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 place again.

"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 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 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 married couples.

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 homes.

"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 children."

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

Related stories
German lawmakers approve memorial for gay victims of Nazis [14/11/2004]
US launches world's first gay retirement village [12/01/2004]



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