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For more than a century our history has been profoundly affected by events in Berlin. It's had a massive cultural and social influence on the whole of the continent and today the new Berlin has a gay scene unrivalled in size and visibility by any European city.
In the 20's and 30's its divinely decadent gay nightlife, celebrated in Cabaret, attracted a legion of British homosexuals escaping from this country's oppressive laws. More than 90% of Berlin was destroyed by the Allies at the end of the war, then there was the Cold War isolation of the city into East and West zones.
West Berlin was given massive cash subsidies to develop into a showpiece of Western freedom and democracy and it attracted a large alternative subculture. This was partly because living on a Cold War battleground inside the Eastern bloc wasn't particularly attractive whatever your politics or lifestyle, and more importantly, it was the only place in West Germany where you didn't have to do national service.
Meanwhile the East German government tried to make their part of Berlin a prestige showpiece for its oppressive regime. With the reunification of Germany and millions of Deutschmarks pouring in to reconstruct the East, Berlin is currently the most exciting European capital for gay men.
Berlin still has two centres based around the old West and Eastern sectors and the gay scene reflects this. However with gays an accepted part of Berlin life, there are many gay and gay friendly bars and shops spread all over. Only in this city (or perhaps San Francisco) would you find a stylish and very large Waterstone's style gay book and video store with explicit window displays on a main shopping street - the recently moved Bruno's opposite Nollendorfplatz U-Bahn station.
You can even find a camp version of the city's ubiquitous street snackbars complete with mirrorball - Fritz & Co on Wittenbergplatz.

BARS AND CAFES

West Berlin has a gay village just south of the Nollendorfplatz. Tom's is one of the city's oldest bars and though it's leather and extremely cruisy with darkrooms, there's no strict dress code. Next door is Hafen's which guide books recommend you visit, but is no more than a local bar and has a reputation for attracting pickpockets. If you're looking for rent, and there's plenty available in Berlin, Blue Boy Bar and Pinocchio are popular pick-up joints. If you don't want to pay then Ficken 3000 (literally Fucking 3000), Urbanstrasse 70 in the Neukölln district, tells it like it is in its labyrinthine cellars. Or you might just watch the world pass by in ex!, Motzstrasse 70, with a latte or beer if you need a bit of a break from Berlin's full-on scene. In the Eastern part of the city many bars are situated around the Schönhauser Allee in the Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg areas. Regeneration has meant much of East Berlin has been redeveloped and you'll find plenty of designer shops and trendy bars. An exception to the usual formula of bar and rear darkroom is Guppi Gleimstrasse 33, whilst typical Prenzlauer Berg fun can be found at Schoppenstube Schönhauser Alle 44, Greifbar Wichertstrasse 10 and Pick Ab! Thaerstrasse 39.

CLUBBING

You can find just about anything you want on the Berlin club scene and you really need to pick up one of the free gay papers to find out what nights are on when you visit. Siegessäule is widely available from gay venues and stores. Connection Fuggerstrasse 33, has a mirrored dance floor and three floors of cruising corridors, GMF Ziegelstrasse 22 is a Sunday night where the drag queens strut their stuff. Guys into colours will be upset that lab.oratory has been pulled down, but watch for news of relocation.

HOUSE OF BOYS

With prostitution legal in Berlin, it's very easy to find company if you want to pay. The two biggest male House of Boys are Classic Club Windscheidstrasse 16 and CC96 Lietzenburgerstrasse 96. Expect a strip show and a minimum charge of around 8 for drinks.

SIGHTSEEING

Berlin is a great city to be a tourist in. Public transport is cheap and efficient and the strong pound makes everything very good value for British tourists. You can still see preserved sections of the Berlin Wall, and a double line of cobbles marks the line of the wall where it's been torn down. Checkpoint Charlie still exerts a sinister fascination, and the neighbouring museum is fascinating if over-crowded.

The Germans love architecture and the reconstruction of the Potsdamer Platz and the new British designed glass dome on top of the Reichstag are both fantastic. If you like Amsterdam then you'll love Berlin but wrap up warm as an icy wind can blast the city from across the Polish plains.

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Updated October 2005

 

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