Northern Europe's new gay mecca will play host to one of the biggest gay parties ever when Europride touches down in western Germany this summer
Walking inside the gay German bar Brennerei Wei in the heart of Koln--the German city that's known by its French name, Cologne, in the rest of the world--I felt a little uncomfortable hearing the men singing German beer hall songs in unison; I had imagined that they were some sort of nationalistic nonsense. But the beer followed freely, and the men, dressed in campy costumes for Carnival (what we typically call Mardi Gras), seemed to be having a blast. After hearing one particular song for the third time in the space of an hour, I leaned over to Ruediger, a young German dressed in lederhosen, and asked him what the song was about. "Oh, it's very funny," he replied. "It means, 'Cologne is the horniest ass in the world.' "
Rainbow pride at Europride
Indeed. It's hard for Americans to grasp how progressive and gay-friendly Germany has become. And Cologne--close to Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Brussels, Rotterdam, and Hamburg--has become the newest gay mecca of northern Europe. Its gay pride celebration, known as Christopher Street Days, has long been one of the largest on the continent, attracting 750,000 people last year. This year promises to be the biggest ever, with Cologne playing host to Europride, the itinerant pan-Europe pridefest. Organizers say they expect 1.5 million lesbians and gays from all across the continent.
Christopher Street Days at Europride
No trip to the city is complete without a visit to its spiritual center, Cologne Cathedral. The soaring Gothic structure is one of the few great buildings in the area to survive Allied bombing during World War II. (See what the cathedral looks like this very minute at the cathedral-cam Web site. During the summer months the bustling Neumarkt area at the foot of the church is transformed into a minor amusement park, complete with rides and games.
Not far away, near the Rhine River, there is a cluster of about 15 gay and lesbian bars that cater to the city's burgeoning gay population. In the summer crowds spill out outside for makeshift gay street parties.
Following are some highlights on visiting Cologne for Europride--or anytime! For all phone numbers that follow, if calling outside Germany, first dial 011, then Germany's code, 49, before the area code (shown in parentheses) and the number.
EUROPRIDE The event runs June 15 through July 7, but most of the major events are during the first week of July. Fashion show: July 1 Gala: July 5 Street Party: July 6-7 International Europride parade: July 7 Europride fireworks: July 7
HOTELS The centrally located Crowne Plaza and the Holiday Inn Koln City-West, are offering special package deals for Europride guests. Both hotels offer clean accommodations and English-fluent staffs. Crown Plaza Koln is at Habsburgerring 9-13; the Holiday Inn is at Innere Kanalstrasse 15. Special package deals are also available through Gayjet.
FOOD For traditional German dining, check out the charming Die Zeit Der Kirschen. The romantic setting makes it perfect for those new friends you're bound to meet at Europride. Located at Venloer Strasse 399; telephone: (221) 9541906
Transfert offers simpler fare and boasts a lovely, sunny terrace in the summer months. Located at Hahnenstrasse 16; telephone: (221) 2581085
For cheaper eats, be sure to try one of the hundreds of Turkish dives, which blanket the city. They are more common than Chinese restaurants in New York. Ten percent of Cologne's population is Muslim, and most of that is of Turkish ancestry.
BARS/NIGHTLIFE Gloria, a converted theater space, is one of Cologne's largest gay nightclubs catering to men and women. Americans may find the '80s hits a little dated, but this club really packs 'em in. Get there early--lines during party weekends can last hours. Located at Apostelnstrasse 11; telephone: (221) 254433
The team at Chains
Leather-friendly folks should definitely make a pit stop at Chains. The downstairs disco is hot and packed during weekends. Located at Stephanstrasse 4; telephone: (221) 238730
For the latest information on weekly parties, check out the Web site of the gay monthly Queer in Koln.
GETTING THERE US Airways flies from major U.S. cities to Frankfurt, an hour-long bus ride from Cologne.