Invisible Stranger

Invisible Stranger

Collecting Crises on Old Compton Street and Beyond

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Thursday, January 29, 2004
Some Things Which Keep Me Going Back to Berlin
(Apart From The Bleeding Obvious, Of Course)

They still have a C&A here. And, you know, for the basics, it's actually rather good. Over the years, I've bought from here everything from leathers to feathers, and even once some rather saucy underwear, and still had change from 30 Euros. I cut the label out as soon as I get them home, of course. I might be happy and secure in the knowledge that I'm a cheap queen, but I don't want the rest of the world to catch on.

The Shops Shut On Sundays…
And I mean every last one of them. As a Londoner, most of my shopping is done on a Sunday to avoid the Saturday mobs from Zone Four, as well as the temptation to trip up attendant braying infants. But this does mean that I get to miss out on one of life's choicest pleasures, putting the world to rights with a bunch of mates on long boozy Sundays spent in a tatty pub serving decent beer and even better food. I'm not staking any claims for the originality of this work ethic, but after six days of creation, this Stranger needs a bloody good rest.

…But The Bars Never Do
Not strictly true, but as good as. And when your favoured bar finally does chuck you out at seven a.m. with the rest of the trashed and the mashed, then you'll find that the one just two secluded doorways down the street is opening up, so step that way, your table's waiting. You don't even have to crawl up to the counter, as the barman will come and serve you at your table for no extra charge, should you suddenly discover that remaining vertical is not the best or most practical of ideas.

No, not the sort you end up chatting to in that sleazy slut-hut, not even if he is wearing a collar and chain, but rather the canine kind. As a big dog-person myself, I can understand Berliners' love affair with their four-legged friends. Whether a Chihuahua or a Great Dane, they're allowed in everywhere, even restaurants and classy department stores, and are simply the best-behaved animals I've ever seen, far more sociable than their snooty and yappy Parisian counterparts. And they never seem to make any mess. I can't recall ever seeing a cat in Berlin, which means that the city must sensibly employ some sort of municipal Cat-Catcher, or those contented and well-fed canines know something we don't.

Thermometer Highs And Lows
Climbing well into the thirties in the summer, dropping below minus ten in the winter, and I once experienced a low of minus twenty-five. No namby-pamby "cloudy and overcast" out here on the Prussian plain, this is real Weather, my dears, and the trains still run on time even though the river's frozen over. As someone who's bored by autumn and thinks spring's kind of over-rated, this Stranger loves extremes. Of any kind. Well, er, almost.

"Zusammen Oder Getrennt?"
Quite possibly Germany's biggest contribution to world harmony, and more than making up for any itsy-bitsy involvement in the odd World War. The words mean "together or separately?", and are what your waiter will ask you on presentation of the restaurant bill. Choose to pay separately, and he will then inform you precisely what each member of your party has had to eat or drink. This thereby avoids all those acrimonious who-had-what argie-bargies, which should only ever be conducted within the confines of a student union pizzeria, and never, ever, in polite, grown-up company.

There. That one surprised you, didn't it? From Hausfrau to high-class hooker, they're the indomitable face of the city, immaculately turned out, no matter their age or income, right down to the roots of their perfectly-coiffed and hennaed hair. It was the women who cleared up the rubble of their war-shattered city, and that backbone of steel is still there, although they'd never think of getting their hands dirty now. They're Teutonic Cruella de Vils who dress in real fox-furs because they can, and who don't give a damn what anyone thinks of them. Cross them at your peril, but play the ever so well-mannered Englishman and they melt like snow, and will sing your praises in that uniquely raspy voice of theirs. Actually, I rather think most of them are drag queens. But then, Berlin's that sort of place.