Europe’s first gay nursing home opens


Berlin : Europe’s first gay nursing home has opened in Berlin, with out-and-proud gay Mayor Klaus Wowereit publicly supporting the groundbreaking project which culminates years of planning and fundraising.

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“The idea was first proposed at the Gay and Grey Forum in Cologne in 1995 and we began drafting plans in 2001, and it is truly amazing that it has taken all these years to become a reality,” says Christian Hamm, a Berlin-based architect and nursing home board member.

“So we are even more pleased and proud that we have finally been able to open Europe’s first full-service nursing facility for elderly gays and lesbians.”

The newly built, four-storey nursing facility in the Pankow district of the German capital can accommodate 28 patients in state-of-the-art rooms with private bathrooms and enough space for some of their own furnishings.

Furnishings and decor are very important in a gay environment, says Hamm.

“When you’re old,” he says, “the last thing that you want to do is to have to hide. And you certainly don’t want to give up your identity and live in some hostile environment, possibly sharing a room with someone who despises you.”

Many gay Germans, who have lived openly as homosexuals well into middle age, are now worried that discrimination would 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, Hamm and his associates in Berlin have ambitious plans not only for the nursing home but also for an assisted-care retirement centre specifically for homosexuals, a place that will allow gays to grow old surrounded by other gays.

The nursing-care facility is just part of a $10-million old-age complex which will one day offer residents spacious apartments, a café and function room facilities.

In addition, the post-modern design by Christian Hamm envisions 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, 46, a gay social worker in Berlin.

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 mid 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 shocked to find that directors of senior homes said things like: “There is no homosexuality here.”

The turn came only after 2001, 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 married couples.

The idea for a gay old age home came from Hamm, 45. A long-time gay activist, Hamm says the greying generation of older gays in Germany 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 homes.

Mayor Wowereit, 54, who was elected in June 2001 after telling Berlin voters, “I’m gay and that’s good,” has actively supported the project and says it dovetails into his vision of Berlin.

“Berlin is a gay-friendly city, a city of tolerance,” the mayor says. “And I represent our city with this message. Berlin has the biggest gay and lesbian scene in Germany and we welcome gays of all ages.”