Berlin gets first gay old age home
March 11, 2004
BERLIN — Peter Osborn, a Berlin businessman, came out of the closet in
his 20s and believed that the door would never close on him again.
He will be 70 this year and wonders if he will need that secret
"When you're old," he says, "the last thing that you want to do
is to have to hide. But most of my friends are dead or have moved
away. I'm on my own and, while I'm fit and able now, I'm beginning
to wonder what's going to happen to me later on."
Many gay Germans who, like Osborn, have lived openly as
homosexuals well into middle age are now worried that
discrimination will have them retreating into secrecy if they enter
retirement communities or nursing homes.
As independent adults, they have been able to pick their
neighbours. As aged people needing care, their choices would be
limited. And where many have been able to defy bias and so lead
prosperous and rewarding lives, they wonder whether their strength
in old age will allow them to continue doing so.
Now, as the first openly gay generation grows greyer and
contemplates retirement, developers in Berlin are planning an
assisted-care retirement home specifically for homosexuals, a place
that will allow gays to grow old surrounded by other gays.
The 10-million-dollar old-age home in the up-scale Schoeneberg
district of Berlin will rise six storeys, offering residents 40
spacious apartments, a caf.e and function room facilities.
In addition, the post-modern design by Berlin architect
Christian Hamm provides 16 nursing-care flats with 24-hour
staffing. A health- care centre with physicians, therapists and a
"wellness" gym is also incorporated into the plan.
"All in all, it is a sheltered accommodation complex in the
centre of Berlin," says Marco Pulver, 42, a gay social worker in
Potential residents are already signing up and have expressed
delight at the prospect of living out their twilight years in a
gay- friendly environment.
"I wouldn't like to be in a heterosexual environment all the
time," one applicant says. "Elderly people like to talk about their
children and their grandchildren, for instance. A large number of
homosexuals do not have children and find it hard to join in. For
us, talking about the grandkids is awkward."
In the middle of the 1990s it seemed homosexuality had been
generally accepted in Germany. But surveys revealed that many
social workers did have a problem with it, particularly in former
East Germany, where homosexuality was discounted as a "symptom of
decadent capitalist imperialism".
Researchers were baffled to find that directors of senior homes
said things like: 'There is no homosexuality here'.
The turn came only after 221, when the centre-left government of
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder enacted gay-union legislation which
gave homosexual couples many of the same rights and privileges as
The idea for a gay old-age home came from Christian Hamm, 41. A
long-time gay activist, Hamm says the greying generation of older
gays in Germany have find themselves alone.
"They have no children or grandchildren," he says, "and as they
grow older they find themselves with no close relatives to support
them when they are no longer to take care of themselves."
And they find themselves ostracized at most conventional old-age
"I've heard the most terrible things about straight old-age
homes from gay friends of mine who have ended up in them," says
Osborn. "Old people can be very cruel and closed-minded, and they
can say vile and do vile things to each other - worse than small
Osborn admits that it is difficult to talk with the heterosexual
occupants about his private life or about homosexuality. "That's
hard to understand for them, and for most other people as well.
That's why I'm so looking forward to moving into this place one
day." – Sapa-DPA
German lawmakers approve memorial for gay victims of Nazis [14/11/2004]
US launches world's first gay retirement village [12/01/2004]