Anti-queer attacks in Berlin: How colorful is Neukölln really?

Anti-queer attacks in Berlin: How colorful is Neukölln really?

The queer café Das Hoven in Berlin-Neukölln was attacked several times and an employee was beaten up. But the operator doesn’t want to give up.

Danjel Zarte, the boss of “Das Hoven” in Berlin-Neukölln Photo: private

BERLIN taz | The motto of Das Hoven can be seen from afar. “Queer and Friends” is written in large letters above the bar, they light up day and night. The large window pane that offers a view of the spacious café in Berlin-Neukölln is clean on this snowy January morning. “Exceptionally,” as the owner Danjel Zarte later explains. The glass pane and the facade are regularly smeared. Tender has often had to remove eggs, homophobic insults such as “faggot” or “fags” or even feces.

Das Hoven in Berlin-Neukölln has been open for nine months and, depending on the time of day, the menu includes croque monsieur, tagliatelle with chorizo ​​or nut roast with red wine jus. Here, seniors over coffee meet young families at brunch, feminist book clubs or people working on their laptops. A classic mixed audience in Neukölln. “It has always been my dream to run a store where there is good food and everyone can feel good. A place without discrimination,” says Zarte.

But it doesn’t sound like his dreams are coming true. When you ask Zarte about the challenges, for a brief moment he doesn’t know where to start. He begins with the increased costs and tells of nerve-wracking bureaucratic disputes with the tax and regulatory authorities. Zarte knows the game, he has been working in the catering industry for twenty years, he has been running the darkroom bar Große Freiheit 114 in Friedrichshain for two years, and recently also the bar Kleine Freiheit right next to Das Hoven. But a situation like the one he is experiencing now is new for him.

Smeared window, devastated terrace

One thing is clear: the catering industry in Germany is not doing well. Rising food prices and energy costs and the increase in VAT to the pre-Corona level of 19 percent are making going to restaurants an expensive luxury for many. Zarte also had to increase prices.

But in addition to the problems that the entire industry has to contend with, Das Hoven is regularly confronted with attacks. The smeared window and facade are one thing, but the terrace of the café has also been vandalized, the door locks have been taped shut or smashed. “Not only is it annoying, it also costs a lot of money every time,” says Zarte. But it doesn’t stop at vandalism. He and his employees have also been spat on and physically attacked. “One of my employees was beaten up in front of the door after his shift and called a ‘fucking fag,’” says Zarte.

When Zarte talks about the attacks, the vandalism and the insults, he becomes angry at the senseless violence that hits him and his café. “I sometimes have the feeling that I opened a gay bar in the Eifel in the 90s and not a queer-friendly café in Neukölln in 2023,” he says.

More and more violence

The Hoven is located in Kreuzkölln, the northern part of Neukölln. There has been a major structural change in the neighborhood in the last 15 years: more and more young people want to live here. Many residents, especially those who are socially precarious, are being displaced. The structural change also includes the fact that more and more queer bars, clubs and establishments have opened. Among other things, the city’s largest queer club, SchwuZ, moved from Kreuzberg to Neukölln in 2013.

Neukölln is becoming more colorful, that’s why it’s often said. But Neukölln is also increasingly becoming a place of anti-queer violence. Because what Zarte and his café are experiencing is not an isolated case. In general, trans- and homophobic violence is constantly increasing in Berlin. According to the police’s annual report on political crime, the number of crimes classified as “hate crimes against sexual orientation and/or against gender/sexual identity or gender-related diversity” more than quadrupled from 2013 to 2022.

Queer life is here – but protections are just emerging

Neukölln stands out among the Berlin districts because of the seriousness of the offenses recorded. This is also evident from the Camino report, a biennial LGBTI monitoring commissioned by the State of Berlin. It says that Neukölln is particularly notable for its high proportion of dangerous bodily harm.

