The LGBTIQ* community is more firmly established in Cologne than ever before. So much so that the Greens – the party that has been standing up for the rights of non-heterosexual minorities ever since it was founded – were voted the strongest parliamentary group in the city’s council in autumn 2020. And it’s not only party-independent Cologne Mayor, Henriette Reker, who is seeking to maintain close ties with the community – the other parties have no qualms about reaching out either. Even the conservative CDU ran for the office of mayor with an openly gay candidate in 2009. Of course, that doesn’t automatically mean that all sexual identities are embraced with open arms by the entire population of Cologne, but it’s still impossible to imagine the city without its gay and lesbian infrastructure. Here’s our round-up of the best LGBTIQ* events Cologne has to offer.
In Cologne there is a whole raft of events that aren’t only important for the LGBTIQ* community but also attract droves of spectators to the city’s streets. And their economic contribution to the city is not to be underestimated. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, we are still unable to say how big these events will be and what format they will take in 2021. Even if we don’t yet know exactly what to expect after or during the pandemic, here is a general overview of the LGBTIQ* year in Cologne:
Ever since the Rosa Funken, the first gay Carnival association in Germany, was established in 1995, gay and lesbian Carnival sessions and parties have been an integral part of what is known here as the “fifth season”. Such as the Röschensitzung in Mülheim, modelled on the legendary Rosa Sitzung (a raucous variety show) – which, in 2021, will be taking place online for the first time – or the various events of the StattGarde Colonia Ahoj. In many places throughout the city, Carnival traditionally ends with the burning of the Nubbel, a life-sized straw figure symbolising all the sins that have been committed during the past few days. And if it’s witty, political humour you’re looking for, don’t miss the straw figure’s entertaining annual eulogy by drag performer Erika Laste in the heart of gay-lesbian epicentre Schaafenstrasse (Carnival Tuesday, from 11 pm). Due to the coronavirus, there won’t be any large-scale Carnival events in 2020. Please check the organisers’ websites for further details.
The annual Come-Together-Cup is held at Cologne’s Rheinenergie stadium. This charity football tournament started out in 1994 as a match between the gay team Cream-Team-Cologne and a squad of police officers. Taking place on one of the two public holidays in May, it’s not only about football, mutual understanding and breaking down homophobic prejudices, but also coffee, cake and kicking off the summer of queer celebrations.
If you’re looking for other LGBTIQ* sporting events throughout the rest of the year, you’ll find a wide range of activities at SC Janus, the oldest and largest gay and lesbian sports club in Europe.
For many Colognians, the highlight of the summer is Cologne Pride. Since starting out with waffle-making and choir performances in 1991, it has developed into one of the biggest political demonstrations in Germany, culminating in a huge demo on the first Sunday in July. Disputes regarding commercialisation and exclusion have led to the creation of important smaller marches such as the Dyke March or Transpride.
Schwules Netzwerk NRW – Kompassnadel
While many young participants could be heard shouting out clear messages from the floats during the parade in 2019, the CSD party stage at Gürzenich in the Old Town represents a loud and clear statement on minority policy. Since 2001, the Schwules Netzwerk NRW (Gay Network of North Rhine-Westphalia) has been awarding the Kompassnadel prize to personalities who have made outstanding contributions to promoting the social acceptance of gays and lesbians.
It’s not so much the city’s local community that the Christmas markets are out to impress, but rather the steady flow of tourists. For several years now, Heavenue – situated between Rudolfplatz and Schaafenstrasse – has been providing a more flamboyant alternative to the regular festive offering. And after drawing up a hygiene concept, it will also be able to take place in 2020 amid the coronavirus crisis. For a much more charming, authentic experience, however, there are plenty of informal meet-ups in the run-up to Christmas, which sees members of the gay and lesbian community convening at certain mulled wine stalls. But as these are not officially announced, it’s best to ask a friendly local.
It takes a lot of voluntary work to get these and all the many other LGBTIQ* events off the ground. And the majority of the institutions, associations and initiatives doing this work were founded in the aftermath of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. A stone column in the atrium next to the St. Maria im Kapitol church has served as a reminder since 1994, while the Kaltes Eck installation pays tribute to Cologne’s AIDS victims on cobblestones by the Rhine river. And even though the priorities have shifted, the health of the LGBTIQ* community is still an important issue in Germany’s fourth-largest city. The Aidshilfe Köln Checkpoint provides information and counselling, both in its offices and online – even anonymously if preferred – on HIV and PreP, as well as other sexually transmitted diseases.
The Rubicon advisory centre helps lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, inter* and queer people and their families and chosen families to live confidently and without fear. And Germany’s Federal Interest Group of Gay Senior Citizens is also based in Cologne, as well as Anyway, a space for young lesbians, gays, bi and trans* aged between 14 and 27.