Neighbourhoods, local scenes & tourist development. Part 1:The LGBT neighbourhood in Schöneberg

Rainbow Flag at the Town Hall of Schöneberg (Berlin)

by Ares Kalandides and Nils Grube

Schöneberg is a Berlin neighbourhood with an established, diverse and strong Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transsexual (LGBT) community, especially around Nollendorfplatz. Over the years it has developed into a magnet for visitors from other parts of the city, the country, but also from all over the world. Several events (e.g. the Pride parade, the gay and lesbian street festival etc.) have also become interesting for non-LGBT visitors. In:polis | urbanism has just completed a research project on the touristic potentials of the area on behalf of the district of Tempelhof-Schöneberg (one of the 12 Berlin municipalities). Besides the LGBT community, in:polis has also researched the growing gallery scene and the ethnic mix of the area. Here is a short summary of the first topic (the other two will follow):

The central research question was the following: Is there a potential in tourism that can be part of a local economic development and, if yes, how can this be steered adequately without causing conflicts with the local residents and entrepreneurs? About 15 key informants were interviewed with semi-structured interviews and over 100 newspaper articles were analyzed to produce results. A small sample of visitors was also questioned, but their input was marginal.

"Nollendorfplatz" by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

In principle most interviewees believe the neighbourhood can profit by a rise in the number of visitors. Yet, there are important differences on how this should happen, the main question being whether it makes sense to explicitly brand the neighbourhood as an LGBT-village and market it in that direction. One interviewed hotel owner is skeptical: “If we say we are close to the KDW [the large department store], it will work. If we say, there are five gay bars around, well… the scene already knows it, and it may scare away others…. If we want to attract tourists, the scene should not be emphasized from the outside. The scene sets the stage by itself.”  Whether official marketing by the city tourism organization, Visit Berlin, works for the gay and lesbian scene is questionable. According to one other interviewee it can merely serve to convey to foreign visitors a picture of a tolerant, open city, without actually influencing LGBT tourism. The community has its own channels of distribution, which have a much higher credibility and can penetrate the market directly to the core target group.

The results show that rather than focusing on branding and marketing, it is more necessary to concentrate on the local infrastructure and management.  There are e.g. reports of growing insecurity and physical attacks, though the data on this in this particular research is rather controversial. Also, several of the interview partners spoke about the need to improve the quality of public space, something both the local population and visitors can profit from.

The Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit (r.) at the tourism fair in Berlin

There are two main findings here that are relevant also in the other two fields of the research (galleries and ethnic mix):

First, tourism marketing and branding needs to go hand in hand with planning and management. Concentrating only on the former shows a limited understanding of the impacts of tourism.

Secondly, in planning tourism one should keep in mind that there may be a conflict of interest between the locals and the visitors. Measures taken to attract the latter can only aim at improving (and not deteriorating) the quality of life of the former.

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