“The clash of ideas is the sound of freedom”
-Lady Bird Johnson [my thoughts on Berlin]
I made an observation once about Germans while climbing mountains in Queensland that I shared on Facebook last November. I said that Australians are for some reason identified as the world’s most intrepid travellers. It’s true we get around for being so far away from the rest of the world, but I corrected that perception citing that it had to be the Germans – everywhere I went, every mountain I climbed, every rainforest I trekked, there were Germans… “smoking cigarettes, quoting Hegel and looking cool as shit.”
If Amsterdam was like a scratchy vinyl song, then Berlin was like The Rebirth of Slick.
I quickly learned that seduction happens in an instant in Berlin. People had entire conversations using mere seconds of eye contact. Without a single word being said, men and women agreed to exchange phone numbers, drinks, kisses and maybe more. While ascending an escalator at Alexanderplatz, a man descending from the same platform locked eyes with me as we crossed paths suspended above ground level. He was olive skinned with dark eyes and had the rough beginnings of a black beard, and I returned his wink with a smile before quickly looking away, thinking that was the end of it. When I got to the platform, I realized that I was on the wrong one, and turned around to find the stairs, only to run right back into him. He had followed me to ask for my number. He spoke not a word of English and I spoke not a word of German [or Arabic] so we were at an impasse…and I recognized a guy who calls twenty times an hour when I see one.
I bit my lip to keep from appearing too smug, but it didn’t work and a ridiculous smile plastered itself on my face. I barely managed to keep from rubbing my legs like I often do when I feel awkward.
That was all it took to convince me to keep my eyes trained on the ground or straight ahead when on the move. I feel an inward pull of embarrassment that comes when placed in an uncomfortable situation where I like the attention, but don’t know what to do with it. Berlin taught me a lot, but it also reminded me of how wary I had become of the male gaze…and unless I instigated some manner of contact myself, I treated it as hostile…always.
Alexanderplatz is one of the main transport stops for the train, tram and bus, because it rests in the centre of the city. Leaving the station, the first thing I saw was The Fernsehturm, the Berlin TV Tower, cutting through the misty, overcast sky.
Men and women with perfect hair hurried in its direction, and Japanese tourists posed somberly for photographs with the tower positioned expertly in the background. It proved an ideal place for people watching and striking up conversations with strangers.
I met a brain surgeon with a Mohawk while buying a cheese pretzel at the convenience stand, and we spoke about the graffiti of red dicks sprayed all over the ceiling of the U8 [subway]. How on earth had anyone managed to get up there to create such perfect depictions of junk without breaking their necks? [Or maybe they had.] He sat with me in the sun and shared his strawberries with me while I obsessed over his gorgeous all-black German Shepherd. Strawberries were in season so they were sold throughout the station in 500g and 1 kg quantities, making the heat seem worth it. His dog licked all the red juice off of my fingers and I squealed in delight; it was such a perfect moment that I didn’t realize how in-love I had already become with the city.
I had a lot of conversations on my first day in Berlin. I willfully instigated them much to the surprise of the other unwitting participants, but I couldn’t help it.
It seems fitting to describe my time in Berlin as a series of conversations because the city itself felt like one continuous, dynamic repartee between opposing solar systems of philosophy and thought. I think this is most likely facilitated by a distinct absence of class. People go out of their way to seek difference and, as a result, difference is attracted by the hordes and absorbed by the masses. The richness of counter culture and its synthesis with the ‘norm’ at all levels of the socio-economic hierarchy, I believe, is evidence of this observation.
I know that sounds impossible…it is. I even Googled it: “Is Berlin a classless society?” Unfortunately, I didn’t get a clear answer…but I was pointed to a NY Times article that spoke about diplomats who were put out of work after the wall fell, and it made me think…if a country has lost enough to understand the transient nature of intangibles like class and status, then maybe they’ll actively seek to deviate from rebuilding a society which depends on its people’s submission to those very social constructs.
…what a beautiful thought.
