Shaping Our City: PANSY – The Hostess with the Mostest

photo: Manuel Moncayo

Berlin is greater than the sum of its parts. Why is that? Because some of the parts stand out. They are the people who actively shape the city into the place that it is – some like to call them the movers and shakers. Without these individuals the city would be pretty boring and grey, but thanks to their involvement, enthusiasm and creativity Berlin gets illuminated with colors, fun and positive vibes. With a new series of portraits we want to bring attention to some of these city shapers that might otherwise stand in the shadow of their own projects. We interviewed three people that are important to us and whose projects give life and meaning to iHeartBerlin.

Our inspiration for this series was the Shape Your City project by Heineken, a competition for city shapers in the making who aspire to open up their own bar. Currently the jury is evaluating all the submitted concepts and soon the winner will be revealed. Exciting! Find out more about this here.

Today we want to start our portrait series with PANSY host of many fantastic nightlife events in Berlin and co-founder of YO! SISSY, Berlin’s very own fabulous queer music festival that’s been happening since 2 years now. In our interview we spoke about the changes in Berlin, the responsibilities of party organizers and the future of Berlin’s nightlife.

photo: Manuel Moncayo

iHeartBerlin: When you first came to Berlin what was your initial impression of the different scenes of Berlin?

PANSY: I fell in love with Berlin even before the plane touched down. The city has an energy inspired by centuries of subcultural revolution and you can feel it in the air. I loved that in Berlin I felt simultaneously free and anonymous. I was free to create and explore my desires and motivations as an adult. I loved that I could be at the Philharmonic in the morning and ass-up in the sex club at night. I had never seen that freedom before.

What did you do up until then?

I’ve lived many different places so far in my life. I moved to Berlin from San Francisco, where I had just finished school and was also working in the HIV ward at the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic. I moved to Berlin because I wasn’t able to envision a life for myself in San Francisco after 6 months. It seemed unaffordable and as much as I loved the city itself, I wasn’t happy there. Berlin seemed an oasis of experience just waiting at the horizon. I know it sounds so cliche, and I feel this way every time I tell this story…but Berlin was calling me and I listened.

photo: Lisa Wassmann

How did your involvement in Berlin’s nightlife scene get started?

One of my favorite things to do, something that always makes me feel better no matter what kind of mood I am in, is to go to a drag show. I couldn’t find any drag shows to go to that resonated with me. That’s not to say there wasn’t drag in Berlin when I got here. I was missing cabaret style shows full of camp and self-deprecating humor. So I made one. I started at The Club in Neukölln and two, maybe three other performers. Each year it grew, from 10 performers to now more than 30. It was so rewarding to see people react to something I had put together with smiles and laughter. I felt connected in a way I never had before.

I started other projects as well, dance parties and concerts, a music festival, readings and sex talks. I came to Berlin and I found my life’s purpose through drag. Funny, huh?

Did you discover influential and active people in Berlin that inspired you to get involved yourself?

Of course! I’ve just turned 30 and I realize that out of all the friends I have made in my life, I have met so many more in Berlin that are astoundingly creative and passionate about what they do. One of the reasons why we started the YO! SISSY Music Festival is because we were so inspired by the musicians living and working in Berlin.

photo: Lisa Wassmann

In what way do you think can someone who is just getting starting help shape Berlin into a better place?

Don’t complain about how things are different. Educate yourself about why they are different and then find ways you can get involved to make positive change that you want to see.

How did the idea of starting such a big project like the Yo! Sissy queer music festival about and how has this changed your view on Berlin’s queer cultural scene?

It started when my colleague Scout and I were walking our dogs together. I expressed interest in wanting to start a festival and wanted him to do it with me because he was the only person I knew that was just as crazy as me. One thing about YO! SISSY sticks out in my mind every year: our volunteers. We have so many people come out from all corners of queer Berlin to donate their time, skills, and energy all for the sake of something they believe in. It brings tears to my eyes every time and will always stick with me.

What roles do “responsibility” and activism play for you in a world that might appear to be mostly about debauchery and hedonism?

I like to think that the work I do extends beyond the hedonism of nightlife. I think queers gather in nightclubs for safety and to express themselves. Music, performance, costume…all of these things take place in the club in ways that bring us together as a community and allow us to grow as creative beings.

I also think that I have been very fortunate and given a platform that I can use to discuss politics, ideas, and injustices that I think are important. To me, this a great responsibility and something all event organizers should take into consideration. That’s why I started Let’s Talk About Sex & Drugs. It’s all fun and games, but we should be open and responsible about it.

photo: Lisa Wassmann

When you look back at the massive amount of events and projects you have done in Berlin and that made a lot of people very happy in the last few years, do you feel like you made a change, had an impact on the city in the way you intended?

I am so grateful every time I hear someone thank me for the work I do. I am still not used to it, I think. Since all this came about so suddenly, I really am just learning as I go along. I really can’t think about the “impact” that I may have made. I have to keep moving forward and focus on the next project. Its humbling for me to even read these words, because impact is not something I set out to do. I just want to create a space to have a little drag show, to make people laugh, and to bring a little color into the night.

What changes does Berlin need in the future? And how do you plan to be part of them?

Rising rents also affect event venues. This affects promotors and performers from producing events that are affordable for everyone. I would like to see the city assist smaller and medium size venues just as much as it does places like Berghain. We need more stages to support our local music and performance scene. I would like the city to follow in the footsteps of Amsterdam and London and install a Night Mayor to oversee the positive progression of our city’s nighttime activities. I would like to open up my own venue in the process… with a stage, of course.

Thank you for the interview!

photo: Manuel Moncayo

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PANSY is not the only one planning to have her own place one day! The participants of the Shape Your City competition by Heineken also dream of making their own bar concept a reality. Find out more about this project here.

Thanks for the support by Heineken

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