Reading the article in Gay News 8 on the position of homosexuals in Russia, I thought perhaps I could throw some light on the situation behind the Iron Curtain — or one small part of it at least. Although I have made two trips to Russia, I confess I have found little evidence of wide spread homosexuality there, though one night after a party a Russian boy did spend the night with me in my hotel. He had a girlfriend, and as he spoke no English, conversation was difficult — but presumably he was bisexual.
However, while the situation in Russia seems to be pretty bleak for homosexuals, it is a different story altogether in East Germany — or at least in its capital city. East Berlin. Don’t believe those stories you read about how drab life is behind the Wall – during a visit to East Berlin in 1968 I was surprised to find it a very different place to what one imagines it to be.
Walk along East Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse and you will pass many gay bars and restaurants. Heterosexual people touring with me were remarking on how open homosexuality is in East Berlin. They had been walking past the ‘G’ Bar (in German the letter ‘G’ is pronounced GAY) in Friedrichstrasse at closing time, and they said boys came out hand in hand, some with their arms round each other, kissing. One couple came up to these tourists and presented them with a bunch of flowers — I think they had some difficulty in getting away. Also, some women tourists in our party wandered innocently into a cafe on Friedrichstrasse for a cup of coffee, to find all the men staring at them. Finally a man who spoke English came over to them and explained politely that as they were tourists they wouldn’t know, but this cafe was frequented by prostitutes — whereupon these lady tourists made a hasty exit.
During a one week stay in East Berlin I discovered three gay places in the Friedrichstrasse alone – the G Bar, a restaurant and a coffee bar. The coffee bar was unbelievable — I had just come out of the G Bar when I saw everyone packing into this tiny coffee bar, so I squeezed inside and found hands groping me from every direction! Really, this place has to be believed — and is all so open — the doors wide open to the street. On one occasion I was leaving this bar with someone, and he grabbed hold ot my hand and held it as we walked down the street – nobody took a blind bit of notice. As he spoke no English and I no German he calmly stopped a woman in the street (whilst still holding my hand) and asked her to translate for him. Through her he asked me where my hotel was and would it be safe for him to stay there the night! She translated my reply then he thanked her and we went on our way.
Apparently the East German police turn a blind eye, and whatever the official line is on homosexuality in East Germany in practice the authorities are very free and easy and certainly East Berlin is a much safer place for homosexuals than London, for instance. Not only that, but East Berlin’s ‘S’ Bahn (elevated railway) trains run right through the night, so there’s no question of having to walk home after trolling late at night. Whether East Berlin is typical of most Iron Curtain capitals I couldn’t say, but I certainly had a gay time during my stay in the East German capital.