I imagine that Paris felt like this in the 1920s or that New York felt like this in the 1980s – open, so open you’d fall off the edge of the earth before you found the limits of what is acceptable. The city, which in my mind is personified like a Valkyrie rising from the ashes in her winged helmet, reaches out with her ropey arms and says: “Give me your poor, your tired, your hungry…your deviant, your subversive, your dyed eyeballs and your foot fetishes…”
And there they are, walking hand in hand with doctors, lawyers and diplomats.
I’d heard about the cold nature of Berliners, and in my mind I pictured them as a people who could part a cloud of rolling fog with their icy bedside manner. But I found that Germans in general don’t like to waste their time stating the obvious. They hate small talk, mind games, nonsense and, of course, inefficiency.
I mean…who am I to hate on that?
I happily bounced from person to person wasting only as much time as I needed to talking about the weather, and I was better off for it.
But Berliners love intelligence, ingenuity and subversion. They enjoy being pleasantly surprised, even with the grotesque. They work hard and I have never seen people who party harder.
…more on that later.
Cosmic Comedy is run out of an underground bar in Rosa-Luxemburg-straße, managed by two UK expats, Dharmander and Neil. Dharm is cheeky with a large, elastic smile, and a long ponytail. He proudly boasts that he comes from the same part of England as John Oliver, and speaks just like him to boot. Neil, Dharm’s hetero life-mate, looks like a surly Scottish teddy bear had sex with a Grateful Dead roadie with his long hair and his band t-shirts, but he’s a math and programming whiz with an algorithm tattooed on his forearm. Because of Neil’s SEO expertise, I found Cosmic and booked in a spot well before landing in Berlin. Both of them love comedy and have dedicated their business to growing the English-speaking scene in Berlin, which is such a bigger world than I ever would have imagined it would be. They handed out shots of apple liqueur at the door and small buttons with dogs and cats vomiting rainbows [I took several for Greverley]. We had a full line-up and an audience of about 30 punters from America, England and Germany who came for the show, which, to me, seemed quite large, until Dharm told me that it was smaller than usual.
“What are you doing in Berlin?” they asked.
“Well, I’m thinking about moving here to live,” I said.
They both erupted, high-fived each other and exclaimed at the same time: “If you’re thinking of moving here, then you will. That’s just Berlin for you. That’s what it does to people.”
Hmmm, I though to myself…I just got here. I wasn’t convinced by their enthusiasm, but I was by their delicious lollipops.
Germans aren’t known for their sense of humor, so I was prepared to…as we say in the performance world… “eat a massive bag of shit” and chalk it up to a learning experience, but I couldn’t have been more wrong about the success of the evening.
If Berlin’s subculture was anthropomorphized into one person, with all its eccentricities and weird charm, it would be the performer who went on before me. He had bright green hair complemented by the bright green muttonchops tattooed on his face. His ears were stretched out and his arms were covered in rainbows of ink. He performed a cabaret style of comedy that started with him hammering a nail into his head through his nose and concluded in him squeezing his body through a tennis racket, resulting in him stripping to his lederhosen. As far as performances were concerned, he was completely out there and loved what he did. It was vibrant, engaging, fun and sure…a bit gross…but he destabilized the seriousness of the atmosphere with complete abandon and entertained the audience to tears with his recklessness. The people in the first few rows on their cracked red couches visibly responded with fits of laugher and moments of total discomfort. It was awesome…but man was I shitting myself to go on after him.
Fortunately, poking fun at the British and my [perfect] Kiwi accent elicited a fantastic response. The audience was fully engaged and I felt comfortable on stage noting my preliminary observations about Germans, which I had written while waiting for my connection in Copenhagen earlier that day. I never felt so good about a performance before and Dharm had to kick me off stage because I was enjoying myself too much [or should I say, for too long?]
After the show ended, Dharm introduced me to another African-American female comedian named Tammy who has lived in Berlin for years. Her delivery reminded me of the vaudevillian loud and proud style of Leslie Jones, where dance, vocals and routinely insulting the audience are equally as much of the performance as the actual jokes. She was unapologetic, funny as hell and expert at heckling [though, in America, we call it ‘audience participation’]. She even heckled me! And it filled me with all kinds of warm, fuzzy feelings…We spoke in detail about life in the city after the audience dispersed. Various Americans, Brits and Scots gathered to offer their opinions on what life for me would be like in Berlin, suggesting VISA alternatives and offering names of people with whom I should get in touch.
