The People I’ve Met in Berlin

photo: Alejandro Arretureta

I never thought I’d move to Germany after finishing high school. But somehow (let’s pull down the merciful curtain of silence as to how exactly) I ended up doing just that. I turned up here, quite uninvited, and disheartened by every confused “wie bitte?” I kept hearing. I had my naive and uninformed vision of Berlin as a place where Nick Cave wrote a book and Wim Wenders made a movie, and that was what constituted my expat starter pack. As it turned out, that and the curiosity to recognize different Berlin lifestyles was all I needed.

At first I felt quite overwhelmed by the variety of people I’d met. Being Polish, and with the super comforting awareness that my mum’s just four hours away, I really felt the least adventurous and exotic among all the fantastic people coming from overseas. I loved this cultural diversity and soon didn’t feel surprised anymore that most of my new friends spoke English, but kein Deutsch.

photo: Chris Phillips

The gleeful range of freaky Berliners does not cease to reveal itself only with their country of origin. The unique community here encourages all kinds of personal manifests, and obviously stating your sexual preference is the most essential of them all. I love how my queer friends celebrate the Hauptstadt as their ultimate haven. I think that contributes greatly to the evident vibe of acceptance and equality that the Berlin community is striving to cultivate.

The word “striving” makes perfect sense when you consider the challenges that LGBTQI people are facing all the time. After all, even if hopefully there is a higher degree of acceptance here, Berlin is no magical shield against having your heart broken or going through a crisis.


photo: Dima Povernov

Perhaps it’s even the contrary – one person that I think of as the ultimate symbol for Berlin’s raw creativity disguised in some S&M accessories but also the almost proverbial drug related fear and loathing is Blixa Bargeld. His haunting lyrics feel surprisingly appropriate in the atmosphere of alienation.

Frankly, I was quite disillusioned to find out that some of the countless new Berlin creative minds (another kind of people I met) have no idea who he is. But as much as I have the right to constantly enrich my present with elements of the past, they’re entitled to live in the moment. Still, I just couldn’t grasp the over the top lifestyles some of them represented, like the self appointed drug messiahs walking the techno infused holy ground of the dance floor.

Nights by Absolut - Berlin

photo: iHeartBerlin

Not entirely free of some character traits of the small town catholic schoolgirl I once was, I couldn’t believe that partying is a valid lifestyle. With time though I learned that not only it actually is one, but also that there are some features of it that I didn’t find instantly appaling. Berlin clubbing, when done right, is an immersion into the dazzling world of general contentment, where no one judges you. It’s practically Neverland and all the lost boys feel safe in the knowledge that they will never get old.

The atmosphere is quite careless, though, and, in a bitter pang, you may end up feeling that Berlin’s never judgemental environment is perfectly inviting to each and every mindset save the one inspired by the desire to cherish the good old monogamy.

Busker Diaries

photo: Busker Diaries

There are also people who share the best of the carelessness when others need it most: street musicians bringing their vibes to our everyday life, which has a tendency to get dull, even in Berlin. Amplified street music has been banned though and it’s a big deal for some to reverse this decision. Actually, there is a petition going on now to make busking with amplifiers legal again on our streets.

A lot of people I know who are supporting this idea are working in startups here. I believe that’s yet another beautiful aspect of Berlin: office work doesn’t make people devoid of their artistic spirit. They’re still eager to dance, express themselves, get tattooed, meet others, and make up the atmosphere of this city.

photo: Alejandro Arretureta

You meet them sitting on Admiralsbrücke, some barefoot, others sporting their well-groomed beards. If their faces are covered in glitter, some member of the party may be celebrating their birthday, however this condition obviously isn’t necessary to make the word shine a little brighter. What they’re drinking usually depends not only on the occasion, but also on the often volatile condition of their startup. The real magic actually happens when the business fails, but the people still stay true to their city, starting from scratch and using the abruptly acquired free time to enroll in a German language course.

The city is obviously not all about Club Mate, fancy cafes and freelancing jobs. Just a short walk from the canal with all the coolest kids, there’s the Kotti station with a smell that’s a more specific definition of being homeless than anything you’d find in a dictionary.

photos: all.x

Similarly, whenever there’s a bigger amount of outside beer involved, be it a special occasion like Karnaval der Kulturen, but also just a regular warm evening at Mauerpark or Boxi, there’s always someone having evidently less fun, pushing a supermarket trolley and collecting the empty bottles. It’s typisch Berlin how these two worlds coexist.

As if caring fate wanted to shelter me a bit from the real crazy Berlin, I got my first flat in Reinickendorf. Obviously, this is nothing but a subjective observation, and an observation refined for the sake of literature at that, but every time I had to come back there, I felt like Alice banished from Wonderland. The unfortunate Zweck WG in which the most my flatmates would share with me was the ever present cigarette smell might have something to do with that. Overall, every time I’d get too crazy about the colorful and lovely people I met outside, my ideals would instantly crash with my flatmates’ stacks of dirty dishes in the kitchen which got so huge at one point they resembled some ugly modern art installations. Our WG was nothing like the friendly institutions with a cleaning schedule and a common shopping list you might have heard of. We were so extreme in the struggle not to ever talk to each other that they didn’t even acknowledge my moving out. If it wasn’t for the lack of the occasional Elvis concert they previously might have overheard due to my mentally being an American housewife from the 60s, they would still think I’m there.


photo: freshmilk

The vast array of those different, sometimes dubious, role models you might encounter in Berlin is a thing that every high school graduate, especially one that doesn’t go straight into college, will marvel at. It’s obviously not a notion limited to Berlin, but I think we can agree that this city makes it all the more graphic.

The whole adult business is tricky to figure out when you decide to go about it alone, and Berlin just makes it all the more confusing. But at the end of the day, it is THE town to develop some character. Determining who you are in a place that can easily transform itself from a European capital lavish with delightful squares into an infamous modern day Babylon overnight is quite rewarding.

Text: Michalina Gorajek

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