What's it really like?
Consistently topping lists of Europe’s most gay-friendly cities, Berlin is an unmissable LGBT destination. As well as a thriving gay nightlife with every type of bar and club you can imagine, the city is home to gay cafes, cinemas, saunas, sex shops, and even the world’s first gay museum. To experience gay Berlin at its best, visit during the weeks surrounding their Pride (Christopher Street Day), when the city is overtaken by a range of gay events.
Gay Berlin offers more opportunities to party than perhaps anywhere else in Europe, but it’s not just about the clubs. The city packs in an incredible amount of culture, from endless modern art galleries to some of Europe’s best museum collections. It is also the perfect place to explore Germany’s troubled history, and to visit the landmarks of the conflict that split the country in two after the second world war.
Combine all this with fascinating architecture, great food, and a young population with a constant focus on innovation and progress, and you get an unforgettable destination for just about anyone.
The main gay area of Berlin is Schöneberg, just south of Tiergarten in West Berlin. This contains various gay bars, clubs, shops, cafes, and cruising spots. Most of the popular gay hotels in Berlin are in this area. Some of these are just gay-friendly, others are gay hetero-friendly brands, and some are just for gay men.
There are other areas in Berlin with gay nightlife, especially further east in Friedrichshain. This is the alternative gay Berlin you always imagined. From indie boutiques and hipsters antique markets to Berlin’s infamous techno clubs like the Berghain.
Berlin is an extremely tolerant city, with a history of progressive attitudes to gay rights. Germany in general is equally liberal, ranking second in the world in a 2013 survey of positive attitudes to homosexuality
Berlin’s gay scene dates back to the hedonistic days in between the wars, with several gay bars and clubs opening and flourishing in the 1920s and 1930s. This was of course interrupted under the Nazi regime, which persecuted homosexuals and sent them to camps. Same-sex sexual activity was legalized in 1968-9 in both East and West Germany, and Berlin’s gay scene has continued to grow and expand since then.
Berlin famously had its first openly gay mayor in 2001, and civil partnerships between same-sex couples were made legal that year as well. Gay marriage was legalized in October 2017.
Berlin’s reputation for gay nightlife is not surprising when you consider its position as the clubbing capital of Europe. Techno music evolved here in the years following the fall of the Berlin wall, with the city’s population hungry for hedonism and self-expression. That said, while there is no better place for huge warehouse raves and sprawling night-long parties, there is also plenty of exciting nightlife to be found in hidden dives and small basement venues throughout the city.
This, of course, extends to the city’s gay nightlife. It is varied, sexy, and non-stop. Most gay venues are shared spaces, with patrons from the full LGBTQ spectrum as well as straight people. There is a general “anything goes” atmosphere across the city, where inclusion and tolerance are key. This may seem strange for guys who are used to all-male gay bars, but often makes for an unforgettable night.
However, don’t fret: the city also has a wide variety of men only parties and events, particularly on the more hardcore end of things. If you want to get specific, there is a nightclub and a club night for every type of guy in the city. Whatever you’re into in terms of guys, music, drinks, and atmosphere, you can bet there is a Berlin option for you.
Some key gay clubbing locations include Schwuz, a long-standing gay institution with fun themed nights, and Südblock, which provides a break from the techno-heavy music of the clubbing scene with a pop vibe. Meanwhile, Berlin’s most iconic techno club, Berghain, is not explicitly gay but packs in more sweaty shirtless men that any straight club you’ve ever been to.
If you don’t fancy a night of heavy clubbing, there are plenty of more laid-back gay bars which offer just as much fun. Möbel Olfe is a city favorite for a relaxed beer and some chat, while Zum Schmutzigen Hobby has a trashy, sleazy, yet arty and offbeat atmosphere. To live a bit of music history, visit Neues Ufer, an old favorite of David Bowie’s in the 70s. A pleasant low-key cafe and eatery during the day, it becomes an equally pleasant and low-key bar in the evenings.
Unlike other cities, where cruising has become somewhat limited to saunas and private parties, gay Berlin has an extremely active and diverse scene. Outdoor cruising is popular, particularly during the summer where many Germans engage in Freikörperkultur (FKK, or Free Body Culture, a culturally significant form of naturism). Though FKK is not inherently sexual, gatherings of naked people do – perhaps unsurprisingly – often lead to cruising action in the city’s parks, particularly Tiergarten.
There are fewer all-male saunas than you would maybe expect from one of Europe’s most gay-friendly cities (and most sauna-loving countries), but the quality is high across the board. Sadly Treibhaus sauna and Apollo Splash Club closed leaving Der Boiler as Berlin’s last remaining gay sauna. Der Boiler has a cool modern feel and great steam room action.
The sex club scene is also less underground – and less exclusive – in gay Berlin that is in other cities, with a huge range of bars and clubs dedicated to meeting people for an evening of fun. Lab.oratory is probably the most famous and most popular, with 2-4-1 drinks on Friday nights, while Connection Club has the city’s largest cruising labyrinth. Plenty of gay bars have darkroom basements, so keep an eye out.
Local HIV charity Berlin-Aids-Hilfe (BAH) offers anonymous testing for HIV and other STIs at their counseling center, which is conveniently located near Nollendorfplatz (Kurfürstenstr. 130).
Gay men are invited to drop in on Tuesdays (16:30 – 20:00) and Wednesdays (14:30 – 20:00), and the services are offered in both English and German. You can call ahead (+49 (0)30885640 – 0) to book an appointment in another language.
Berlin is a very large city, meaning it is best visited one neighborhood at a time. Long stretches of uneventful walking separate many of the areas, so you are better off using public transport (see below) to get around between them.