Neil and Dharm invited me back the following week to perform again, and I agreed happily, too excited to tell everyone back in Oz [and Greverley] how well the night had gone. They also invited me to another comedy performance the following night. Dharm promised that it would be “authentic squatting culture” at its finest. How could I resist?
When everyone else had left, Neil lined up shots of Jagermeister on the bar counter and we toasted to a fun, successful night of comedy.
I instantly regretted the decision, having only eaten strawberries and half a soft pretzel since morning. I stumbled through the yellow subway back to Sonnenallee and face planted on my bed, WhatsApping with anyone who would listen about the butterflies in my stomach fluttering around from pure happiness.
The next day I got to know my AirBnB hostess Marcela, a Chilean fashion designer studying abroad. Her flat had large bedrooms with high ceilings and wooden floors that creaked incessantly. The light was glorious. It streamed into the bedrooms in broad beams through the bay windows and warmed everything in its path. Through them, you looked out onto a courtyard with a cobblestone foot path, beautiful green garden and bright red roses, several of which she had potted and placed on my window sill. We spoke in Spanish instead of English or German and she told me about all the haunts of the neighborhood, gave me instructions on how to get to Brandenburg gate and sent me links to VISA information about living in Berlin.
Sonnenallee is a multicultural suburb comprised predominantly of Middle-Eastern immigrants. Leaving the flat I heard Arabic, Farsi, French, Swahili, languages that I’d never heard before and could not place, English and occasionally German. Women wore hijabs and balanced infants on their hips while tugging their dirty toddlers by their hands. Men sat outside of cafes with unbuttoned shirts and sucked on hookahs while drinking aromatic coffee, scowling at each other while discussing all kinds of things I couldn’t understand.
I stumbled over crates of fruit and hyperactive children whenever I left the flat, and like children do, they fell over, smashed their faces then got back up and ran around smiling like nothing had happened.
I’ll admit it, the day after Cosmic, I had a whole new swag in my step. It’s not every day you kill a comedy set in Berlin and I wanted to celebrate the only way I knew how…food. While wandering through the city the day before looking for the club, I found a burger joint that had free Wifi so I stood outside and leeched it shamelessly to message people and map out my journey. Heading back there seemed like the perfect way to celebrate my first German performance.
I’ve had a lot of burgers before. I love meat like fat kids love cake, so I had high expectations. But when I tell you that I should have sat on something absorbent before eating this BBQ burger from Burger Vision in Berlin, I mean it was the most satisfying physical experience I’d had in months. It awoke something in me only previously done by inspirational Civil Rights heroes and piano pieces written by Chopin. That burger was a concerto and the “I have a dream” speech copulating in my mouth, and it gave me new life. Was it the meat, or was it the intrinsic satisfaction that only comes with successful creative endeavours? The point is, for me, the two are not indelibly linked in my head, and every time I think of Burger Vision, I will think of doped-up joy.
Large Arab men danced slowly to hip hop blasting on the speakers while they flipped patties like it was their destiny. So when I heard “Diva” by Beyoncé start to play, I couldn’t help but think she was talking to me.
I only feel moderately embarrassed to admit that I walked out of that burger joint with that song added to my travel playlist, mildly popping my hips on the sidewalk and on the U-Bahn like…
…on the way to Brandenburg Gate to sightsee the pomme frites off of my hips before I joined the comedy crew that evening.
Berlin Siegessaule, The Reichstag building and Brandenburg Gate are large, imposing monoliths that attest to Germany’s fortitude…not the liberal charm with which Berlin itself is often associated. Before the counter culture, green tattooed muttonchops and latex fetish ware, Germany was a mighty military force that conquered half the known world. And man…are they something to behold.
