still as cheap as always, just 1€ or 2€).
Winter festivals are also quite common in Berlin, including the Berlinale International Film Festival every February. The world-renowned film festival has a long track record supporting queer cinema, running LGBT-themed films as part of the popular Panorama competition and awarding the prestigious Teddy Award to the best LGBT film of the festival.
For the best on gay nightlife in Berlin, read my full guide to Gay Berlin on Discavo.com, or my Hipster Guide to Berlin here.
There’s more than just the gay “ghetto”
Historically, Berlin’s Schöneberg neighborhood, especially around Nollendorfplatz, has been the city’s gay area. You’ll find many gay-owned bars, restaurants and other businesses located there. Over the years, though, Schöneberg has largely remained the same, while the rest of Berlin has been transforming since reunification in the ’90s. The diversity of bars, restaurants and clubs in Kreuzberg makes it easy to get around and a tourist-friendly area. The über-hip Neukolln neighborhood has become Berlin’s hotspot, often called the up-and-coming Berlin neighborhood. In 2013, one of Berlin’s longest-running gay clubs, SchwuZ, moved from Kreuzberg to Neukölln, marking a shift eastward in the gay Berlin scene. With other gay bars opening up in Neukölln, like the small dive bar & open-minded The Club, Neükolln is no longer up-and-coming—it’s the heart of the new gay Berlin.
These changes aren’t really unique to Berlin, though. Many cities have seen the gay life moving from historic gay neighborhoods, often where the LGBT rights movement was fought (and, now, won) into trendier, more mixed areas. London’s Soho, for example, has changed dramatically with many gay businesses being forced out because of rising rent prices. While that hasn’t happened per say in Berlin, the shift in the gay scene is definitely present. Schöneberg is still home to Berlin’s popular gay hotels like Axel Hoteland the Tom’s Gay Hostel, but those gay tourists looking for newer and trendier things to do are discovering other parts of the city—namely Kreuzberg and Neukölln (both home to a number of gay-friendly hotels).
Berlin is changing. And while Nollendorfplatz will always hold a special place for gay tourists, there’s more and more available throughout the city.
For more about Berlin’s neighborhoods, read my Neighborhood Guide to Berlin which includes recommended hotels, hostels and holiday apartment rentals in Berlin.
There’s a party for everyone
The cool thing about Berlin’s gay scene is how big and diverse it really is. While Berlin isn’t actually Germany’s “gay capital” (that title goes to Cologne), Berlin’s nightlife and cultural offerings are so diverse that there’s really something for every type of LGBTQ tourist. If you’re gay and Jewish, there’s a party just for that. Gay and Turkish? One for that too. Looking for drag? Check out the SISSY parties. Want to sing karaoke with a bunch of gays? We’ve got that too. Gay Brazilian party? Looking for twinks, for muscles, for naked sex parties? For lesbian punk clubs? For bearded hipsters? Queer punks, student parties, Madonna nights, underwear-only clubs, leather or dirty fetishes? Berlin really has a gay party for every type of person.
Write me on Twitter @travelsofadam if you’re traveling to Berlin and looking for nightlife recommendations while you’re in town. Always happy to make recommendations!
Know your party schedule
While Berlin’s nightlife options are wide and varied, it can be difficult to find out about what’s happening when. There aren’t many local gay guides to Berlin online and so many of the parties are kept secret, to those “in-the-know,” keeping Berlin’s nightlife scene supposedly safe. There are reoccurring party nights and gay events happening day-by-day, but Berlin’s best gay parties are the ones that happen less frequently—usually every month or just bi-monthly. Sometimes even quarterly or annually. The legendary SNAX parties at Berghain, open to gay men only for Easter weekend and again in November, are sex-fueled parties people travel from the world over to attend. More alternative gay parties happen with a bit more frequency. Note that there are obviously many more gay parties & events in Berlin and this doesn’t intend to be a comprehensive list, but rather a small directory of my favorites and regulars, of which I’m sure I’ve forgotten some…
Gay Parties to Look Out For
- Pornceptual — A party attached to a visual arts project, taking place every two months at Prince Charles club. Entry prices are dependent upon how much (or how few) clothing you wear. Read more about my experience dancing without pants at Pornceputal here.
