Twenty Years After the Wall

Six days before his 2001 election as Berlin's mayor, Klaus Wowereit told voters, "I'm gay and that's a good thing." Eight years later and as popular as ever, the out politician takes Advocate on a tour of his Berlin.

BY Loann Halden

August 20 2009 12:00 AM ET

Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit, a.k.a. "Wowi," could easily pose as the Euro-pol poster child for coming out on the job. The public statement he made six days before his 2001 election, "Ich bin schwul und das ist auch gut so" -- "I'm gay and that's a good thing" -- has become a catchphrase for Germans emerging from the closet; and the Social Democrat's approval ratings remain high, currently an 8.9 out of 10 on the site of international think tank City Mayors . Paparazzi have no trouble snagging shots of him with his partner, neurosurgeon Jörn Kubicki, with whom he's lived for four years; the couple met at Bar Centrale on Yorckstrasse in 1993.

As the city celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall tumbling down with a series of events and exhibitions, Advocate.com checks in with the mayor on the state of his LGBT nation and collects travel tips for the Wowi-branded "poor but sexy" capital where life is still a queer cabaret.

Advocate.com:Germany, which established domestic-partnership legislation for same-sex couples in 2001, has some of Europe's most progressive laws for LGBT people, but there are still more steps to full equality. How would you assess the current situation for gays in Berlin? What areas of law still need work?Klaus Wowereit: The climate in Berlin is one of tolerance and openness, as well as liberality and internationality. That is what makes our city so attractive to gays and lesbians from all over the world. At the same time, however, we have to recognize that there are still occasional attacks, like the vandalism of the memorial to gays and lesbians persecuted under National Socialism. Both I and the general public condemned these attacks. Unfortunately, there are still some die-hard fanatics out there. That is one reason why I also support the initiative of Germany's Lesben- und Schwulenverband (Gay and Lesbian Association) for an addition to the constitutional article that makes equality a basic right in Germany; no one should be disadvantaged or privileged because of his or her sexual identity, either.

This is a milestone year for Berlin. What were you doing on November 9, 1989, when you heard that the Wall had fallen?I remember it very well. A retired relative was visiting us from the GDR (the German Democratic Republic/East Germany) on that historic Thursday. We lived in Lichtenrade, in the southern part of West Berlin. We had eaten dinner at a Chinese restaurant that night, and my mother and our visitor were already asleep when one of our neighbors called. He was almost beside himself and said that I should put away my files -- I was a city councilor at the time -- and turn on the TV. He said, "You won't believe your eyes, Klaus" -- and it was true, it was hard to believe what I was seeing. The Wall was open. Over the next few weeks and months, the fall of the Wall governed my work too, as I focused on the first steps towards bringing our two cities together. It was a marvelous time, one that I enjoy looking back on. That's why I'm especially looking forward to the commemorative event being held at the former Lichtenrade-Mahlow border crossing in November, which I plan to attend.

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