I made good on my promise, and sweated out my burger and chips through the afternoon. I took selfies and drank water and tried not to make eye contact with the trucks and trucks of police lingering at all the government buildings and national monuments. The State Department had issued a travel warning not soon before I arrived in Germany, so there was a distinct edge to an otherwise jovial summer atmosphere. I’m wary of the police wherever I go, but when I walked past them visibly dying of thirst, and one uniformed gentleman handed me a bottle of water with a nod and a smile [or was that a wink?] I relaxed. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m not in Chicago anymore…
My friend Mareen, based in Berlin, had been out of town with her boyfriend when I first arrived but she told me to get in touch with Darren, another contact from Melbourne who had recently moved to Berlin. Darren and I met at our friend Viktoria’s [Mareen’s sister-in-law] wedding back in 2014, but I didn’t know him well. Still, I was in a new city without many contacts…and did I mention how badass I was feeling? I reached out to him on Facebook and invited him to the comedy gig later that evening.
I made it back to the B&B with just enough time to eat, shower, change and take off again. I was heading to a night called “Knuckle Up Comedy” at the Kopi squatter complex in the heart of Berlin. The sun had started to go down and everything began to feel cool. Approaching the courtyard from the subway station, I passed a junkyard filled with broken bicycles and used car parts. On another side was half a trailer with someone inside making noise and banging pots. The courtyard itself was flat and at the center of a large run-down building covered with the most spectacular graffiti I had ever seen. All around me were comedians, musicians, DJs, artists and poets, wearing whatever they wanted…or nothing at all. Someone pedaled into the courtyard with a boombox on wheels, laced with green Christmas lights and pumping out house music. Someone else rode in with a bicycle attached to a wheelbarrow filled with liquor and ice. Dharm and Neil were already there, drinking beer and going through the rundown of the evening. They introduced me to other comedians, including a few Australians, like one Imaan Hadchiti.
Imaan and I quickly struck up a fantastic conversation about comedy, about Australia and about life in Berlin. He had just relocated to the city and he encouraged me with all his scruffy might to make the move. I felt instantly at home with him, sitting on that cold asphalt in that neon-lit, graffiti-covered courtyard. I didn’t talk to anyone else. I felt like I had found a piece of home in a place that was rapidly beginning to feel like the new home I had always wanted.
Eventually, we wandered downstairs into knuckle-up, which was plastered in posters, tags, paint, and god knows what else. A pop-up bar had been created, where two incredibly attractive men served cheap booze and pretzels. I felt like there had been a mistake, and I had been invited to a secret clubhouse meeting that was way too cool for me. I geeked-out hardcore on the inside, afraid that any minute people would see right through my amazing Afro and curvy form to spot the years I spent committing Tolkien novels to heart. So when I finally burst from happiness, leaking all my social decorum onto Dharm with the words “OH MY GOD THIS IS SO FUCKING AWESOME!” hearing him say back to me “All good my dear, I was hoping you’d love it” was the final blow that made me implode from the inside.
The inside of Knuckle-Up was a cave, a literal cave! It was carved out of stone and rock and set up with old classroom desks that cut me as I tried to squeeze into them. It was cold too, and smelled earthy like a storm had just passed.
There was room for maybe 30 punters and a few more people who didn’t mind sitting on the ground. A group of students sat in front of me, and a gentlemen with acne and a bad haircut moved closer to me out of the blue to ask me for a kiss on his cheek. I thought “why the hell not?” and leaned in to oblige, but then he moved his face quickly to trick me into kissing him on the lips and I dodged him expertly to land one square on his nose. We both laughed and I pushed him away and told him to pay attention. He couldn’t have been any older than 23.
The man with the green hair was MCing that night, and Imaan, Dharm and several other comedians from around the world performed an amazing evening of comedy.
Darren came and brought his friend Julien, a gorgeous German intellectual with a dirty blonde man-bun and a sweet, satiny voice that made me smile whenever he spoke. We sat outside during intermission and drank alcohol that ran all over my face with its froth. It was saccharine and heady and made me feel intense. We sat outside in the dark, caught up in the evening’s frivolities, illuminated by neon paint, Christmas lights and a small bonfire on the other side of the courtyard. We talked about the performers and shared stories as if we had known each other our whole lives. I began to notice how open I felt there, without the usual trepidation that governed my every day life back in Melbourne. I was saying yes to things I never said yes to, and doing it with virtual strangers.
