The bartender moves with a sort of preternatural grace, knowing the needs of the drinkers around. The bartender keeps them drinking, talking, exploring. This is the lifestyle, always near to people, but with a barrier right between them and the actual, tangible world.
I often times wonder how much, after bartending for over 12 years, this has affected my thoughts, my lifestyle, my energy, and my worldview. Getting out of the dive bars, I realize now the novelty of sun, of classical music, strange films, and jogging by rivers at sunset. Did it take Berlin to make me see this? Is it not bartending?
After all, what is a bartender without his precious wares? Just a regular guy. Well, sort of…
We are defined, also, by the company we keep. And have I met some curious company in my little adventures out here.
What can I say? It’s Germany. It’s different out here. In Berlin, so it’s very different. History is right behind this city, standing there, looming right over its shoulder. Sure, America is new, but not as new as this city. Let’s do some math.
Total destruction of city: 60 years ago.
Communist regime, a city broken in half: ended 20 years ago.
The people I meet here in East Berlin (and there are not many, by far, that were born, raised, and still live in this town) remember distinctly the GDR in their childhood. They explained: “How would you like, just one day, every system, currency, and lifestyle was changed, over night? And worse, you can do nothing about it.”
Their grandparents fought in the War (like mine). People were being shot trying to cross borders to see loved ones. Walking along the remains (mainly historic, quiet landmarks) of the Wall, it is impossible not to feel eerie hands guiding you, touching your arm, leading you by the hand—quietly. But it’s not just the haunting Holocaust Memorial, or the subtly marked bunker of The Fuhrers last days, or the brass bricks placed into the sidewalks in front of buildings Jewish people were ripped out from and promptly executed, the details of the murder carved into the metal.
There is a lifestyle here, but an entirely new one. Of course, artists flocked to this town in the 90’s. Even by German standards (and European ones) Berlin is a progressive place, wildly accepting all manner of people. Think of Berlin as the Austin of Texas. An open-minded town in a sea of traditional folks.
You can definitely see how much Brooklyn has stolen from Berliner culture. The artisanal shops, the clothing style, the ‘come as you are’ vibe here pretty much gurantees no one really gives a shit about you. Germans have no sense of space. I mean, it's really bad. Imagine it being at Lucky Dog on a Saturday night, people are just up in your shit and there are no apologies. I am so glad I've laid off the whiskey as of late or we’d have to show some arty Germans how we do in Brooklyn. Motherfuckers would be killed if they rolled like that in Bed-Stuy.
I have not seen one dog on a leash. Everyone drinks on the streets. Weed is open and public. But if you jaywalk, there’s judgment in the eyes of the German. They got sex toys everywhere, and pornography openly displayed, but if you litter they kick your ass. I mean, New York is garbage pile. Hell, I think Berlin is even cleaner than Paris.
The subways. Seriously, people, what the hell is going on the subways? You can drink on them as well, be obviously wasted, but I have not shown or given my ticket to any guard. You just walk on, walk off. People are still buying them at the machines, but I haven’t for the last 5 times. What is this all about?
The streets are all five syllables. Tipping is awkward. Bowie was a long time ago. But he is a God to these people. Lou Reed as well. There are guys out here who are in their 50’s but look like they are in their 30’s dating women in their early 20’s. Again, a European thing. The age thing is not a big deal, and no one bats an eye. In fact, it is applauded. I realized this the moment some girl was flirting with me, hard. I was a bit drunk so I wasn’t fully in my sharp mind. I got around to asking her how college was for her and she laughed. I knew something was amiss. “College?” She giggled, “I’m 17.”
I felt my American, Catholic guilt rise in my stomach as she wrote her phone number down for me. They don’t have the guilt over here. Girls talk openly about threesomes and foursomes. Sex clubs are not strange. Prostitution was recommended, quite seriously, by a very nice young lady when I explained I was a bit lonely. “Just get a girl. It’s not weird,” she said, like she was prescribing me some Asprin.
I’m a long way from Providence, Rhode Island, I’ll tell you that.
English is spoken by most, and usually reverted to once they hear how schrecklich my German is. But not well liked, interestingly enough. People are mad. They don’t like American Wars (for good reason). As another ex-pat bluntly explained: “They didn’t win. How would you feel having Americanese spoken around you if you were in their shoes?” I totally get it.
Peace and love.
But there have been some treats of violence. I have officially dodged/avoided/talked my way out of three bar fights. Two were because of the language barrier. The other was just some drunken madman I dodged walking down Shoenhauser Alle. He was talking to himself, throwing café chairs and pulling down garbage bins. He noticed me noticing him. My Spidey-Sense was like, get out of there man. I ducked into the bar. He followed me. I went right to the bathroom. He followed me. In my mind, I was like “Okay asshole, here we go.” I pulled out the little glass bottle of Vodka I keep as a traveler. “You’re gonna get a fucking glass bottle to the head, son.” I said in my head.
Then he fell forward, tripping over the little step on his way into the bathroom. He moaned on the ground. I stood above him, taking a long pull from the Vodka above him.
Karma, motherfucker. I walk out, grinning.
So I live another day to write another day (the novel is moving fast, my most commercial attempt). And now, I’m finishing this blog at Tegel Airport on my way to Amsterdam.
That’s right kiddies. You know what it is…
MY PREFERRED METHOD OF SELF-DEFENCE IN BERLIN.