What I learnt at CSD Berlin

Our experiences at Berlin Pride, known in Germany as Christopher Street Day, or CSD Berlin for short, as part of the #mygaypride campaign promoted by 2 Bad Tourists. If you want to know more about LGBT Berlin, here’s the gay guide to Berlin by Nomadic Boys!

berlin pride Brazilian dancers selfie

Selfie with Brazilian hotties

Why we decided to support #mygaypride

At the beginning of 2015, I heard that Auston and David of Two Bad Tourists were looking for ‘straight allies’ to support the #mygaypride campaign, that would be covering Pride events around various cities in Europe.

berlin gay pride tiergarten
The Pride in Berlin Tiergarten

I instantly knew I wanted to be involved, and I was ecstatic when we were chosen to be part of the project together with 15 other bloggers and Gay Star News as media partner. Why? First of all, because this time I would use my words and Nick’s pictures to spread a message that is far more important than ‘visit such and such place, it’s really nice’.

A message of love, understanding and equal rights, a message of hope that hate will end, that the future generations will not have to know fear and exclusion.

Pride Berlin rainbow flag
Rainbow crowds

When we announced we were going to join the #mygaypride campaign, we received several messages from our readers. Some thought I was a closet lesbian. Others thought Nick and I were in an open, bisexual relationship.

Truth is, we decided to support #mygaypride because both of us have known LGBT people, and have been at their side in their struggle in accepting themselves, while our society is largely still hostile to anyone that dares to be different.

berlin gay pride drag queen
A beautiful drag queen

We wanted to support #mygaypride because we both dream a future where people needn’t be afraid of who they are, where everyone has the right to marry, have children, and be who they want to be, where LGBT teenagers are not kicked out by their families, but their differences are celebrated as something to be proud of.

What I didn’t expect is that #mygaypride would be a massive learning experience for me. I thought I knew lots about LGBT culture. In fact, I knew very little – just the stereotyped view of an ordinary straight person.

berlin pride yellow drag queen
Check out that hair!

In this post (and in the one about CSD Cologne, that will be online shortly) I wish to share with you what I learnt during CSD Berlin, and during the whole of the #mygaypride project.

Berlin CSD kiss
Love and equality for all

Queer history in Berlin

Berlin has been at the forefront in the struggle for LGBT rights for a very long time. Most people believe that the LGBT movement was born with the Stonewall Riots of June 1969, but in Berlin there were gay activists even a century before, fighting for equality and tolerance for homosexuals, and even nearly managed to decriminalise homosexual behaviours.

Berlin CSD bubbles

One of such people was Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, perhaps the first person in modern history to define homosexuality as a distinct category of identity, as well as starting the movement for gay rights. He campaigned extensively to end anti-sodomy laws and the social stigma that came with them.

Karl Heinrich Ulrichs was one of the first people to publicly state that homosexuality was innate, and not learnt; he was definitely the first to bring research about homosexual identity together, and to start campaigning for acceptance. That was in the mid-19th century.

He and other lobbyists didn’t succeed in decriminalising homosexuality because of Germany’s unification in 1870. Prussia, the German state who came to lead the Empire, had a strict moral code which translated into severe anti-sodomy laws, and went to impose not only its laws, but also its mindset, on the rest of Germany.

Another important personality in queer history in Berlin was Magnus Hirschfeld, a medical practitioner and founder of the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, the first group to advocate for equal rights not only for homosexuals, but also transgender people. During the liberal time of the Weimar Republic, Hirschfeld created the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, one of the first places in Europe to offer hormone therapy and sex change operations. His work came to an end – along with that of other campaigners for gay rights – when the Nazis seized power.

CSD Berlin 3 queens
Scenes from CSD in 2015

Fast-forward half a century, and newly-united Berlin became one of the most open cities in Europe towards LGBT people. Christopher Street Day (named after the street in New York where the Stonewall Inn was) has been celebrated since 1979, while most of Europe started organising Prides in the mid-Noughties.

In 2007, I met a gay man during my first visit to Berlin. He had escaped the small, narrow-minded Southern town where he had grown up, in the closet, for fear of redneck violence. He had settled in Berlin when ‘the dust of the fallen Wall was still in the air’, and for the first time in his life, he was able to be himself without fear of being beaten, ostracised, rejected.

CSD Berlin weird couple
In Berlin, you can be yourself

Our Experience at CSD Berlin and what we learnt

Nick and I attended the main CSD Parade, taking place on the afternoon of Saturday June 27th, from the Kurfürstendamm through Nollendorfplatz and Tiergarten, until Brandenburg Gate.

