In the 1920s Berlin was one of the best places in the world to be gay or lesbian, especially in the milieu which flourished in the district of Schöneberg, as celebrated by British writer Christopher Isherwood. After the devastation of the Nazi era, Berlin recovered its status as a haven of tolerance and experimentation and now even boasts a gay mayor.
Every year the streets around Schöneberg’s Nollendorfplatz are closed off for a weekend festival, this year falling on 18 and 19 June, with entertainment, makeshift bars, market stalls and information stands covering the gamut of the gay experience. But even that’s just a warm-up for the biggest event in gay Berlin’s calendar: the CSD parade on June 25th. It’s named after New York’s Christopher Street Day, and you’ll recognize the format from large-scale gay pride parades in Sydney and San Francisco: a glitzy, frothy, rainbow-hued fantasia of half-nude muscle men, extravagant drag queens and pounding club music. It starts on the prestigious boulevard Kurfürstendamm and ends up at historic Brandenburg Gate. This being Berlin, however, dissent is never far away.
In 1998 a breakaway group emerged, criticizing CSD’s commercialism, apolitical hedonism and failure to acknowledge all the letters in the LGBTI spectrum. They took to the streets and the result is a good-natured annual amble through alternative Neukölln and Kreuzberg known as Transgenialer CSD, where the balance between partying and politics is tipped towards the latter. Rather than being held on consecutive weeks, as in previous years, the two major parades are being held concurrently this year, forcing queer Berliners to stake their allegiances. But you only have to look east to cities like Moscow and Warsaw, where gay gatherings are subject to official harassment to realize it’s an enviable choice.