Clare Hand is a self-described flaming London lesbian. She’s spent the last year writing about queer women’s nightlife in her city. She documents the atmosphere, music, fashions, vibe (are you going to get laid or make new mates?), and those behind the nights.
Clare decided that it wouldn’t be right to only document dyke nightlife in one city, so she packed her bags and hit the road. She’s written about the thriving scenes in New York, San Francisco, Bogota, São Paulo, Berlin, and Dublin so far. This list will keep expanding. Keep an eye on her Dyke Nightlife Diaries here.
Where are all the queer women in Berlin? If it’s Tuesday night, they’re at Möbel Olfe bar. Whether it’s minus 0 degrees and you’re swaddled in all your chunkiest clothes, or you’re hoing up and stripping down in the middle of July, Olfe is the capital’s lesbian watering hole once a week.
Chilled door people sip tea at the bar’s entrance. They chat with their mates and nonchalantly monitor entrants, ensuring that, tonight, this usually mixed queer bar caters to women-identifying individuals only.
Berlin is certainly not lacking in queer women and filling the bar is no difficult task. At 10 p.m., the place is heaving and dykes spill out onto the streets. Lots of Berliners don’t work 9-5s; they are artists, musicians, dancers, and freelancers making the most of the city’s gentler pace, creative climate, and dedication to the arts. With less financial strain than in, say, New York and London (rent and booze are at least half the price here), people have a little more time to sculpt their schedule, work how and when they want, and, crucially, get hella wasted on a Tuesday night.
A lot of thought has gone into Olfe’s interiors. It’s spacious, well-lit, and covered in nice little touches, like a twenty disco ball sculpture and an array of old furniture glued to the ceiling. This is Berlin, so it’s also smothered in graffiti, ephemera, and ads for queer collectives, nights, and activism. It tows the line between grungy punk dive bar and hipster artsy cafe. It’s cool without trying. It’s very Berlin.
No one is trying less than the bartenders. They pour mixers with a cigarette dangling precariously from their lip (think lesbian James Dean), and slosh pints down like it’s the last beer in Berlin and they have to give it to you. Yes, a dangling cigarette. Smoking is a big yes in the Berlin club scene. Smokers can huff and puff to their heart’s content, while non-smokers douse their lungs in a pool of second-hand smoke.. Through their lack of enthusiasm for you and your custom, they channel an effortless, smouldering IDGAF attitude, which makes you (a thirsty hoe) desperate for their love and attention.
The bar is busy and sardine-like at points, but everyone is very friendly and relaxed. There is a complete smorgasbord of queers of all ages, ethnicities, and fashions. There’s no dress code, but there’s a Berlin edge to most looks: lots of leather, platform Docs, harnesses, neck tattoos, and fishnets.
Berlin Dykes have a certain swagger about them, and the room is filled with power-posing/ They stand with one arm leaning on the wall behind the person they’re speaking with in a wide-legs and crossed-arms stance, blazer sleeves rolled up and unapologetically eye-banging.
That said, eye-banging didn’t seem to translate into actual bangs. A couple of people met Tinder dates for the first time inside, but aside from that, people congregated in little lesbian packs. Everyone seemed set on socialising with their buddies at the start, but as the drinks (the ridiculously cheap drinks—€3/$3 a pint) kept flowing, I could see eyes wandering.
I asked a couple of Olfers that night about this phenomenon.
“Do people want to get laid? Is this more of a queer women’s community centre?” I asked innocently (cough).
“No, no, everyone wants to get laid. They’re just too scared,” replied one, “so they just side-eye you.”
“Yeah, I used to do that. We’d get all excited before—’I want to get laid tonight,’ we’d all say—and then get here and just stand with our friends and look at people,” said another.
The music is very, very good. The mixing is off-kilter and filled with eclectic jams, but it works. There are smooth, cheery electronic mixes by Todd Terje one minute, timeless uplifters from The Pointer Sister another, some downtime with Joy Division, and then pumped-up jams again with Sex Pistols and Fatboy Slim.
I stayed until 3 a.m.-ish (early in this city) and went home happy. Though knackered from all the eye-banging and smelling like I’d spent the evening rolling around in an ashtray, I delighted in the feeling that every Tuesday I’m in Berlin, I have somewhere to call home.
Möbel Olfe is in Kreuzberg, open nightly but hosts a lez takeover on Tuesdays. More information can be found on its website.