Berlin enjoys a worldwide reputation as a city of few taboos. With a proud culture of freedom of expression, freedom of imagination and freedom of love, it has even gained the title of Europe’s “Rainbow Capital.” In a city where the LGBTQ+ community has found a flourishing haven, Berlin’s colors are never more on display than during the annual Christopher Street Day festivities.
It goes without saying that Germany’s capital, and the country generally, has not always been as accepting of queer individuals as it is today. This relative haven for gender and sexual minorities emerged as the result of enormous endeavors and considerable risks taken by LGBTQ+ activists. Christopher Street Day in Berlin (or CSD Berlin) is an occasion not only to celebrate LGBTQ+ pride, but also to commemorate the work and struggle that has made this ongoing progress towards liberation possible.
Learn languages at your pace
The history of Christopher Street Day
Although it is named after the street in Greenwich Village, New York, where the famous Stonewall Riots broke out in 1969, the first CSD parade in Berlin took place a full decade after the Stonewall Riots, on June 30, 1979.
The Stonewall Riots were a spontaneous uprising of New York’s gay community in response to a discriminatory police raid on the popular gay club, the Stonewall Inn, during the summer of 1969. In the wake of the uprising, American gay rights activists were galvanized into action, and after an intensive year of debate and organization, the first gay pride march was organized to commemorate the event.
While Stonewall was an event that inspired queer communities the world over, 1969 was an important year for German queer history for a more immediate reason. In September of that year, Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code, which criminalized male homosexuality, was greatly relaxed. This legislative change opened the door for public political organization and open campaign work. In 1971, Homosexuelle Aktion Westberlin (HAW), the first organization of the modern German gay and lesbian movement, was founded. Throughout the 1970s, new groups and publications emerged, queer people took to the streets to openly confront society with their demand to be acknowledged and accepted.
These activists also formed international connections, including with the organizers of New York’s yearly Gay Pride march. This was how the first Gay Pride Berlin came about. The first march was hastily organized, it drew perhaps 500 participants and received little press attention, yet for the attendees, this public expression of visibility and joy was remembered as an unqualified success, and the event continued to grow year upon year.
In the 1980s, the emergency of the AIDS epidemic galvanized Germany’s gay rights movement into action, forcing the community to become more politically orientated and drawing even mainstream politicians into acknowledging the needs and rights of queer individuals. They demanded to be recognized as a community that could not be ignored, indeed they refused to be ignored. The crisis also gave new momentum to CSD as it drew the community together. Since then attendance has continued to grow exponentially through the years of reunification and Berlin’s rise as an international counterculture capital.
Celebrating Berlin Pride today
From these humble roots, the Berlin pride parade has developed into a celebration that draws hundreds of thousands from across Germany, Europe and further afield. As understanding of the diverse identities that are included under the LGBTQ+ umbrella has grown, so too has Berlin Pride grown to include trans, non-binary and a broad range of other queer identities. Each year a motto and a number of demands are decided by members of Berlin’s queer community which form the key themes of the festivities. Despite having drawn some criticism from within the community for being excessively commercialized, these demands mirror the political spirit of the original march, that continues to undergird this joyful expression of queer pride and love.
The main event of Berlin’s pride celebrations is, of course, the CSD pride march and demonstration, but there is also a wide program of events on offer, most of which are displayed on the CSD website. Throughout the city there are parties, workshops, discussion groups, poetry readings, comedy nights, dance shows and more to be enjoyed. Many of Berlin’s most famous nightclubs host special CSD events, as do many of Berlin’s smaller queer bars and community spaces, so be sure to check their social media for their programs and get out to support the keystone establishments of Berlin’s queer scene.
What should you wear to Pride?
CSD is a day for joy and acceptance, so you can dress as you wish, the main thing is to feel comfortable and be yourself. Perhaps you could deck yourself out in something fun, funky, colorful, sexy or even a bit silly. This can be a great time to experiment with your look, break out the hair dye or maybe challenge some gender conventions. You don’t have to go too flashy or risqué, but flamboyance is a key theme of the day so don’t hold back!
Pride, love and respect
Each summer Christopher Street Day Berlin draws people from around the world, from innumerable cultures and backgrounds, proudly declaring gender and sexual identities that had yet to find a name when Berlin’s gay activists made their first parade through Germany’s capital. It is a celebration of a community that refuses to be merely tolerated, but has instead placed itself at the very heart of Germany’s progressive capital and enriched it with its warmth, creativity and openness.
While the Berlin CSD is an event where everyone can have fun, party and stand proud, it is also a time to remember the long struggle for the rights and respect of queer individuals without which this event would not be possible and without whom Berlin would not be the amazing, open city it is today.
Learn languages at your pace
Leona has her roots in the South of Ireland, where she grew up on her family farm. She went on to study World Politics at Leiden University College, The Hague and then completed her MPhil in International History at Trinity College Dublin. Leona has now settled in Berlin, having fallen in love with the city. In her spare time she is working on perfecting her German in anticipation of her doctoral studies, during which she plans to study modern German social history. Her hobbies include bouldering, dancing and reading a healthy mix of history books and corny fantasy fiction. You can find more info about her on LinkedIn.