Invisible Stranger

Invisible Stranger

Collecting Crises on Old Compton Street and Beyond

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Little Tinker

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Wednesday, December 08, 2004
You'd Better Watch Out…
I'm flying off to Berlin next week for a couple of days. Regular readers will be aware of my long-time love affair with the city on the Prussian plain. You all must know by now that I'm really just an Isherwood wannabe, brooding in a bar, and searching for his very own Sally Bowles. This time, however, I'm particularly looking forward to the trip.

When it comes to the period leading up to December 25th, I definitely belong to the Scrooge school of thought. Anyone wishing me tidings of comfort and joy is likely to be seen off with a joyless and uncomfortable piece of mistletoe rammed up somewhere the winter sun never shines. The pubs are overcharging, the trains are running down, and there's only a certain number of times a grown man can listen to a group of winsome carollers murdering "Silent Night" and not decide old Herod had the right idea, after all. And I also hate the hypocrisy of the supposed birthday of someone, in whom a large percentage don't believe, being hijacked as an excuse for one mega-fest of tack and trash, of cack and cash. And no, I don't get many cards or presents, since you ask.

Which brings me to the reason why I'm so looking forward to revisiting Berlin at this time of year. For if there's one thing Germans do really well — and with a charm and a panache and a sincerity we Brits could do to learn — then it's Christmas. Beneath their often icy exterior, there beats a heart of the purest slush, and during the big Advent countdown, you can't move without stumbling across a Christmas market, from the tiniest Bavarian village to the largest Prussian metropolis.

These aren't corporate-sponsored cash-ins, well, at least not so you'd notice. Rather they’re effectively traditional craft fairs, their creaking stalls selling all manner of superbly hand-crafted wooden toys and marionettes, home-made candles and ornaments, sweetmeats and gingerbread men, as well as more Glühwein and Wurst than this particular homo knows how to handle. And even with the glitz and the glitter, and yes, the occasionally naff carol singers, they somehow keep to just the right side of kitsch. Sentimental old sausages, my dear Krauts.

Of course, you'd expect the slightly camper Berlin establishments to get into the act, but even the ever-so-butch bender-bars join in the fun as well. And you've never really experienced the festive season (and nor may you want to) until you've unwittingly stumbled into some perverts' palace, where the management has twisted sprigs of holly round the handcuffs, and hung sleigh-bells on the slings, and there's a leather queen in a Santa bobble-hat, rubbing his crotch by the twinkling fairy-lights leading down to the darkroom. Why, it's enough to make a Stranger believe in the magic of Christmas, after all.

Only not quite. For when you return home to your flat in N7, as I did last night, to find that the five-quid-from-Woolies, glow-in-the-dark, plastic Santa has tumbled from the upstairs neighbours' window-ledge, and is now dangling from a cord and maniacally ho-ho-ho-ing at you through your front-window, then it's very definitely time to reach for the humbugs.

You can keep your Christmas, my dears. Just let me have my Weihnachten.