Berlin's 'Pink' red carpet

By Kenneth Kiesnoski

BERLIN -- Germany's ever-hip, progressive and on-trend capital city, a magnet for artists, agitators and alternative thinkers since its bohemian interwar heyday of the 1920s, is ratcheting up its appeal to today's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) travelers with new tailored attractions and promotions.

Concurrent with the opening of an expanded LGBT museum in a new location, city tourism board VisitBerlin recently announced the rollout of the Pink Pillow Berlin Collection, a partnership with 23 hotel properties that have pledged to make a special effort to welcome and orientate LGBT guests.

Member properties such as the Nhow Berlin, Radisson Blu, Hotel InterContinental, the Westin Grand Berlin and Novotel Berlin Am Tiergarten will adhere to guidelines that include an equally high standard for all guests regardless of orientation, regular sensitivity workshops for staff and active engagement in LGBT social projects. The hotels also provide guests with information of LGBT interest and about the LGBT "scene" in Berlin.

Nhow Berlin is part of the Pink Pillow Collection.The city already holds the distinction of being home to an outlet of one of the first gay (but "hetero-friendly") boutique hotel chains, Axel Hotels. The 86-room Axel Hotel Berlin lies in Schoneberg, the city's equivalent to New York's Greenwich Village.

In a statement announcing the Pink Pillow initiative, VisitBerlin stated that "each hotel of the Pink Pillow Berlin Collection stands for the right that everyone can be the way he or she wants to be, and that every guest should feel safe and welcome."

LGBT travelers already account for some 6% of all overnight stays in Berlin. It's a natural fit, said Visit Berlin spokeswoman Kirsten Schmidt, calling the city "one of the world's must-visit LGBT destinations."

"Berlin has the longest history as a free and welcoming metropolis," she said. "Gay life is, and has been, part of Berlin's culture."

Visitors can verify that claim with a trawl through the relocated Schwules Museum (literally, "Gay Museum") at its new home in a renovated former printing house in the Tiergarten district. Occupying more than 17,200 square feet on three levels, the once-tiny museum now boasts four exhibition spaces, a cafe, a reference library, offices, a workshop and an archive.

The Schwules Museum, or Gay Musuem, in Berlin.The existing permanent collection once on view at the museum's former location in a Kreuzberg walk-up tenement has been retired to the archive. While a new permanent exhibition is being compiled, three temporary shows are on offer. "Transformation," on view until the end of 2014, addresses trends in gender classification in Germany since 1800, while "Transformation -- Artistic Photographies" documents the museum's recent move and "Lesbian. Jewish. Gay," running through Sept. 9, explores what it means to be Jewish and LGBT.

Although compelling and new, the Schwules Museum is hardly Berlin's only, or even most popular, LGBT attraction. A recent fam foray across the city with "lifestyle guide" and entrepreneur Henrik Tidefjard, founder of tour firm Berlinagenten, took in the top shops, restaurants, cafes, bars, nightclubs and sightseeing spots in Schoneberg, Prenzlauerburg and other neighborhoods popular with both LGBT and mainstream travelers.

Tidefjard, a colorful, cosmopolitan Swedish transplant who half-jokingly refers to himself as a travel "pimp" for Berlin, makes it his business to introduce the latest and greatest on Berlin's cultural, culinary and clubbing fronts to clients from high-end U.S. outfits such as Willing Foot and Indagare.

There's something for everyone, he said. "Berlin is, for sure, the LGBT capital in Germany due to the enormous [size of the] scene. Cologne and Hamburg might have big gay scenes, but you just have to look at the number of locations we have [to see] we have more to offer in all respects."

Tidefjard's recommendations:

  • For bars, point clients to the Liberate, Heile Welt, Moebel Olfe, Roses and Zum Schmutzigen Hobby and bars along Motzstrasse. 
  • When it comes to nightclubs, he recommends Homopatik, Irrenhaus, Chantal House of Shame, GMF and Propaganda.
  • Before a night out, hungry clients should dine at More Berlin.
  • By day, they can window shop or grab a coffee on trendy streets such as Muenzstrasse, Kastanienallee, Oranienstrasse and around the Hackescher Markt complex.

Over drinks at the Liberate -- a small but glitzy new spot in the former East Berlin that attracts a mixed gay-straight crowd -- Tidefjard stressed that, for all the LGBT-specific goings-on, gay and lesbian visitors will find the long-tolerant city integrated and welcoming to all.

"For most people in Berlin, it's not about [proving] you are part of the LGBT scene [or] the need to stick together ... in a 'gay ghetto,'" he said. "And you're not asking yourself constantly if you can go there or do that because you're gay. In Berlin, you just do it without being afraid."

In fact, most LGBT visitors don't want an exclusively "gay" travel experience, Tidefjard said.

"They have a common need and demand of exploring Berlin in an exclusive way with a private guide and discovering the hip, cool and happening scene, instead of traditional gay venues," he said. "Plenty of gay visitors 'travel with style,' which means they want to hit the best restaurants, bars, galleries and shops, without an exclusive gay focus."

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