“Hier ist’s richtig!”: Creating and Dominating Queerness in Berlin

By Spencer Spotts

IMG_9355Any queer-identifying individual searching for an LGBTQIA+ friendly city to visit or move to will repeatedly find Berlin listed as one of the top ten “gay friendly” cities. While it may be true that Berlin appears to accept and embrace queerness much more strongly than other locations around the world, one must also be critical of how queerness in Berlin operates, who controls and defines “acceptable” queerness, and which queer narratives dominate cultural and public discourses. So, unless your queerness manifests itself as a white, gay cisgender man, you might want to pause before purchasing your one-way AirBerlin ticket.

IMG_9352The FemGeniuses spent our last Friday afternoon on a “Queer Berlin” Walking Tour (primarily in Schöneberg), one of the many tours offered by Original Berlin Walks. We spent four hours traveling between different neighborhoods in Berlin to better understand queer history and culture in the city. As a gay man, I was drooling over most of the sites we encountered and stories we heard. However, I also worked to remain critical of the narrative. Although the history and sites were intellectually stimulating, I found myself more drawn to the way queer spaces have been created, defined, challenged, and destroyed in Berlin.

image2For example, one of the earlier stops we visited was the Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted under the National Socialist Regime. This monument, located in Tiergarten, was inaugurated in 2008 to commemorate those who were persecuted by the Nazis due to their sexuality. The large concrete cube slightly resembles the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and has a window carved into it where viewers can look inside to watch a short clip of same-sex couples kissing. Erik Jensen explores this history in “The Pink Triangle and Political Consciousness: Gays, Lesbians, and the Memory of Nazi Persecution,” commenting on the differences found in the persecution of gays and lesbians during the Nazi regime, as well as how they are remembered (such as the Pink Triangle). He writes, “During much of the 1970s, lesbians shared the pink triangle and its memory of persecution with gay men, and lesbian activists played a role in promoting it. Increasingly, however, lesbians felt overlooked or consciously ignored by gay men in the movement” (333). Similarly, this memorial originally only showcased gay male couples kissing:

After campaigns and protests, the memorial was changed approximately 18 months later to include lesbian couples. Such dominance over the definition of queerness by white gay cisgender men is incredibly present throughout Berlin, and it especially continued throughout our tour.

IMG_9360A significant part of the tour entailed hearing about individuals and their personal stories/experiences. These figures included Klaus Wowereit, the city’s first openly gay mayor, Christopher Isherwood, and the Prussian King Frederick the Great. Another very significant figure we learned about was Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, a gay Jewish doctor who developed the Institute for Sexual Research, and contributed to gender and queer theory. In “Gay German History: Future Directions?,” Clayton Whisnant argues that “much research has been writing the history of the first homosexual rights movement […] Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld and his Scientific-Humanitarian Committee has garnered much attention” (2). Clearly, Dr. Hirschfeld played a significant role in the development of queerness in Berlin. However, every single personal narrative we heard about focused on a white, gay man. To the credit of the tour guide, issues of racism and sexism were occasionally addressed when discussing certain companies or events. However, the tour itself still catered to the very narrative that it seems to want to avoid and possibly even deconstruct.

IMG_9363The point of this essay is not necessarily to criticize the tour, partially because the tour itself was great. It was very informative, and our tour guide was one of my favorite, and I think most of us genuinely enjoyed this afternoon. Instead, I want to consider this tour as a model for how the dominant queer narrative in Berlin has been constructed and continues to be reproduced. Towards the end of our tour, we learned about the slogan for a transvestite bar that is no longer in existence, the El Dorado. Their slogan reads, “Hier ist’s richtig!,” which translates to “Here it’s okay!” However, these words carry a certain meaning, and are positioned in a specific social and cultural location. Who is allowed into this space, both literally and figuratively? Whose queerness is okay? Who controls power over queer spaces?

IMG_9374In “Gay and Lesbian Life in East German Society before and after 1989,” Jürgen Lemke argues, “The fall of the Wall changed [the] situation completely” for LGBTQ communities in Berlin (36). And although his argument may be true, I wonder—for whom did it change? What narrative was rewritten and what narrative was buried deeper? Although the focus of the tour was to explore the history and culture of queerness in Berlin, we walked away also having unearthed the strands of sexism and racism deeply engrained in the city’s mainstream gay culture. And out of all the moments on this trip, it was this tour that I was reminded of America the most.

