imago images/Müller-Stauffenberg

A Visual Timeline of LGBTQ+ Progress in Germany

Germany's LGBTQ+ history is marked by pioneering efforts, vibrant cultural eras, and severe oppression. From early advocacy milestones to the ongoing struggle for rights, this visual timeline highlights key moments from the IMAGO archive.

Diverse, vibrant, inclusive, and Multi-Kulti. This is how many people know Germany’s capital nowadays. But the city and country weren’t always like this. There were many ups and downs and changes to reach this day: from many firsts, like creating the “first organization advocating for homosexual rights,” “the Institute for Sexual Science,” and the first worldwide gay publications, to the glittering historical era in the 1920s for LGBTQ+ community, and then down to the dark and brutal Nazi era. The LGBTQ+ community in Germany has had a long journey toward equality and recognition and still takes steps forward in the ongoing fight for their rights. This visual timeline from the IMAGO archive shows some historical highlights from the 20th century to today, capturing the moments and milestones.

LGBTQ+ Germany
IMAGO / Archivi | Theater am Nollendorfplatz in Schöneberg – Berlin’s historic gay neighborhood known as the rainbow district.

What Was Life Like for the LGBTQ+ Community in Germany Before the Nazi Era?

Germany, and especially Berlin, before the Nazis, experienced a time of advancement and cultural vibrancy for the LGBTQ+ community. This era saw the establishment of the world’s first gay rights movement, the flourishing of gay culture, and pioneering research and advocacy by figures like Magnus Hirschfeld.

Berlin became known for its vibrant queer scene, with its bars, clubs, and famous drag balls. Many people came from around the world to visit or be a part of it. One of the most famous clubs was Eldorado, which was a place for not only the LGBTQ+ community but also artists, celebrities, tourists and many more.

However, not all of Germany was supportive. Many conservative groups saw the visibility of the queer community as a sign of moral decay. Efforts to repeal Paragraph 175 faced huge resistance from conservative elements in society. The political and economic instability of the Weimar Republic also played a role in the fluctuating fortunes of the LGBTQ+ community.
All the advancements of that era were constantly under threat from different groups, culminating in the brutal crackdown on the LGBTQ+ community by the Nazis after they came to power in 1933.

LGBTQ+ Germany
IMAGO / Everett Collection | The documentary film Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate (German: “Eldorado – Alles, was die Nazis hassen”), released in 2023 on Netflix. A glittery nightclub in 1920s Berlin becomes a haven for LGBTQ+ communities. Courtesy of Everett Collection.
LGBTQ+ Germany
IMAGO / Everett Collection | The documentary film Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate (German: “Eldorado – Alles, was die Nazis hassen”), released in 2023 on Netflix. A glittery nightclub in 1920s Berlin becomes a haven for LGBTQ+ communities. Courtesy of Everett Collection.
LGBTQ+ Germany
IMAGO / Everett Collection | The documentary film Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate (German: “Eldorado – Alles, was die Nazis hassen”), released in 2023 on Netflix. A glittery nightclub in 1920s Berlin becomes a haven for LGBTQ+ communities. Courtesy of Everett Collection.
LGBTQ+ Germany
IMAGO / KHARBINE-TAPABOR | A graphic from 1929 of a queer Berlin cabaret bar.
Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate
IMAGO / Everett Collection | The documentary film Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate (German: “Eldorado – Alles, was die Nazis hassen”), released in 2023 on Netflix. A glittery nightclub in 1920s Berlin becomes a haven for LGBTQ+ communities. Courtesy of Everett Collection.
LGBTQ+ Germany
IMAGO / Everett Collection | The documentary film Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate (German: “Eldorado – Alles, was die Nazis hassen”), released in 2023 on Netflix. A glittery nightclub in 1920s Berlin becomes a haven for LGBTQ+ communities. Courtesy of Everett Collection.
LGBTQ+ Germany
IMAGO / Everett Collection | The documentary film Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate (German: “Eldorado – Alles, was die Nazis hassen”), released in 2023 on Netflix. A glittery nightclub in 1920s Berlin becomes a haven for LGBTQ+ communities. Courtesy of Everett Collection.
LGBTQ+ Germany
IMAGO / Everett Collection | The documentary film Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate (German: “Eldorado – Alles, was die Nazis hassen”), released in 2023 on Netflix. A glittery nightclub in 1920s Berlin becomes a haven for LGBTQ+ communities. Courtesy of Everett Collection.
Marlene Dietrich in Berlin ball
IMAGO / Pond5 Images | (Right to left) Filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, actresses Marlene Dietrich, and Anna May Wong at a Berlin ball. Photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt from The LIFE Picture Collection.
first homosexual civil rights movement
IMAGO / epd / Rolf Zöllner | Berlin unveiled a monument on September 7, 2017, honoring Magnus Hirschfeld, founder of the first homosexual civil rights movement.

Nazi-Era (1933-1945): Persecution, Mass Arrests, and Concentration Camps for LGBTQ+ Community

The dark era of the Nazis started with a brutal persecution of homosexuals. They expanded Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code, which criminalized homosexual acts between men. This led to a significant increase in arrests and prosecutions, with around 100,000 men arrested and approximately 50,000 convicted between 1933 and 1945.

