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Frankly ... Berlin
New Berlin Time-Reckoning

People are standing outside a Berlin club, one person is drinking a cocktail.
Berlin's nightlife is almost pre-pandemic again - although a lot has happened especially for queer people in the last two and a half years. | Photo (detail): Tim Rimmeler © picture alliance/EPA-EFE

After we reckon time “based on Jesus Christ” for more than two millennia now, our columnist Seyda Kurt is now searching for a new method for Berlin: For the next months she will write here about Berlin, queer feminism and a whole lot else to look forward to!

By Şeyda Kurt

Before the pandemic, my friends had their own way of reckoning time: “That was after the last Cocktail!” they’d sometimes argue. “No, that was before the last Cocktail!” “Cocktail” is shorthand for Cocktail d'Amore, one of the most legendary queer parties in Berlin. The parties served as reference dates for my friends’ anecdotes.  

Our Cocktail-based time-reckoning has remained uncontested even after the pandemic years. And since the health and safety protocols were loosened up in the spring, it has crept almost imperceptibly into our vernacular. Not only that, but the Cocktail d'Amore is back on a regular basis and it’s held indoors – “dark room” and all. 

So is everything back to normal in Berlin, where some people reckon time based on the dates of their favourite queer parties, others on the fall of the Berlin Wall or the opening of a new airport overshadowed by scandalous cost and time overruns? Is all well again in this vibrant city that’s so proud of its queer scene, its queer life and queer time-reckoning?

Queer Safe Spaces Threatened

Well, it's not that simple. For Berlin’s queer folk, a lot has changed – and many things for the worse – since the pandemic. Being queer here doesn’t only mean a scintillating party life, it also means unaffordable rents, precarious jobs, violent attacks in the street and institutional exclusion. 

Mid-pandemic, in October 2020, the Berlin council ordered the forcible eviction of “Liebig34”, one of the oldest squats in the “anarcho-queer-feminist” scene: amid protests and blockades, some 1500 cops were deployed to throw out the forty-odd occupants of a five-storey building at Liebigstrasse 34 in Friedrichshain, East Berlin. Women, trans and intersex people had been living together there since 1999 in an experimental solidarity-based self-determined community until the new landlord, a Berlin real estate developer, gave them notice in 2018. And Rigaer94, another left-wing community in Friedrichshain that grew out of a squat, is still threatened today: for years, the authorities have been trying to enforce an eviction order.  

I’ve been living in Berlin for about five years now. I research and write about left-wing queer and feminist issues. I’ve been observing their struggles and contradictions for years and continually inveigh against the way institutions and brands misuse “queer” to mean a formulaic rainbow-coloured lifestyle and co-opt “feminism” as a meaningless marketing label to hype their purportedly progressive values.

Cheers to Expropriation!

But queer political struggles aren’t about glitter and cocktails, especially here in Berlin. When I talk to people from the queer political scene, they talk about their fatigue. They feel drained after the pandemic years, during which many took care of friends, flatmates and children. During the Bundestag parliamentary elections in 2021, they conducted political campaigns and crusaded for the abolition of the so-called “Transsexuals Act”, which pathologizes trans people who wish to change their name and declared gender on official documents, and requires them to pay for costly legal proceedings and expert legal opinions. According to the Trans Murder Monitoring project, moreover, 2021 was the deadliest year for trans people around the world, many of whom are poor, criminalized, victimized by racism and police brutality, and often forced into sex work. 

So there’s not much to celebrate for many queers in Berlin. The pandemic years have drained me, too: I actually skipped the last Cocktail d’Amore. Now I'm looking for a new approach to time-reckoning in this city, one in which we argue along the lines of, say: “But that was before the last squat!” “No, that was after the first expropriation of the biggest corporate real estate developers, which we turned into queer communities!” And I’d definitely drink a cocktail to that.   



On an alternating basis each week, our “Frankly ...” column series is written by Şeyda Kurt, Susi Bumms, Maximilian Buddenbohm and Sineb el Masrar. In “Frankly ... Berlin”, our columnists throw themselves into the hustle and bustle of the big city on our behalf, reports on life in Berlin and gathers together some everyday observations: on the underground, in the supermarket Frankly … Berlin, in a nightclub.