Berlin Journal, Part 4
I’m currently sitting in the dancer’s lounge at Tanzfabrik. I’ve just finished my first class of the day, gaga. It’s funny to me how enthusiastic I am to take a gaga class because I used to hate it so much. But now it feels like home. It’s something familiar in a brave new world.
I love this building on Möckernstrasse; the white walls, the open windows that bring the promise of work. And this is work; I’m taking about four classes per day- today, I take gaga, then training with Gisela, then contemporary then pilates. I often don’t get home until well past 10 at night. But that’s also because Neukölln is a tad far, especially by bike.
My apartment was the first one that I visited. I’m not enthusiastic about the price- 375 euro for a little less than a month- but compared to the other two apartments I was, this place is a palace. A temporary one, to be sure- I’m only here until October 6- but at least this place isn’t a squalid mess. And though the idea of living in bohemian squalor was once the subject of many a romantic fantasy on my part, when faced with the reality of the situation, I will be pick more expensive over dirty every time. that being said, that mindset will probably change once the money runs out. But hopefully I’ll be able to find a nice apartment that still has heating and a washing machine.
As I bike to class, I find myself in the middle of Tempelhof field; the quiet of Neukölln yawns behind me; in front of me sprawls bustling Kreuzberg. To my right, on the north side of the airfield, lies the crumbling remains of the airport. I don’t know if it’s still in use, but it’s gigantic, and I can tell that at one time it would have been considered impressive. Its grandeur seems dated now though, like some great Soviet palace that saw its glory days in the Cold War. It seems to take forever by my groaning bicycle to get to Kreuzberg- the runway I’m on is well over a kilometer and a half- but steadily, the dashing cars of Tempelhoferdamm get bigger and I make it to the fence. I bike down to Bergmannstrasse and take a left onto Kreuzbergstrasse. It’s bizarre to me how streets transform into something else completely different so suddenly. I make my way down to Möckernstrasse, where I turn into number sixty-eight. the walk up— our studios are on the third floor, with no lift— seems daunting, and my legs groan in protest. But, seeing as I’ve made it this far, I’ve no interest in biking back. It’s time for class.
Coco Peru in Berlin
I was at a flea market in Friedrichshain this afternoon, and found myself looking at a stand selling handmade soaps. One of them was called ‘Coco Puffs’ and much to my delight, it was inspired by Coco Peru. I bought some and it’s like Tension Tamer Tea for the skin.
Finally, I call on the spirit of Walt Whitman, for doing it yourself, and to embrace the contradictions and the lyricism of life.
"I am vast. I contain multitudes."
I call on the spirit of Tallulah, for guidance when I become too self-pitying, and to remind myself to never take myself too seriously
I call on the spirit of Little Edie, staunch character and accidental fashionista, to give me resilience through adversity and to play the hand that I’m dealt in life
I call on the spirit of the Maschinenmensch, that icon of misandry, seducer of men, destroyer of cities, to guide me
Berlin Journal, part 3
How on Earth was I convinced that I could find an apartment in this city in 5 days’ time? I checked out of the hostel this morning- the better for it; I find it grating to share a small room with three other men- and were it not for Dalton’s extreme generosity, I would be homeless. Sydney says I’m ballsy for moving here without an apartment. Part of me thinks it’s just plain stupid.
Friday was a terrible day. I found an ad for a 60 euro iPhone 3 on Craigslist. I offered 70 for it because people will snatch up anything in this city, or so I thought. I then got lost in Neukölln trying to find the damn place. I finally found the place— an obscure corner, several blocks away from one of the larger roads. Then, I set off for Ku’damm to get a SIM card at the only Vodafone I knew of.
Ku’damm does not impress me. It’s too much like America— there are Dunkin’ Donuts, Urban Outfitters, a giant McDonald’s; in other words, the giant chains that I’m trying so hard to avoid— but I went there anyhow. I bought at SIM card for 45 euro and went back to the hostel to figure out my phone. What the girl didn’t tell me is that the phone barely works for all of the malfunctions it has. The touch screen barely works at all and will randomly open and close various apps. Not to mention that it won’t update, so I can’t download anything that would be remotely useful to me. So that 100 euros was essentially wasted.
