by Albert Rodriguez -
SGN A&E Writer
Tucked into a small building on Rudolfplatz, a popular square in central Cologne where the illuminated signs of Gay sex-toy shops and Starbucks greet thousands of passers-by each day, you'll find the humble and well-kept offices of the Gay Games organizing committee. A large digital clock, ticking down the minutes and seconds to the event, is mounted on one side of the main room, while posters, postcards, and stick pins are located in piles here and there, and just about everywhere. Excitedly busy, the staff answers more e-mails, schedules more meetings, writes more press releases, and processes more applications, all the while noticing precious seconds vanishing from the countdown clock.
Last month, after a rowdy Carnival festival that flooded the streets with costume-clad partiers, I spent an afternoon in Cologne with Michael Klein, the public relations and communications director for Gay Games. We met across the street from the famed Cathedral, then Klein kindly drove me to the campus of The German Sports University, where half of the sporting competitions and opening/closing ceremonies will take place.
A liaison for Gay Games and the college, which attracts students and Olympic-bound athletes from Europe and as far away as the United States, guided us through gymnasiums, cafeterias, aquatic centers, lecture halls, and locker rooms that will be used for sporting and cultural events next summer. It was an impressive tour, as Klein is quick to point out not only which event is taking place at each specific venue, but he also gives me particular details, like a meal plan that will allow participants to choose from four separate menus (vegetarian, etc.).
RheinEnergie Stadion will hold 48,000 attendees for the opening ceremonies, and in the tradition of grand European soccer stadiums, it's an amazing venue to take in with the first breath. This will be the place where Gay men and women from around the world will proudly stand in unison, many who will have overcome difficult obstacles just to get here. This will be where new friendships will be made, where tears will be shed, where a week of partying will begin, and where my friends will march in and represent my city of Seattle. I take a moment to take it all in, and then it's time to pile into the car and look at a few more venues before darkness sets in, like a beach volleyball court full of sand, soccer fields laid out on an opposite side of campus, and a trail along the perimeter of the university that will welcome marathoners in August.
Klein and I drove back to central Cologne, 10 minutes from the sports campus (a subway train runs directly to the campus from Rudolfplatz), and we grabbed a corner table at a cozy cafe on Friesenwall street, firmly situated in the city's known Gay district called "The Bermuda Triangle." There's noticeable excitement from Klein, and he has reason to be ecstatic as 2,800 participants are already fully registered - a figure that exceeds expectations at this point. But there are minor challenges to be dealt with, primarily the language; plenty of Germans speak English, enough to provide you with directions and basic information, but with streets signs, subway stations, and restaurant menus entirely in German, there's bound to be confusion and frustration from some of the participants. Like in any international urban center, the further you go away from downtown, the less English is likely to be spoken.
Another challenge, and one I immediately bring up to Klein, is drumming up support from the local community, specifically the straight population of this reputable Gay-friendly city. While residents are open-minded and pose no foreseeable problems for Gay Games, the ones I met and spoke to were unaware of the grand scale of the event. Thousands and thousands of Gay men and women will arrive in Cologne in eight months to partake in something that has become a milestone for many, and even for those who view it with less symbolism and come for the social aspect, or - rather bluntly - to get laid. This is a huge event that carries on long after the sun goes down. Simply put, locals appear to be uneducated as to what the Gay Games is all about. The organizing committee will need to work closely with local media and the city's tourism office to not only inform them of the magnitude of such an event, but to also gather their support. Athletes, participants, travel companions, and spectators will want to be welcomed in Cologne with precedence, not be treated as just another tourist.
Twelve thousand participants are expected to register by late July. The latest addition to Gay Games VIII is bridge - if you play and are interested in taking your skills to the next level, there are now medals on the line. Besides those competing or registering for cultural events, an expected number of spectators, mainly from neighboring European countries, will descend to Cologne to take in all the action.
Seattle Gay News will provide travel coverage for Gay Games in the coming weeks with information on convenient flights, railway services, and specific information on Cologne itself. It's a beautiful city worth exploring outside of the competition. Plus, I've scoped out four other German cities to include in your itinerary, from a darkroom at a Gay bar in Berlin to an observation tower 500 feet off the ground in Dusseldorf to a meat 'n' potatoes dinner at a traditional apple wine pub in Frankfurt.
To register for Gay Games or to get more details, visit http://www.gaygamescologne.com.
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