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social sciences

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Soon after Hitler became Chancellor, on May 6, 1933, Hirschfeld's Institute for Sexual Science was plundered, destroying what was then the largest archive of glbtq material ever assembled. The Nazis then began removing Berlin's intellectuals, homosexuals, and Jews. Secret police and informers silenced those Berliners who felt these removals were wrong.

To seem more hospitable during the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin, the Nazis allowed some prostitutes to work and reopened some gay bars. They would later use police records to prosecute Berlin's homosexuals under Paragraph 175, which they strengthened to criminalize almost any same-sex sexual activity.

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In 1936, the Nazis created a department (Reichszentrale zur Bekämpfung der Homosexualität und Abtreibung) that was specifically devoted to the arrest and detention of homosexuals. Almost 100,000 homosexuals were arrested between 1936 and the end of the war and between 5,000 and 15,000 homosexuals were sent to concentration camps, where they were marked with the pink triangle that would later be a sign of gay pride.

As command central for the German war efforts and an important industrial center, Berlin was bombed during World War II, beginning as early as 1940. By the end of the war, allied bombing and the Russian advance had destroyed most of the city.

Post-World War II Berlin

After World War II, the city was divided into a Western and Eastern sector. The end of the Nazi government permitted a brief resurgence of gay life in Berlin. The first gay bar in post-war Berlin opened in the summer of 1945, and the first drag ball took place in West Berlin in 1946.

After the war, West Germany, including West Berlin, reinstated the Nazi version of Paragraph 175 and retained it until 1969, when it was changed to punish only adults who engaged in same-sex sexual activities with minors. East Germany adopted the pre-Nazi version of Paragraph 175 and retained it until 1968, when it was changed to punish only adults who engaged in same-sex sexual activities with minors. The East German law was finally repealed in 1989.

The official position of East Germany was that homosexuality was a capitalist condition. Gay East Berliners organized a movement in and under the protection of churches, the only institution not under direct state control. All meetings of the movement had to be disguised as private parties or social gatherings in order to escape punishment.

During the 1980s, however, the East German government altered its position toward homosexuality and permitted greater openness. In 1986, the Berlin-based group Schwule in der Kirche (Gays in the Church) began publishing a gay newspaper. State-sponsored gay meetings were held in cafes and restaurants, and books and articles about homosexuality appeared in the mainstream press.

Gays in West Berlin were also ostracized, but they gradually formed groups and issued publications. Inspired by the 1969 American Stonewall riots and Rosa von Praunheim's 1971 film Nicht der Homosexuelle ist pervers, sondern die Situation in der er lebt (The Homosexual Isn't Perverse, but the Situation in Which He Lives), gay and lesbian West Berliners created a gay liberation movement. Paying homage to the street on which the Stonewall Bar was located in New York, they named their annual parade the Christopher Street Day Parade; it was begun in 1979. Today Berlin's CSD parade draws 500,000 visitors annually.

Berlin Today

The atmosphere for glbtq people in the former East Berlin is still markedly different from that in the former West Berlin. However, a reunited Berlin has reclaimed its famed openness and now competes with Amsterdam as a destination for gay and lesbian travelers. No other city in Germany has such a varied queer scene. Hundreds of gay and lesbian bars, clubs, bathhouses, and social organizations serve a range of sexual tastes, intellectual interests, and social concerns.

Berlin remembers its history as leader in Europe's gay emancipation movement at the turn of the century. The Schwules (Gay) Museum, founded in the late 1980s, is devoted to chronicling all aspects of glbtq history, but it has special interest in the early gay emancipation movement and in the treatment of homosexuals during the Nazi era. The museum houses a memorial to Hirschfeld, to whom a memorial also stands in the Charlottenburg district. The Museum also houses archives and exhibits.

Another institution, the Spinnboden, founded in 1973, maintains an archive concerned with lesbian life in the 1920s and from the 1970s to the 1990s. It also sponsors readings, films, and discussion groups relevant to numerous aspects of lesbian life.

In the Nollendorfplatz, a gay center in the 1930s and 1990s, there is a plaque memorializing the gay men who were persecuted by the Nazis.

