Europe

Traveling In Gay Europe - Final Destination: Cologne

Our European travel series for gay men concludes. First we showed you Vienna, Austria. Then we took you to Munich, Germany. Now Instinct is pleased to present you with a tour of culturally rich and historical Cologne.

The fourth-largest city in Germany and former Roman colony has the famous Rhine snaking through it and a robust gay culture. Cologne’s annual Pride festivities draw about one million people from all over Europe.

Bars are located in two areas just about two metro stops apart. Old Town, closer to the river, caters to men 50+ as well as leather and fetish. More popular, attracting a younger crowd, is Bermuda Triangle, near Rudolfplatz. The intersection of Schaafenstrasse and Mauritiuswall is where one finds lively watering holes of many types. ExCorner has a casual beer-loving vibe and I saw birthday parties and Oktoberfest celebrated in equal measure. One thirtysomething had multiple glasses of beer lined up on a window sill. At only two Euros per glass, I suppose he could afford it.

IRON is more sophisticated featuring an all-black interior accented with purple neon lighting. Here I spoke with an American (who didn’t want to give me his name for this article) living with his husband in Germany. When I commented on how mixed the crowd was, he told me it is normal for gay men and women to hang out together in Cologne. His identity preserved, we both smiled at the handsome Iranian (and straight) bartender who felt embarrassed his German wasn’t “good enough.” Who was I to judge? I ordered my second drink in English.

Saunas are popular in Cologne too. Badehaus Babylon, a gorgeous Italianate villa made of red brick, offers three floors of fun including an outdoor pool (allowing office workers to be voyeurs from their skyscrapers surrounding the facility). Drawing a diverse clientele, there were men of all ages and types, from thin, pimply teenagers (the age of consent is 14) to white-haired older men. In contrast to years ago when I first visited, this time I noticed many Middle Eastern men (Cologne has a sizeable and growing Muslim population). One reason they stood out was the swimming trunks they wore. Most men wrap a towel around their hips, or wear nothing at all. And in comparison to the US, condoms are a big deal in Germany. PrEP is not yet widely available in Europe like it is in the States, so one finds condoms everywhere, as well as posters stressing safer sex.

Lastly, there are two absolute cultural musts in Cologne. Museum Ludwig, with its permanent and visiting modern art exhibits, features Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns. Cologne Cathedral is a Gothic masterpiece and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Construction began in 1248 and wasn’t completed until 1880. Both are located on the Domplatte, not far from the main train station.

If You Go – Cologne

GETTING THERE

Cologne Bonn Airport is a regional one so it is difficult to fly direct to or from the USA. Connections via Munich, Frankfurt or Berlin should be expected. Cologne is served by high-speed rail if you travel in and away by train. Deutsche Bahn offers Sparpreis saver fares for booking in advance online and one-way tickets can cost as little as 19 euros.

WHERE TO STAY

Hotel NH Collection Köln Mediapark, Im Media Park 8b; +1 212 219 7607

WHERE TO EAT

Bei Oma Kleinmann, fantastic traditional German food popular with locals – get the schnitzel with a pint of Kölsch, the signature local brew; Zuelpicher Str. 9; +49 221232346

Bastian’s, charming bakery café serving jaw droppingly-good rolls and pastries; Auf dem Berlich 3-5; +49 221 25083412

WHAT TO DO

Badehaus Babylon Cologne, one of the most beautiful and popular saunas in Europe; Friesenstraße 23-25; +49 221 4207 4577

ExCorner, Schaafenstraße 57-59; +49 221 233 6060

IRON, Schaafenstraße 45; +49 221 2764 9614

Museum Ludwig, Heinrich-Böll-Platz; +49 221 22126165

Cologne Cathedral, Domkloster 4

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Travel Thursday: Traveling In Gay Europe - Say Hello To Munich

Welcome to the second installment of Instinct’s three-part gay travel series looking at a trio of Europe’s most charming locations. Yesterday we gave you a glimpse into gay Vienna, and tomorrow we take you to historical Cologne. But today let’s visit the capital of Bavaria: Munich.

English-speaking residents have a nickname for this city: Toytown (apparently due to its great quality of life, which I can vouch for). I first visited in 2007 and fell in love, with both the city and a resident. Jochen and I were drinking beer at an outdoor community table, at a café that no longer exists, when I addressed the waitress as fraülein. Major faux pas. He leaned over to educate me. “We don’t use that word anymore,” he said. “It’s considered sexist.” Always one for political correctness paired with an accent, a long distance romance lasting a year-plus was born.

