The Christopher Street Liberation Day was actually started in New York, in 1970, the year after the historic Stonewall Riots – in which homosexuals protested against their treatment at the hands of the police – had taken place in Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. On the tenth anniversary of the riots, Berlin and Bremen became the first German countries to adopt the idea as part of its Gay Pride activities. Now, just about every significant town in Germany has its own Christopher Street Day and, in 1978, Zurich introduced the theme into Switzerland.
The cities of Berlin and Cologne have by far the biggest Christopher Street Day celebrations and, conveniently enough, have them at different weekends in the summer. Berlin follows the New York pattern of having its parade and party as near to 28th June as possible, whereas Cologne traditionally takes the first Sunday in July as the day of its parade.
The Berlin Christopher Street Day comes as the climax of a fabulous Gay Pride Festival, usually occupying three gloriously gaudy June weeks. Around half a million people will get out onto the streets to watch the incredible parade of decorated floats and pedestrian groups – setting off at midday and taking in some of the city’s most recognisable landmarks. The Parade traditionally ends at the Siegessäule Victory Column, Berlin’s most famous statue. This is one spectacular sight; the costumes, naturally, are as wonderfully extravagant and outrageous as the coloured wigs and painted bodies. The atmosphere is always upbeat and exciting; the music loud and techno. Berlin, of course, was the city of Cabaret, adapted from the Berlin Stories of the city’s own adopted Christopher, Christopher Isherwood, and the outlandish behaviour totally befits his memory. The celebrations are always joyfully exuberant – but restrained enough to entice many ‘straight’ families onto the streets to join in the fun; it is that kind of day!
Also in the Festival you’ll find the Pink Ballroom dancing competition for men’s and ladies’ pairs; exhibitions, discussions, films and other activities designed to raise awareness and social acceptance of gay issues in addition to making the festival a true Gay Pride event.
The Cologne Christopher Street day celebrations lose nothing in comparison with their Berlin counterparts. In recent years over 120 floats have taken part in the parade itself, with an estimated 750,000 people crammed onto the streets – compared with just 3,000 in the first ever march twenty nine years previously. The Street Festival begins on the Friday evening before the parade. At 6 pm the three main stages, in the heart of the Old City, begin their long evenings of music and comedy.
There is always a poignant end to the Saturday evening when the spectators participate in ‘Candlelight against Oblivion’, when those who have died from Aids during the previous twelve months are remembered.
Christopher Street Day Parades throughout the rest of Germany tend to be spread throughout the summer months, so that is is quite possible to take in several parades. The Zurich Parade is usually held at the end of May or beginning of June, starting on Turbinen-Platz in the trendy Zurich West area of the city.
Raising awareness and social acceptance of gay issues and celebrating the diversity of the gay community and demonstrating its determination to overcome remaining barriers, Christopher Street Day Parades – vibrant, noisy, joyful and inclusive – have an atmosphere unique to themselves.