Of all the Berlin tours I offer, this is one very close to my heart, since the city’s LGBTIQ+ community (and its unique history) was what brought me here. A century ago, Berlin was the setting of the world’s first gay emancipation movement, and was proud of its Sexual Science Institute, where some of the earliest gender-reassignment surgeries were undertaken by Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld – whom Hitler would later call ‘the most dangerous Jew in Germany’ – and his assistants. With patients such as Lili Elbe (who inspired the Oscar-winning 2015 movie The Danish Girl), Hirschfeld collated the first collection of scientific documentation on gender and sexual variance, appeared in the world’s first gay-themed movie in 1919, and campaigned vehemently for the decriminalization of homosexuality until the Nazis forced him into exile and destroyed much of his life’s work.
On this tour, we will discuss Hirschfeld’s life and times while exploring the theatre and cabaret quarter of Berlin in the beautiful and remarkably well-preserved neighbourhood Schöneberg, birthplace of Marlene Dietrich and replete with gorgeous ‘Belle Epoque’ architecture.
Starting at Wittenbergplatz, we’ll explore the Kurfürstendamm where sex workers gathered, including the ‘rouged young men’ observed by journalist Luigi Barzini, one of the many writers to chronicle this remarkable moment. on which journalist Luigi Barzini saw ‘rouged young men’ sauntering a century ago. We can have a decadent snack at KaDeWe, the largest department store in continental Europe, open since 1907 (the wartime break notwithstanding!) and wander through the ‘pink triangle’ of the first LGBT village in the world.
We will discuss how Berlin was the lesbian capital of the world in the 1920s, with trans women particularly prominent on the scene, and we will see one of the earliest queer bars in the world, Eldorado, legendary for its drag pageants and transfeminine clientele. We’ll see where Billy Wilder danced, and pass by the flat in which Christopher Isherwood lived (and hosted Stephen Spender and W.H. Auden) when penning the two novels that later became the stage play and movie known to the world as Cabaret. Isherwood left in 1933, and on the cusp of WWII he published ‘Goodbye to Berlin,’ all too aware that the city in which he had spent several years would never be the same.
Indeed, this tour will also take us through a harrowing history, as we discuss the fate of the gay, lesbian, bi, queer and trans Berliners persecuted during the Nazi dictatorship. We will discuss the fates of those few survivors able to tell their stories, and their demands for recognition, and see how the history of the Cold War aided in obfuscating this astonishing moment in Berlin history. We will explore the contemporary Schöneberg scene, replete with gay bars and queer-friendly cafes, popping into Prinz Eisenherz, Europe’s most tenacious LGBT bookstore – and lots more!