Deep concrete streets, like empty Venice canals, run throughout Berlin endlessly. They snake in and out of buildings, jumping over the Spree river that cuts the city in half and landing on the other side, curiously exploring. An old, rebellious spirit lines these streets, inhabiting drab grey buildings that sit on the graves of their predecessors destroyed during World War II.
Once a year, these streets are filled to the brim with a rebellious, loud voice. Berlin Pride has hosted a march for over 40 years that remains one of the largest pride gatherings in the world, being the largest at the time, in 2012 with over 200,000 participants. In July of 2019, this same number was tripled as thousands of Germans and even more foreigners took to the streets. Yet, does Berlin Pride keep its promise as a statement for LGBTQ+ persons and their allies in its advocacy for their rights and social acceptance, or has its incredible scale accompanied by loud mainstream music and copious amounts of alcohol diverted it into a state-wide “party holiday”?
Rather than looking at the march itself, it can be more revealing to see the transformation of the purpose of Berlin Pride in the parties that lead up to it. Most take place in bars, with rare exceptions being informational events hosted in museums that are meant to share photos and stories chronicling the journey of the queer community since 1979 (when the first march took place). But relevant cultural elements aren’t lost in every beer-ridden party, with one of the precipitating highlights to the march being the “Vogue” shows.
Voguing is a far cry from what someone might picture initially, with no connection to Madonna or the magazine. Instead, Voguing is a dance style that began as a ballroom dance rooting from African-American communities in the United States. It was adopted by queer men in the 80s, who transformed it more so into a competition according to some Berlin locals. Voguing involves judges with cold, strict postures watching individual dancers in flamboyant outfits take to a stage. Dancers, or competitors, proceed to do runway walks across the stage while simultaneously dancing in an attempt to portray a dramatic character.
The audience is famously supportive of all acts, while the judges remain cruelly cold and critical. Dancers who seem to throw “shade”, insulting other dancers by walking in front of them or pretending to be offended by how bad they perform, tend to be favored by the judges.
Thus Berlin voguing competitions tend to fall apart into how rude dancers can be to each other rather than being about what they mean to express through their dance.
Vogue shows can last for hours, with over a dozen participants on average. During this time, the crowds come in and out, with bartenders running crazily to continue serving drinks as the audience demands more alcohol so they can put up with the long duration of the competition. By the end, the crowd from the beginning will have left, and the applause at the end comes from tipsy people who missed the majority of the competition.
There are a few people, dressed eccentrically, who never left the show for a minute.
To them, voguing is a statement, an act that was originally meant to express a shared identity among men and women who were deemed socially unacceptable not long ago.
This definition hasn’t changed for them despite the circling men, begging for more drinks and constantly planning on what club to go to next.
Berlin Pride is beginning to lose its purpose and the form that voguing has taken is an example of this. Possibly, the work and sweat of previous generations fighting social and political institutions trying to oppress them worked so well that the new, carefree atmosphere has corroded the headstrong pride spirit into one of drunken entitlement. For whatever reason, someone can continue to have faith in the few who still hold voguing in their hearts as part of who they are.