When I did my MA I was literally spending Mo-Wed in Berlin, and Thu-Sa in England. Sunday was travel day. My research subject was Berlin during the Weimar years, which continues to be an obsession today. I blame Steve for this entirely, Steve who was as obsessed with the era as I was, without being aware of it. Steve organized and promoted parties, and though he was excellent at it, and made literally any theme work, there was always that element of Berlin-just-before-the -NS regime detail.
I knew of Steve before we met, and my interests were already going in that direction. For a while they lay dormant, but like Steve’s parties, there was always that little element, yet only visible to those in the know. Then, when we met, it exploded. And even though my friends would not have thought that to be possible, the obsession deepened. To the point where I decided to move to Berlin.
Berlin was interesting. Everyone loves Berlin. But where everyone I talked to went straight for the former-communist-now-painfully-hip districts, I avoided them like the plague. Sure it was interesting to see what the Soviets had done and compare it to Hungary (and remember, I never grew up there), but after one (very quick) trip I was done.
Besides, the area was a haven for Swabians, the very group I’ve been trying to escape all my life and hate with a passion. It’s ironic that the biggest help I received from people in Hungary was from those of Swabian origin, not just once, but on several occasions. Living there as a kid was a whole different experience. Hungary and my mother’s homeland are bastions of racism, bigotry, and anti-Semitism. And still, they don’t compare to my experience with the Swabians. The irony of spewing this kind of rhetoric while running a blog geared towards cross-cultural understanding does not escape me. But such were the facts. Though I’ve had Germans from all regions (and some locals) confirm that the town we lived in especially was a Nazi bastion, not neo-Nazi; plain, old-fashioned Nazi.
My tactic in Berlin was to see the places I needed, hang out in every and all cafes and places that could have been from the Weimar Republic and avoid any and all Germans, actively friending all non-Germans. Until I was on the metro with a friend from Spain and realized that I’d lost my phone. Thinking fast, I asked my friend for hers, and dialed my number.
A female voice picked up at the other end. And the first thing I said was, “I see you’ve found my phone, where can we meet?”
The thought that she might not give it back occurred to me only days later. The girl at the other end asked me where I was, and we arranged to meet at Nollendorfplatz, smack in the middle of the gay district.
Here’s the thing, I never went through the phase where I hated boys, or where I developed a crush on a girl. And I never thought, ooh goodie, gay bff, let’s go shopping, let’s do fashion. But I’ve always had a close gay friend, or at least a good friend who was gay. One of my closest friends and I bonded over our shared interest in Berlin. A female friend on my course once told me that she knew I was a gay man in a past life. I told her it was just a matter of finding out which life. Though my money was already then on Weimar Berlin. Needless to say, Nollendorfplatz played a huge role in Weimar Berlin. If you know that Christopher Isherwood’s Good Bye to Berlin was the inspiration behind Cabaret, you may or may not be aware that he actually lived a mere few feet away.
I noticed the girl straight away. She was at the end of the platform, peeking around the crowd to see who might approach her. I knew it was her. I also knew she’d be offended if I offered her money, so I asked her if she would let me buy her lunch, since we were starving. She said she was pretty hungry herself, so I asked her to recommend something in the area, and we ended up at an American diner.
Teddy was a goth. Like me she was into Weimar Berlin, unlike me she was also really into the Middle Ages, complete with going to faires and dressing the part. We sealed our friendship over pancakes and coffee that afternoon. She was from Berlin, born and bred, raised “so far in the West, it was practically East,” and the first to agree that Berlin wasn’t Germany. Her mother once asked me where I’d lived in Germany, and when I told her, her only response was, “now I get why you’re not a fan.”
Teddy and I didn’t just become partners in crime when it came to discovering all the old places, she felt the energy as well. Before this gets weird, let me state that while I do believe in energies and reincarnation, I’d like to think I have a more reasonable approach than hugging trees and chanting moronic incantations. I’m not trying to put down pagan beliefs, just saying that like with any belief system, you get fanatics. For me, reincarnation exists. I don’t need to follow some delusional high priest to get to that realization.
Teddy got that, we’d go places, sit there, absorb the energy and just look at each other. Once, when I noticed a pattern in a certain supermarket (like Nollendorfplatz, the store was in Schöneberg), I asked her to come along to see what she got from that. Once inside, it was like a switch. I immediately started following all the fat couples. Teddy looked at me and admitted that even by our standards, that was weird. When I asked her, she said she felt some weird vibe about the place. Turned out later – while I was reading an article on Cabaret no less – that it had been a popular gay venue in the 1920s. To this day I’m sure the weird energy we both felt and my reaction were most likely due to getting into a lot of arguments and fights there.
The funny thing is that while we managed to confirm my identity in Weimar Berlin, we never established hers. We’d joke about certain possibilities, but we never followed up on any of them. The girl I was with when I met Teddy was Spanish, and though we haven’t quite found the solution to that either, nothing will convince either of us that Spain doesn’t play some sort of significance in this whole series of events.