Filmmaker Yony Leyser unpacks the myth of Berlin's underground

Filmmaker Yony Leyser unpacks the myth of Berlin's underground

Capital of the disenfranchised? — It's been 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell. But can the united city hold onto its liberal reputation? Filmmaker Yony Leyser describes his last five years in Germany's Shangri-La.

“I moved to Berlin five years ago at the height of the expatriate invasion. I was immediately thrust into the vibrant queer scene here, arguably the largest one in the world, where the freaks of the LGBT worldwide community flock, to, well, be freaks – and the straight world also comes to experience because, let’s admit it, the straight world is boring! I‘m a queer POC [person of colour] so much of the world isn‘t really a nice place for me to live in. But Berlin was MY CITY. I knew my second day here.

Berlin is a city for outsiders, the disenfranchised, those that reject and are rejected. My first two years here were spent mostly in dark clubs dancing the weeks away, having hungover pseudo-intellectual conversations with artists and drag queens in cafés, and pursuing sexual exploration in places like public parks and punk squats. It was the first city in the world that I felt less persecuted and with nearly as many opportunities as those in the sexual majority. I was able to stay because I have German citizenship as my father’s parents were jews that fled Berlin for Palestine in the 1930s.

However, the utopia fantasy eventually faded. I made a more diverse friend circle, including African and Iranian refugees, struggling unemployed elderly Germans, depressed Berlin natives. Berlin is major metropolis like any other and it has a dark side that is often overlooked by the flocks of privileged visitors that come for a quick romp at Berghain or an unforgettable summer/year. No two people have the same experience as one another.

The wall fell 25 years ago, but the city remains divided and has an ongoing identity crisis. The institutions that make this city what it is – the clubs, artist institutions, squats – are being shut down one after the other taking away exactly why everyone wanted to come here; what our gay mayor coined as “poor but sexy”, which eventually, of course, just became a marketing term. As my friend, the underground Berlin film star Chloe Griffin said to me, “You know Berlin is really changing. The fisting club on my block is now a organic supermarket.” I guess the point is there are people here from every background, and what unifies us is that we are all trying to make our world a better more interesting world rather than just try to fit in to where we all came from.

I feel like I had enough life experiences in the last five years in Berlin for 10 lifetimes (I am still ready for many more), and I just finished a feature film about my experiences called Desire Will Set You Free. It is scheduled for a release next year.”

You can find Desire Will Set You Free on Facebook or at its website.