CSD Berlin crowd float
On top of the float

The main CSD Parade was indeed a lot of fun – with over 50 floats, it wasn’t hard to find your kind of music to dance along – from Pride classics like Vengaboys and ABBA, to floats playing rock music and others with Latin tunes. It was a time to let your hair down and just dance, be whoever you want to be. A place where you’re not judged, where you don’t need to conform.

We are all the same. We are all different.

This was the motto of the day, printed on flyers and on the back of floats. Same, because we are all people. Different, because we all are, and being different is not something to hide, it’s something to celebrate.

berlin pride gimp dog
A member of the ‘leather’ group

We spent most of our time walking up and down the parade, just observing. It wasn’t my first Pride, but it was the first time I actually stopped and thought, trying to absorb the experience, instead of just partying. There were people of all ages – from same-sex families with kids in strollers, groups of young people (gay, lesbian, straight, every colour of the rainbow), to elderly people.

CSD Berlin house husbands
House-husbands unite

In total, I heard there were half a million people. I do not know their life story – somehow, it felt wrong going up to them and asking ‘Why are you here? What’s your story?’

berlin gay pride lesbian policewomen
I really wanted to talk to these ladies… but I lost them in the crowd

So, we just went around, and tried to imagine people’s lives. We saw two Russian women, one of them in a wedding dress. The other was holding up a sign, saying ‘Danke Berlin’. Thank you, Berlin, for allowing us to be ourselves.

At CSD Berlin, I also learnt that gender is a much more complicated concept than I thought. Yes, there are males and females, gays and lesbians, but the rainbow does indeed have many colourful shades. There are people who don’t identify with the gender binary, for whom being either ‘male’ or ‘female’ is reductive. They are both, or perhaps they are neither.

Berlin CSD pansexual
What’s gender all about?

Now stop for a moment, and imagine how life must be in our society for these people. Everything in our lives is dictated by gender. Just fill in a form, any form, and you’ll have to state your gender. Go to a public toilet, and there’s a male and a female option. Go shopping for clothes, open any newspaper. Even our own language – there’s a he and a she, a male and a female pronoun. ‘It’ is for things and animals.

Imagine how it would be to be stared at from head to toe every day, to have inquisitive eyes scrutinising you, wondering ‘is it a man or a woman?’

Berlin gay pride blue queen
Male, female… just beautiful.

Remember when you were at school. Everything was either boy or girl stuff. You either played with dolls, or with toy cars. How about people who fall outside this classification? Imagine the internal struggle they go through – because biological gender and gender identity do not always match. Shouldn’t these people have the support of a caring community, instead of being ridiculed? Shouldn’t we teach at schools that it is ok, that being ‘male’ or ‘female’ is nothing more than biology, that it has nothing to do with who you feel you are, deep inside?

Berlin CSD crowd flags
Another view of the parade

I can hear voices, whispering in my ear – society is not ready for that. Let me tell you, we are society. True, mindsets may take generations to change, some people will never accept it – in fact, there are still hard core racists in all fringes of society.

But we need to start. We need to stand up: it’s time for everyone, gay or straight, to start fighting for equal rights. We need to start caring, even though you may think that it’s not your business, that you’re not gay so it doesn’t matter. Over the last century, equality has made a lot of progress in the Western world. And that happened because people cared – because they took the streets, demanding the end of racial segregation, demanding the right to vote for women.

Berlin CSD drag queen and boy
Faces from CSD Berlin

This year’s CSD Berlin was also a very special day for Americans, because the day before same-sex marriages had been legalised in all 50 states by Supreme Court decree. There was a wedding-cake shaped float, with a singer performing live, surrounded by a gay and a lesbian couple.

We followed them for a bit, happy to be able to celebrate this important decision – and wondering why, in 2015, same-sex marriage and equal rights for LGBT people still need to be an issue.

Berlin gay pride american float
The American float celebrating marriage equality

And I’m not talking about the 70 countries in the world where homosexual acts are illegal, or about the 7 where it’s punishable by death.

Berlin gay pride homophobic countries
In 70 countries homosexuality is still a crime

I’m talking about the civilised West. For all talks of freedom and equality around the world, there’s still a hell of a lot of bigotry and hatred towards whoever doesn’t ‘conform’. 

CSD Berlin conchita lookalike
A friend of Conchita?

Never having been homophobic, I honestly don’t understand why. I can only assume hatred stems from fear of the unknown. To all this people, I can only say one thing – go to a Pride. Go and see with your own eyes that it’s not all about sex and depravity. Go with an open mind. You’ll see that we are all different, but we are all the same.