The clubs, bars, and known locations for their vibrant culture and atmosphere, which made the city famous as a “queer haven,” turned into places of fear and repression. The Nazis conducted frequent police raids on gay bars and clubs, shutting down many prominent gay meeting places. This was not only in Berlin but also in other big cities like Cologne and Hamburg. The establishment of the Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion in 1936 further institutionalized the persecution, targeting homosexuals for arrest and punishment.

The Nazis’ brutal treatment of homosexuals included torture, coerced confessions, and imprisonment in concentration camps. Gay men in these camps were marked with a pink triangle and faced harsh conditions. The execution of Ernst Röhm during the Night of the Long Knives in 1934 highlighted the Nazis’ zero-tolerance policy towards homosexuality within their ranks, despite Röhm’s initial prominence within the Nazi leadership.

The destruction of Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Research in 1933, which included the public burning of its extensive library, symbolized the Nazis’ efforts to eradicate homosexual culture and research.

zwei homosexuelle Freunde halten Händchen, um 1930, Deutschland
IMAGO / imagebroker | Couples holding hands. 1930, Germany.
LGBTQ+ Germany
IMAGO / Danita Delimont / Walter Bibikow | A World War II-era concentration camp uniform worn by homosexuals with a pink triangle, imprisoned by the Nazi regime, is displayed at the Museum of the Federal Republic of Germany on the Museumsmeile in Bonn, Nordrhein-Westfalen.
LGBTQ+ Germany
IMAGO / dieBildmanufaktur | Inside the bunker, the prison within the Dachau concentration camp in Bavaria, Germany. Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, Bavaria, Germany. May 11, 2018.
LGBTQ+ Germany
IMAGO / BRIGANI-ART | A couple takes a photo at the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism. The scene captures a gay couple kissing. Berlin, Germany.
LGBTQ+ Germany
IMAGO / Gemini Collection | The front cover of The Illustrated London News reporting on the execution of Ernst Röhm during the Night of the Long Knives. The large photograph shows Röhm at the center with Hitler and Göring, who urged Hitler to have Röhm executed. Röhm’s homosexuality was emphasized as the justification for his death.

The Struggle for LGBTQ+ Rights in Post-Nazi Germany

After World War II and the Nazi era, the persecution of the LGBTQ+ community in Germany continued for several decades due to the retention of Paragraph 175, the law criminalizing homosexual acts between men. East Germany repealed the Nazi amendments to Paragraph 175 in 1950, but male homosexuality remained a crime until 1968. In contrast, West Germany retained the harsher version of the law until 1969, leading to the conviction of around 50,000 men between 1949 and 1969.

The legal and social situation for homosexuals in Germany began to improve significantly from the late 1960s onwards. In 1969, both East and West Germany decriminalized homosexual acts between consenting adults. Despite this progress, the Nazi-era convictions under Paragraph 175 were not annulled until many years later.

In 2002, Germany formally annulled the convictions of gay men under Nazi rule. Further, in 2017, the German parliament approved compensation for those who were prosecuted under Paragraph 175, offering financial redress to surviving victims.

Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate
IMAGO / Everett Collection | The documentary film Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate (German: “Eldorado – Alles, was die Nazis hassen”), released in 2023 on Netflix. A glittery nightclub in 1920s Berlin becomes a haven for LGBTQ+ communities. Courtesy of Everett Collection.
Christopher Street Day parade
IMAGO / Müller-Stauffenberg | Christopher Street Day parade. Berlin, LGBTQ+ Germany, on June 26, 1999.
LGBTQ+ Germany
IMAGO / Seeliger | A participant marches alongside a parade float adorned with a banner proclaiming “100 YEARS OF GAY MOVEMENT” during the Christopher Street Day (CSD) event. LGBTQ+ Germany. June 28, 1997. Berlin, Germany.
Christopher Street Day parade. LGBTQ+ Germany.
IMAGO / Müller-Stauffenberg | Christopher Street Day parade. Berlin, LGBTQ+ Germany. June 26, 1999.
Christopher Street Day parade. LGBTQ+ Germany.
IMAGO / Müller-Stauffenberg | Christopher Street Day parade. LGBTQ+ Germany. Berlin on June 26, 1999.
 Christopher Street Day
IMAGO / Becker&Bredel | Jean Pierre Lackwitz and Gerd Zewe (from left to right) participate in a symbolic wedding ceremony on July 24, 1999, at Tiblisser Platz in Saarbruecken.
Christopher Street Day
IMAGO / Jürgen Ritter | Participants gather for a protest against the discrimination of homosexuals in all societal domains during Christopher Street Day on June 28, 1986, in Berlin.
Christopher Street Day
IMAGO / Rolf Zöllner | LGBTQ+ Germany. Berlin-Tiergarten, June 1993.
The Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted during Nazi era in Berlin's Tiergarten.
IMAGO / epd | The Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted during Nazi era in Berlin’s Tiergarten. May 26, 2008, Berlin, Germany.

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