A gay old time

Part-retirement home and part-WG, Lebensort Vielfalt is where Berlin's senior LGBTs (and a few straight female retirees) go to spend their twilight years. A waiting list longer than Cloud Atlas proves that grey and lavender do go together.

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Photo by Marta Dominguez

Ich bin alt! Ich bin schwul! Muss ich deshalb einsam sein? (I am old! I am gay! Must I therefore be lonely?) read the U-bahn posters advertising Lebensort Vielfalt, Germany’s first housing project dedicated to ageing LGBT Berliners. Initiated by gay counselling centre Schwulenberatung Berlin, the pink, newly renovated house on Niebuhrstraße in Charlottenburg is something between a fancy senior home, a guest house and a WG (shared flat).

Its 24 flats are home to 33 residents, most of them gay men aged 60-plus. There are also four men in their thirties and five retired women. Almost the whole staff is homosexual.

Is it a Schwulen ghetto? Berlin’s elderly gay generation still remembers the fear of repression and discrimination, and residents say they’re just looking for a comfortable, safe space.

”As gays get older, they are less welcome in the scene. They are not considered to be sexually attractive anymore. In this house, we don’t feel excluded,” says Bernd (67, photo), a retired book seller who rents a duplex on the fourth floor. He had lived for 30 years in a gay WG, but when his flatmates decided to move to the countryside, Bernd, preferring city life, became Lebensort Vielfalt’s first resident. He coaxed his longtime friend Gabrielle to move in.

Gabrielle is the house’s only lesbian; others weren’t interested, preferring not to live in a gay-dominated environment.

Heterosexual resident Birgit Witt (71), on the other hand, got tired of an all-female WG and wanted to live among men for a change.

Both Bernd and Birgit admit the rent is steeper than in their WGs (a 40sqm flat costs around €500), but it’s the price to pay for Lebensort Vielfalt’s combination of privacy, shared space (including a garden and a library) and companionship.

Everyone knows everyone there, and housemates often drop by and help out with things like shopping. If anyone moves out or passes away, their apartment won’t stay empty for too long: there are 200 people on the waiting list.

Lebensort Vielfalt, Niebuhrstr. 59/60, Charlottenburg, S-Bhf Charlottenburg