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Flying the rainbow flag at CSD | Photo: Manfred Wegener
Flying the rainbow flag at CSD | Photo: Manfred Wegener

Two steps forward, one step back

created by Johannes J. Arens | |   Urban and culture

Cologne is one of the most welcoming cities for the LGBTIQ, community but even here there is still progress to be made

Cologne’s non-heterosexuals have lots of political support

Every year, on the first Sunday in July, Cologne belongs to the LGBTIQ community. That’s when Cologne Pride, the Christopher Street Day parade, makes its way through the city centre. It is one of the biggest political demonstrations in Germany: in 2017, the organisers reported a total of 950,000 people both taking part in the parade and watching from the sidelines. Last year, after the German Bundestag granted a decade-old request from the community by finally legalising same-sex marriage, Cologne’s First Mayor Henriette Reker reiterated how the event is more relevant than ever. But the fight against discrimination, homophobia, sexism and racism is still not over by any means, according to Reker. “In a unique way, CSD combines the LGBTIQ community’s commitment to equality with the colourful line-up at ColognePride, sending an important signal to society. This is why I think CSD continues to be one of the most important events taking place in our city.”

Photo: Dörthe BoxbergSo with the First Mayor and also Elfi Scho-Antwerpes, who has been on the board of the German AIDS Service Organisation for years and is serving as Deputy Mayor of Cologne, Cologne’s non-heterosexual population currently has dedicated political advocates on its side. Despite this, the city has a dubious past in terms of how it treats its LGBTIQ community. Since 1995, a memorial on the Hohenzollern Bridge in the shape of a pink triangle has served as a reminder of the gay and lesbian victims of National Socialism, and even up until the 1980s, Cologne’s police kept so-called ‘Pink Lists’. In 1983 the ‘Kiessling affair’ in the gay bars of the Old Town hit the headlines when General Günter Kiessling of the Bundeswehr (the German armed forces) was wrongly outed as being homosexual, considered a security risk and dismissed from his post. The AIDS crisis also claimed countless victims in Cologne. Not far from Heumarkt, an installation entitled “Das Kalte Eck” (The Cold Corner) on the cobbled paving stones by artist Tom Fecht commemorates the Cologne locals who died from the disease. But the worst discrimination experienced by gays and lesbians in Cologne has been from the city’s religious quarter. Long before the far-right AfD political party started having its say, the former Archbishop of Cologne Cardinal Joachim Meisner believed that Europe’s values were under permanent threat from homosexuals, drug addicts and terrorists.

The lesbian community is heading in new directions

Despite the presence of the Catholic church, after the liberalisation of the German legislation on sex offences in 1969 and 1973 Cologne developed into a centre for gay and lesbian life in Germany. But the city’s heyday as a gay capital is over. There is no longer a gay-lesbian community centre (Schulz), a huge club renowned throughout Germany (Lulu), a politically ambitious monthly magazine (Queer) or a gay brewery pub (Brennerei Weiss). With clubs like SC Janus (sport) or the Pink Poms (cheerleading), only the occasional institution from the pink nineties have survived. After all, like everywhere in Germany, the younger generations in Cologne deal with integration in a completely different way these days. Legal equality, associated with a growing acceptance by society, is making it possible for many gay and lesbian people to live their lives freely and openly. Dating portals like Planet Romeo and Grindr have had a lot to do with this too: while gay bars, pubs and clubs used to be the only opportunity to meet other men, fall in love and / or have sex, today they are just one of many options.

The lesbian community, on the other hand, has always been less visible and their networks are still a lot more private. In 2017 the Blue Lounge, the last explicitly lesbian club, closed its doors for the last time. But the community is also heading in new directions here too, proven, for example, by the Dyke March Cologne for “lesbians, queer women*, women-loving women* and gender-queer lesbians”. Their first march took place four years ago — with the goal of countering the dominance of gay males at the official CSD parade. This first event was attended by 1,500 participants, but in 2017 around 3,000 women took to the streets. The Dyke March is not supposed to compete with Cologne Pride, as the organisers emphasise, but complement it.

Acceptance of gays and lesbians is high — even outside the dedicated safe havens

The gay quarter’s cosiest nightspot: Frank Wazinski in his bar Schampanja | Photo: Bozica BabicIn Cologne, trans and intersexual people have, like everywhere in Germany, a comparatively small lobby and don’t always find the necessary support in the gay-lesbian community either. But there are counselling services such as Rubicon and self-help groups like the trans men’s regular meet-up.

The acceptance of gays and lesbians in society, at least in the city centre, is comparably high, even if there is a particular street around the ‘Ringe’, Cologne’s main nightlife strip, that gay passers-by prefer to avoid for fear of discrimination.

Safe havens on the other hand, include the bars around the Schaafenstrasse. And in the so-called Bermuda Triangle of gay life in Cologne, comprised of the Belgian Quarter, Rudolfplatz and Heumarkt neighbourhoods, revellers have been known to go missing for very different reasons! There are also still a number of bars in the Old Town that attract an older and less excitable crowd.


Coffee and cake

Café Wahlen, Hohenstaufenring 64, 50674 Cologne,

Enjoy coffee and cake at one of the last authentic typically German cafés with old-school flair and a fascinating mix of gay men and senior citizens.


Schampanja, Mauritiuswall 43, 50676 Cologne,

This cosy bar near Schaafenstrasse is a haven for all those who prefer their cruising with a soundtrack of post-punk and new wave. Artists, tourists and gays and lesbians have been mingling here for over 30 years.


Röschen Session, Kulturbunker Mülheim,

Providing high-quality, entertaining trash that crosses the line and goes below the belt, the ensemble is a reminder that the gay-lesbian community is still going strong, even during the Carnival season.


Suspiria, Coco Schmitz, Aachener Str. 30, 50674 Cologne,

Gone are the days of huge clubs — on trend at the moment are parties in laid-back locations with plenty of potential for fun. Suspiria offers dance and indie for all age groups in the brass-adorned basement of Salon Schmitz.

30 Karat, Café Franck, Eichendorffstrasse 30, 50825 Cologne,

Cologne’s top lesbian club night has chosen the cosy basement of Café Franck in Cologne-Ehrenfeld as its venue. Music for women, mixed by women.

(by Johannes J. Arens)