Even on a hot day, like today, the atmosphere is tense. A thick fog settled around my shoulders the moment I arrived in Berlin. This sort of industrial energy has a certain appeal. It thrives in the early hours of the morning, in dark corners of old factories where people fuck and dance with apocalyptic abandon. And well into sunrise as we sit on the concrete by the side of a canal, sipping beer without giving a fuck. It’s an angry sort of freedom. When I was here before it felt more as if there was a thrown together, gregarious feel about the city. My mind floods with memories of old happy squats, and a funny, friendly man selling beer from a box in a throwaway corner of the city filled with sand for a floor, and scattered with old crates to sit on. Now, the city seems to have hardened into a more unsettling charm.
He likes it still. Always will, probably. In its light and dark facets the city speaks to his sensibilities. Dirty, cheap, and not too boxed in. Just, sort of, real. I like that about him. It reminds me of something I yearned for as a teenager in London, itching for an escape from the dull symmetry of a nice immigrant suburb near Heathrow airport, and nice immigrant parents who want their children to become nice doctors or lawyers, or at the very least, marry them, so they can all live in nice semi-detached Tudor style houses, and have nice, slightly less immigrant—but still brown—children to repeat the ritual in an endless repetitive approximation of nice, middle-class capitalism. The funny thing is, he’s not an escape. Just a happy, even-keeled, heavily tattooed logician who likes a bit of a punk vibe, and the occasional summer in Berlin.
It’s where we crossed paths again last year—after meeting ten years ago in German class—for a just-because beer. I rolled out of Rosenthaler Platz station and plopped down at a table outside Gorki Park. I waited a while, sipping on a large stein of lager, before clocking, just at the moment that he did, that we’d accidentally sat at adjacent restaurants instead of the same one. I laughed and shrugged, pointing at my full beer, just as he did at his, chuckling before he chugged it rapidly in a valiant effort to come over and join me. It was at that moment that I was hooked. Here I am now, a year later, sitting at a coffee shop in Kreuzberg as he has a smoke break outside. He calls me his partner. It’s strange, but somehow wonderful in a way I don’t quite understand.
He fucked me in Berghain while people watched. Twice. He cooked dinner and fed me tastes of the little sauces he made, like we were in a movie. He bounces around a lot, working, meeting people, filling up his days and nights with a sort of boundless appetite. I’m lonelier here, unable to settle in. I find myself watching empty hours slowly peel off the clock, as a near-constant hum of nerves chugs away in rhythm with the city, until evening settles in. I drown it out with booze, picking fights with him, and then being wracked with guilt. Lost in this haze, I wonder why I act this way, and why he doesn’t leave. But he just keeps calling me his partner and we keep going.
I thought love would be a sort of perpetual unbounded joy. The blissful elation of a kiss under a starlit sky on a forgotten little beach in Ecuador, except—you know—forever. But this sort of love is different. Sometimes it makes me want to laugh, and sometimes it makes me want to cry. It’s ugly sometimes—when I say mean things, or fret, or when he’s stressed. And it’s glorious sometimes—when the dinner party’s over and we keep hanging around anyway, going for a wine run at 3am and fucking in the window of our flat, just because we can.
Other days, like today, it’s a little kinder. A gentle pat on the shoulder, or a quiet, sit beside you in a coffee shop until you perk up sort of day. Or, when all seems lost, a shrug and a smile and a matter of frank “it’s just not your city, love, we’ll find somewhere else.” Like I said, strange, but somehow wonderful.