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Christopher Street Day: A photo-history of Berlin Pride

Christopher Street Day is the crowning event of Pride month in Berlin, but how did it all get started?

Photo: Imago/Müller-Stauffenberg

The Christopher Street Day demonstration is the crowning event of Berlin Pride Month. This year they are marching under the slogan “Be their voice – and ours! … for more empathy and solidarity” – a call for members of the LGBTQIA* community and allies to stand up in support of a plural society where we celebrate our differences, rather than letting them divide us. 

So where did it all start? And where is Christopher Street, anyway? Read on for a history of the colourful and iconic LGBTQIA* demonstration.

Christopher Street Day 2014. Photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

The first Christopher Street Day in Berlin took place in 1979. The annual Pride demonstration is named after the famous Stonewall riots that took place on Christopher Street in New York in 1969.

Photographer: Joseph Ambrosini of the New York Daily News. Wikipedia creative commons.

At the time, violent police raids were regularly carried out at New York bars which were known to have a lot of gay and trans customers. It began as a series of spontaneous protests by members of the gay community in response to a police raid at the Stonewall Inn that turned violent.

The next few days saw further protests and violence, as tensions between the NYC Police and gay residents of Greenwich Village erupted. Within a few weeks, residents organised into activist groups, demanding the right to live openly regarding their sexual orientation without the fear of being arrested. The riots are widely considered a watershed moment that transformed the gay liberation movement and the twentieth century fight for LGBTQIA* rights.

Christopher Street Day 1986. Photo: IMAGO / Jürgen Ritter

To mark the anniversary of the uprising on June 28, 1970, the first gay pride marches took place across cities in the US. This kickstarted an international tradition of holding a Pride march for LGBTQIA* rights every summer. 

The small beginnings of Berlin’s Christopher Street Day

The first Christopher Street Day (CSD) parade took place in West Berlin on 20th June, 1979, as a somewhat delayed reaction to the Stonewall riots in the US. 

Christopher Street Day 1986. Photo: IMAGO / Jürgen Ritter

They marched under two slogans – “Mach dein Schwulsein öffentlich!” (make your gayness public) and “Lesben erhebt euch und die Welt erlebt euch” (Lesbians, stand up and let the world see you). 400 people took to the streets and marched from Savignyplatz along Ku’damm in the direction of Halensee, waving rainbow flags. In the following years the number of participants steadily increased.

In the 1980s the AIDS crisis was devastating the gay community in particular, and acted as a focus for the demonstrations. There was a growing discontent with the failure of politicians to deal with the virus. The CSD was organised professionally from the mid 80s, and the number of participants continued to increase.  

CSD 1989. Photo: IMAGO / Michael Hughes

The first Christopher Street Day parade in East Berlin – 1990

After reunification, people from East Berlin were finally able to take part in the CSD demo. As a result, the number of participants skyrocketed, drawing 15,000 people in 1990. 

Christopher Street Day 1990. Photo: IMAGO / HEINRICH7BriganiArt

In the 90s CSD in Berlin became a massive event. In 1998, 300,000 people took to the streets with the motto “Fur eine andere Politik – wir fordern gleiche Rechte” (For different politics – we demand equal rights). 

Throughout the 90s the CSD faced criticism for focusing too much on gay men and giving too little space for female participation. As a result, the demonstration was led by an eye-catching giant plastic vagina in 1998, to ensure the visibility of the queer female community. 

An eye-catching giant plastic vagina. Christopher Street Day 1998. Photo: IMAGO / Enters

The turn of the millenium: More than twenty years of Christopher Street Day and half a million people

In 2000, the half a million mark was hit. At CSD in 2001, politician Klaus Wowereit’s declaration was on everyone’s lips – “Ich bin schwul – und das ist auch gut so” (I’m gay – and that’s a good thing). He was one of the first high profile German politicians to be open about his sexual orientation. Go Klaus!

CSD had become such a large event that many smaller demos started being held around the same date. In 2007 the first Dyke Trans March, (known as the Dyke* March since 2013) took place. 

Photo: IMAGO / snapshot

From 2013 the Pride demo had a consistent run for nearly a decade, other than a change of route in 2022. The march no longer starts at Ku’damm, but on Leipziger Straße near Potsdamer Platz. From there it goes through Schöneberg heading for the Victory Column on Nollendorfplatz, and moving towards the Brandenburg gate for the big finale. 

The number of participants passes the one million mark, and the pandemic hits

In 2019 the time had finally come: the number of participants in CSD passed the million mark. The city was filled with rainbows, activism and good cheer. The motto was “Stonewall 50 – Every riot starts with your voice”, a homage to the Stonewall uprising 50 years ago.

Christopher Street Day 2019. Photo: IMAGO / snapshot-photography/F.Boillot

Then came the pandemic. After the high of the previous year, CSD 2020 had to take place online. In 2021 the parade was back on, but instead of the usual blow-out attracting hundreds of thousands of participants, a much smaller demo took place.

Here’s to many more years of Christopher Street Day

Photo: Imago/Beata Siewicz

But haven’t all of the CSD’s goals been achieved? Paragraph 175 (which made homosexual relations illegal) has been abolished, AIDS is no longer a death sentence and same sex couples have been allowed to tie the knot since 2017. So do we still need the CSD demo at all?

CSD’s organisers (and us too) would answer emphatically – yes. Pride demonstrations are about giving oppressed minorities visibility and creating more acceptance. The special focus this year will be on worldwide hostility to the drag community, and inhumane laws and movements in African countries like Uganda, Ghana and Namibia, where homosexuality is still illegal.

Photo: IMAGO / Christian Spicker

The fight is not over until everyone is free to live openly, without fear of violence or discrimination, no matter what their sexuality. That’s why we celebrate Berlin’s diverse and colourful LGBTQIA* community, and on Saturday 22nd July 2023, we march!