All by Myself
There are two things I’d never do in London: live in Whitechapel again and go out to a bar or a club alone. Now that I’m living in Berlin I go out almost always alone and I prefer it that way. It’s not because I have no friends over here (honest) it’s because I want to make new ones. The culture of Berlin’s nightlife can be very different to that of London (and I’m assuming other places in the UK). Berlin ranges from lazy hipster indifference where the lonesome patron is unnoticed to the crazed techno party, dark room or sex club where the whole point of the night is to remain anonymous.
Although London likes to boast that the “whole world” lives within the M25 we tend to stick to our national or linguistic groups. People go out with their friends and unless you pull someone, very rarely do you strike up a friendly conversation with the guy or girl standing next to you, just for the sake of it. In Berlin, whether you’re drinking in a straight or gay bar or nightclub strangers will often talk to you and invite you to join their friends. You can find yourself joining a group of several nationalities, races and languages.
Of course sometimes the interest is sexual but sex is so open and available in Berlin (usually down the dark scary steps at the back of the bar) that those who want a hook up are hooking up, leaving the rest to get to know one another. People feel generally safer here talking to strangers. Part of the problem with socialising in London is that you never know if you’re going to be mugged, raped, killed or worse, have your iPhone stolen. Those things no doubt happen in Berlin, like they do in all cities, but it feels different here, as if people are really interested in you, rather than the contents of your pockets or underwear.
When I was in my early teens some friends and I used to go to Coventry’s only gay bar, Rainbows. There was an old guy who went every Thursday (the busiest night) without fail. He looked to be in his late 60s, with grey hair and glasses; he always sat on the same stool in the same position at the same end of the dance floor. As far as I can remember he’d done this since I was 17 or 18 and I have no idea for how long before. On a recent trip home I went to Rainbows (I’m now 27) to find the same old guy, on the same stool, at the same end of the dance floor. He was something of a curiosity and a celebrity amongst the Rainbow’s crowd. Urban legend has it that he was once caught round the back of the building masturbating in his car which was, we’re lead to believe, stacked hoarder style with porn magazines. Would any of this, his fame, his wanking mythology, even exist if he’d occasionally brought a pal along with him?
I’m well aware that there’s little separating me and wanking guy other than a few years and the fact I don’t drive, but I’m willing to risk it and continue going out alone. Although I’d like to think it was just the new friends and great times I was after I’d be lying. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s because I’ve been going out since I was a teenager, but I’ve had enough of other people’s requirements: where and when to meet, shall we go for a drink somewhere first, if so where and when shall we meet, what time shall we make our way to the club, shall we put our coats in, shall we get a drink first? I want to smoke, I don’t smoke, I need the bathroom, my feet hurt, my ex is here, my ex isn’t here, I’m bored, ill, rejected, depressed. Going out alone gets rid of all this. If I want to sit facing the wall next to the toilets at 4pm in the afternoon chain smoking and downing Jägermeister and lager chasers, then for Christ’s sake I will and NO-ONE CAN STOP ME (aside from the doorstaff/police).
You can go to the loo when you like, the bar, the smoking area, that afterparty, that next bar or club, the kebab shop or, if you’ve had enough, you can go home without protest. Within four months of living here I now visit three pubs in Kreuzberg alone. To begin with I felt nervous going in (washed away with a few pre-drinks at home) and I was worried about what the staff and the other customers would think of me; I’ve worked in plenty of bars in Britain and I’ve always pitied or distrusted the guy on his own, nursing a pint. In Berlin, It’s never very long, in Roses for instance, before I’ve started chatting to someone. Some are Germans, some are foreigners and some I can never make out who or what the hell they are. Gabriella, the famous boozy barmaid of Roses, assured me one night after I’d come down to the bar “you’re never alone when I’m here” and she’s right. I have met half the world in Roses: American, Canadian, Lebanese, Swedish, Portuguese, African, Australian, British, Russian, Polish and Greek. They’ve been of all orientations, of all ages and races. Some have told me their tragic life stories, of their dreams about what they’ll achieve in Berlin, about their home countries and their families. They’ve bought me drinks, offered me cigarettes, drugs and sex. I’ve liked a few and kissed a couple but mainly we just listen to one another. Try it and see just how different a bar or club seems when you have no choice but to speak to strangers.
 I’m told that no bar in Berlin is completely straight