When it comes to serving up both the history and future of gaydom itself, few places on earth can match Germany and its ever-sassy city of Berlin. Strategically situated at the heart of northern Europe, Germany is loaded with some of the continent's best gay-rich and style-heavy supercities, rendering it a savvy Euro-traveler wonderland.
The capital of today's queer Germany — some would argue Europe too, and maybe even the planet — is Berlin. Über-hip, profoundly historic, and perennially full of chutzpah, Berlin is the ultimate modern melting pot, a city whose art, music, design, fashion, and nightlife scenes are all nothing short of epic. It's a sprawling but electric metropolis that's seen intense highs and lows in just its last 100 years, with repeated cycles of extreme mayhem, quiet introspection, and astounding regeneration.
Berlin's latest pendulum swing came 25 years ago with the fall of the Berlin Wall, which for nearly three decades had divided the city through its heart and rendered it the East-versus-West epicenter of the Cold War. With a reunified Germany, Berlin once again became the country's capital, bringing a massive 1990s reconstruction boom. Ultimately Berlin's overbuilding sent rents plummeting, which in turn began drawing a new generation of artsy expats from around the globe. Its unofficial turn-of-the-millennium tagline soon became "cheaper and sexy" — a point of pride for locals, and a boon for travelers looking for a Euro capital where grit and glam mix at affordable rates.
As the birthplace of the world's first gay magazine, its first gay rights organization, its first gay museum, and one of its first gayborhoods (the area around Nollendorfplatz, the setting for Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin, which eventually became Cabaret), Berlin has been key to the development of an international homosexual identity. Today, with an openly queer mayor (Klaus Wowereit, who famously said during his 2001 campaign, "I'm gay, and that's a good thing"), two separate Prides (the main CSD-Berlin and the alternative Transgenialer), and multiple gay-heavy neighborhoods (led by Schöneberg and Kreuzberg), Berlin stands firmly at the forefront of 21st-century homodom.
With its dual pink zones of Alter Markt (Old Town) and Rudolfplatz, Cologne is Germany's "other" gay capital. Best known to outsiders for its iconic Kölner Dom, the city is also home to excellent museums, a hopping arts scene, and a warm and sexy populace. Cologne's pre-Lenten Carnival season is Europe's largest and liveliest, with a drag-heavy performance series, Röschen Sitzung, that's a huge gay draw. For the best local-mingling, head to the Kwartier Latäng, Friesenviertel, Belgisches Viertel, Südstadt and Ehrenfeld neighborhoods.
Until the fall of the Berlin Wall, Munich was often the first stop for first-time German visitors, sometimes being hailed as the country's "secret" capital. With its active cultural scene, the stunning Bavarian Alps as a backdrop, and loads of historic castles nearby, this third-largest German city is still a huge draw — especially during its infamous beer-soaked Oktoberfest when the first Sunday is now coined “Gay Sunday.” The Glockenbachviertel area is the heart of LGBT Munich.
Hamburg is Germany's second-largest city, a busy modern metropolis that's known as the country's media capital. As the biggest and most important German port town, Hamburg's long been called the "Gate to the World" and acclaimed for its stylish, international flair. Hamburg has two gay areas, the trendy downtown St. Georg and the red-light Reeperbahn, which offers guided tours by German drag legend Olivia Jones.
Frankfurt is Germany's business and financial capital, often called "Mainhattan" thanks to its adjacent River Main and its New York-esque skyscraper-heavy horizon. Frankfurt's huge airport makes it one of Germany's main transportation hubs, and its fantastic roster of museums and attractions draws millions of visitors here every year. The epicenter of Frankfurt gay action is the so-called Bermuda Triangle, just north of the city-center Konstablerwache.
Whichever German city (or cities) you pick, you'll find the LGBT culture to be legendary. Isn't it time you experienced it all firsthand, mein Freund?
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