But why? In general, the level of violence in Berlin is currently increasing, and queer rights are at the center of social conflicts. Many feel threatened by anything that questions classic images of men and women. In Neukölln the increase also has something to do with structural changes.

Albrecht Lüter, head of the Berlin violence prevention office, which was set up at Camino on behalf of the Berlin State Commission against Violence, says: “There is progress when it comes to queer rights and self-determination.” The willingness of those affected to report is growing. But that alone is not enough to explain the increase in numbers, because the increased visibility of queer lifestyles and institutions also leads to more violence, says Lüter.

Two cases of anti-queer violence attracted a lot of attention last year. In August there was an arson attack on the RuT, the premises of an initiative of lesbian women in Schillerkiez. The shop window was destroyed, a Bible quote was stuck on it and a burning liquid was thrown into the shop. A 63-year-old man was arrested and confessed to the crime.

Police have too little capacity

A month earlier, a lesbian couple on Reichenberger Straße, already in Kreuzberg, but almost 700 meters from Das Hoven, was insulted, beaten and kicked by a group of four men. The two women were taken to hospital injured; passers-by were said not to have intervened. In response to the two anti-queer acts, there was a demonstration with several hundred participants through Neukölln in August.

Perpetrators who attacked Das Hoven have not yet been caught. This is also because the employee who was beaten did not want to file a complaint. No perpetrators have yet been identified in two burglaries that Zarte reported. The police confirm this to the taz.

Zarte describes people who tear up the store and shout “faggot” or spit on employees as a group of young men. This corresponds to what we know about the perpetrators of anti-queer violence: the suspects are usually young, almost always male and many have already come to the attention of the police through acts of violence or political offenses. This emerges from the data from Camino and the police crime statistics.

An employee who has worked for the store since it opened and wishes to remain anonymous in this text tells taz how great the fear is among her colleagues: “Some don’t want to go into the basement anymore, are afraid of taking on the late shift, or don’t want to work alone. The fears are irrational, but perhaps also understandable if you have ever been insulted, spat at or threatened with a plastic gun.” She herself has also experienced various attacks. “It just feels humiliating when you have to clean egg residue from the window. I really didn’t expect that this would be everyday life in a Berlin café,” she says.

There has been little help from the police so far. Zarte says he asked the police for more presence and regular patrols. The police refused, citing a lack of capacity. The police neither wanted to confirm nor deny the request and its answer to the taz and pointed out that they generally did not comment on protective measures.

Queer representative for Neukölln

According to Lüter’s assessment, the state of Berlin and its districts are well aware of the problem of anti-queer sentiment. There are numerous initiatives, offers for prevention work with violent boys and concepts to combat violence. The Berlin State Office for Equal Treatment and Against Discrimination promotes measures and coordinates these processes. Berlin is also the first federal state with monitoring reports on trans- and homophobic violence and there are various concepts at the municipal level to make peaceful coexistence in the city possible.

“In the Rainbow neighborhood in Schöneberg, where visible queer life has been a part of it for decades, there are various low-threshold protective measures and concepts, such as the night mayor or initiatives from local clubs,” says Lüter and adds: “This is not yet established in Neukölln . Queer life is here – but the protections that accompany it are only just emerging.”

This also includes the fact that Neukölln now wants to introduce the position of queer representative. Upon request, the district confirmed to taz that this should happen this year. According to Lüter, problems are best solved preventively and directly on site: Measures for the whole of Berlin make sense, but in order to guarantee peaceful coexistence in a neighborhood, you have to know the streets, the people and their problems. Local networks and round tables where police, social workers and initiatives come together can help.

Measures that will hopefully have a long-term impact. However, things have to happen quickly for Das Hoven. “I actually don’t see the point of letting myself be driven out of here,” says Zarte. And continues: “I’m giving myself another six months, the café has to be up and running by then.” He would also like support from the city on his way there. “If Berlin wants to be a city with gastronomic diversity, then it has to do something about it.”


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