Spencer IISpencer Spotts is a rising junior at Colorado College, with a major in Feminist & Gender Studies and a minor in Race & Ethnic Studies. His hometown is Thornton, Colorado, and he is a first generation student. Spencer currently serves as the co-chair of the Colorado College Student Organization for Sexual Safety (SOSS) and hopes to pursue a career in sexual violence and sexual health education for LGBTQIA+ communities. His research interests include sexual violence, emotional partner abuse, effemiphobia in queer communities, and the experiences of LGBT youth. He also has a background in theatre and occasionally directs productions at Colorado College. He works as the Open House Intern for the Colorado College Office of Admission and occasionally writes for The Catalyst independent student newspaper. Last but not least, Spencer is a proud and active Starbucks Gold Card Member.


Schloss Charlottenburg

By Casey Schuller

Boat TourWe’ve reached our final class day in Berlin!  Most of us still have one more full day left, but tonight will be spent finishing work and trying to do some last-minute bonding. I think leaving for all of us will be bittersweet. Berlin has been amazing, yet so many of us are excited to get back to our summer jobs and internships.

Castle (Front)After we had a nice, albeit somewhat chilly, boat tour, we headed to the Charlottenburg Castle for one of our final class activities. This castle was built as a summer residence for Queen Sophie Charlotte and her husband Fredrick I. They were King and Queen of Prussia, but built themselves quite an extravagant getaway in Berlin. The castle was finished in 1699, and when Sophie was alive, the castle was named Lietzenburg.  After she died, it was later renamed Charlottenburg Palace in her memory.

Castle (Sophie)It is the largest palace in Berlin, and holds a lot of history since it dates back to the Hohenzollern dynasty. Unfortunately, Sophie died young in 1705, and the king took over the palace from there.  The castle originally consisted of only the center section, which lasted until 1740 when Frederick the Great built two additional wings. Since he was the grandson of Frederick I, he took over the castle as he came into power. Even though the castle was damaged greatly during WWII, it has been reconstructed, allowing us to see a good portion of preserved rooms and paintings. Some of this, however, has been refurbished with items from the Berlin City Palace, and it holds one of the largest collections of French 18th century paintings. The “second apartment” Sophie built in the castle became her winter residence and experienced only a little damage due to the war. The library was the only room that survived completely untouched. These rooms allowed for better inventory and reconstruction of the rooms.

Castle (Ceiling)The palace is extravagant not only due to its size, but also because of the careful decorations inside. I mentioned the great paintings that cover the walls. In one room, the English audio tour guide stated that we were only seeing a small number of the original paintings. That room, a bed chamber, was supposed to hold 60 paintings, yet the walls were almost fully covered, and we were only seeing about 20 of them! That just sounds overwhelming to fall asleep with to me.  Another great aspect of the castle is its beautiful ceiling art. Most of the ceilings were covered in a large, detailed painting, often corresponding to the use of the room.

Castle (Bath)The highlight of the tour for me was probably seeing the king’s white marble bathtub, which was so deep that it required six steps to walk down into it, and is topped with dolphin shaped taps. Since the king did not actually use the tub much, it was really more a symbol of his wealth.  Then, in the next room, there is a huge collection of blue and white china completely covering the walls. It was amazing and startling to walk into; only by spending a few hours in there could one take it all in. The first floor was the main attraction of the tour, though a maze of rooms on the upper floor was available for a quicker walk-through.

Castle (China)By the end of the tour, we had walked through approximately 50 rooms, and that seemed like only a small portion of this mansion. I’m sure that the total value of the furniture and decorations is a number I would not even be able to comprehend. I was lucky enough to get the rights to take some photos of these rooms to add to the blog (for 3€, of course). I made a point to use this money well, which culminated in me taking about 90 pictures, only a few of which I have room to share here.

Castle (Gardens)In the back of this beautiful castle is a massive array of baroque gardens that somehow makes this castle seem small. Although we did not walk through those today, they are free to the public and look like a gorgeous place to take a stroll or even a jog.

Castle (Selfie)We certainly had our taste of luxury for the day. Though many of us may have dreamt of a castle that size (and as a summer home at that), I think we all agreed on the unnecessary excessiveness of much of what we saw. Maybe someday we will all have one to share thanks to our Colorado College education.

Until then, tschüss from Berlin!


CaseyCasey Schuller is entering her junior year at Colorado College. She is majoring in Sociology with a minor in Anthropology, and she is particularly interested in media and gender. She has been particularly challenged by this class, since for the first time in her life, she is being out-sassed by those around her.