Passport: What’s New in Berlin

If ever a city knew how to do new, it’s Berlin. Sometimes by circumstance and sometimes by design, the German capital has weathered a steady stream of profound changes over the last century. In the past quarter of it alone, Berlin has gone from tensely divided Cold War ground zero to euphorically reunited mass construction zone, only to overextend itself into turn-of-the-millennium bankruptcy, only to be reborn as a global creative hotspot and hipster haven. Berlin’s next chapter is still to be written, but given that the city is now also sitting at the helm of Europe’s most booming economy, its future is looking pretty bright.

In the historical scheme of things, 2014 is a fairly momentous year for Berlin, marking both the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. November 9 will be a big day for the Wall (festivities will include a 7-1/2 mile strip of illuminated helium-filled balloons lining the path where it once stood), and throughout the entire year special events and exhibitions will take place at venues around town dedicated to the Wall’s memory. Foremost among these is the Berlin Wall Memorial (Bernauer Strasse, Mitte. Tel: 030-467-986-666. www.berliner-mauer-gedenkstaette.de) that features the last remaining section of the Wall with pre-1989 buffer grounds still preserved behind it. Nearly just as popular is the East Side Gallery (Mühlenstrasse, Friedrichshain. Tel: 030-251-7159. www.eastsidegallery-berlin.de), the longest remaining stretch of the Wall that’s now also an outdoor art gallery. It found its way into world headlines last year when real estate developers (who want to remove it, at least partially) were met with loud public outcries and protestors, including none other than David Hasselhoff. For a deeper understanding of how life once was on the Wall’s eastern side, check out the DDR Museum (Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse 1, Mitte. Tel: 030-8471-2373. www.ddr-museum.de) that offers a hands-on look at daily life in East Germany; and the Stasi Museum (Ruschestrasse 103, Building 1, Lichtenberg. Tel: 030-553-6854. www.stasimuseum.de) located in the former headquarters of the East German intelligence organization.

In other museum news, Berlin’s iconic Schwules Museum (Lützowstrasse 73, Schöneberg. Tel: 030-6959-9050. www.schwulesmuseum.de), the world’s first gay museum, will celebrate a full year at its spectacular new 17,500-square-foot location just south of the Tiergarten in May. Now nearly thrice the size of its former-self, the Schwules’ upgrade came thanks to more than $800,000 in public funding. As it readies its new permanent exhibition to premiere in the fall, the museum continues its interim show, “Transformation,�? a broad overview of the struggles surrounding gender classification since 1800, through August 10. If you act quickly, you can also still catch the fantastic homoerotic private photographs of legendary silent film director F.W. Murnau that’s on display until March 10.

Like its former next-door neighbor the Schwules, legendary Berlin nightclub SchwuZ(Rollbergstrasse 26, Neukölln. Tel: 030-5770-2270. www.schwuz.de), also recently packed up its longtime Kreuzberg home to make a space-expanding move across town. But rather than heading north, SchwuZ turned east, choosing to court a younger demographic with new digs in Berlin’s current core of über-cool, the Neukölln district. Set in what was once the Kindl Brewery, the new SchwuZ opened in November as a 16,000-square-foot industrial-chic megaclub with three dance floors and a massive stage. Hipster-soaked Neukölln, while still rough around the edges and a far cry from constituting yet another gayborhood for Berlin, is definitely seeing an uptick in queer nightlife action, with pioneer bars like the gay/lesbian fusion at SilverFuture (Weserstrasse 206, Neukölln. Tel: 030-7563-4987. www.silverfuture.net) now being joined by plucky newcomers like the literary-minded Wasted Land (Emser Strasse 34, Neukölln. Tel: 0176-2662-8836).

Few cities (if any) in the world have such wildly diverse gay scenes as Berlin. The northern end of the Schöneberg district still reigns supreme as the full-on gay
neighborhood of choice, with longtime queer favorites like Prinzknecht (Fuggerstrasse 33, Schöneberg. Tel: 030-2362-7444. www.prinzknecht.de), Tom’s Bar (Motzstrasse 19, Schöneberg. Tel: 030-213-4570. www.tomsbar.de), and Café Berio (Maassenstrasse 7. Tel: 030-216-1946. www.cafeberio.de) still going strongly. But LGBTQ action happens all over Berlin, often taken to extremes not seen anywhere else on the planet.

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Passport: What’s New in Berlin