And being different isn’t a bad thing.

CSD berlin merkel air
Really, Frau Merkel? Do you want us to be all the same?

Practical Pride Information

The main CSD parade is only one of many events celebrating Pride weekend in Berlin. In true Berlin style, there’s an alternative CSD march in Kreuzberg, and several (official and unofficial) parties.

Adam from Travels of Adam, a Berlin local, did a great job of highlighting all Pride-related events in this article.

Berlin is wonderful all year round – but come for CSD, and it’s truly special.

berlin pride dancers on float
Everyone should go to pride, at least once.

Travelling to Berlin with a Eurail / Interrail ticket

Nick and I travelled to Berlin by train from Italy, from Bologna via Brennero to Munich, and from Munich to Berlin after a night’s stopover in the Bavarian capital. Next time we’ll spend a minimum of 4 days in Munich, but this time it was just touch and go!

Being a European resident, I had an Interrail pass, while Nick, who is Australian, had a Eurail pass. There’s not much difference between the two passes – Interrail is accepted in 30 countries, while the Eurail pass is only accepted in EU-member countries. Also, you cannot use an Interrail pass in your country of residence, so I had to pay for the trip from Bologna to Brennero, the Italian/Austrian border.

Besides this, we truly believe that a Eurail / Interrail pass is a great investment, especially in a country like Germany where trains are notoriously expensive. A flight to Berlin would’ve meant a 3 a.m. wake up for us, and a couple of days looking like zombies. Travelling by train, we spent two afternoons on comfy first-class seats, crossing the Alps (on day one) and riding across Germany from south to north (day two). Check out this view as we crossed Innsbruck in Austria!

eurail train innsbruck
View from the train as we cross Innsbruck

On top of that, Eurail / Interrail passes are super convenient. All trains we took didn’t need a reservation. We could wake up when we felt like, rock up at the station, grab lunch and jump on the first train – which usually departed within the hour. We’re actually spending most of our summer travelling around Europe on Eurail / Interrail passes, so follow us along!

This article is part of the #mygaypride campaign, organised by Two Bad Tourists in collaboration with Visit Berlin. We would like to thank Eurail and KLM for looking after the transportation of participating bloggers, and Mercure Hotel Berlin City for accommodation. THANKS! 

More CSD Berlin pics below!

berlin pride boys
Holding hands in the crowd
Berlin gay pride orange queen
Berlin gay pride rainbow balloons
Rainbow balloons at the end of the parade
Berlin gay pride girl
I just love the expression on her face
Berlin Pride from float
Another shot from the top of the float
Berlin gay Pride russian
A Russian group
Berlin CSD crowd from float
Another shot of the rainbow crowd
CSD Berlin Miss on car
Miss CSD on her luxury car
CSD Berlin mr bear selfie
Mr Bear taking a selfie
berlin gay pride rainbow swirl
Rainbow twirl

8 thoughts on “What I learnt at CSD Berlin”

  1. Fantastic piece, and great pictures! I’m really sorry I missed it, looks like it was a lot of fun. Did you do a queer history tour with Finn, the guide who gave us the tour the night we met? A lot of the things you mention about the history I learnt form that tour with him when I did it last weekend. Very insightful, and really surprising really that the world doesn’t know that this movement started so much earlier in Berlin than anywhere else. Amazing!

    “There are people who don’t identify with the gender binary, for whom being either ‘male’ or ‘female’ is reductive. They are both, or perhaps they are neither.” I love this quote. It’s something that I, as a cisgendered male member of the LGBT community am still learning about, because unfortunately as a community, we are quite segregated from each other.

    • Thank you so much for your kind comment, Sam! It was good to meet you, I really hope I’ll see you again! I didn’t do the Queer History tour with Finn but I would love to – this is just what I gathered through research, I’m sure there’s a lot more to it. Thanks again, and say hello to Zeb!

  2. Great post. LGBT rights and acceptance are the civil rights issue of our time. I accidentally attended the CSD Berlin parade a couple of years ago. My husband and I were on a multi-city European tour and had no idea it was taking place and stumbled upon it. It was the largest Gay Pride event we had ever attended and it was stunning. We attended London’s pride parade this year (intentionally) and it was stellar as well. I actually get choked up when I see some of the signs people are holding and when groups representing the police and military march by. Reminds me that we have come a ways. I think its so important for straight allies to show solidarity at these events. This is a human rights issue, not a gay issue.

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