In the almost 13 years my wife and I have been dating/living together/married we have moved a total of six times. It may not seem like much, but by the time we made our last move into the apartment we are subletting during out year away we had already moved to Nova Scotia and back and had amassed a two-bedroom apartment’s worth of things including two queen-sized beds, a wool blanket collection and a table setting for 30, complete with stemware.
The reasons we kept moving were many. We found somewhere better. We were dying slowly inside despite the majestic quality of the nearby ocean. Our landlords were insane and tyrannical. Even though we are married we are afraid of commitment.
Regardless of the reasons we actually like change, as it turns out. Which is why our current living situation seems to be torment for those we describe it to, but somewhat comforting to us.
We don’t yet have a home in Berlin.
When we landed in the German capital we planned to get right down to it and try to secure an apartment as soon as possible, for as long as possible. Ideally it would be an empty apartment with a lease of our own and we could start decorating, creating our home away from our other home across the Atlantic. What we didn’t take into consideration was that, in the two months we had been away, we were enjoying having coffee in a different living room, on a different sofa with a different view almost every week. What we also didn’t take into consideration was that the right neighbourhood is actually more important than the right décor.
The benefit of being on the move is that you get to test out different parts of town. When we first thought of moving to Berlin, fantasizing about afternoons in the Teirgarten on our way to work in Toronto, we considered moving to Prenzlauer Berg or Mitte. Formerly in East Berlin they are both a little West Queen West, a lot Queen West and, after closer in-person inspection, a lot the Danforth.
Kreuzberg was the next logical option and recommended to us by many people who had spent time here. Formerly in West Berlin it has deep punk-rock roots and has started to gentrify a la Queen St E. Good cafés and vintage clothing stores line OranienStrasse and along BergmannStrasse you can get almost any “ethnic” food your heart desires. But we found a sublet just off restaurant-row for a week and, as nice as it was, the choice was overwhelming and the language predominantly English. Not a plus if you’re looking to use what little German you know to ask for a slice of cake and caffee mit milch. So, with only a few days left in the Kreuzberg sublet, we went in search of our next home. This time in Neukolln.
Neukolln was not a neighbourhood we had heard much about and only knew of its existence from a very lovely musician-gal stranger who was gracious enough to send us some links for apartments she found in her spare time. Since we figured she knew the lay of the land far better than we did and we believed she was PLU (people like us) we went to see a studio sublet that would become our home for two weeks.
It was chandeliers and sconces with the right amount of Catholic kitsch and gnome presence. It had a bathtub (not easy to come by), was close to the Turkish market along the Landwehrkanal and a stone’s throw from a laundromat. We took it. The tenant, a lovely German actress, would be out of town when we were to move in, but had made arrangements for us to do the key/cash exchange with her neighbour. Not only did we exchange cash and keys, but he gave us a little piece of information that, in that instant, changed everything.
“Oh, and just around the corner is the hottest lesbian bar right now. Silver Future. Everyone is trying to get in there. Boys, girls, gay, hetero,” he said. “I’m gay and it’s just so nice to see something else pop up. I am so tired of all the other gay bars in town. This one is the hottest one going.”
And there it was. A lifeline. Someone who, without asking if we were a couple, knew that we would need to have a beer with our people. Even knew that maybe we would need to have too many beers with our people and be within crawling distance from our bed. Our first night in our new ‘hood we went to check out Silver Future.
At home in Toronto we have a local bar, a hangout about 10 minutes from our Parkdale digs. Every night it hosts something fabulous that draws a crowd that creates the right amount of laid back and ‘luxe. Full of queers, it’s reputation as a destination makes the crowd diverse, but you can always count on a handful of locals to be saddled up to the bar. After more than two months away we were itching to find our new local in our new town and that night it felt like we had.
Ever turned a corner and immediately known that it was right somehow? That a building, bar, shop, restaurant would be somewhere that you would come back to? Somewhere that made sense to you?
Our first order of business at Silver Future was to buy beer. Check. Next? Find a table to sit at since the crowd was quite dense and, without the language skills to interact politely, it was best that we be tucked out of the way. Check. Sitting at our little table watching the crowd the table next to us offered us some birthday cake from their nights’ celebration. It was in that moment that everything seemed to fall into place. The neighbourhood. The bar. The city. The year.
The next day, totally out of character but inspired by the previous night’s excursion, I stopped someone on the street near our sublet, having only been introduced to them briefly at a mutual friends’ art opening. I don’t normally talk to strangers. In fact, I barely talk to people I know, but it felt right. Like walking through my neighbourhood on a sunny day was cause to be neighbourly, to say hello and introduce ourselves again. And maybe next time we see him (Mathew, a gay artist from New York) will be at our local and we can buy him a beer and all feel at home.