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Große Freiheit: Is Berlin losing its edge?

The Gay Berliner laments the new blandness of the city’s queer Kneipen.

Image for Große Freiheit: Is Berlin losing its edge?

Möbel Olfe in Berlin. Photo: IMAGO / Emmanuele Contini

In October, Boxhagener Straße’s gay den of vice Große Freiheit (GF) reopened under new ownership and a new slogan, “Queer & Friends”. The logo was written in a thin, clean, rounded font, spelling out its name over a simple black background. My friends and I had to go. We entered to a packed bar full of twinks in full Berlin uniform: Black mesh, dangly earrings, crop-tops. Cool if not particularly unique.

The first thing that caught our eye was the large neon sign to the right of the bar blurting out “Orgasm is a human right!” Oh. Above the bar was a neon sign with an equally important message: “Negroni”. Nice. A drink that was hot approximately three years ago. I wonder if they’ve caught on to the Aperol Spritz?

“Now there are three bars in the neighbourhood with basically the same vibe – this place, Capture and Himmelreich,” my friend Sebastian laughed. “Yeah, the design is a bit out-of-the-box,” commented Joshua. On my way back from the bathroom I ducked what was meant to be the… darkroom? The layout was the same, but the energy? There was no visual stimulation. In the corner, a chubby girl was doing a photoshoot for her Instagram. No one was having sex. At all.

Meanwhile, the bar was packed. Up front the DJ laid down Lady Gaga, Madonna, Cher, Katy Perry, who knows what else. What’s happened here?

GF’s name was originally a nod to the street in Hamburg north of the Reeperbahn that has an equally shady reputation (although not actually gay). This explained its former interior design – a rustic, sailor-themed bar with nautical-heart-tattoos and many cozy corners. It was a darkroom Kneipe. GF was kind of fucked up and pretty great. Most nights there wasn’t much in common between the men that went there except… they were horny.

A man in his eighties named Ralf would regularly attempt to lure some unsuspicious drunk boy into his lair. Rock’n’roll nights happened once a month where the locals mixed with the dragged up art/music scenesters of the 2010s. The dirty darkroom played all sorts of gay porn produced in the 1990s over whatever action was happening under the red light.

Let’s face it: GF has lost its character. It’s not particularly edgy, nor does it stand out. Of course, I want this place to survive. A neighbourhood with any gay bar is infinitely better than none. But it’s sad to see the layers that made Berlin so unique stripped away for a kind of hip uniformity. Thankfully we still have Möbel Olfe and Ficken3000. But the general trend is towards a flatter, more sanitised city.

Berlin used to be proud of how grimy it was. Off the beaten path, laid out in a ditch, totally am Arsch. We wore that like a badge of honour. If they said Kotti is gefährlich, we said “FUCK YEAH!” People want their Berlin sauber these days, and that’s starting to apply to the gay bars too.