‘At first, the parties were just to distract me from my often depressing job,’ says Marco Uhlig, ‘But I had a secret hankering to work in the nightlife scene.’ For many years, Marco was a nurse in A&E and heart surgery: ‘I spent most of my time dealing with serious illness and, unfortunately, with death.’ When he could only get temporary work in Berlin, he decided to move to Olten in 2000. He always expected to go back to Germany. ‘But then I was hooked. I really wanted to understand the language and learn more about Swiss nursing care.’
He decided to organise a series of queer parties. The first party drew 400 people. ‘That was quite a lot for 2004.’
He moved to Zurich after 18 months: ‘For love! Suddenly any thoughts of leaving Switzerland disappeared.’ He began training to be an intensive care nurse, but soon realised that he needed balance in his life. He wanted to party. But the clubs in Zurich weren’t to his taste: ‘At that time I was listening to R’n’B and hip hop, but no-one was playing that in the clubs.’ He decided to organise a series of queer parties. The first Boyahkasha party in the BQM Bar drew 400 people. ‘That was quite a lot for 2004.’ Since then, he has organised the Boyahkasha in clubs all over Zurich, and also in cities like New York.
Year that Marco opened Heaven in the premises of the former Zodiac.
The success of the gay R’n’B and hip hop parties didn’t go unnoticed by the operators of the T&M gay club in Niederdorf. They hired Marco as a booker and later as an event organiser. When the club had to move premises five years ago, the plan was for him and a colleague to take over its management. But when a location was finally found, the owners of T&M pulled out: ‘But they were both well over 50.’ Marco and his team attracted fresh investors for the new club, and opened Heaven in 2013 in the premises of the former Zodiac. There wasn’t enough money for any major renovation work. ‘It was pretty shabby. We just painted everything black,’ says Marco. Heaven was finally treated to a three-week renovation in autumn 2018. ‘Now the club looks like us – young and modern.’
‘We want to continue writing this gay history.’
There has always been talk of moving the club to district 4 or 5: ‘The neighbours are more tolerant there,’ says Marco. He tells us about the balls organised by Der Kreis, the Zurich gay movement, at the Theater Neumarkt from 1948 onwards. And the tiny bars where homosexuals could meet in the early days. ‘We want to continue writing this gay history.’
‘We have people from every social class, age group and sexual orientation.’
Niederdorf used to be livelier than it is today. ‘But we’re lucky that most bars send their punters to us around 2 am.’ That’s why the Heaven crowd are such a good mix: ‘We have people from every social class, age group and sexual orientation,’ says Marco. ‘For many people, Heaven is a safe space.’ He can always be found in the club on Fridays and Saturdays, chatting with the guests: ‘Young people often come to us because they have just come out. They’re relieved that they no longer have to pretend or hide and now they want to meet like-minded people.’ The dance floor also has its share of famous faces. Some of them haven’t yet come out publicly. ‘But that’s not a problem. Everyone respects their privacy,’ says Marco. ‘Quite simply, everyone’s happy to be here together.’
‘When I play a popular hit, the crowd start screaming. You rarely get that kind of exuberance in a straight club.’
Once a year Marco hosts the Heaven Drag Race, when young drag queens fight it out for the title of Miss Heaven. It’s similar to the well-known American TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race, which is also popular in Switzerland, mainly among women: ‘They find it entertaining. And it really is,’ says Marco. That’s why he was keen to set up a similar format in Zurich and continue promoting the drag queens after the final. ‘I had often booked drag queen DJs for the Boyahkasha. Partly because lots of straight DJs didn’t want to play at a gay party.’ Marco began DJing himself to fill the gap between professional sets. As DJ Zör Gollin he often supplies the music at Heaven: ‘When I play a popular hit, the crowd start screaming. You rarely get that kind of exuberance in a straight club.’