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Get to know Berlin

T

o say they fuck a lot in Berlin is an understatement. They seriously fuck a lot in Berlin. Alex and I were on our honeymoon. We would be traveling from Berlin to Paris to Barcelona, ending in Madrid. Our boyfriend, Jon, wasn’t able to attend. He had recently started a new job. We had taken a one-bedroom apartment in Berlin’s immigrant-heavy Neukolln, right on Sonenallee—a street full of Arabic and donair and falafel, where women in hijabs wandered the streets and shops with children in tow, laughing and gossiping, their words foreign and exotic; strangely poetic. Syrian men sat in cafés drinking dark coffee from small white cups, playing chess and watching soccer games, smoking. This is November 2015, right at the beginning of the refugee “crisis.” Alex and I were warned to be careful in our neighborhood. Warned of intolerance of and violence toward gays. Someone told us a story of a gay man being beaten by a group of immigrant boys. The news was full of apocalyptic predictions—end of a way of life, terrorism, fear and xenophobia. Despite all this, a lot of cafés and restaurants had signs that said “Refugees Welcome.” I felt completely at home in Neukolln, in our highceilinged, old-world-charmed one-bedroom apartment with a cat named Spike and a small balcony looking down onto the street. I felt safe on those streets, and maybe that was crazy—I was a gay Jew wandering the Muslim-heavy streets of Neukolln, Berlin, when Europe was in the middle of a Syrian refugee situation. But the thing about Syrian refugees is they are just people. As simple as that sounds, it’s the truth. Some are good, some are bad. I live in a country where armed white Christian men walk into schools and shoot little kids. The world is nuanced. Rarely is anything black or white. We decided, on our first day in Berlin, to go to the Topography of Terror museum. I wanted to get some of the heavier “Jewish stuff” out of the way. I knew I couldn’t ignore Germany’s history, but I didn’t want to get too caught up in it. In some ways, though, history is inescapable in Berlin. The city is weighed down by

NEUKOLLN

its past. In other ways, the free, young, liberalness of the city—the art and the adventure of it, the sheer audacity of a city steeped in such darkness burning so bright—amazed me. Before heading to the museum, we had breakfast at Zimt & Mehl, a local café on a canal in Neukolln. Alex ordered chili con carne because it was the only thing on the menu he recognized. I ordered something I thought was eggs. It was an omelette with a smoky ham, along with a bag of pastries and bread. The guy behind the counter was young and friendly and super sexy. He spoke a little English. When we told him we were from L.A., he yelled, “Hollywood!” We ate breakfast there every day. I liked sitting on the canal, under the gloomy canopy of clouds. The Topography of Terror museum is on the site where the Nazi headquarters for the SS and the Gestapo were. The Berlin Wall, once separating West from East, runs along the border. I am not religious. I like to say I am Jewish by default, but I find it hard to even watch movies about the Holocaust. I’ve never seen Schindler’s List. Sophie’s Choice almost destroyed me. The divide between my world and that world of pain and despair, where humans can treat other humans in such dark and terrifying ways, feels too big too me. Too incomprehensible. But standing there, in the Topography of Terror, the history of that nightmare displayed before me, I couldn’t help but cry. It startled both Alex and I. I had to go to the bathroom. I hid out for a few minutes, in one of the stalls, scouring Scruff for hot German boys. I woofed a sexy bearded man named Hanno, and then went back upstairs. At Berlin Wall crossing point Checkpoint Charlie, the guard/actor asked where we were from. When we told him the USA, he started chanting, “Obama! Obama!” and did a strange, slightly sexy dance. Then Hanno woofed us back. We made plans to meet that night at a bear bar called Woof in Schoeneberg. We ate dinner at a mostly gay restaurant in Schoenberg called Rastatte, having spaetzle and beef goulash. The food was amazing; German comfort at its best.

The 8th borough of Berlin, it’s a mix of immigrants and hipsters, 24-hour donair and upscale cafés. A little edgier than the rest of Berlin, but with an authentic urban feel.

CHECKPOINT CHARLIE

A museum named after the crossing point between east and west Berlin, it keeps a tally of the deaths and attempts—some successful— to cross the wall and escape East Berlin.

SCHOENEBERG

The neighborhood Bowie called home during his Berlin years, it’s an urban oasis of parks, open-air markets and plazas. Art galleries, gay bars (leather, fisting, bears, twinks) and upscale fashion stores combine the essence of old Berlin with modernity.

RASTATTE RESTAURANT

A small, popular, mostly gay restaurant in Schoeneberg. Perfectly located and open late to be enjoyed before or during a night out. The beef goulash and spaetzle is out of this world.

LAB.ORATORY BERLIN

Located in famous nightclub Berghain, to call it a sex club doesn’t do it justice. The club(s) are part of the old East Berlin industrial power station. There’s a dark, edgy feel to the experience, but once inside it’s welcoming and friendly, and all fetishes are catered to.

CAFÉ MORGENLAND

Located in trendy Kreuzberg neighborhood, it’s the spot for a Berlin brunch, not fancy but lowkey and friendly. If you want to feel like a local, this is the place to be. It’s a buffet-style brunch with Turkish and Middle Eastern food, plus eggs and crêpes and nutella. Afterward you can stroll along the canals and outdoor markets that line the waterway on the weekends.

W

e arrived at Woof an hour before we were supposed to meet Hanno. It was early for Berlin, around 10 p.m., and the bar was only moderately busy. There was a dark backroom where guys were already starting to get busy. Alex and I walked through, stopping for a moment as one youngish looking guy was on his knees, surrounded by three large men— each resembling Santa Claus, with big bellies and beards—standing around him, dicks out. The bartender was a sexy muscle bear who spoke excellent English and bought us drinks because “We love Americans!” He even showed us pictures of his ass. When I asked if I could see the real thing, he pulled his pants down and let me play with it a little. That guy was awesome. We met another American—an opera singer who was in Berlin while on tour. One of the things I love about traveling is the strange way you make sudden, lasting friends, especially with other Americans—people whom if we’d met them in L.A. we might not be friends with them or have even been to the same places. There’s a camaraderie among travelers that can happen. I wondered, for a while, if we were going to make out with our new friend the opera singer, but that didn’t happen. It should have. I have a feeling it could have. The bartender told us about Laboratory, a sex party/bar that did two-for-one drinks on Friday nights.

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