In the hopes of finding an apartment, I followed a lead from a dancer at Marameo, because she had a spare room. So, I journeyed down south to Eisenacherstraße. Right as I was about to transfer stations at Hermannplatz, I was caught on the U-Bahn without a ticket. I suppose that all good things must come to an end, but the embarrassment that I felt went nicely with the 40 euro fine I was slapped with. The address that I supplied in Georgia is no longer current, however, but I hope this doesn’t come back to haunt me.
When I finally made it to the place, I was more or less informed that they were looking for a German speaker. On the way back to Nollendorfplatz— this time with a purchased and validated ticket firmly in my hand— I could have cried from the frustration that I felt.
The night ended on a better note though. One of my roommates, a Portuguese man whose name I forget— let’s call him Bruno—took me out to dinner in Schöneberg. I’d been avoiding the gay district out of intimidation on my part, but he took me to a lovely Italian place. We drank delicious red wine and ate pizza and chain smoked the whole time. Already tipsy by the end of dinner— I eat so little here and the alcoholic content is so high that it only takes about two beers before I’m tipsy— we stumbled along to Tom’s Bar on Motzstraße. He bought me a whiskey and we talked. Men where everywhere. Hardcore porn was playing on the walls. Madonna, Blondie, Donna Summer remixes blared over the loudspeakers. My head was swimming as I led him to the darkroom in the basement.
The ceilings were low, the light was dim, and men of varying ages, sizes and ethnicities were everywhere, milling aimlessly around. We found a quasi-deserted corner and began kissing, then touching. He must’ve been twice my age, but I don’t know. It wasn’t something we discussed. As soon as we began, men swarmed around us. It was like being back at Midtowne Spa. Fearing for my valuables— signs were posted everywhere, warning of pickpockets— I suggested that we leave for the hostel.
Our ardor could not be contained, and so in the courtyard outside the hostel, in the shadows of the solitary tree, we resumed. I eventually suggested we go inside. To our dismay, both of the other men were asleep in our shared room, and so, with nowhere else to go, we went to the tiny bathroom at the end of the hall. We stripped and began again, until we were both on that cold tile floor. We went to bed separately. He was very tender with me. But I had no wish to do it again. When he came back to the room last night, I left in search of a meal; I didn’t want him to get the wrong impression. I returned home, swaggeringly drunk, and passed out on the bed in my underwear. He kissed me on the cheek this morning as I feigned sleep. He was very sweet, all in all.
Berlin Journal, part 2
This city is confusing to me— it’s a labyrinth of twists and turns, the roads surrounded by walls of apartments. I got slightly lost today while searching for Ku’damm, and I ended up in Kurfürstenstraße instead. I was surprised to see prostitutes already out and about, plying their wares. One of them tried to hook me, which would have been funny were it not so tragic.
I’m currently sitting in front of the Reichstag, letting my currywurst digest. I’m not sure that I liked it; it seemed to just be a hot dog drowning in ketchup with some curry thrown on top as an afterthought. But it satiated my ravenous hunger. I walked here from Nollendorfplatz, past Brandenburger Tor; to my right, across the street is the Tiergarten, one of the larger and more famous parks here in Berlin.
Jet lag has finally caught up with me. I went to bed at 9 last night and woke up at midnight. I was unable to fall asleep until 4. The short, ugly man in the bunk above mine had night terrors, I think, because periodically the bed would shake violently and he would yell unintelligible things in his sleep.
Karen O sings plaintively to me over my headphones. "Wait… they don’t love you like I love you." I cannot believe that so many attractive people live in one place. Especially as I look at the boys sitting across from me on the U-Bahn.
One can only send out so many emails regarding a possible apartment. Especially when it’s such a gloriously sunny day. And so, I set out to have an affair.
