Berlin gay travel guide: What to see and where to go in this LGBTQ+ friendly city

Simon Gage travel and lifestyle writer, and travel editor for Gay Times

Someone much cleverer than us once said that you don’t need to find the gay scene in Berlin… it will find you. Traditionally one of the most tolerant cities in the world, it has long been a refuge for anyone looking to live their life their way: back in the 1930s English writer Christopher Isherwood escaped there to write what would become the movie musical Cabaret… and you know how outrageous that was. Now, having had an openly gay mayor in Klaus Wowereit, Berlin is up there with the best LGBTQ+ cities in the world, with a scene almost unrivalled anywhere. So wilkommen, bienvenu, welcome to the wunderbar world of gay Berlin.

Gay bars, gay clubs and gay shops

While you can hold hands and kiss openly pretty much anywhere in Berlin as an LGBTQ+ (although there are some eastern districts, part of the old East Germany before the wall came down, where you should keep your wits about you) three areas stand out as particularly gay-friendly: Schöneberg, Kreuzberg/Mitte and Neukölln - with Schöneberg the classic gay neighbourhood packed with gay bars. Berlin, by the way, is so huge that gay Berliners tend to stick to their area – but we’re visitors so we can mix and match.

Schöneberg, a really quite beautiful area where gay bars proliferate, is where Isherwood of Cabaret fame lived and where queer icon David Bowie settled during his famous Berlin Years.

Where to eat and drink

Head to Motstrasse and Fuggerstrasse (remember, in German the ‘ss’ turns into a funny capital B looking letter), the two main gay streets packed with the best of Berlin’s gay bars, like the legendary Tom’s Bar, named for gay erotic artist Tom of Finland, which should give you some idea of what goes on in the basement, and Hafen, perhaps the best entry-level gay bar in Berlin: the staff are delightful and in summer the crowd spills out (we don’t mind crowds spilling just no spilling of drinks please!) into the street. Or have a cocktail at Heile Welt across the road, if you fancy a Berlin gay bar with a little less noise.

There’s also Prinzknecht on Fuggerstrasse, a well-established Berlin gay bar with staff that were probably born there and a crowd that is as diverse as crowds can be. There’s a saucy side with naughty films playing on the TV and a… let’s just call it ‘room downstairs’ but the atmosphere is decidedly chatty and friendly. You can even watch Eurovision there, if you time it right, and have a slice of cake!

And when you’ve had a couple, maybe you’re ready for Berlin’s famous gay fetish scene, which starts on this very street at Scheune, a no-frills gay leather bar for all ages while Bull, a 24-hour gay bar that has been going since the 1920s (even under Nazi rule!) takes saucy to whole new heights.

If you need some sustenance after all that drinking and carrying on, Café Berio on nearby Maassenstrasse is your spot: open 24 hours a day and provider of the best breakfasts in the known world, it may not be an officially gay venue but you’d never know from the crowd and the staff. Or try Café Neues Ufer on Hauptsrasse, where David Bowie used to buy Iggy Pop a black coffee, hold the cream.

Where to party

As for gay club nights, Berlin is famous for them. The most legendary gay club of all is, of course, Berghain over in the old East Berlin, though the crowd can be pretty mixed. A huge old power station of a place, it’s devilishly difficult to get into past bouncer Sven: you can wait in the cold for literally hours only to have him shake his head when you get to the head of the queue. Entry seems quite random but just try not to look like a tourist, wear your edgiest outfit and don’t be drunk. Inside is an almost frightening world of techno in the most extraordinarily industrial surroundings. Try the Panorama Bar to see the sunrise and for a little respite or legendary Berlin gay sex club The Laboratory in the basement if you’re feeling frisky.

And if that is your kind of scene – and you’re a fan of the movie Cabaret – you can actually go to where it all happened, The KitKat Club. But do your homework: it’s a fetish kind of place and you don’t want to turn up on the wrong night or wearing the wrong outfit.

Less ‘out there’ is a fairly cheesy PG-rated Berlin gay club, Connection, run by the same people as Prinzknecht back in Schöneberg… But do keep your eyes on the listings for the movable feast of international club nights that set down in Berlin, everything from the UK’s Horse Meat Disco to Spain’s Matinée.

Where to shop

For retail therapy after all that drinking and dancing and dressing up, start with Prinz Eisenherz on Motzstrasse, which has been described as the best gay bookshop in the world (don’t worry: it has an English language section) or go lighter/saucier at Brunos on Massenstrasse, a great gay shop for picture books, cards, clubwear etc.

Theatre, comedy, art and culture

When it comes to entertainment, Berlin pretty much has it covered with a real effort to include English speakers, whether it’s the annual (October) International Drag Festival at the all-English all-the-time English Theatre Berlin (other non-drag productions are available) or the fact that many theatre productions are put on with English surtitles. Then of course there’s the Wintergarten, which specialises in acrobatics and dance and generally stuff you don’t need to speak anything to enjoy. You’ll also find accessible productions at Hebbel am Ufer Theatre and the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, which translates as The House of World Culture, so you get the drift.

With museums, you have the best of both former East and West Berlin, so there’s no shortage, but don’t, whatever you do, miss the Schwules Museum, which was the first gay museum in the world, where they not only have exhibitions and an archive but events, some in English. If you’re into your Warhol and your Beuys, seek out the Hamburger Bahnhof an amazing space created from an old railway station but for old-school greatest-hits, world-famous art, you can’t beat Neues Museum.

And if you’re thinking you might take in a little Berlin Gay Pride action, it’s actually called Berlin Christopher Street Day, after the gay steet in New York City, and tends to happen towards the end of July.

Berlin’s best LGBTQ+ friendly hotels

Well, you’re gay and you’re on a gay trip so why not check out one of the most famous gay hotel chains in the whole world. At Axel Hotel Berlin, you get a designer experience, a rooftop hot tub, gym, spa and everything fully gay right in Schöneberg, where else? Equally eye-catching on the design front is Nhow, part of a colourful new global group that goes for light and bright and popping with colour, especially so at this waterside location. Less pop but no less cool is H10 Berlin Ku’Damm, created from a former school and with design wherever you look, this is at the heart of the famous Kurfürstendamm, Berlin’s commercial centre so you’ll be handy for the shops.

You’ll be knocked out by the lobby design at Pullman Berlin Schweizerhof, an explosion of colour and graphics reached underneath a giant white and silver giraffe (why not?) Rooms are, probably thankfully, less out-there. But if you want a room with a view, ask for a high-floor hang-out at Park Inn by Radisson Berlin Alexanderplatz, slap bang in the centre of town.

Written by Simon Gage, a freelance travel and lifestyle writer, and travel editor for Gay Times

Simon Gage contributes to a range of national and consumer lifestyle publications including Metro, Elle, Attitude, and Yahoo! He is also co-travel editor at Gay Times. As well as working on entertainment features (having interviewed the likes of Beyonce and Gwyneth Paltrow), he has also worked on a range of campaigns for LGBTQ+ organisations and networks such as Stonewall and JAKE.

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