‘I came to Berlin for Gay Pride six years ago, and never left’

American travel blogger Adam Groffman visited Berlin for Gay Pride in 2011. He never ended up leaving, and tells The Local why Christopher Street Day, as the celebration is known in Germany, is so special.

'I came to Berlin for Gay Pride six years ago, and never left'
Christopher Street Day in Berlin. Photo: DPA

“It was raining, of course,” Groffman remembers of his first Berlin gay pride march.

“It was huge and overwhelming. Everyone was drinking on the street – drinking everywhere. I didn't know anyone and suddenly I found myself in all these situations, moving from party to party.”

Groffman had just spent two years travelling the globe after chucking in his job as a graphic designer in Boston.

Berlin was supposed to be one of the last stops before he spent his last savings on a cheap flight home. But when he tried to leave – first travelling to Prague, then Vienna – he found Berlin dragging him back.

“It was very gay, very open, very exciting – I’ve been here ever since.”

Now he makes his money writing gay travel guides to cities including Amsterdam, Budapest and Tel Aviv.

“As a gay traveller now, I don’t have to stay in a gay hotel. Gay travellers want to find the best places, not necessarily the gay places,” he says, explaining how a lack of good LGBT travel literature motivated him to start his own guides.

As an example he mentions the Berlin district of Schöneberg, which has been the city’s “gay neighbourhood” since the 1920s.

“I never go out in Schöneberg, it’s just not very cool. There are far better bars in [the south Berlin neighbourhood] Neukölln. And there are gay bars in Neukölln as well.

“But a lot of the travel guides for Berlin still talk about Schöneberg as being the gay area. It is still very gay obviously, but there has been a lot of shift further to the east of the city.”

Groffman and travel guide publisher Berta Luise Heide have brought out a QueerBerlin map in anticipation of Christopher Street Day 2017, which is taking place on July 22nd. The map suggests gay-friendly museums, shops and bars, as well as marking out three walking tours around the city.

Adam Groffman. Photo: Private

“A lot of people go to the Holocaust Memorial [in central Berlin]. But people sometimes forget, or don’t realize, that just across the street is the memorial to LGBT victims of the Nazis,” he says, pointing out one route on the map, which also takes in regular sightseeing such as the Reichstag building and the Tiergarten park.

He emphasizes that Schöneberg is worth a visit to get an appreciation for the city's gay past. It is home to the Schwules Museum (Gay Museum), while Motzstrasse and Nollendorfplatz are still home to numerous gay bars and shops.

Pride is actually two weeks of celebrations in Berlin, starting this weekend. And Groffman points out that the Stadtfest in Nollendorfplatz, held July 15th-16th, introduces people to various local queer societies, such as film clubs.

“It is really useful if you've just moved here,” he says.

“But to experience today's gay culture in Berlin, you need to go to the bars and clubs of Neukölln and Kreuzberg, places like Südblock, Roses or Silver Future.”

Groffman also recommends that people in Berlin for Christopher Street Day check out SchwuZ, one of the largest gay clubs in Berlin, which is throwing an after party.

“I prefer it to the official after party, where the gay scene goes – it’s more queer, more inclusive.”

He also mentions the Yo! Sissi music festival, which happens on the weekend after Pride, as being “more underground than Christopher Street Day. It gets to the roots of the gay cultural scene here.”

And for those who want something a little bit more reflective, Groffman says you should head to the Kino International, which puts on an LGBT film once a week.

“Especially for solo travellers, Berlin is great around Christopher Street Day, because it fosters connections between people.”

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.