In reality, I’m going out to go to one of the many museums over by Alexanderplatz, or on Museum Island. It doesn’t take very long by U-Bahn, although Nollendorfplatz is on the other side of the city. And I never play the one euro fifty to ride one way. At the station, I see a man standing not far from me. He’s possibly in trade, or perhaps he’s a student. He’s not exceptionally handsome, but when he stares back at me, his eyes are the same cerulean as my backpack.
The U-Bahn is packed, and we are separated. Ah well. There is more where that came from.
The boy sitting across from me will do. He looks like he’s in a boy band- tan, with dark, thick hair, and the beginnings of a beard. What I want to say is ‘Deine Augen sind komm die Sterne,' which is the only phrase I can think of, even if it's not true. His eyes are more like the shifting color of the Spree: muddy brown, dark grey, glassy. It's a good opener, but not what I'm thinking about. I'm running over details in my head. Would we go back to my hostel or his place? When we fuck, would he kiss me like a lover, or be cold and aloof? After sex, would we hold each other, or would he join me for a Gauloise outside? Or would I just gather my things and go? It's not a relationship I'm planning, just a few hours together, if even that.
My stop at Markisches Museum comes and I depart. The boy doesn’t follow me. It’s okay. There are other men on the street. I get lost again and again. I cross the Spree several times over. By the time I get to Museum Island, it’s already well past seven, and since I only have about ten euros in my pocket, I’m not willing to shell out half of that for a half an hour in a museum.
I find myself sitting in front of the Altes Museum; Karen O is still singing. I light another cigarette in the hopes of suppressing my appetite until I find some food.
Berlin Journal, Part 1
As we land at Tegel Airport, and I look outside at the overcast skies, for some reason, all I can think of is Sondheim: ‘Though it’s fearful, though it’s deep, though it’s dark, and though you may lose the path, though you may encounter wolves…” I suppose I’m having my own private moment as we touch down. In order to think about something else, and contain my excitement, I chant to myself, “Alles ist möglich, Alles ist möglich…” It helps, somewhat. But my inner joy and trepidation are making my mind race at a million miles per hour. It’s possible that it’s the lack of sleep that’s making me quiver, but the prospect of moving to Berlin—alone—has finally become a reality. And it’s a reality that I’ve been planning for the past year and a half.
Mercifully, I won’t be in this completely alone. Claudia, a friend of mine, picks me up at the airport, which is fortunate, because my head is still reeling from customs. Not that I expected any serious disaster, but something in the back of my head was convinced that I wouldn’t be allowed into the country, or that my bags wouldn’t make it, or any other number of disasters. Claudia’s hair is curlier than I remember is, and her nose is beakier, but I can see in her eyes that she is genuinely excited to see me. And I’m relieved to see her. We are whisked away by taxi to my hostel on Motzstrasse, and we begin catching up. It’s almost difficult for me to make conversation though; my head is swimming, and I’m trying to gain some semblance of where I am—an impossible feat, jet lag notwithstanding—and drinking in my surroundings. The skies are overcast, and the streets seem to me to be somewhat empty. It is 9:00 AM by this time.
When we arrive at Motzstrasse, we have to find our way to the hostel. It’s through a courtyard, then up three flights of stairs. Naturally, the lift is out, and with my many, heavy bags, the walk up is an arduous one. And to our utter dismay, we discover that the hostel itself isn’t even open until 10 AM, nor can I check in until 2 PM. Very kindly, Claudia offers me the use of her place until then. We take a bus to her apartment in Schöneberg, not very far from where we are near Nollendorfplatz. Her apartment is everything I want mine to be: spacious, with lots of light, and clean. After a long shower on my part, and a little meal of coffee and a pretzel, Claudia takes me exploring. We walk through Schöneberg to JFK Platz, where he gave his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech. We keep wandering through the streets, and it’s all I can do to keep up with Claudia as we breeze past restaurants, stores, massage parlors, theaters. Eventually we settle on MokaLola, where I can finally get the coffee I’ve been craving. We sit and watch the few passersby, and I practice my pidgin German with Claudia, and she’s very encouraging.