Die Deutsche Eiche (“the German oak”) is home to a restaurant, hotel and sauna all in one. A former epicenter of gay culture for decades, glass-enclosed wall displays present a brief history lesson evidenced by photos and video of German drag queens fighting for social change. Continue to the back and either check into your room or hit a buzzer to be let into the sauna, a massive four-story facility complete with locker rooms, showers, mazes, cubicles, movie theatre, Jacuzzi, saunas and steam room. The hotel has been renovated and the rooms are very comfortable (if expensive) with tasteful wood floors, double-paned windows, new beds and modern bath fixtures. I prefer rooms in the back, away from the street, for their peaceful urban garden setting.

The restaurant’s charm makes you feel you are in the Bavarian countryside. The food is fair, the service professional, and the draft beer delicious. Jochen, now 46, and I remain friends after all these years and we met for dinner. Besides being a landscape architect, he is also a talented water colorist and has been married for six years to a Frenchman who works for Cartier. When asked about Munich’s current gay culture he said, “I’m not sure that there is one anymore. I think there are these places called ‘subs.’”

Indeed, we walked along Müllerstrasse, once the gay boulevard of Munich. Stopping in front of a sterile-looking building, on the street level was a bar/cafe doing its best not to look like a gay community center. A green neon sign flashed “Sub,” as in subculture. Roughly twenty people under 35, men and women, chatted, drank and played pool. Continuing down Müllerstrasse I saw former LGBT clubs – including one I once saw filled with soap suds for an all-night sex party – now gone, either empty or now simply mainstream businesses.

Having been to Germany so many times now, I’ve seen Munich change. Gärtnerplatz, once the LGBT Ground Zero is now a fashionable neighborhood notable for its roundabout mini-park, historic theatre, trendy eateries and moms pushing strollers. You may also spot German soccer superstars and celebrities lunching at the charming Café Cotidiano, though it helps to have a national with you to appreciate the honor.

Tomorrow’s destination: Cologne (via train from Munich: 5-6 hours)

If You Go – Munich

GETTING THERE

Munich Airport is served by all major airlines, with nonstop flights from a number of U.S. cities. You can also travel by train when already in Europe.

WHERE TO STAY

Hotel Cocoon Sendlinger Tor, Lindwurmstraße 35; +49 89 59993907; cocoon-hotels.de/?lang=en

Hotel Deutsche Eiche, Reichenbachstraße 13; +49 (89) 23 11 66 – 0; deutsche-eiche.com/The_Hotel

WHERE TO EAT

Deutsche Eiche, traditional Bavarian cuisine; Reichenbachstraße 13; +49 (89) 23 11 66 – 0; deutsche-eiche.com/The_Restaurant

Restaurant Cotidiano, fashionable atmosphere, fresh pastries and teas; Gärtnerplatz 6; +49 (0) 89 2420786-10

WHAT TO DO

Gärtnerplatz, charming circular park and neighborhood in the middle of the city, former center of LGBT Munich; muenchen.de/sehenswuerdigkeiten/orte/120320.htmlDeutsche Eiche Sauna, Reichenbachstraße 13; +49 (89) 23 11 66 – 0; deutsche-eiche.com/The_Bathhouse

Sub, Müllerstr. 14; +49 0 89 8563464-00; subonline.org/english/

Munich Gay Oktoberfest, annual beer-loving event for LGBTs. Plan ahead! gaytravel4u.com/event/munich-gay-oktoberfest/

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On The Prowl In Gay Europe – First Stop: Vienna

Welcome to Instinct’s three-part travel series giving you a peek into modern gay culture in Vienna, Munich and Cologne – three of Europe’s most amazing cities. Tomorrow and Friday we’ll delve into two of Germany’s hottest destinations for gay male travelers – but today it’s all about Austria’s capital, Vienna.

Along the banks of the Danube, The City of Music feels like a European Washington, DC, with wide avenues, city parks and “wedding cake” architecture to match. Chock full of diplomats, NGOs and English-speaking professionals from all over the world, a distinct Gay Village lies ensconced between the Mariahilf and Wieden neighborhoods, not far from the center of this gorgeous and sophisticated metropolis.

