Updated at 9:30 a.m. ET on March 12, 2019.
BERLIN—The fetish cruising bar Bull is a place of pilgrimage in Berlin for more than one reason. To patrons, it is a 24-hour safe space that caters to every palate. To the British historian Brendan Nash, it is a symbol of “Babylon Berlin,” a golden decade of LGBT freedom in the city in the 1920s, when the bisexual Hollywood star Marlene Dietrich mixed with prostitutes and transgender dance-hall girls.
“There’s been a gay bar of some kind at this address for more than 100 years,” Nash, an energetic 54-year-old, explained to a walking tour he was leading as he gestured enthusiastically at a neon sign outside, which featured cattle with large nose rings. Chuckling, he told the group that an elderly woman nonchalantly wanders through Bull with a sandwich cart at 5 a.m. in case anyone is hungry. “There is nothing that she has not seen,” he said.
Germany has long been lauded for its liberal attitude toward sex. It recently passed laws allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt, and just became the first European country to legalize a third gender. But LGBT-rights groups have warned of a parallel rise of violent homophobia in mainstream politics.
Since the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party stormed into the Bundestag last year, its politicians have called for homosexuals to be imprisoned, vowed to repeal gay marriage, and denounced those suffering from HIV. Such attacks not only symbolize yet another seismic, global shift to the right. They are also reminders of Germany’s fascist past and, rights groups worry, signs of dangerous future clamp-downs on vulnerable minorities.