The Unofficial ‘Gay Capital’ of Germany is warm, wonderful very welcoming!

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

COLOGNE PRIDE or COLOGNE GAY PRIDE (formerly: “Christopher Street Day, Cologne”) is one of the largest gay and lesbian events in Germany as well as all of Europe. The week-long celebration of gay and lesbian culture is an annual event (first full weekend in July) with a spectacular parade, festivals, parties and political forums. The whole thing is comparable with carnival celebrations and the political motivation of the event did achieve a great deal in gay-rights and equal-rights. In recent years there have been over one million participants in Cologne with even more expected this July.

My first experience in Cologne was several years ago. I had a large multi-day business meeting in Frankfurt. It was May and they were having a “heat-wave” in Germany. Generally what should have been pleasant 70 degree days were closer to 90 and sometimes the rest of the world is not quite as refrigerated (I mean air-conditioned) as we are in the States. I just remember it was very warm. Friday afternoon arrived and my friends and I took the train along the Rhine to “easy-going” Cologne. What I liked most about Cologne is that it is a city that must be “felt” and not simply seen. Essentially destroyed by the Nazi’s during WWII (90%!), Cologne was rebuilt beautifully but offers no monuments to speak of and other than a massive cathedral there are no “must-see” tourist attractions. The day I arrived felt like midsummer with the city alive with café’s, music, people and a particular magic that must be experienced. I have a bit of German blood in me, love beer and a good fat, hot sausage on occasion (smile) and have enjoyed Berlin, Munich and the other “show-off” German cities very much. Cologne is a town that is not a “love at first sight” kind of place but rather a “grow on your slowly” city and when I arrived I just knew I would be comfortable here. This was “the real Germany”. Cologne is a strolling town with small and large bistros, fun bars, fabulous restaurants and unique shops everywhere. Germans love to be outside when possible and I have shivered through more than my share of outdoor meals and beer blasts with my German buddies. In this case the day/evening could not have been lovelier and the party mood prevailed everywhere! Polka’s blaring with brass and soft pretzels are not generally something I look for in life and yet, somehow sitting along the Rhineside, it all makes sense and feels very right. The tall, intense looking Arian men walking by fit the soundtrack. Interesting thing, if you ever find yourself in Germany drinking with a true German man, when they toast (and they like to toast a lot) they look you square in the eye as your glasses meet with a very long serious gaze and smile. They all aren’t hitting on you, it’s just the German style.

Gay visitors from anywhere are welcomed with “Pink Cards” designed especially for GLBT travelers that provides free public transit and discounts on everything from gay-bars to boat tours to fetish shops. Cologne like many cities has no “Gayborhood” but the bars and clubs are plentiful and easy to find. Most are walkable (fairly safely) from Rudolfplatz in the center of “The Old Town. The entire area is one huge party with indoor and outdoor cafes, pubs and beer halls blend into one gigantic entertainment Mecca. It really is something very special. The sights, sounds and smells are pleasantly memorable. You would have to experience it to fully appreciate it. Gay, straight, men women, groups of friends and whoever else that is simply enjoying life in the same space at the same time and the way it should be. The way everyone has the right to live.

I remember one Saturday afternoon in June there seemed to be more than just a couple of “bachelor/bachelorette parties” in the area. There seemed to be 25 different groups of very drunk young men and women drinking, dancing, singing. The guys were playing a game that I found rather bizarre. The drunken “groom” of the group stands behind a special wooden, waist high rectangle with a large hole cut at crotch level. People then, women especially, fire bean-bags or small balls in the direction of the “grooms” marriage consummator. When a direct hit is made, the crowd goes wild with applause, cat-calls and cheers. A German “Glory Hole” of sorts I guess. It made me crazy to watch.

Although situated in western Germany, Cologne is sometimes called the most southern city in Germany because of the laid-back, easy-going attitude is more reflective of a Southern European lifestyle. (more like Munich) As soon as two rays of sun hit the city, you will see tables placed outside every café and pub. German’s party-hearty! They can be very serious and cold but also passionate, earnest and determined. Just ponder that concept for a while. But, yet again, that’s just me.

Cologne is the only city in Germany to ever host the Gay Games (2010) In addition to the fabulous Gay Pride Celebration in July, Cologne boasts Bear Pride, leather pride, Fetish Pride, Woman Pride and Fantasy Pride as well. Last year’s quote/theme was “Yes I Do” (Ja, ich will) It was awesome!

Since 2001 Germany has allowed registered partnerships for same sex couples. This could be the year that Germany allows full legal recognition of same-sex marriage. It’s only a matter of time now. The last time I was in Cologne I was invited to a wedding uniting two women old enough to make their own decisions. It was a joyous event and when everyone had filed out of the small romantic church in a tiny square somewhere in the center of the city, the two women appeared at the front door while friends unrolled a fabric banner with a pink heart in the center. The ladies then went to the banner together and with individual, small sets of scissors, cut the heart out together, then folded it and kept it. They stood and posed for pictures smiling and kissing in the heart silhouette. A fanciful beginning of an enchanted life I hope. In any case, this is the love I witnessed in Cologne. Afterwards the after party was in a magnificent Brauhaus (Beer Hall) which was just perfect for the occasion. As previously stated, Germans love their beer and to party.

THE BOTTOM LINE: “Eau De Cologne” or simply “Cologne” did indeed originate in this town back in 1709. Originally Kolnisch Wassner or “Water of Cologne” was mixed by an Italian fellow and described as an “Italian spring morning, mountain daffodils, orange blossoms after the rain”. He named it after his new home town. Maurer & Wirtz # 4711 has citrus notes with hints of rosemary, thyme, petitgrain (orange leaf) and jasmine and is still available as the oldest fragrance still produced in the world. It is considered a unisex fragrance. I wear mine with pride!

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