Travel: Berlin and Dresden – Bouncing back after the pandemic

by David Perry

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday, October 10, 2022
Originally published October 6, 2022

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

I spent a day and a half in Berlin. I was a gay on a gay mission!

But when you’re looking to blow (ahem) your reputation as completely as possible, Berlin is a sizable bite. Gay life revolves around the Shönenburg district, just south of the Tiergarten, the large park where the conventional sights – the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the Victory Column – all await your TikTok streams. But Shönenburg is teeming with gay activity, and Berlin is so big and welcoming that even these close coordinates require further analysis.

So I booked a room at the Hotel Berlin, Berlin, a convenient and surprisingly plush midpoint between Berlin’s day and nightlife (that king bed rocked). The hotel is within walking distance of Eisenacher and Motzstrasse streets, the gay backbone of the neighborhood and where bars (Blond, Tabasco, Club Berlin, Heile Welt Club), fetish clubs (Scheune, Mutchmann’s) and gay restaurants like Sissi (try the wienerschnitzel!) serve it German style.

I learned some things the hard way: Gay Germany is a cash company. Have your euros handy. Also, learn the buses; a hike from the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church to Berlin Cathedral is full of historical and ironic sights (the McDonald’s next to Checkpoint Charlie, the symbol of a divided Europe, is priceless), but walking in Berlin will swallow up the day and leave you exhausted at night.

While Berlin’s bars recovered from the pandemic relatively quickly and the crowd at SchwuZ, the city’s oldest and largest gay club, was delightful, ominous undercurrents are flowing. As raves and outdoor events like the boisterous Gay Pride CSD Parade solidify Berlin as a gay capital, the reality clubs are on borrowed time, suffering a double whammy combining the economic loss of a two-year lockdown with slow gentrification. The threat of closure is so great that Rave The Planet, an association of DJs and industry mavens, is pushing for Berlin’s technoclubs to be recognized by UNESCO as an intangible human good. It would force city officials to keep clubs as they are and prevent their neighborhoods from being subsumed by rich straight people with kids. Either way, get there as soon as possible.

And then there’s monkeypox. This virus has hit gay Berlin hard. When I IMed my Berlin followers on social media for travel advice, they all tipped me off about it. Victims are contagious for weeks and the virus spreads so easily – hugs, handshakes, sheets or towels an infected person touches, not to mention sex – that the whole atmosphere of Berlin is… suspicious .

Dresden

Dresden (Source: Getty Images)

“The Florence of the Elbe”

When it comes to gay scenes in Germany, Berlin is a tough act to follow. But the sex maze of Dresden, whose gay pride is in September, is no pushover. On the contrary, in this city, every “play of the night” has a corresponding bar: BOYS is where the party starts, Valentino is where the party continues and Pick Up (next to Valentino) is the place where the party becomes real. The stage is smaller, but the players still put on a great show.

The capital of Saxony, Dresden was never meant to be. However, thanks to a bag of medieval shenanigans, this city far south of Berlin on the Elbe became the seat of the Wettin dynasty and suddenly needed to look the part. The glow reached new levels of WTF extravagance in the 1600s, when nobles went gonzo with the Baroque style, whose trademark is “putto”, or angelic naked babies. For the Wettins, if a naked baby is good, 500 is necessarily better!

Naked babies at the Royal Palace! On the Zwinger! On the churches! Curly ! Random fronts! Playing! Dancing! Flirt! Singing! Choking (no kidding)! This baroque city gone crazy has an impressive factor, especially since it is essentially 30 years old. Bombed inside out during World War II, central Dresden was a crater during East Germany’s penniless years; my guide recounted how, as a child, he and his friends sneaked into the palace ruins in defiance.

Dresden Opera

Dresden Opera

This Dresden is gone. My view from the Steigenberger Hotel de Saxe overlooked a square that is pure European sophistication. Dresden 2.0 is one of the great successes of German reunification. Rebuilt using original plans and sandstone from the original quarries, Trinity Cathedral, the House of States and the Royal Palace, now the city’s most important museum, all stand in a curved magnificence. To one side of the palace is the breathtaking Fürstenzug, a 335-foot-long porcelain mosaic of Wettin princes. On the other is an inner courtyard dominated by a huge fresco engraved in white on black of Saxon knights. And did I mention the Frauenkirche cathedral? Damn it…

Across the Elbe is the Neustadt (“New Town”), where all the nightlife is. This doesn’t just include gay bars and drag queen compound from Carte Blanche, but also Louisengarten, the best beergarden in town (the bratwursts aren’t bad either) and Pfunds, arguably the most decorated cheese cafe I’ve ever had. This is also where Lili Elbe, one of the world’s first victims of a sex change operation, is buried (in the Trinity cemetery). Dresden has always been avant-garde; its LGBTQ+ history dates back 200 years.

Both cultural and historical, Berlin and Dresden represent a “big pond/little pond” experience for LGBTQ+ travellers. In the latter, you will stand out from the crowd; the first, you will be carried away with it. Toss a coin. Heads or tails, you’re not going to lose.

Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie

More about Berlin:

Where to go

Tiergarten: A huge park in the center of Berlin, it has all the main sites, from the Brandenburg Gate to the Reichstag.

Checkpoint Charlie: Once a crossing point between the Soviet bloc and the free West, this wooden shack is now an Instagram stand-by.

Schwulen Museum: This space is dedicated to the LGBTQ+ experience of Berlin and beyond.

Where to stay

Hotel Berlin, Berlin: Near the southwest corner of the Teirgarten, this very gay-friendly hotel is conveniently located for all of Berlin’s highlights. Great sauna too.

Where to eat

Sissi: This gay restaurant in the Shönenburg district offers the best wienerschnitzell in town.

The exterior of the Valentino gay club

The exterior of the Valentino gay club

More about Dresden:

Where to go

Royal Palace: The Palace, now a museum, is magnificent. Indoors or out, just walking around is an experience. Don’t miss the Fürstenzug, a gigantic mosaic of Saxon rulers.

Zwinger: It’s baroque on adrenaline. Currently part of the palace, the Zwinger is the icon of Dresden.

Carte Blanche: A legendary dragster theater, there is even a hotel for the fans.

Valentino: These two gay bars in Neustadt are neighbors. Very convenient…

Where to stay

Steigenberger Hotel de Saxe: Located in the old town, the Steigenberger is the address “to impress them”. Located on Neumarkt Square, the hotel is a 10-minute walk from all the main sights of the old town.

Hotel Pullman: Close to the main train station and the old town, it’s both pampering and convenient.

Where to eat

Louisengarten: This is a staple in Dresden, and with the best bratwurst sausage.

Lila Sosse: This healthy eating space in Neustadt also offers a vegan and vegetarian menu.

BrennNessel: With modern takes on traditional German menus, this place is in one of the few remaining original buildings in Dresden.

Heiderand: It’s a trek, but this restaurant is one of the best in town.

David Perry is a freelance travel and current affairs journalist. In addition to EDGE, his work has appeared on ChinaTopix, Thrillist, and in Next Magazine and Steele Luxury Travel among others. Follow him on Twitter at @GhastEald.

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