German and Austrian Pioneers in LGBT Rights

Although we tend to think of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights movement as a modern, fairly recent phenomenon, the advocacy of homosexual rights goes back to the nineteenth century in Austria and Germany. Two pioneers in the field were the Austro-Hungarian Karl-Maria Kertbeny (who coined the word “homosexual”) and the German Magnus Hirschfeld (who invented the term “transvestite”). We’ll learn more about them and others below, but first let’s compare several European countries in the area of LGBT rights.


Pioneering German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld (1868–1935) in 1929. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

The treatment of homosexuals in Europe, socially and legally, varies greatly by country. Only nine of Europe’s nations have legalized same-sex marriage. The Netherlands was the first European country to do so (in 2001). Northern European nations tend to be more progressive in LGBT rights than southern and eastern European lands. Here are some examples:

Being gay or lesbian is largely accepted in Germany, with most of the population feeling that sexual orientation is a non-issue. Berlin had an openly gay mayor (Klaus Wowereit) for many years. Legally, however, Germany has not been a leader in gay rights. But on June 30, 2017 that changed when the German Bundestag (parliament) voted in favor of same-sex marriage (“Ehe für alle”). Ironically, the CDU/CSU party of Angela Merkel, which had long blocked a vote on the issue, was encouraged by the chancellor to proceed with a vote. Although Merkel herself voted no, the marriage-equality law passed with 393 yes votes versus 226 no votes, meaning that 75 CDU/CSU members voted in favor of the new law.

Klaus Wowereit

Klaus Wowereit served as Berlin’s mayor (SPD) from 2001 until 2014. He “came out” prior to the 2001 mayoral elections. He is known for his now famous phrase: “Ich bin schwul, und das ist auch gut so.” (“I’m gay, and that’s a good thing.”)
PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

A special type of civil union existed for gay and lesbian couples for many years, but it was not really equal to marriage in several respects, including taxes. In May 2013 a high court decision on so-called “tax-splitting” (Steuersplitting) required the German government to allow homosexual couples to combine their incomes for tax purposes, just as heterosexual couples could do. This reduced the difference between a gay civil union (eine eingetragene Lebenspartnerschaften, “a registered life partnership”) and a “normal” heterosexual marriage, but it was still a “separate but equal” status. (Tax-splitting was already legal in 13 of Germany’s 16 states before the court’s ruling.) Many Germans had already called for doing away with this legal distinction before the recent marriage-equality vote. Continue reading

Drinking Kaffee in Germany

You can tell when you have crossed the frontier into Germany because of the badness of the coffee.
– Edward VII (1841-1910, son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert)*

I’m a devoted coffee drinker. I drink it wherever I am, especially in Europe. I’ve had coffee in Austria, France, Germany, Italy, the UK, and even Slovenia. The Germans always rave about their coffee, but I think German coffee is highly overrated. There, I’ve said it. Now here’s why I say it.

First, there is no such thing as “German coffee.” Coffee trees don’t really flourish in northern Europe. All that Dallmayr, Hag, Jacobs and Tchibo coffee gets to Germany via Bremen, Hamburg and other European ports. That’s no different than the rest of Europe. Other than the type of bean, the main difference is the roast. (The brewing methods are pretty similar all across Europe.) The beans are usually Arabica, so that leaves the roast. And I think the roast is the problem.

A German Coffee
A “German coffee” is a type of cocktail made with Kirschwasser, coffee and whipped cream. That’s definitely not what we’re talking about here!

Germans generally like milder flavors. They really aren’t into spicy or pungent. That’s why “Mexican” food in Germany is not even close to Mexican. Foreign foods (Chinese, Indian, even Italian) get toned down for German taste buds. Continue reading