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Germany

Multigenerational Gay Housing Project Starts in Germany

A multigenerational living project aimed at gays and lesbians got one step closer to being realized when organizers laid a ground stone for the building this week.

Rainbow flags hang from windows with Cologne's Cathedral reflected in them

The community in Cologne would be the first of its kind

Organizers of the building project Villa Anders -- which translates in English as 'A Different Kind of Villa' -- say it is a unique pioneer project in Germany.

Under a rainbow-colored logo and the motto "Better living -- we just went ahead and did it," the project is realizing its plan to build multigenerational, mixed-income living spaces for gay, lesbian and transgender singles, couples and "rainbow" families.

The idea is to live in individual homes "but still have community," said Stefan Juengst, a spokesman for the project. So far, half of the 34 apartments, due to be completed in the autumn of 2009, have been sold.

A group of 2 men and 5 women celebrating with a champagne toast

Organizers of Villa Anders want all generations included in the community

The project is selective in terms of sexual identity, with living space available for gays, lesbians, transgenders -- and a 15 percent quota of straight people who may be part of an otherwise gay or lesbian family constellation.

A rainbow family is "the gay equivalent of the blended family," Juegst said. "It could be all constellations -- people with children who came initially out of a heterosexual relationship, or two lesbians with a gay man together who make a deal to have children -- very different models. There are no given role models."

But a key goal of the group is to have a mixed range of ages represented, and state funding is tied to its success.

"Some people who live here will be students, others will spend their working years here, and still others will spend their golden years with us. We want all generations," a flyer for the project reads.

A first for Germany

Should it succeed, Villa Anders would be Germany's first such center for gay living, a fact that even Juengst acknowledges is surprising.

"There have been many attempts but they all failed," Juengst said. There was the community in Hamburg that failed because the neighborhood rejected it, and one in Frankfurt that didn't get off the ground because it was too complicated, involving a care center and an old age home. Currently, Berlin is working on a project similar to Villa Anders, but it is also different -- aimed only at homosexual men, and leaning more toward the old-age home model.

"To my knowledge, we are the only one for both gays and lesbians," Juengst said.

Finding middle-aged people interested in the apartments has been easy, but older gays, especially gay men, "have a lot of fear -- they worry about becoming a target for violence," Juengst said.

Creating a "gay ghetto"?

Partygoers standing in front of the Cologne cathedral with a banner calling for tolerance

Cologne is home to Germany's largest gay and lesbian community

Indeed, some might question whether creating a multigenerational living project for gays and lesbians is the right direction to move for a city that is already known for being a European gay capital. Do such mono-culture projects help bring about integration -- or create a ghetto-like atmosphere that detracts from it?

Projects organizers insist that the Villa Anders community is not going to be a "gay ghetto" or contribute to anti-gay sentiment in Cologne. Rather, it will be a first chance for many of them to be themselves, without fear.

"The alternative for so many gays and lesbians, especially older ones, is to live hidden in plain sight, in the middle of the rest of society," Juengst said. "Maybe people whisper about them, or some even live openly. But many just feel they cannot be themselves."

The goal, then, is to "let the community know that we are there, and we are visible. Then a dialogue can begin," Juengst added.

Still, he said, the older community has been hardest to convince, especially men. So whether or not the group can meet its state-determined quota of filling 30 percent of its apartments with seniors remains to be seen.

If they don't fill the quota by the end of the year, then the remaining apartments -- some heavily subsidized and highly desirable -- could be offered to renters outside the target group.

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