The queer café Das Hoven in Berlin-Neukölln was attacked several times and an employee was beaten. But the operator does not want to give up.

Danjel Zarte stands behind the counter and drinks a beer;  Above it, in big, bright letters it says: queer and friends.

Danjel Zarte, the head of “Das Hoven” in Berlin-Neukölln Photo: private

SEDAN taz | The Das Hoven motto can be seen from afar. “Queer and Friends” is written in large letters above the bar and they light up day and night. The large glass window overlooking the spacious Neukölln café in Berlin is clean on this snowy January morning. “Exceptionally,” as owner Danjel Zarte later explains. The glass and façade are periodically stained. On many occasions, Tender has had to remove eggs, homophobic insults such as “faggot” or “faggots” or even feces.

Das Hoven in Berlin-Neukölln has been open for nine months and, depending on the time of day, the menu includes croque monsieur, tagliatelle with chorizo ​​or walnut roast with red wine juice. Here, older people sipping coffee meet young families at brunch, feminist book clubs, or people working on their laptops. A classic mixed crowd in Neukölln. “It has always been my dream to have a store where there is good food and everyone can feel good. A place without discrimination,” says Zarte.

But it doesn't seem like his dreams are coming true. When you ask Zarte about the challenges, for a brief moment he doesn't know where to start. He starts with rising costs and talks about agonizing bureaucratic disputes with tax and regulatory authorities. Zarte knows the game, he has been working in catering for twenty years, he has been running the Große Freiheit 114 development bar in Friedrichshain for two years and recently also the Kleine Freiheit bar, right next to Das Hoven. But a situation like the one he is experiencing now is new for him.

Stained window, devastated terrace

One thing is clear: the restaurant sector in Germany is not doing well. Rising food and energy prices and rising VAT to the pre-coronavirus level of 19 percent make going to restaurants an expensive luxury for many. Zarte also had to increase prices.

But in addition to the problems facing the entire industry, Das Hoven periodically faces attacks. The dirty window and facade are one thing, but the café terrace has also been vandalized, the door locks taped shut or broken. “Not only is it annoying, but it costs a lot of money every time,” says Zarte. But he does not limit himself to vandalism. He and his employees were also spat on and physically attacked. “One of my employees was punched in front of the door after his shift and called a 'damn faggot,'” Zarte says.

When Zarte talks about the attacks, vandalism and insults, he becomes angry at the senseless violence that hits him and his coffee. “Sometimes I feel like I opened a gay bar in the Eifel in the 90s and not a queer-friendly café in Neukölln in 2023,” he says.

More and more violence

The Hoven is located in Kreuzkölln, the northern part of Neukölln. In the last 15 years there has been an important structural change in the neighborhood: more and more young people want to live here. Many residents, especially those who are socially precarious, are being displaced. Structural change also includes the fact that more and more queer bars, clubs and establishments have opened. Among other things, the city's largest gay club, SchwuZ, moved in 2013 from Kreuzberg to Neukölln.

Neukölln is becoming more and more colorful, that's why it is often said. But Neukölln is also increasingly becoming a site of anti-queer violence. Because what Zarte and her coffee are experiencing is not an isolated case. In general, trans and homophobic violence is constantly increasing in Berlin. According to the police's annual report on political crimes, the number of crimes classified as “hate crimes against sexual orientation and/or gender/sexual identity or gender-related diversity” quadrupled from 2013 to 2022.

Queer life is here, but protections are just emerging

Neukölln stands out among the Berlin districts for the seriousness of the crimes recorded. This also emerges from the Camino report, a biennial LGBTI monitoring commissioned by the State of Berlin. Neukölln is particularly notable for its high percentage of dangerous personal injuries.

But why? Overall, the level of violence in Berlin is currently increasing and gay rights are at the center of social conflicts. Many feel threatened by anything that challenges classic images of men and women. In Neukölln the increase also has to do with structural changes.

Albrecht Lüter, head of the Berlin Violence Prevention Office, created in Camino on behalf of the Berlin State Commission against Violence, says: “There is progress when it comes to gay rights and self-determination.” inform is growing. But this alone is not enough to explain the rising numbers, because the increased visibility of queer lifestyles and institutions also leads to more violence, says Lüter.

Two cases of anti-queer violence attracted a lot of attention last year. In August, an arson attack occurred at RuT, the headquarters of a lesbian women's initiative in Schillerkiez. The window was destroyed, a biblical quote was pasted on it, and a burning liquid was thrown into the store. A 63-year-old man was arrested and confessed to the crime.

The police have very little capacity

A month earlier, a lesbian couple on Reichenberger Straße, already in Kreuzberg, but almost 700 meters from Das Hoven, was insulted, beaten and kicked by a group of four men. The two women were taken to the hospital injured; The passers-by apparently did not intervene. In response to the two anti-queer events, in August there was a demonstration with several hundred participants in Neukölln.

The perpetrators of the attack on Das Hoven have not yet been captured. This is also because the employee who was hit did not want to file a complaint. The perpetrators of the two robberies reported by Zarte have not yet been identified. The police confirm it to the taz.

Zarte describes the people vandalizing the store and yelling “faggot” or spitting on employees as a group of young people. This corresponds with what we know about the perpetrators of anti-queer violence: suspects are usually young, almost always male, and many have already come to the attention of the police for acts of violence or political crimes. This is clear from Camino data and police crime statistics.

An employee who has worked at the store since its opening and who wishes to remain anonymous tells taz in this text how great the fear is among her colleagues: “Some do not want to go back to the basement anymore, they are afraid of facing the last shift , or you don't want to work alone. The fears are irrational, but perhaps also understandable if you have ever been insulted, spat at, or threatened with a plastic gun.” She herself has also suffered several attacks. “It's just humiliating to have to clean egg residue off the window. I really didn't expect this to be everyday life in a Berlin café,” she says.

So far, police help has been scant. Zarte says he asked police for more presence and regular patrols. The police refused, citing lack of capacity. Police would not confirm or deny the request and their response to the taz, noting that they generally did not comment on protective measures.

Neukölln queer representative

According to Lüter's assessment, the state of Berlin and its districts are well aware of the problem of anti-queer sentiment. There are numerous initiatives, offers for prevention work with violent children and concepts to combat violence. The Berlin State Office for Equal Treatment and Anti-Discrimination promotes measures and coordinates these processes. Berlin is also the first federal state with monitoring reports on trans and homophobic violence and different concepts exist at the municipal level to make peaceful coexistence in the city possible.

“In the Rainbow district of Schöneberg, where visible queer life has been part of for decades, various low-threshold protection measures and concepts exist, such as the night mayor or local club initiatives,” says Lüter and adds: “In Neukölln this It is not yet established. Queer life is here, but the protections that come with it are just emerging.”

Added to this is the fact that Neukölln now wants to introduce the position of queer representative. Upon request, the district confirmed to taz that this should happen this year. According to Lüter, problems are best solved preventively and directly on site: Berlin-wide measures make sense, but to ensure peaceful coexistence in a neighborhood it is necessary to know the streets, the people and their problems. Local networks and round tables where police, social workers and initiatives meet can help.

Measures that we hope will have a long-term impact. However, things have to happen quickly for Das Hoven. “The truth is that I don't see the point in letting them kick me out of here,” says Zarte. And he continues: “I give myself six more months, by then the café should be up and running.” He would also like the city to support him along the way. “If Berlin wants to be a city with gastronomic diversity, then it has to do something about it.”