After the comedy show, Darren and Julien said they wanted to take me dancing. The Kit Kat Club was right down the street, and was world-famous for its seductive shenanigans and hedonism. Its outside appearance was super low-key. I had walked right past it earlier on the way to Knuckle-Up without even noticing that it was a nightclub.
But when we headed back that way around midnight, it was heavily guarded by large men in black who project managed the attire of everyone they allowed to enter. We checked our bags and our mobile phones at the door.
“Pictures aren’t allowed,” Julien whispered to me.
An older woman with an angular face covered in heavy makeup lectured us at the counter to look out for one another; I wondered if we were entering a biblical neverland of good and evil and seriously contemplated retreat for about two seconds before going “what the hell.”
I’d been doing a lot of that lately.
Darren and Julien, unfortunately, weren’t allowed in with their jeans, so they stripped down to their underwear. If that sounds unusual, then clubbers in latex bodysuits, leather harnesses, rubber briefs or, in many cases, nothing at all…will probably shock you. The women behind the bar were completely topless, and the DJ wore a pair of pleather briefs with a large silver zipper in the front. Friday nights were “slow” for Kit Kat, so only one of their five dance floors was open to the clubbers. There was, on the other hand, a pool…with a swing, and it was put to good use by many randy couples who dunked in and out periodically to rinse themselves of the sweat they accumulated on the dance floor, and occasionally copulate.
Darren casually explained to me the meaning of nudity in clubs in Berlin, that the human body wasn’t sexualized like in other Western countries; that nudity was seem as a completely normal thing, something to be celebrated, not fetishised…
And I knew that, I’d heard about that, I’d read about that…but something about seeing it again, after many years in Australia, made me suck my lips in, bite them, and giggle profusely on the inside like a dipshit.
Around the pool, people lazed about nude, or partially clothed, kissing and touching, talking and drinking, smoking and dancing. Inside, on the dance floor, people stripped themselves of all social decorum and openly embraced nudity, sex and song all at once. The room was decorated with glow-in-the-dark paintings of nude women with devil horns and couples touching each other. There was a pole up on an elevated platform, and a golden cage for people to dance in, if they were so inclined.
Darren kept buying us shots of tequila, and I clutched a bottle of water close to my chest while we jumped around the dance floor in between the man with the cock ring and the woman in the black latex body harness. I felt loose-limbed and silly; gradually my self-consciousness wore off and I was fist pumping and grinding with everyone else like I had done it a thousand times before.
Off to the far side of the room was a row of beds covered in rubber sheets, where I saw one older man masturbating enthusiastically to hordes of naked dancing bodies.
I could have stripped to my underwear [but I didn’t] and I still would have been the most overdressed person in the room.
Off to the other side of the dance floor was the dungeon, a dark room completely removed of light where people wandered in to have sex, watch sex and engage in a variety of sex-like acts, like S&M and bondage.
I thought to myself “This is the closest I’ll ever get to experiencing ancient Rome.” Kit Kat was a veritable bacchanal of bodies, drink, dance and sex. It was the other side of German industriousness. It was the price for admission to one of the world’s most hard working economies…complete abandon.
Because my parents might read this at one point, I’ll leave my observations at that.
I went into the toilets at one point and ran into a woman with a bright red latex harness on which I complimented her. She was tall and thin with long dark hair and very pretty in the face. She thanked me and invited me into her studio. She said she was a fashion designer and wanted to dress me. I agreed, committing the information to memory for a later point in time before joining my friends outside again.
While sitting by the pool [again, still clothed] I noticed a man to my side with dark golden hair and matching whiskers [I…shut up, Vik]. He wore tiny boy shorts with the large silver zipper in front, and nothing else so I admired his physique as he danced to the music thumping away in the background. Red lights washed over him and he faded in and out of focus while speaking with his friend, dressed in a vest, underwear and rider’s hat. I pointed him out to Darien [Darren + Julien] who then told me to ask him for his lighter so they could smoke. I did it without thinking…and he winked at me.
I froze. My mind, normally filled with words and thoughts and things that resemble intellect instantly dissipated, replaced with goo. I buried my head in conversation with Darien, suddenly feeling more flushed than I had all night. I collapsed my body into a shell and giggled like an absolute idiot.
I’m cool like that.
I’m cool like that.