Using TravelGayEurope.com and the tourism office’s Gay & Lesbian Guide (on paper and as an app), I unsurprisingly had a host of bars, clubs, restaurants, and saunas to choose from. I visited the Eagle first. Featuring a retail counter selling t-shirts, poppers, and leather/BDSM accouterments (like cockrings), it’s marketed as a cruise bar. Men can drink and flirt before having sex in a dimly lit back room. Nowhere close to sanitary, it provides an effective taboo vibe patrons aged mid-20s to 60-plus clearly enjoy.

For a no less social, but definitely less sexual vibe, Village Bar is a great choice. Cozy, modern and welcoming, with little red glass lanterns hanging from the ceiling, I heard several Americans talking about their careers in the States. Handsome and friendly bartender Andrew (“That’s my artist name.”) speaks perfect English and will recommend you imbibe the local Viennese beer, Gösser, vom fass (on tap). Nearly every region in Austria and Germany has brewed its own signature beer for hundreds of years. When I travel I sample as many as I can – they are like cultural fingerprints.

One evening a fake Grindr profile lured me to Ken Club, a monthly LGBTQ dance party playing deep house. Perhaps best left for the young (I am 51), I found a dark, crowded, smoky bar with deafening music and a lot of rude, inebriated twenty-somethings stumbling down stairs leading to a packed dance floor. Not a lost cause, however. I found respite near the main bar when I kissed a cute Brazilian diplomat working on nuclear policy for the United Nations. Unable to walk since a young age, he confessed, “You wouldn’t believe how many guys buy me drinks just because they see this wheelchair.” Actually, I could; I had become one of them.

Finally, there are four saunas in Vienna, with the crown jewel being Kaiserbründl. Unlike the dank, unclean sex clubs found in American cities, saunas in Germany and Austria are highly social places where friends arrive in groups, particularly on Sunday afternoon, share a beer, coffee or cigarette before and after finding distraction. At Kaiserbründl you may choose a Jacuzzi surrounded by North African-themed arches decorated with mosaic tile, basic sauna or steam room, or a dramatic solarium dominated by a crystal chandelier hovering above you. They also have a large restaurant on the street level. Penne all’Arrabbiata was the special the day I was there.

Tomorrow’s destination: Munich (via train from Vienna: 4 hours)

If You Go – Vienna

GETTING THERE

I flew from LAX nonstop on Lufthansa. VIE, the city’s international airport is served by all major airlines.

WHERE TO STAY

Rent a great apartment for $100 per night or less; airbnb.com

WHERE TO EAT

Lugeck, a delicious modern twist on traditional Viennese cuisine; Lugeck 4; +43 1 512 50 60; lugeck.com/en/

WHAT TO DO

Eagle Vienna, Blümelgasse 1; +43 1 587 2661; eagle-vienna.com/index.php/en/

Village Bar, Stiegengasse 8; +43 676 358 4842; why-not.at/index.php?id=58&L=1

Kaiserbründl, Weihburggasse 18-20; +43 (0) 1 513 32 93; kaiserbruendl.at/eng/index.htm

 

 

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Kosovo Held A Pride Parade Despite Threats Of Violence

Kosovo held its first ever pride parade despite threats of violence.

The parade, dubbed The Name of Love, was the first organized and previously announced march. Three earlier LGBTQ marches held in the country did exist, but they were more spontaneous in nature.

The march itself started at Pristina's central Skanderbeg Square. Participants then marched for some 500 meters while chanting "There is no gender in love" before reaching Zahir Pajaziti Square where a concert was held.

U.S. Ambassador Greg Delawie was among the crowd by the end of the march and spoke of the general feeling of love in it.

"I am so happy to see so many people today, so many supporters," Delawie told participants. "I want you to know that the U.S. Embassy stands with you."

But on top of all the love and acceptance that was met at the parade, the European territory’s president attended the event (though not the march itself).

President Hashim Thaci even spoke at the event and said:

"We will not allow anyone in Kosovo to impose fear and threats against any individual or against any group.”

That said, this joyous event is at the epicenter of a very hostile country towards LGBTQ people.

A study of the U.S.'s National Democratic Institute found that Kosovo is the region's most homophobic country, with members of LGBTQ community dealing with substancial discrimination.

In addition, the organizers of the event received several threats of violence before it took place, and several “revolted citizens” messaged media outlets warning others to avoid the event or “share the same fate with those who go out on that day."

Thankfully, no attack was held, but there is still concern for LGBTQ people in the country after the fact.