Opinion
3 min

Friends with strangers in Berlin

Sometimes the best nights never involve sex at all

“I enjoyed the more social aspect of the bar; I’d met some interesting people that challenged me in different ways.” Credit: South Africa Tourism/Flickr

It was the Thursday of a long weekend, and I’d never seen Prinzknecht so busy. Guys were pressed up against the brick walls all around and were squeezing their way to the center bar. I’ve been going there about once or twice a week since arriving in Berlin because it was the sort of place where you make a new friend every time you visit, which is crucial for solo travelers. I was also learning more about myself with every new person I met, which was an added bonus.

I was speaking to this one guy who mentioned that there was the darkroom in the basement of the bar. “What?” I said, somewhat surprised. “I’ve been coming here for two months and I didn’t know there was a darkroom.” The bar seemed far more social than sexual, but it was Berlin — I shouldn’t have been surprised.

“It’s just back there,” he said, pointing to the bathroom. When I finished my drink, I ventured back, past the cigarette machine and the line of men waiting to use the urinals. Sure enough, I found a staircase that led to the basement.

I descended down, following the string of blue LED lights into the darkness. It led to a typical Berlin darkroom: there was a sling, some dividers, dead ends and a fantasy cellblock. Despite how busy it was upstairs, there wasn’t a single person there. I can’t say that I was surprised. Like I said, Prinzknecht was more social than sexual, and with the influx of kinky cruise bars and sex clubs in the city, it makes sense that there’d be a need for a place that’s strictly social.   

And, personally, I enjoyed the more social aspect of the bar; I’d met some interesting people that challenged me in different ways. There was this guy, Tony, who I met during my first weekend in the city. He was in from London for a few days for Easter, and was wearing a leather kilt and vest when I first met him. We had some great conversations about sexual attraction, human connection and love, which made me reflect on DH and Ernan. We met two times during his stay, and our conversations made me realize that I do want a concrete relationship some day.

Then there was Steve from San Francisco who I met the following weekend. He was on a cross-Europe trip after being laid off from his job. He’d decided to travel solo, leaving his boyfriend behind, but he seemed particularly lost, which made him endearing in a weird way.

There was something romantic about that night, like we were discovering the city on an adventure. He even kissed me at one point, but he felt extremely guilty about it — he was in a monogamous relationship. The whole thing reminded me of the things that I don’t like about traditional relationships — the guilt, particularly. He left the next day and was too nervous about staying in touch.  

I met Jörg and Albert a few weeks after that, who were both Berlin natives. They were the ones who’d taken me to Mutschmann’s that one night, where Jörg had explained that romance was dead because all anyone wants to do is fuck. Despite his negativity, I had a fun night, but I couldn’t bear to hang out with them again. Jörg reminded me too much of the bitter traps we all fall into.

Then there was my favorite person: Ada, who I’d met the last time I was at Prinzknecht. She was there with her new boyfriend, who she now lived with after her divorce. She’d lived in Hawaii with her ex-husband for 17 years of her life and had five kids, who now lived in Berlin with her. We ended up getting really drunk together and regaling each other with stories about our failed relationships. She had moved to Hawaii for her ex, and I confessed to her that I had moved to Paris for a relationship too. We bonded over our mishaps, but both agreed that we’d do it all over again in a second. Ada reminded me of what I enjoy about life.

There’s always a story at Prinzknecht, and it’s easy to get a stranger talking. You just find someone who looks interesting, stand near them, order a drink and make some silly comment to get their attention — it almost always works. So yes, Prinzknecht’s darkroom was empty — and, after asking around, it seems that it’s always empty — but perhaps it’s better that way.