Historically, Schöneberg is the city’s main gay area. However, while it still maintains a large grouping of gay bars, clubs, cafes, and other meeting spaces, the gayborhood has expanded to the adjacent area of Kreuzberg and also to Neukölln further south.
Schöneberg – traditional gay Berlin’s heart and longstanding gay area, centered around Nollendorfplatz. It is mostly a residential area, with a great selection of bars, clubs, and restaurants. It is here that Berlin’s gay community first flourished in the 1920s, along with Berlin’s club, cabaret, and burlesque culture. There is not much to do outside of gay nightlife here, but the area is pleasant and lively and the Schwules Museum, dedicated to the city’s gay and queer culture, is definitely worth a visit.
Kreuzberg – Located west of Schöneberg, Kreuzberg is one of Berlin’s hipster and alternative hotspots. It is known for being a political and revolutionary area, as well as one of the city’s biggest immigrant hubs. Like many similar districts across Europe, it has undergone some gentrification in recent years and is now the place for cutting-edge art galleries, underground clubs, and of course decadent gay nightlife.
Neukölln – Home to the city’s large Turkish population, this is Berlin’s trendiest area, popular with young students and visitors who have filled it with alternative bars, cafes, clubs, restaurants, and art galleries. This shift has also brought over some great gay nightlife, including famous gay club Schwuz, who recently relocated here from Kreuzberg.
Mitte – Literally “middle”, this is Berlin’s most central area. It includes many of the city’s famous landmarks and attractions, such as the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, Alexanderplatz, and the Museum Island. This is where most visitors will spend their days, and there is plenty of great food and cafe culture to be found if you know how to avoid the tourist traps.
Charlottenburg – A wealthy area filled with beautiful houses and old money, Charlottenburg is the classiest and most traditional neighborhood in Berlin. Here, you will find luxury designer shops and five-star hotels as well as Schloss Charlottenburg, the city’s largest palace and a popular attraction.
Friedrichshain – A former working-class industrial area next to Kreuzberg that has been taken over by a trendy and arty crowd. You’ll find up-and-coming gay Berlin here. It is the location for many of Berlin’s clubs, including Berghain, but the main attraction during the daytime is the East Side Gallery, a stretch of the Berlin Wall that has been painted by a variety of street artists.
Prenzlauer Berg – Formerly another cool and revolutionary area, “Prenzl Berg” is now mostly quiet and gentrified. It is home to a lively international community as well as young urban families and upper-class young people.
Tiergarten – While not a neighborhood, Berlin’s main public park is so large it practically counts as one. It is bordered by Mitte in the East, Charlottenburg in the West, and Schöneberg and Kreuzberg in the South. On n the Eastern edge, it is worth stopping by to see the city’s monument to the homosexual victims of the Holocaust, as well as the larger Jewish monument nearby. The park is a lovely place for a walk on a sunny day, and is also home to less innocent activities, with cruising being particularly popular near the Victory Column.
Berlin is huge, and you will rely heavily on public transport during your time in the city. It is not a city for aimless strolling, so plan your day ahead of time to avoid confused walks along long empty avenues. Luckily, the transport network is extensive, efficient, and reasonably priced.
Tickets cover all forms of public transport, and are divided by areas (A, B, and C). Most journeys fall within the AB ticket category, which costs €2.80 and entitles you to two hours of travel (more than enough for most trips). You do need to buy a return ticket, even if it falls within the two-hour window.
From The Airport – Tegel Airport has a bus to Alexanderplatz via Unter Linden and Hauptbahnhof as well as a service that serves the western areas of the city (both €2.70). Taxis to the city cost €20-€30 depending on traffic. Schönefeld Airport is served by the S-Bahn so it easily connects to the rest of the city, and a taxi to the city center would cost about €40.
U-Bahn – The U-Bahn is Berlin’s underground system, and the fastest way to get around. It runs from 4 am to 12:30 am every day, and lines run all night on Friday and Saturday. On the other days of the week, a bus covers the U-Bahn route during the night, meaning you can always get back home.
S-Bahn – The S-Bahn is an overground network covering the city center as well as the wider region. It has fewer stops than the U-Bahn, which means it is not as convenient in general, but it works well for covering bigger distances. The opening times are the same as the U-Bahn. Travelers with Interrail passes have it included in their ticket.
Trams – The tram network is concentrated in the east of the city, making it useful for getting around Mitte. Many of them run 24/7, making them useful for post-clubbing transport.
Buses – Buses are quite slow and present few advantages over the trains, other than price. There is a night bus system that can often come in handy for getting back to your hotel after a night out. Buses 100 and 200 cover the key tourist landmarks, making them a good option to get around on a budget during the day.
Bicycle – Cycling is the preferred method of transport for many locals, and the city is very bike-friendly. There is an extensive network of cycle paths that make it easy and safe to get around, although you should always keep an eye out for impatient drivers. You can take a bike onto some U-Bahn and S-Bahn trains (you will need a separate ticket for this), so you can cross larger distances without tiring yourself out. There are plenty of bike hire shops around the city, and many hotels and hostels also offer the service.
Taxi – Taxis can be ordered, flagged, or caught at a taxi rank. They are not particularly expensive by European standards, but that still makes them the priciest option to get around. They can be useful for getting home from the club if you are going somewhere far from a night bus or tram station. There is a handy system whereby a maximum for four people can get a taxi for up to 2km for a flat rate of €5: flag a taxi from the street and say you want a Kurzstrecke for this. Ideal for rainy days, or peak public transport hours.
Car Rental – It is not worth renting a car to get around Berlin and the surrounding area, as the German transport system can get you anywhere you need to go without having to deal with traffic and expensive parking.
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