Saturday, April 03, 2010

Berlin Darkroom Silhouette Identification Guide

Click here for a handy guide to strange dark shapes you're likely to see approaching you in dark corners of Berlin's seedy gay underworld. Jonathan and I hope you'll find it useful if you're not quite sure what to wear to Snax or to any of the other gay clubs in Berlin.

Yesterday, we woke up deliciously and lazily late and called on the awesome guidebook that is a confused and plaintive status update on Facebook to get some advice on where to go for the day and got some cracking tips, so we eventually wrestled ourselves out of the apartment and onto the u-bahn over to Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz and walked the short stretch across to Rosenthaler Platz rather than faff around with changing lines. Following a recommendation, we went to Transit on Rosenthaler Stra├če, which had really great Vietnamese food and I had that moment where I realised I've been in a country for a couple of days because I ordered in German without thinking and was happily translating back and forth between the waitress and Jonathan while we were there.

There's something really satisfying for me about that, but I can't quite grasp why it always takes me a couple of days in a country before I'm able to do even simple things in the language. I think a lot of it's to do with needing reassurance that people will say what you expect them to say or something like that, as though I'm worried that I'll say "Hallo, wie geht's?" to someone and they'll reply with something like "I'm so excited about a new theory I have which relates the philosophy of low-temperature physics to the craft of embroidery!"

Actually, I'd probably manage okay with that, but what I struggle with is things like when people ask which of several different options I'd like with my food and I'm not sure which one's which. I think we might have ordered a kid's meal more than once while we've been here, but hey.

I also have the tiny anxiety that all the German I did learn was picked up from listening to my ex boyfriend speak to his posh Austrian parents on the phone or from porn films and I don't really have any range for dealing with social situations between being adorably formal and shouting sexual obscenities at people, so I sometimes worry that when I'm asking for the bill I might actually be saying I'm about to cum all over their face.

There was a time when I was in a quaint village in Austria at a vaguely pagan thing that marked the change of seasons with the burning of an effigy on a bonfire and someone asked me how old I was and the only words that would appear in my head in German were "Go fuck yourself" and I still don't know if that's what I actually wanted to say to them or just some evil impish spirit having a laugh before the rite was over. I kind of mumbled and said I didn't understand and they laughed at me, so perhaps I should have gone with my impish instincts.

Still, if I have said I was about to cum on any waiters, they've happily accepted the tip, which seems to be Berlin all over.

"Tzalen, bitte!"

"On me, not in me."

I also suspect that "tzalen" is Austrian and Swiss, because each time I've said it, people have then said "Die Rechnung?" to me, so perhaps I should start asking for that, but to me that means a receipt.

After we'd not disgraced ourselves on the faces on anyone at Transit, we realised we'd left the map behind so we'd only got a vague cached overview from my phone, which worked surprisingly well when you factor in the compass in the 3Gs and it meant we could wander around looking like a pair of twats with a tricorder waving my phone around to work out what might possibly be in which direction and then headed down towards Mitte with the intention of hitting some serious culture and getting some museums and galleries in.

Then, we looked up and saw the Dom. No, not some kind of leather daddy, although there were plenty of those pretty much everywhere we went, but the cathedral, and then we saw that there was a sky above the iPhone and we saw that it was blue and we thought we'd be stupid to hide indoors when, frankly, loafing around in the sun sounded delicious.

So, that's exactly what we did and spent a good hour or two lazing out in the sun in the lustgarten, which wasn't a bareback leather club but was a square surrounded by the cathedral and the museum of antiquities (we figured the British Museum was full of much juicier plunder) and we just sat there watching the cutest little Yorkshire Terrier running around chasing pigeons and tourists and bolting about in frantic circles.

Then there was this strange lot who were advertising their show, which seems to involve clanking around dressed like Barbarella Hari Krishnas and not being sure whether you're meant to be singing in English or German, but certainly never in tune. It was a tiny bit embarrassing when they finished and no-one at all applauded them for their efforts apart from maybe three claps in total. They left a little crestfallen and everyone giggled and went back to being rude to the beggars who'd come up and say "You speak English? German?" and lo and behold we'd reply in Swedish before immediately going back to having a conversation in English, knowing full well that they could hear us and that we were probably going to hell but that everyone else was doing the same thing.

By way of penitence, then, we went to the Brandenburg Gate and then to the Holocaust Memorial, which seemed to be the best playground that Berlin has to offer, where loads of people were playing hide and seek and, cringe-inducingly, people were playing some game like cops and robbers with their kids, hiding behind the blocks then bursting out and then pretending to shoot each other, but to be fair, the memorial itself doesn't quite seem to have the gravitas of the Rachel Whiteread sculpture in Vienna which acts as their Holocaust Memorial, but that one has someone stood over it with a rifle to make sure you're not going to be a dick while you're there.

I don't know that it works on a conceptual level either, there's paths that end in emergency exits (from chambers beneath) and there are blocks that have ventilation grills on the top of them, which just seems to me to be in a tiny bit of poor taste. It's a beautiful thing to take photographs of, but there are a so many things that don't work for me - first the vents and emergency exits put a sense of narratives that clash with what they're trying to remind us of, the blocks themselves lend themselves to games of hide-and-seek and climbing and escape and that's not really what you're trying to evoke, but perhaps the thing I found most difficult was the signs up telling you that they'd built this memorial to the holocaust with thousands of routes through it with the possibility to lose yourself in the depths of a grey landscape, but only thirteen straight paths are accessible by wheelchair. When you think about the experiences of disabled people during the period this is meant to be talking about, you'd really have hoped you'd want to prove that a memorial to the people who had been killed, sterilised or experimented on would at least not be itself inaccessible to one major group of people affected by the holocaust.

Anyway, it doesn't work, but the whole city is a cicatrix of battle scars from war, and I can only imagine what it must be like to grow up in a city so dominated by memorials to the people killed during your grandparents' lives but not to the lives lost from your grandparents' generation.

We then decided we'd try the Berlin gay scene, but realised I had nothing fetishy to wear, so hit Gear, which apparently is the Gucci of the gay leather outfitters here, but I've got a nose for a bargain and found a pair of cheap combats almost identical to a pair on a different rail they had in the window for €159. I really don't quite see how that's justified, but anyway. Bargain hunting for the win, but I kind of put my foot in it with the assistant.

"Hi, these combats say they're medium, but what size is that?"

"Their sizes run quite large."

"Oh, because Germans are fat?" (WHY DID I SAY THAT?)

"They're American sizes, actually."

I wound up wearing a small.

"They fit you better than I thought they would," said the assistant, reassuring me that Germans can be bitchy when you try hard enough, but also making me realise that I needed to go for a run.

One quick purchase, a panic attack about holiday hips and a 6k run later and we went for dinner and, just in case you're doubting me about how saturated this place is with guys wearing fetish gear, check out this photo of Jonathan I took which "accidentally" caught a guy in rubber wandering around in an Italian restaurant. There were condoms on the floor. Seriously.

The food was terrible, but oh my was it entertaining. I can only guess the chefs were too busy being baffled by their clientele. Or buggered by them, I honestly don't know.

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