Thursday 2 – Monday 6 April
A busy Thursday morning at work mainly around our new Tech for Good funding programme but I made sure I left dead on 12.30 to meet Dave and get to Heathrow. I have been late for a flight before and it is one of the worst feelings in the world. A good, no problems journey on a packed BA flight (apart from the bumpy landing) which meant I could get my free glass of wine to start the holiday. One thing at the moment is the great exchange rate, basically everything is a third off (so 25 Euros for the taxi from the airport equalled about £18). And we were staying in a nice hotel that we had stayed in before, a pleasant sixties / seventies style place based in the gay area near Nollendorfplatz U-Bahn station.
Out to eat at one of our favourite Italian restaurants anywhere. A very gay clientele and it was interesting to note lots of people in there, and on streets generally, were in leather gear. Indeed there were also plenty of leather guys in our hotel when we checked in. Asking around we found out that the BLF (Berlin Leder und Fetisch) were having an international leather and fetish week in Berlin centred on the Easter weekend! Lucky I bought my leather trousers just in case. I was knackered so me and Dave returned to the hotel for a drink in the bar after catching bits of the Election Leaders’ Debate in our room including Nigel Farage saying we should let foreign people with HIV just develop AIDS and die. Here is a picture of the Holocaust memorial that sits in the heart of Berlin to remind us what happens when communities start getting scapegoated for problems. Unfortunately I’m a lightweight when it comes to late nights and basically a morning person so I was asleep by 11.30 while Dave decided to go out and explore the bars.
Good Friday was chilly initially, far colder than London. But it did warm up a bit later when the sun could break through. Berlin is a great city to wander round and absorb the atmosphere; the last 100 years of human history have been based on it. Whilst Dave had a lay-in, I strolled around the gay quarter checking out familiar places and basing myself at the gay coffee shop Romeo und Romeo. This previously had a long history of being a gay bar apart from when the Nazis deliberately turned it into one of their party offices during the dark period they were in control. The Easter hare came from here. Overall a lovely relaxing day made up of wandering, reading, having coffee, and pottering on the internet. I did have a luxurious ‘disco nap’ in the afternoon and it felt absolutely lovely to fall asleep in nice hotel bedding. Always feels decadent to sleep during day especially so I was ready for a big night out.
Me and Dave went out for an Italian again though a bit more downmarket than the previous night. Then we went off to different clubs. Mine was Biohazard – a club that runs about ten times a year and with an assumption that people attending are all HIV+. A great atmosphere and some fascinating conversations although I did have to queue for about half hour to get in even though I had booked my ticket online in advance. A really good night and lots to drink. I left about 2am-ish a bit worse for wear and went on to the 24 hour party pub ‘Bull’; a wonderfully messy place that is free to get in and does feel just like a party at someone’s flat rather than club.
An alcoholic night’s sleep but awake still on Saturday around 8.30 so about six hours sleep. Off for coffee and a croissant then more wandering around the gay quarter in the sun loving the mixture of old and new buildings as well as the wide streets and diverse people. Back to pick-up Dave and we went for a walk together to Tiergarten, the huge open space / park that sits in the centre of the city. Beautifully semi wild including lakes and woodland; the picture is the Monument of Prussian Victories that sits in the middle. Back for a delicious gourmet burger lunch then I returned to the hotel to catch up on some sleep whilst Dave went off to the wonderful KaDeWe department store to wander around for a few hours.
I got up and went out to sit in Romeo und Romeo again watching the world go by though wearing my leather trousers and boots by now to fit in more with the other people. Dave had his catch up sleep whilst I was out having coffee and reading. Then a drink in the hotel bar and updating my blog before we decided just to got out for a quiet meal out at the classy Italian we went to on the first night. Back to our room and bed around midnight – a very peaceful Saturday night in a crazy city.
Sunday and I was out to the coffee shop again for some reading and chilling. Again the weather was lovely – warm and dry. Dave decided to go off for a walk to see the Brandenburger Tor, Unter den Linden, and ‘museum island’ though we had visited these on previous trips to Berlin. Lunch for me was at one of the Chinese street cafes – cheap and tasty. Then in the afternoon I went out to a couple of the gay bars, Woof and Scheune. The former is a bear place though was playing some very cheesy eighties music. Evening came and Dave went off to a club in another part of Berlin. I was not in the mood to go out again so I treated myself to an Indian at the ‘Amrit’ restaurant which was one of the best Indian meals I have ever had. Should have realised because German people have a real appetite for Indian food. Then for me, to the hotel bar and sleep – Dave arrived back around 3.30am.
And so to our final day in Berlin, Monday – also a holiday in Germany. My farewell coffee shop visit before we got our taxi (with a very bouncy woman driver) to Tegel. Again no problems with our flight though it was packed again. Wine for me and we arrived at Heathrow about half an hour early. Only drawback was the big queues at passport control. Tube and back to Dave’s to get ready for the week ahead.
Three main books took my attention over the weekend:
Owen Sheers ‘A Poet’s Guide to Britain’ (2010) Poetry is not normally my thing but I liked the author’s novel ‘Resistance’ about what happens in an England conquered by the Nazis, a very human and local portrayal. I do feel like I am missing something by not liking poetry though I could say the same for photography, ballet, and opera. Good in parts though the overall weakness for me is its concentration on physical geography which feels quite old-fashioned targeting in on things like moors, rivers and islands. My Britain is more urban and gritty.
Christopher Isherwood ‘Mr Norris Changes Train’ (1935) This is the book we will be discussing at the next Velvet Book Club. Isherwood is a great writer and, of course, the inspiration behind Cabaret the musical and, therefore, Cabaret the film. Pretty amazing and atmospheric to read it whilst in Berlin where it was set about 85 years ago. And there is enough of old Berlin to realise what it would have been like. Almost a novella because it is short but a great little story in itself though the whimsicality running through it ends abruptly in the last few pages when the Nazis had come to power.
Paul Bowles ‘Days’ (1991) A funny little book I had meant to read for ages. Very short, brief diary entries by Paul Bowles regarding his life in Morocco over a couple of years in the late eighties. It was very much about human inter-actions and modern issues in that nation such as the growth of fundamentalism. But also too lightweight and sketchy to make a lasting mark. Ultimately a small window on the strange latter days of the life of a great writer.