LGBT destination guide: Berlin
Germany’s trend-setting (and political) capital has played such a critical role in the global LGBT movement that the city is considered to be the center of gay culture in Europe and, historically, the world. A Schwules Museum exhibit on the history of homosexuality put it perfectly when it recognized Berlin as “a laboratory of queer cultures and nonconformist approaches to life.”
This post is just one in a series of LGBT destination guides filled with LGBT-centric places to eat, sleep, and play. In this series, we spotlight destinations that show up on our personal radar in cities all over the world. We want to say a special thanks to Marriott International for sponsoring this post and, more important, for its long-standing commitment to embracing LGBT employees and travelers all around the world.
One LGBT neighborhood
Schöneberg. When it comes to gay villages, Schöneberg—the first “gayborhood” in the world—is legendary. Despite being a global hotspot for queer culture, the neighborhood feels just like any other tranquil European residential neighborhood. It just has LGBT institutions sprinkled among the apothekes, bars, and restaurants.
While Schöneberg reigns supreme, Berlin also has several neighborhoods that represent a new generation of gay village. Integrated, artsy, and trendy districts such as Friedrichshain, Prenzlauer Berg, Kreuzberg, and Neukölln all are making names for themselves among members of the LGBT community.
Two LGBT fun facts
You know that moment of the night when a club’s house lights come on, the vibe is killed, and the party abruptly ends? That doesn’t happen in Berlin because there is no mandated closing time for bars and clubs. It is also worth noting that the public transit system runs around the clock (not that it matters, since you’ll be heading back to your hotel with the morning commute).
Berlin elected an openly gay mayor, Klaus Wowereit, in 2001. During the election, Mayor Wowrereit beat his opponents to the punch by outing himself with the now famous quote “Ich bin schwul, und das ist auch gut so,” which (wonderfully) translates into, “I am gay and that is just fine.”
Three LGBT-friendly activities
Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism. Tucked among the trees in the east end of the verdant Tiergarten Park is a stark concrete structure memorializing gay men and women murdered by the Nazi party. The structure is powerful in its simplicity and symbolism; featureless, grey walls disrupted only by a small viewing window that provides a peek inside at a short film of two men or two women kissing.
Christopher Street Day Berlin. The reason Christopher Street Day (CSD) makes the list is because it is one of the largest pride festivals in Europe. We also appreciate that CSD clearly recognizes the foundation of pride, and that—along with a LOT of partying—the event remains a strong political movement. Each year, the theme, motto, and political demands of the CSD Parade are determined in open public meetings called Pride Forums.
Prinz Eisenherz Buchladen. This LGBT institution is considered Europe’s oldest surviving gay bookstore. Established in 1978 and ultimately moved to the Motzsraße—the “catwalk” of Schöneberg—the bookstore stocks an impressive selection of gay and lesbian fiction, along with more academic works.
Viewfinder Tip: If you are going to use Berlin’s extensive public transportation system to explore the city, consider buying a more cost effective day pass.
Four LGBT-friendly hotels
Hotel am Steinplatz, Autograph Collection (Expedia Viewfinder Pick). Hotel Am Steinplatz is one of Marriott’s exclusive Autograph Collection hotels—a portfolio of unique, upscale boutique properties around the world. The painstakingly renovated hotel is situated in a quiet little enclave steps away from the city’s main shopping and dining corridor. This is where you stay if you want a beautifully curated, luxury experience that never feels too fussy or removed from the pulse of the city.
Axel Hotel Berlin. This “straight-friendly” hotel caters specifically to gay travelers, with a bent toward gay men. Chic rooms, familiar service, and a right-in-the-heart-of-Schöneberg location make the Axel a great choice. That the hotel has a globally recognized gay institution, Hamburger Mary’s, on the ground floor is just a bonus.
Circus Hostel. If “upscale hostel” seems like a oxymoron, then you are in for a surprise. In the bustling, trendy part of the central Mitte neighborhood, Circus Hostel is a respite for backpackers and independent travelers (and independent-minded travelers). If you are more into hotels than hostels, the brand has another property nearby for you, as well.
Andel’s Hotel Berlin. Since there is so much to see in the Prenzlauer Berg and Friedrichshain neighborhoods of East Berlin, you may just want to stay in the area. This stylish, modern hotel has well-appointed rooms and a raved-about breakfast buffet. It also is located very close to a major transportation hub (Alexanderplatz).
Five LGBT-friendly bars and restaurants
Mamma Monti. When you’re shopping the home design boutiques along Kantstraße or the designer clothing store on Kurfürstendamm, pop over to this adorable and romantic little restaurant for some delectable homemade Italian food. Weather permitting, snag a table outside, make sure to order the fresh buffalo mozzarella and blistered tomato salad, enjoy a glass of the juicy house red, and watch Berliners do their things.
Berlin Village Market @ Neue Heimat. When the woman who owns a burrito shop in the gritty-cum-trendy Friedrichshain neighborhood told us about this street food Mecca, we were intrigued. Every Sunday the converted railway station turns into a culinary extravaganza with street food vendors from all over the city. But the space is lot more than a spot to get your grub on once a week; it also is a venue for live concerts, art shows, and a craft market.
Sissi. It’s not hard to stumble across Austrian food in Berlin, but thoughtfully prepared Austrian food in an adorable, living room-like environment is a rarer find. That’s why we love Sissi. Make sure to secure reservations in advance, because dishes such as cheesy spätzel with young onions and apple strudle with bourbon vanilla ice cream make this one of Schöneberg’s most popular restaurants.
PraterGarten. Because you already are going to spend the day discovering the gay-friendly and adorable Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood, you’ll want to stop at PraterGarten for a bite and drink in the shade of chestnut trees. The beer garden serves fresh homemade German food and a big selection of local beer in a come-as-you-are open-air setting that makes for the perfect break in a day of exploring.
Café Melitta Sundström. If the old-school, leather clad Schöneberg bar scene is not up your alley, there are plenty of other options around the city. In Kreuzberg, Café Melitta Sundström is a welcoming café by day and gay hotspot by night. This place draws a broader LGBT demographic than the more mature and male-centric Schöenberg bars.
What do you feel makes a city especially LGBT-friendly?