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keylight Life

Pride Month: A look into Berlin’s LGBTQ+ history

By Ji-Soo Kweon
Pride Month: A look into Berlin’s LGBTQ+ history

Learn about the history of Berlin’s Christopher Street Day which has been celebrated every year since 1979 to commemorate the Stonewall Riots.



Every year since 1979 Berlin has celebrated Christopher Street Day in the second half of July to commemorate the Stonewall Riots in Christopher Street, New York, on 27 July 1969. However, the public discourse around LGBTQ+ rights preceded the Stonewall Riots by almost a century, as the political movement for LGBTQ+ rights arose in Germany in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Today Berlin is known for its diversity and celebration of the LGBTQ+ community, but the history of LGBTQ+ activism in Berlin extends back over a century and is in equal parts revolutionary and tragic. 

The forgotten history of nineteenth century queer activism reveals that Berlin was the site of historic research, activism, and progress for LGBTQ+ rights. The first gay journal, The Self-Owning (Der Eigene) was published in Berlin from 1896 to 1932. The world’s first gay rights demonstration took place in Berlin in 1922, and homosexuality was nearly decriminalized by the Reichstag in 1929. The first LGBT rights organization in history, the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee (Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee) was founded in Berlin by Magnus Hirschfeld on 15 May 1897. In 1919 Hirschfeld founded the Institute for Sexology (Institut für Sexualwissenschaft) in Tiergarten, which pioneered research on trans identity. Tragically, most of this pioneering research was lost when the Institute was sacked by the Nazis, and its archives were destroyed in book burnings in 1933. Today the burning of the Institute of Sexology’s library is memorialized by a memorial in Bebelplatz by Micha Ullman called ‘The Empty Library’, which symbolizes the 20,000 books burned on that site. 

Berlin’s historic queer culture experienced a revival in the 1970s, after homosexuality was decriminalized in East Germany in 1968 and in West Germany in 1969. Schwuz, an alternative gay nightclub that opened in 1977, also publishes Siegessäule, Berlin’s largest-circulation city magazine and the largest European magazine aimed for the LGBTQ+ community. The gay club scene, which emcompasses everything from techno fetish to drag queen ballrooms, has since expanded from the world’s first gay neighbourhood in Schӧneberg, and the LGBTQ+ scene thrives in Kreuzberg, Neukӧlln, and Prenzlauer Berg, among other places. The rich history of Berlin’s queer culture that continues to thrive to this day is documented at the Schwules Museum, which opened in 1985 and was the first museum in the world dedicated to gay history. 

In the relative liberalism of the Weimar Republic, Berlin had a vibrant queer scene in the area surrounding Nollendorfplatz in Schӧneberg, just a stone’s throw from keylight’s Berlin headquarters. Schӧneberg is also the birthplace of queer icon Marlene Dietrich, who frequented gay clubs and drag bars with other cabaret contemporaries such as Claire Waldoff. Fortunately it is the legacy of this period of Berlin’s queer history that endures, and today keylight has the privilege to be headquartered in Europe’s historic queer capital. As traditional parades and events celebrating Pride have been cancelled as a result of the ongoing pandemic, Berlin will have to find new ways to celebrate Pride. This year we at keylight are reflecting on Berlin’s complicated queer history to find ways in which we can reaffirm the rights of all LGBTQ+ people, and renew our commitment to being a safe and inclusive workplace. 

keylight is proud to be part of Berlin’s hugely successful tech start-up scene, which thrives in inclusivity and diversity. This year the world has had to reimagine what it means to celebrate Pride, and we are taking this opportunity to listen to calls for justice within the community and consider the ways in which we can celebrate and stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community. - Marco Sarich, CEO.

This year keylight is celebrating Pride with a Movie Night event, where we will watch the 2016 film MoonlightMoonlight was the first LGBTQ+-themed film and first film with an all-Black cast to win the Best Picture Oscar. In addition to celebrating Pride and listening to calls for justice from the recent social movements from the global Black community, it is also important for all of us to consider the lives of people who exist in multiple marginalized groups and the ways in which homophobia is reinforced by other forms of systemic oppression, such as racism and sexism.



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