- Gegen — Queer party at the legendary sex club, Kit Kat Club, taking place every two months, the first Friday of the month. Expect half-naked or mostly naked guys and gals, a swimming pool (at your own risk) and excellent electro DJs.
- Homopatik — One of Berlin’s more famous monthly gay parties, taking place every month, at about://blank—a venue just as you’d expect from a Berlin nightclub. Expect rooms full of sweaty guys, all-weekend raves, a relaxing and cool beer garden and excellent music from their resident DJs.
- Cocktail d’Amour — Another cult favorite in Berlin, taking place every month at Greissmüle—a great summertime venue where you can expect good music
- Madonnamania — One of Berlin’s more popular gay parties at SchwuZ, it happens just four times a year only during months with five Fridays. It’s fun and quirky and weird—with, predictably, lots of Madonna music.
- DUMP — An indie gay party, taking place intermittently at Mutschmann’s in Schöneberg (usually a gay men only fetish club).
- Meschugge – A long-running gay Jewish party taking place every month, featuring Middle Eastern beats. One time at the basement Brunnen70 nightclub and now at Sophienclub.
- Gayhane – The last Saturday of every month at Kreuzberg’s legendary punk club, SO36. Expect kitschy pop music, colorful characters and long nights.
- London Calling — One of my all-time favorite club nights in Berlin. Taking place the first Friday of every month at SchwuZ, the three dance floors fill with an eclectic mix of guys, girls and drag queens rocking out to indie and BritPop tunes until sunrise.
Daily Parties to Look Out For
- Mondays are the night for 2-4-1 drinks at slightly-sleazy (but kind of cool) Tom’s Bar. Or, for those looking for something more cultural, it’s also the popular Mongay night at Kino International when international queer films are shown each Monday at the soviet-era cinema, perfect for a great gay date night.
- Tuesdays at Der Boiler—a gay men’s sauna—are very popular when entrance is just 2-4-1. (Also look out for the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of each month for youngSTARS gay sauna nights at Der Boiler; entrance is reduced for those 28 and under.) The queer bar,Barbie Deinhoff’s, also runs a happy hour every Tuesday from 7pm until midnight and hipster gay bar Möbel Olfe hosts ladies night on Tuesdays, popular with lesbian women.
- Wednesdays used to be the night for some of the indie gay parties in Berlin, though many of those have stopped running in the past few years. Now, one of Friedrichshain’s best gay bars, Himmelreich, hosts a popular happy hour with both gay men and lesbians. And The Club, a queer bar popular with all varieties of Berlin’s LGBT nightlife, hosts a 2-4-1 happy hour every Wednesday. The Club also runs a number of drag nights (usually on Fridays) and other art & cultural events, including a lesbian night every Thursday called GRRRLS*.
- Thursdays are one of the best gay nights out in Berlin, with countless parties happening around the city. Chantal’s House of Shame, running for nearly 30+ years, is run by drag queen Chantal who puts on sloppy performances in-between techno and pop on the two dance floors. Möbel Olfe is most popular with gay men on Thursdays (mostly wearing beards). Then there’s the Elektronischer Donnerstag every Thursday at SchwuZ—an electro night most popular with gay men at the alternative indie club in Neukölln.
- Weekends are obviously popular for gay nightlife, with most of the monthly and bi-monthly parties taking place on Friday and Saturday nights, sometimes opening Friday night and staying open until Sunday. See above for some recommendations, though when in doubt, it’s often hard to go wrong with Berghain.
- Sundays at GMF, located in Mitte, continue to be one of the most popular weekly parties—it skews young with basic dance and pop music by the DJs and guys in tank tops (or no shirts at all). Not a bad way to end the weekend, though.
Stay tuned for future blog posts about Berlin’s best gay parties. Join the Travels of Adam mailing list to be the first to know about new gay guides.