I’m cool like that.
I’m cool like that.
We went back onto the dance floor where Darren bought us more tequila shots, and we ended up positioned within eye’s view of the man I had been admiring by the pool. I went from moving rhythmically and freely to being a tin man on the dance floor, one whose joints had not been greased in a decade. It’s a miracle I didn’t slap someone across the face with my long, awkward orangutan arms. Darien danced closer to me to edge me over to the man, and eventually, I was right next to him.
“Touch him!” they yelled at me. “Put your hands on his chest and tell him you think he’s hot!”
“NO!” I shouted back. “That’s creepy! I’m violating his personal space!” They both shot me a look that was somewhere between amusement and overt disapproval. Julien, a quieter enabler than Darren, mostly smiled at me with silent encouragement, but he endorsed everything that Darren said.
“You have nothing to lose!” he said and went back to being adorable on the dance floor.
“That’s how they do it in Berlin, honey!” Darren shouted at me. “Just put your hands on his chest, tell him you think he’s hot and kiss his neck!”
…I didn’t do that. I did some of that, all but the kissing part. Because…ew, NO. SIDE NOTE: Why do I keep taking romantic advice from same-sex couples? Gay men do not operate with each other like men operate with women. But…I digress…
His name was Sven. He put his arms around me and we danced, the four of us together.
We danced all night.
Before I knew it, the sun had come up above the pool. I didn’t even realize it was open air!
The moment I saw day break I felt naked and strange, like night had cast some kind of weird spell, now broken, and was ushering me out of the door and back to Sonnenallee. I felt capable of almost anything beneath a dark sky, but when the sun began to rise all I could think of all the things I shouldn’t be doing…like functioning after a night of no sleep. I can’t completely explain it, but I had to go. The impulse to leave was so strong it almost pushed me out of the door. Darien followed suit, though I told them they didn’t have to, and collected their clothes at the door. The woman with the angular face and heavy makeup raised her eyebrows at us as we left, as if to ask “What are you doing?”
Darren explained to me later that people often went clubbing on Friday night and didn’t leave until Monday morning. Saturday night was the peak, and late Sunday was the wind down, so us leaving after only one night was almost unheard of. For me, it was about as much nightlife as I could stomach, even while technically on holidays. I longed for my bed and the squeaky wooden floors of my B&B. Leaving the club, we faced an onslaught of seedy drug dealers selling MDMA, X and LSD, but we declined. Darren and Julien went away together and I rolled into the U-Bahn on my own covered in smoke, sweat and giddiness. Sven had gone long before, and I felt a quiet satisfaction knowing that I had outlasted a native on his own turf.
Before I left the club, I managed to take this shot of a gorgeous mural overlooking the club. It seemed appropriate for some reason.
There were a few others around me who looked like they had some from similar venues, wide-eyed and vapid like ghosts. The streets were empty when I arrived back in Sonnenallee. The sun was shining, but through the overcast skies everything seemed blue and grey. I stumbled back into my B&B and threw the covers over my eyes.
It was close to 7am. I slept until 11.
When I managed to rouse myself from the flat, I went back to Burger Vision for a repeat of the previous day’s foodgasm. Using their wifi I looked up the fashion boutique of the woman I had met in the toilets at Kit Kat Club…It was right up the street, and seemed like the perfect thing to do on a Saturday afternoon.
Her boutique was a fetish store, and the clothes were made almost entirely of latex and leather. Whips hung on the walls and ball gags were positioned beautifully on crushed purple velvet in glass display cases. The woman, Melody, was working and welcomed me with a large smile and a warm demeanour when I entered her store. She told me to take off all of my jewelry, because it might damage the material so I did, and she dressed me in half a dozen skin-tight outfits that molded to every curve on my body like plaster. She expertly smoothed out the creases with her hands in swift, hard motions and placed me in a pair of red leather platform pumps, instructing me to walk up and down the store to see if I felt comfortable.
I didn’t. I felt the opposite of comfortable. I felt like a piece of glass about to shatter all over the floor and gouge somebody’s eyes out…but I did look good.
