River Cruise Port: Berlin for Gay Travelers

At least once in your gay life, a visit to Berlin is a must. Few cities can match Berlin’s role in LGBT history–it was loose and free between the world wars (think Cabaret)–plus has such a remarkable legacy in the history of those wars and the following Cold War. It’s a truly exceptional river cruise port.

Today, a shocking 30 years after the fall of the legendary Berlin Wall (as of fall 2019, it will have been down longer than it stood), this exceptionally fun, fascinating, and wanderable (if huge) city continues to be a magnet for gay travelers. To truly appreciate Berlin, you must combine elements of Berlin’s history and its present into your visit.

Berlin is an excellent port for river cruises, which dock in the Tegel area from which you can travel via Uber or public transit. For sea cruises, the nearest seaport is three hours away, so it’s best to add Berlin as a pre- or post-cruise destination.

Berlin's Nollendorfplatz Metro with Gay Flag = one of the may ways gays know we are welcome in the German capitol city. Photo: Flickr Creative Commons / Ingolf

Berlin’s Nollendorfplatz Metro with Gay Flag = one of the may ways gays know we are welcome in the German capitol city. Photo: Flickr Creative Commons / Ingolf

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Berlin twice (with future visits in the works), and recently stayed in an outstanding MisterB&B there. I have considered what I would do if I only had one day from a cruise, or two days as a pre/post cruise visit. Here’s what I suggest.

If you have just one day (you’ll have to hurry and use Uber to move you quickly, but can likely squeeze all this in during a long day):

  • Mauer (Wall) Park. While it may seem the Berlin Wall is a relic of history, few scars of the Cold War are as powerful and tangible as this one, and it certainly makes any thinking human being wonder why some politicians still want to build walls. Mauer Park features a substantial section of the Berlin Wall, including an area that is preserved to show the astonishing buffer “death zone” created to keep East Germans from fleeing. An exceptional museum details the history and legacy of the Wall and its effects on Berlin’s residents.

    A section of the Berlin Wall at MauerPark (Wall Park). Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/ Mark Healey

    A section of the Berlin Wall at MauerPark (Wall Park). Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/ Mark Healey

  • Bundestag Dome. Berlin is the capital of Germany, and the modern glass and steel dome capping the historic legislative building is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. As you saunter up a spiral walkway, an audioguide informs you of both the history of the building and the sites you are seeing. Exquisite. You MUST pre-book this well ahead of your trip for both timing and security clearance.
    • Nearby you can walk through the famous Brandenberg Gate, visit the concrete blocks of the Holocaust memorial, and pause to reflect at the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Naziism.

      The magnificent dome of Germany's capitol building, the Bundestag in Berlin. Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/ Sebastian

      The magnificent dome of Germany’s capitol building, the Bundestag in Berlin. Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/ Sebastian

  • DDR Museum. This would be better described as the East German Life Museum, with excellent info on why East Germany happened, and what life was like for its citizens. Exhibits include a replicated typical apartment, many objects from daily life, and even a Trabant car. An advance ticket is recommended.
  • Nollondorfplatz. This spot with its rainbow-colored dome above the metro station, and the surrounding area called Schoneberg, were made legendary in gay author Christopher Isherwood’s books about Berlin, which inspired the stage and film versions of Cabaret. Today, this historic and handsome neighborhood is the epicenter of gay life in modern West Berlin. For fans of Isherwood, a plaque marks the building where he lived and wrote at 17 Nollendorfstrasse. There are many gay shops around the tiny streets, including legendary Prinz Eisenherz Buchladen bookseller, plus gay bars and cafes. There are also smaller gayborhoods on the east side, including Prenzlauerberg near the Mauer Park.

    Nollendorfplatz in Berlin's gay neighborhood with its distinctive rainbow dome above the metro station. Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/ Matze A.

    Nollendorfplatz in Berlin’s gay neighborhood with its distinctive rainbow dome above the metro station. Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/ Matze A.

    A plaque notes the Nollendorfstrasse apartment building where Christopher Isherwood lived. Photo: Randall Shirley

    The author in front of a plaque marking the Nollendorfstrasse apartment building where Christopher Isherwood lived. Photo: Randall Shirley

  • Cake at Cafe Kalwil. There is a lot of good cake in Berlin. A lot. But this spot near Nollendorfplatz takes the cake (er pun…sorry!), and is popular with local gays. The cakes and coffee were excellent, but the over-the-top antique-ish setting was the true delight–I felt like I was snacking in an elegant shop from days long gone by. A delight.

    Cake at Cafe Kalwil in Berlin. Photo: Randall Shirley

    Cake at Cafe Kalwil in Berlin. Photo: Randall Shirley

     

    The over-the-top opulence of Cafe Kalwil in Berlin's gay Schoneberg gay neighborhood, a great place for an afternoon cake and coffee. Photo: Randall Shirlei

    The over-the-top opulence of Cafe Kalwil in Berlin’s gay Schoneberg gay neighborhood, a great place for an afternoon cake and coffee. Photo: Randall Shirley.

If you have 2-3 days, all of the above, plus:

  • Sausage on the street. You’ll see currywurst shops all around, including near the Nollendorfplatz transit station. Currywurst is a classic Berlin snack, and always good, but if they have a bratwurst in a bun, there’s really nothing yummier.

    Various sausages cooking at an outdoor market stall in Berlin. Photo: Randall Shirley

    Various sausages cooking at an outdoor market stall in Berlin. Photo: Randall Shirley

  • The Nazi Bunker. Formally called “Berlin Story Bunker,” it’s really the Hitler and WWII exhibits that make this spot worth your time, and it’s well worth it. I have been through a lot of history exhibits, but few resonated with current events as clearly as the rise of Hitler. Additionally, you experience the type of underground bunker designed to keep Hitler and a handful of Berliners alive in the final days of WWII, including a recreation of Hitler’s living area. Fascinating.
  • KaDeWe Food Hall for cake and coffee. Long known as one of Europe’s fine department stores, the food floor at KaDeWe is a foodie heaven. There is an abundance of chocolates, as well as many pastries. A slice of cake and a coffee (with or without booze) doesn’t come cheap, but it’s a worthwhile splurge.
  • Wintergarten Cabaret Show. For fans of the historic cabaret genre (called varietie in German), shows at Wintergarten don’t disappoint. Most of the speaking is in German, but the variety of acts and sheer colorfulness of it all is pure joy–at times they have burlesque shows. My husband and I loved this.

    The historic Wintergarten Theatre in Berlin is an excellent place to see old-school cabaret alongside modern varietie. Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/Bea

    The historic Wintergarten Theatre in Berlin is an excellent place to see old-school cabaret alongside modern varietie. Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/Bea

  • Der Boiler Sauna. Fans of bathhouses (called “saunas” across Europe), will be delighted by this exceptionally nice facility–easily among the world’s finest. The ultra-clean facilities span several levels, and are absolutely gorgeous. It’s like an upscale spa where men can play together, or hang out in the bar and cafe area, or just lounge and relax. The sauna attracts a wide variety, and is very enjoyable.
  • Dinner at Schoneberger Weltlaterne. We all have memorable meals in our travels, but few will be as memorable as a meal at this spot. The food is called “forgotten German,” and everything is extremely good (I had an outstanding braised venison over homemade spaetzel, while my pal had a celery heart schnitzel…where else would you find that?). The ambiance is that of an old rustic pub, and there is often music. If you’re lucky the proprietress, Janine, will take the stage for an old song or two.  

Of course there is sooooo much more to Berlin, but the above will help you scratch the surface of this magnificent, diverse, and gay-friendly German city. Add your favorite Berlin activities in the comments below.