I moved to Berlin in August. (I thought, if all the cool kids are doing it, why shouldn’t I?). It took about three months to wade through Germany’s famously difficult bureaucracy before I was able to settle, and now here I am for a year, surrounded by currywurst and beer.
I’ve done all the touristy stuff. But for all that, I feel like I’ve barely begun to understand this wonderfully weird city. I’m also guilty of becoming a lazy lump, lying on my couch every morning in a fleece onesie drinking coffee and watching Netflix.
So much of Berlin’s personality is hidden. The street might appear quiet, but open a random door somewhere and you’ll find yourself in the middle of a ’90s-themed rave, or a burlesque show, or a hookah bar. So, I thought, why not take advantage of Twitter’s new poll feature to have my followers run my life for a day, and maybe force me to discover some of those hidden gems? Who knew what kind of shenanigans I’d get up to!
(Hint: It starts out quiet and then quickly spirals into a two-day hangover.)
1. I set myself up to go to a sad museum in the rain.
“The park” was leading at first. I lay in bed cursing my loyal followers as the snow and rain drummed on my window.
But at last, the tides turned! “Creepy war museum” took the lead. I wondered if I had subconsciously thrown the word “creepy” into there to sway the audience. It bit me in the ass later anyway, as the line-up outside the museum took forever.
I wasn’t really sure what to wear for my adventure. My goal was “unique, but not crazy.” I figured my Hotline Bling sweater and a pair of leggings ought to do.
2. At the museum, I learn about collective potty breaks in East Germany.
I met my friend Cheryl and we headed to the DDR Museum, which focuses on what daily life was like in East Germany after World War II. The museum is highly interactive and lets you do all kinds of fun things, like drive a DDR car.
As you move about the museum, you can lift up panels and open doors to show various aspects of DDR life: clothing, uniforms, a perfectly replicated house from the 60s, etc.
Fun fact: children at schools took collective potty breaks. There were potty benches where everyone remained seated until the last one was done. Toilet training AND a social education!
My favorite part was the nudist display. Germans are well known for their love of nudity, and apparently even in Socialist times, sunbathing naked was a lot of fun. The display in the DDR Museum has a whole beach scene set up with tiny naked figurines, and then lots of naked photos. This was, understandably, the busiest part of the museum.
3. After that I headed to one of Berlin’s “alternative” neighborhoods.
I decided it didn’t make sense to stay in Mitte, where the museum is. It’s the most touristy part of town, and expensive as hell. Kreuzberg is the closest neighbourhood, so I decided to head there and ask the divine powers of Twitter to tell me which direction to go when I got off the U-Bahn.
I needed money first, and in my quest to find a Bankomat, Cheryl and I walked through Hackescher Markt. It was Christmas market season in Germany, and the gluhwein (mulled wine) proved too irresistible to resist. I loved it. I didn’t know it was so possible to love hot wine.
(Note: Almost every situation in Berlin eventually leads to booze.)
4. Twitter lead me to street art and sex toys.
My Twitter posse voted “right”! Emerging from the underground, I turned right and saw…a construction zone. But also: a beautiful wall mural.
I was feeling pretty tickled about my luck. We took the nearest road leading right and walked…and walked. And walked. The point was to find something interesting to talk about, but mostly all I found was this advertisement for Dildo King:
Finally, on Oranienstrasse, we found a cozy burrito stop known as Santa Maria. I had been there before, but it was still lovely.
The day so far hadn’t been nearly as weird as I wanted it to be. I was worried. So I ordered a drink and thought long and hard, and decided I need more drinks. It’s just what you do in Berlin.
5. First, Twitter sent me to a nice, cozy bar…
I asked Foursquare about weird bars nearby, and came up with plenty of options. Twitter ruled that I should go to Tante Lisbeth, the bar with the bowling alley.
It turned out to be exactly the kind of place I love in Berlin, heavy clouds of cigarette smoke aside. Foursquare describes it as a “cozy hang-out place with furniture your grandma threw out.” That pretty much sums it up.
We ate nuts and drank cheap beer and ogled cute boys. The bartender told us reservations were necessary for the bowling alley downstairs, but we still crept down the narrow stairs, poked our heads around the corner, and were met with lots of “What are you doing here?!” and “Ciao!” I explained that I wanted to take a photo, but someone booed and I had to slink away with my tail between my legs.