Berlin's gay men and lesbians again have a strong presence in the city. Klaus Wowereit, an openly gay man, was overwhelmingly elected mayor in 2001, the same year in which Germany recognized same-sex unions. The city honors the history and presence of its gays and lesbians with archives, museums, bars, and clubs.

Jennifer Chase

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social sciences >> Overview:  Gay and Lesbian Bars

The centrality of gay and lesbian bars to glbtq culture has been reduced in recent years, but they continue to fulfill important functions; and, in many areas, they remain the most visible manifestation of glbtq presence.

social sciences >> Overview:  Germany

While Germany, until recently, never officially accepted or welcomed members of the glbtq community, German culture and homosexuality have a long and significant history.

social sciences >> Overview:  Nazism and the Holocaust

As part of its agenda to preserve an "Aryan master race," Nazism persecuted homosexuals as "asocial parasites"; more than 100,000 men were arrested on homosexual charges during the Nazi years, with 5,000-15,000 gay men incarcerated in concentration camps.

arts >> Berber, Anita

Expressionist exotic dancer and actress in German silent movies, Anita Berber epitomized for many the decadence of Weimar-era Berlin.

social sciences >> Brand, Adolf

Editor, photographer, and activist, Adolf Brand was the leader of a faction of the early German homosexual emancipation movement whose cultural views were expressed in Der Eigene (The Self-Owner), the first homosexual literary and artistic journal.

social sciences >> Frederick the Great

The homosexuality of Frederick the Great of Prussia was an open secret during his reign, yet some historians have attempted to deny it or to diminish its significance.

social sciences >> Hiller, Kurt

German writer and activist Kurt Hiller contributed to several pacifist and intellectual movements, including the fight to repeal Paragraph 175, which criminalized homosexuality.

social sciences >> Hirschfeld, Magnus

German-born Magnus Hirschfeld deserves recognition as a significant theorist of sexuality and the most prominent advocate of homosexual emancipation of his time.

literature >> Isherwood, Christopher

A major Anglo-American novelist and a pioneer in the gay liberation movement, Christopher Isherwood created gay characters whose homosexuality is a simple given, an integral part of the wholeness of personality and an emblem of their common humanity.

arts >> Mahlsdorf, Charlotte von

Preservationist and museum founder Charlotte von Mahlsdorf was admired by many for her bravery in the face of persecution and for her openness as a transgender public figure in perilous times.

social sciences >> Paragraph 175

Paragraph 175 was the German law prohibiting sex between men; strengthened by the Nazis, it was the statue under which homosexuals were sent to concentration camps.

social sciences >> Pink Triangle

Originally a mark of criminalization and persecution under the Nazis, the pink triangle was later reclaimed by gays both as a memorial and as a celebration of sexual identity.

literature >> Roellig, Ruth Margarete

Chronicler of Berlin's lesbian club scene of the late 1920s, writer Ruth Roellig was part of the lively gay counterculture of Germany's Weimar era.

arts >> Schwules Museum [Gay Museum]

Berlin's Schwules Museum [Gay Museum] is a private institution dedicated to preserving, exhibiting, and discovering homosexual history, art, and culture.

social sciences >> Stonewall Riots

The confrontations between police and demonstrators at the Stonewall Inn in New York City the weekend of June 27-29, 1969 mark the beginning of the modern glbtq movement for equal rights.


Hull, Isabel V. Sexuality, State, and Civil Society in Germany, 1700-1815. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1996.

Large, David Clay. Berlin. New York: Basic Books, 2000.

"New Coalition in Berlin Elects First Openly Gay Mayor." Los Angeles Times (June 17, 2001): A5.

Read, Anthony, and David Fisher. Berlin: Biography of a City. London: Hutchinson, 1994.

Steakley, James D. The Homosexual Emancipation Movement in Germany. New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Sternweiler, Andreas, and Hans Gerhard Hannesen, eds. Goodbye to Berlin: 100 Jahre Schwulen-bewegung. Berlin: Verlag Rosa Winkel, 1997.


    Citation Information
    Author: Chase, Jennifer  
    Entry Title: Berlin  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated November 9, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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