Berlin has a long history as an LGBT hotspot. Dating back to the flamboyant 1920s, in the age of true cabaret, the city attracted a diverse and international group of LGBT individuals, many famously documented in Christopher Isherwood’s stories. Through the turbulent global events of the 20th century, Berlin has risen again as one of the world’s leading hotspots for LGBT travelers. Thanks to nonstop nightlife and a diverse, friendly and sprawling community of cultures, the city today is an exciting destination full of surprises, history and a revival of new queer things to see and do. My LGBT Guide to Berlin:
What to Do
The site of some of the 20th century’s most important historical moments, Berlin has enough history to last a lifetime. In the heart of the city, major tourist attractions like Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the Reichstag are easy and important to visit — and can be seen within a short walking tour. But don’t miss some of the other lesser-known tourist sites, and equally important ones (especially for LGBTQ visitors), such as the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism located just inside the Tiergarten park. The memorial features a rotating video of same-sex couples kissing, hidden inside a large, grey stele. It’s one of three similar memorials in Germany; the other two are in Cologne and Frankfurt.
For more about Berlin’s gay history, the Schwules Museum is one-of-a-kind. It was one of the world’s first museums dedicated to documenting LGBT history and features a permanent collection of LGBT art as well as special exhibitions focused on important LGBT figures and historical moments.
Berlin’s sprawling city size means that there are many different neighborhoods each with their own distinct character and things to do. Schöneberg is Berlin’s historic gay neighborhood—it’s where many LGBT individuals have congregated and lived since the 1920s, though today Berlin’s LGBT culture can be found across the city. In Schöneberg, around Nollendorfplatz, you’ll find plenty of LGBT-owned businesses, restaurants and shops; it’s also where the annual Lesbisch-schwules Stadtfest takes place each summer.
Where to Eat, Drink and Party
While Berlin’s Schoneberg neighborhood has the gay history, most of Berlin’s best LGBT-themed parties, cafes and events are actually these days in the more trendy and hipster neighborhoods of Kreuzberg and Neukölln. Try the lesbian-owned Facciola bar and restaurant for top-quality Italian foods, snacks and wine, plus a lively atmosphere on weekends. Or in Kreuzberg, Südblock is a queer café and club which serves a vegan brunch on weekends during the day and turns into an indie club at night with drag shows, special events and themed parties.
Möble Olfe is one of Berlin’s popular gay bars, a place for scruffy hipster men on Thursdays, with a ladies night each Tuesday and a mixed crowd the rest of the week. And the legendary Roses bar on Oranienstrasse stays open all night with rambunctious crowds filling the tiny space lined with pink, fluffy walls—the height of kitsch.
In Schöneberg you’ll find a lot more fetish clubs, but Hafen, Heile Welt and Tom’s Bar are all relatively tame bars worth checking out with fun club nights, cool crowds and the occasional dark room in the basement.
Berlin’s nightlife doesn’t stop with bars, though, and the nightclubs in Berlin generally stay open all weekend. The big techno clubs like Berghain have been LGBT hotspots since opening, but many new monthly queer techno parties have popped up over the past decade. Look out for the Gegen party at KitKatClub, a bi-monthly queer party where you can expect a mix of men and women in various layers of clothing. Cocktail d’Amour is one of the latest parties on Berlin’s queer nightlife scene with mostly men taking over the garden at Greissmüle. And then there’s SchwuZ, one of Berlin’s long-running LGBT clubs and one of the most welcoming places for everyone. Themed parties take place at SchwuZ each weekend, as well as regular drag shows and music gigs by local and traveling LGBT bands.
Where to Stay
Many of Berlin’s best hotels are located in Mitte, centrally located and easily accessible via public transportation to all of Berlin’s best tourist attractions. The Circus Hotel at Rosenthaler Platz is a basic accommodation, great for those on a budget, and walking distance to Berlin’s best shopping around Hackescher Markt.
With a bit more of a budget, the Michelberger Hotel offers beautifully designed rooms at an affordable price. And their ground floor bar and restaurant serves all bio/organic foods and even hosts the occasional surprise music gig by traveling artists. Try their locally brewed beers or even their custom-branded coconut water. The lobby, decorated with furniture and lamps made out of books, is a popular gay hangout for both locals and tourists.
Also in Mitte, the COSMO Hotel Berlin offers stylish rooms with balconies overlooking the iconic Berlin skyline (views of the TV Tower and Berliner Dom). Centrally located and walking distance to Berlin’s Museum Island, it’s a great place to discover Berlin’s best museums. Museum Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site where you’ll find the Pergamon Museum and the Deutsches Historisches Museum (which has previously put on exhibitions focused on LGBT issues in Germany). Also nearby is the Maxim Gorki Theater—a small, independent theater company that puts on contemporary performances related to social issues such as feminism and LGBT rights—often with English subtitles, even!
Find our LGBT Guide to Berlin in German here.