6. …and then we ended up at a bar where the furniture is on the ceiling.
As we left Tante Lisbeth, I paused to tweet my next poll. Cheryl grabbed my arm and I looked up to see a young guy pumping water from a well in the middle of the street. It was four degrees in Berlin, in 2015, and this dude was fucking hand-pumping water from a well. Bless Twitter for bringing me to witness it.
We stood there for a while watching, trying to work up the nerve to ask him what he was doing. He had a bicycle with a wagon attached, and the wagon was filled with buckets. He was pouring water into the buckets and stirring them, like cauldrons. Maybe he was mixing cocktails? He saw us watching and we quickly slid away into the night, laughing hysterically.
At that point I realized we were close to a bar I’ve really wanted to visit — Madame Claude. From the outside, it looks like a haunted house. There’s a sign that says “Plizz, come downstairs!” and Cheryl and I also found this hysterical.
Downstairs, the bar was so disorienting I felt like passing out. There was a sink over my head. FURNITURE WAS ON THE CEILING.
7. Next, I ate Persian food for the first time.
At this point we had wandered a little away from the main food area, so we headed back in the direction of Oranienstrasse. My followers had chosen “S” in their alphabetical biases at the time; the tally changed later, but we had already come across Safran, a Persian restaurant.
Berlin’s multiculturalism is one of my favorite things about the city, and I’ve never eaten Persian food, so this was fun. I picked the most foreign selection to me — “Fesendjun.” This turned out to be grated walnuts and chicken in pomegranate sauce, served with saffron rice and salad.
It tasted good, but I wasn’t totally sure how to eat it. Was I meant to cover the rice with the sauce? I’m not so cultured as I think, apparently.
My friend Josh pinged me during dinner and I asked if he was up for any fun. I hadn’t been out in a while, and I wanted to keep this day rolling, even if my bank account complained. We agreed to meet at Gorlitzer with Josh’s partner, Piotr, and they would show me some cool places. All in the sake of research!
8. My responsible Twitter followers discouraged me from buying drugs.
Cheryl and I headed to the Gorlitzer station, a part of Kreuzberg that’s notorious for its relaxed drug scene. We waited maybe 20 minutes for Piotr and Josh, and got asked at least a dozen times by polite drug sellers if we wanted to buy anything. This place occasionally gets busted, but for the most part, people seem to look the other way.
So maybe I was a wee bit tipsy when I tweeted the above poll. I followed it with this:
But it was largely ignored. My friend Maggie sent me a message saying, “YOU CAN’T ASK TWITTER THAT!”
I had no intention of doing drugs, but it seems my tweeps are apparently mostly good-hearted, law-abiding individuals. No drugs for me.
9. Instead of doing anything illegal, I headed to the happiest bar in Berlin.
Once I met up with Josh and Piotr, they took me to a secret underground bar that’s a video store in the daytime and a party shack in the evenings. The walls were covered in glitter and fur, and there were tacky Christmas streamers everywhere. It was literally the happiest bar I’d ever seen in Berlin. People were dancing in conga lines. Whitney Houston blared over the sound system. There were confetti bombs going off, and then foam started falling from the ceiling.
Oh, and there was a secret door leading to a secret bathroom selling secret shots.
10. At the last stop of the evening, despite my expert flirtation techniques, I went home alone.
Our last stop was Wowsville, a record shop turned café/bar. We wandered in because the New York pizza place across the street was closed, but hey, more drinks! It was busy in here, with a cool vibe; lots of punk-ish types. Josh and Piotr were lovely hosts.
My last poll was decidedly more mysterious than the others.
Did things get really crazy? No. But I think I will try this experiment more often while I’m traveling.
Truthfully, I expected a little more chaos in this experiment, because I’ve had some odd experiences so far in Berlin. A few nights ago, an stranger recited love poetry to me in the street. Recently I stayed out all night until noon, just chatting with a friend at a shady 24-hour bar, not even realizing it was daylight outside. But it seems to be a general rule of nature that when you set yourself up for the unexpected, things don’t necessarily work out that way.
On the other hand, it was fun to do a whole bunch of things I normally wouldn’t. I doubt Persian food would have been my first choice for dinner, and getting up early on a Saturday morning to visit a museum? Nuh-uh. Not me. So I do think I’ll definitely try polling my followers again, in the future, and in other places. Who knows where I’ll end up?
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