Not content with simply sitting around—I did just get off an eight-hour flight, after all—we leave after an hour or so, and make our way back to Claudia’s apartment. By now, it’s around noon, and Claudia gives me directions from her flat to Tanzfabrik, my new school. It seems complicated, but in reality, it’s only about a kilometer or so away. I wind my way through the streets, absorbing the scenery. I still walk quickly though, so as to not appear that I’m just a tourist in the wrong part of town. Finally, I mind myself on Möckernstrasse, and begin hunting amongst the houses for number 68: my new home. The building is old, red brick, and beautiful. The studios are large and airy, and absolutely fantastic. I’m in love with it already.
I walk around for a bit, find a corner store, and buy a packet of Gauloises. I’ve missed these strong, bitter cigarettes from the last time I was in Europe, and I immediately tear into the pack as soon as I get outside; jet lag has me jumpy, and the instantaneous rush of nicotine helps calm me slightly. I make my way back to Claudia’s and from there, hail a taxi back to the hostel. By now, it is 2:00 and I’m able to check in.
The ads online for the place are somewhat misleading. The ‘hostel’ itself is only two floors of a building that is otherwise occupied by other businesses. The windows open to a large courtyard, which primarily serves as the parking lot for a liquor store across the yard. The room I’m in has two bunk beds, and to my dismay, I discover that I’m on the bottom bunk—something that I, being very tall, disdain. But, for the next week, it is my new home, and I have to make do. I settle in and change my clothes yet again, and set out to find my friend Dalton, who lives not far from Tanzfabrik. I’m usually good with directions, but it being my first day, I’m rather disoriented by the city. Do I take the U-Bahn or the S-Bahn or a bus? And from there, how do I find the place? Seeing as I have no phone or way of knowing where I’m going, I have to write out the directions clearly for me so I don’t get lost. I get lost anyway, chain smoking and cursing myself for not being even clearer about the directions. I finally make it to the apartment and Dalton lets me in. It’s on the 4th story, with no elevator. But the ascent is worth it: he has a beautiful apartment that he’s subleasing around the corner from Tanzfabrik, with an antique ceramic chimney in the corner and a small balcony with lavender on the ledge. We talk and I unwind, and eventually another girl who will be dancing with us, Jade, joins us.
Jade is a sprightly thing, waif-like, with curly blonde hair, and bright, alert blue eyes. The first thing I say to her is “Deine Augen sind komm die Sterne.” It’s the one compliment that I know, but it doesn’t diminish the fact that her eyes are indeed “like the stars”. She talks a mile a minute, switching between German, French and English. I like her immediately. We talk for a while, Dalton doing domestic things, Jade talking the whole while. Dalton invites us to a pizza night at his old apartment in Wedding, and though it is far, my hunger and lack of social plans for the evening hardly let me refuse.
We make our way to Wedding; it takes awhile, because Kreuzberg is in the south central part of town and Wedding is in the northwest part of town. When we arrive, we shop for some pizza toppings at a local Kaiser’s market and make our way to the apartment. It’s a larger apartment, bigger than anything I might find in Kreuzberg, or Neukölln, or Mitte or wherever I find a place to live. I forget the host’s name, but she is very kind to me and very hospitable. We make at least four separate pizzas, and my hunger is such that I could eat them all in one go if I had the opportunity. There are other people there, and I instantly forget all of their names, but they too are very hospitable and we sit around a large table eating and talking. I’m able to make it until around 9 or so and then I make my way back to the hostel, because by this time, I’m fading fast. I make it back to the hostel and pass out in bed almost as soon as my head touches the pillow.
This is my new home.
Y’all, it’s really fucking hard being an adult. Especially in a foreign country where you don’t speak most of the language.
Wee Virginia Woolf
Wee Walt Whitman
Wee Oscar Wilde
Wee Josephine Baker