Schöneberg, the Gay Mecca
After traipsing around Europe during the month of April, I’m back at UCL and desperately trying to study for my upcoming final exams. I was fortunate enough to see Rome, Florence, Paris, Prague, and Berlin over Easter recess. Berlin was by far the “gayest” experience I had during my travels, haha! Often said to be the gay capital of Western Europe, Berlin has a lot to offer to gay visitors and locals. Concentrated in the neighborhood of Schöneberg, the gay scene in Berlin is filled with bars, clubs, shops, and hotels that exclusively appeal to gay customers. There is enough variety to cater to those in search of something rather mainstream or those who want something more risqué!
Since I am young, single, and have no idea when I might return to Berlin, I figured I needed to make the most of my time in this gay mecca and booked myself a bed in a gay youth hostel in the heart of Schöneberg. Of course I had my doubts, but mostly I was excited for the experience.
When I arrived, I unpacked and then joined a few of the other guests in the common room. They seemed to be friendly with each other, but ultimately it was up to me to introduce myself and break into the conversation. After some brief introductions, I left to explore the city for a bit. At this point, I wasn’t expecting too much from the hostel experience. The accommodations were mediocre and the other guests, although cordial, didn’t seem eager to make friends. However, when I returned, quite a few more guys had arrived at the hostel. We quickly exchanged names, hometowns, and reasons for traveling. To my comfort, most everyone else was there alone and not with a group of friends. I feared that if most guests were visiting in groups, it would be difficult to break into their cliques and get to know them, but in a group of single travelers it was much easier to make friends.
Later that night, we had a few drinks and sat around the hostel getting to know each other. It was truly an experience I have never had before…a group of more than a dozen guys from all over the world just hanging out…and oh yeah, we were all gay! I had no qualms about discussing dating, celebrity crushes, future plans, or anything else that I would normally shy away from in a group of new acquaintances, in fear that it might reveal my unwelcomed sexual orientation. We then headed out to explore the gay clubs of Berlin. On my way to Berlin I assumed I would be exploring the nightlife by myself, but it was ten times more fun to be explore with a group of new friends.
From growing up in a small town and then attending a small college in a similar town, I never had a group of exclusively or mostly gay friends. In high school I totally concealed my sexuality, but even now in college where I am out, something, probably fear of rejection, holds me back from totally expressing my sexual orientation. In the states, I would likely be cautious to say something in a mixed (gay and straight) group of friends such as, “by the way, I have a date with this guy on Saturday” or “don’t you think Jonathan Groff is so cute?!” In his book Covering, Kenji Yoshino, would describe this phenomenon as “passing”, where an out gay person has to choose to come out again in each and every new situation. Even though many people know I am gay, because I mentioned it in the past or they heard from someone else, I still have to choose in every interaction or conversation whether to discuss topics that further reveal my sexuality or shy away from them.
In Berlin with this group of my newly acquainted peers I felt totally free to discuss things that would convey I am gay, because it had already been done for me. I was staying at a gay hostel, so everyone there knew I was gay, and I knew they were gay. I didn’t have to worry about that awkward moment of revealing my sexuality. With this stress lifted, I was confident and free to enjoy the conversation. Furthermore, it was invigorating to be able to casually discuss feelings and experiences that pertain to my sexual orientation with other gays and feel heard and understood.
I certainly didn’t make any new best friends on my trip to Berlin. I may never see any of those guys again. But they made my trip to Berlin enjoyable, invigorating, and unforgettable. More so, they played a part in providing a new and freeing experience to me as a gay man.
…Also, I found this adorable book in a gay bookstore called Daddy, Papa, and Me by Leslea Newman. It’s a children’s book, not that different than the ones four-year-olds around the world are read before bed, except that it conveys a family with two gay dads! I can’t wait to read this to my future four-year-old before bedtime.
Check out my pics to see the sites of Berlin. Big thanks to Fat Tire Bike Tours for showing me around the city!