Each “piece” was 400 Euros or more, and I couldn’t bring myself to spend that kind of money on clothes that I could only wear at clubs named after cheap chocolate candy. But we did talk about comedy and burlesque and exchanged phone numbers for when I came back…if I chose Berlin as my new home. She was friendly and sweet, and had a pleasant voice that made me feel very comfortable. I hardly noticed that I looked like a seasoned dominatrix that charged $1000 an hour…
I spent most of the following days wandering and connecting with people online who might be able to help me with work. In-between I went to Museum Island and marveled at the Berliner-Dom, ate as much sausage as I could and perused the outdoor summer markets. Marcela worked at the markets so I paid her visits and tried on her clothes. I met her friends who worked as tattoo artists and musicians. We sang to each other and I made jokes. I ate street food on the other side of the Ease Side Gallery and stumbled into artist communes where people made prints with controversial political slogans, and brewed homemade moonshine that filled the studios with a smell that resembled rubbing alcohol.
I found myself locked in a bathroom with an Irish man, and we exited by climbing out a back door and over a bar counter, over which he helped me. We laughed about it, and ended up in a corner where we told each other embarrassing stories of other bar blunders until I excused myself with the delayed awareness that he wanted to hookup.
Before I knew it, my second performance at Cosmic had come and when I showed up to the club, I learned that I was closing out the show as the headliner. Instantly I felt something I rarely feel when I perform…nerves.
People piled in by the pairs, from America, Australia, England and Ireland. I made friends with a delightful Irishman named Reuben who kept feeding me lollipops, because I didn’t have any other vices to which they catered. He sat with me until my friends arrived and recorded my set from the back of the room. I squealed when I saw Mareen. We hadn’t seen each other since her brother’s wedding [to my friend Viktoria] back in 2014. Every familiar face is a beautiful face when you’re travelling, and hers had a special connection back to my Australian family.
The show was a success, and several Americans came up to me after to hug me and tell me they loved my jokes. I met several more comedians including an incredible Dutch comedian named Sam who was on her way to America to try and break through. I have a strong feeling that she will…
The next day I packed up my stuff to go to Mareen’s. Since she had come back in town with her boyfriend Gerdy, I was going to stay with them for the last two nights.
First, Darren and I had lunch in the sunshine at the incubator from which he works and spoke about the upcoming American election and the EU referendum in the UK. Then I migrated back to Sonnenallee to see Dharm and Neil, who paid me for my performance. We sat outside on the sidewalk while they smoked pot and we made jabs at each other, as comedians often do when they enjoy the pleasure of each other’s company. I picked my bags up from Darren and then headed to Mareen’s where her dogs greeted me with enthusiasm and cuddles. We walked them and caught up on life. Gerdy came home and we went grocery shopping where I observed how very much in love they are.
It struck me somewhere between watching them recycle plastic bottles and make double-entendres about eggplant, that Gerdy worshipped the ground Mareen walked on, and it filled me with warmth. It’s the way he smiles at her when she’s not looking.
That’s all I needed to know to see that she was with a good man.
Mareen and I spent the next day together, eating strawberries and walking along the East Side Gallery looking at the street art I had only seen before on Google searches.
It was mostly behind chain link fences, but I still took my time going from one piece to the next…I felt like I was absorbing history and I didn’t want to miss a drip. I feel the same way when I go to historic museums…people went through so much trouble to put that information together, the least I can do is show it respect by learning whatever lessons it has to teach.
We ended the day by taking photos in the infamous 2 Euro photobooth.
It had been a huge week for me, and I sat there with them absorbing the enormity of it all with quiet reflection. I was so quiet that Mareen asked me several times if I was okay. I was, but I was going through a mental list of all the things in my life that were about to change dramatically. It scared and excited me. But…I was angry at myself for feeling afraid…angrier still for entertaining that fear as a viable excuse to keep me from making the change I needed to be happy. I pushed the thoughts aside for the moment and went back to being with my friends, who were encouraging and kind. That was what I needed in that moment more than anything else.
We were all at interesting crossroads. Mareen’s had led her to recently become a yoga teacher and would possibly see her hitting the road for work. Darren’s had taken him to Berlin.
Mine…well…mine would be decided in a week’s time…after heading back to London.
I left the next day.