Not many people who live in big cities get to see their mayor very often. Even in our city, which has a population of around 400,000, we only catch the mayor occasionally when we happen to dine at the most expansive restaurant Refael (you can find it here, under the section “a rich uncle is paying”), of which he’s a regular visitor. But on our meager 3 weeks total in Berlin, we happened to come across Berlin’s mayor live, on display. And we are enthralled.
We met Herr Klaus Wowereit (or maybe “comrade” will be more fitting…) on the long night of museums, which was a very surreal night as a whole (but the fun kind of surreal). There was an exhibition of the city offices in the city hall (Rote Rathaus). We didn’t mean to go see it, actually. We were aiming for a more Israeli natured experience – food. And then we saw a long line of people waiting for something, so we thought to ourselves – here’s the Gulash! Imagine our surprise when we discovered that all those people were standing so quietly and politely in line just to see Wowi, giving out autographed pictures of himself, like the celebrity that he is (click to enlarge).
And he is a celeb. An openly gay mayor of such a big city, who came out with the immortal expression “I’m gay and it’s OK” (of course it rhymes only in English. In German it goes: “Ich bin schwul und das ist auch gut so”). And good looking too, a saddening loss for us women.
He even has a very cute bear named after him, “Wowi bear“, and his website encourages people to send photographs of themselves with the bear (Shooky tells me it’s some kind of a gay joke, but I prefer to take it literally). I was also told by a resident of Berlin that Klaus likes to hang around in parties, although in one interview I read he denied it, and said he’s too old for that. And his boyfriend is a neurosurgeon. He would have made a Jewish mother proud.
Berlin, btw, is making some historical return here, since the first gay rights organization in the world was founded there, by Magnus Hirschfeld – a remarkable man, both a Jew and openly gay – in 1897. Hirschfeld later founded the world’s first sexological institute, “the Institute for Sexual Science”, also in Berlin, and at the time, there were more than 100 gay and lesbian bars throughout the city. It all ended, naturally, in 1933. The Nazis, as we all know, were not very fond of gay people.
But being a mayor is not fun and games only. Wowereit inherited a poor city, with high unemployment rate. The former mayor’s party apparently collapsed in 2001 because of corruption. And the unification didn’t turn out as economically viable as hoped. And since he’s a representative of the SPD – the social democrats, he attempts to revive the city and reduce debt without sacrificing social benefits. Not a very easy task in today’s world.
From what I gather from several more business oriented publications, he’s not too shabby at his job. Tourism – which he puts his faith in – flourishes, young people flock, and even businesses are starting to come back. Of course there is criticism, but it seems that his approval ratings are constantly high, and he took the last election with a stride, so he must be doing some things right…
When we met Wowereit, he asked us where we are from. When we said “Israel”, he wanted to know what city, and said some courtesies. As we were leaving, already out of sight, we heard him shout “Shalom” (goodbye, hello and also peace in Hebrew). We didn’t have the chance to reply back than, so we want to say now: Shalom to you too, Wowi. Keep up the good work!
Here’s an interesting interview with Wowereit in a gay American magazine.
And of course, Klaus has an official site of his own.