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Berlin  
 
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In glbtq history, Berlin is legendary for its thriving subculture during the Weimar Republic (1919-1933), that brief moment when it was the center of the homosexual emancipation movement, and for its role as capital of Nazi Germany.

A reunited Berlin has concentrated on remembering its history to create a more liberal present. Berliners recently elected an openly gay mayor and participated in the struggle to gain legal recognition of gay relationships. Berlin surpasses other German cities in the scope of possibilities it offers to its queer residents.

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Frontier Town to World City

Berlin was founded in the twelfth century as a trading town and eventually became the largest city in Prussia. Berlin's cosmopolitan character was established in the seventeenth century, with the arrival of Poles, French, Italians, and others.

The Hohenzollern dynasty came to power in 1442 and made Berlin a military center in 1448. From this point on, except for a respite between 1918 and 1933, Berlin was dominated by the militaries of various governments until 1990.

The greatest of the Hohnzollern rulers was Frederick II, also known as Frederick the Great (1740-1786). A cultivated Francophone, he doubled the size of Prussia, establishing it as a major European power. Under Frederick, Berlin emerged as the center of German science and art.

Frederick's homosexuality was an open secret even during his reign. Mistreated by his father, Frederick Wilhelm I, who had his son's youthful lover beheaded, Frederick the Great became not only a military genius, but also an enlightened king, who introduced a number of civil reforms. He pursued his erotic friendships in private, especially at his retreat named Sans Souci, where he built a Friendship Temple commemorating the relationships of Greek antiquity.

Despite the relative openness of Frederick, during the eighteenth-century same-sex sexual relationships were condemned by both church and state. Up until 1791, the official punishment for sex between two men was the death penalty, though such a sanction was only rarely applied.

The French Revolution and Napoleon's rule exposed Berliners to new ideas of liberty, fraternity, equality, and nationalism. Berlin became the center of German nationalism and intellectualism. However, although the new ideas inspired five German states to end legal persecution of homosexual behavior, Prussia, and hence Berlin, were not among them.

With the Industrial Revolution, Berlin became Europe's fourth largest city. By the middle of the nineteenth century, it was Europe's most important industrial center.

After the unification of Germany in 1871, Berlin became the new country's capital. A result of the unification was the imposition of the Prussian legal code on all the German states. In the section of the code soon to be known as Paragraph 175, imprisonment for up to four years and the revocation of citizenship were prescribed for those convicted of sexual activities between men or between men and animals.

The Early Twentieth Century

In the early twentieth century, especially after Germany's defeat in World War I, Berlin gained an international reputation for its sexual openness. A thriving sexual subculture developed in the city and attracted visitors from throughout Europe.

Berlin's inflation made it a magnet for visitors and expatriates from America, England, and the rest of Europe, who could live cheaply and avail themselves of the opportunity to visit male and female brothels and clubs catering to every sexual taste. By 1933, there were more than 100 gay, lesbian, and transvestite bars in Berlin.

In this environment, the homosexual emancipation movement flourished. By the end of the nineteenth century, Berlin was a center of homosexual activism. In 1898, militant publisher Adolf Brand launched the first homosexual journal, Der Eigene, a literary and artistic magazine devoted to "male culture." In 1897, the more scientifically-oriented activist Magnus Hirschfeld founded Germany's first gay organization, the Wissenschaftlich-Humanitaeres Komitee (Scientific-Humanitarian Committee). In 1919, he established the Institute for Sexual Research.

Hirschfeld's Scientific-Humanitarian committee sponsored the first sexual survey of its kind among Berliners, gathered signatures to repeal Paragraph 175, and also published the Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen (Yearbook for the Intermediate Sex) between 1899 and 1923. In addition, a host of other doctors and jurists and activists theorized about the origins of homosexuality and campaigned for the rights of sexual minorities. These activities made Berlin the center of Germany's homosexual emancipation movement from the late nineteenth century to 1933, when Hitler came to power.

English novelist Christopher Isherwood, who lived in Berlin from 1930 to 1933, created the unsurpassed portrait of pre-Hitler Berlin in the Berlin Stories (comprising The Last of Mr. Norris [1935] and Goodbye to Berlin [1938]).

The Nazis

Berlin was the center of opposition to the Nazis, who regarded the city and its "vices" as decadent and depraved. Although the Nazis hated Berlin, its centrality to German political, intellectual, economic, and cultural life made it vital for them to have a presence there.

Three out of four Berliners voted against the Nazis in the 1932 elections, and Communists and Nazis fought each other in street battles until Hitler came to power in 1933.

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Top: Students organized by the Nazi party parade in front of the Institute for Sexual Research in 1933. The next day, Nazis pillaged the Institute and burned its books.
Above: Openly gay Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit (right) attends Christopher Street Day celebrations in 2001.

  
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