In Berlin, a city plagued by Bear figurines and expensive museums, and a lot of museums, I mean like, they have a museum on Currywurst, you find yourself (like most of the fucking people here, I mean do they even have full-time jobs in a social democratic parliamentary something something?) with a lot of free time. This free time can be spent sitting in your one-room apartment, provided by the university you attend in an egregiously uncool neighborhood, drinking beer and watching Netflix, going to the expensive (and seriously there are so many of them) museums, exploring the city and learning about a multicultural Westernized world post-tragic-history-of-division-and-exploitation-and murdering-of-minorities, or you can go to cafes.
There are almost as many cafes in Berlin as there are museums. I mean when I say cafe I don’t mean the place on the corner that sells Lucky Strikes and bad whiskey, because those are also cafes. What I really mean is cafés, but for my own peace of mind I will save myself the effort of Command+E-ing all through this report on my exploration of hunger, chemical stimulation, and extreme desperate urgency.
I seriously don’t know what I’ve been doing for two months. I read a few books and visited some of those museums and I did get very, very drunk several times, while also going through a severe mono-relapse and an uncomfortable weeklong bout of food poisoning. But here I am, leaving in another two months and I’ve barely had a chance to learn how to say “I would like” before I order my shitty cappuccino, which I think the barista purposefully burned.
While I sit in Suicide Sue, a cafe of a few that I’ve returned to, mainly because of their choice of cured meats and dry, textured breads, I am listening to Pitchfork’s second to latest Best New Music album. I am feeling the desired high from my cappuccino and I will probably order another before the afternoon’s out and I have to go take my 20th century politics exam, of which I’ve already finished (it being an essay, the professor having provided the prompt beforehand, of which I wrote Saturday morning before visiting the abandoned Nazi airport Tempelhof). The album is M83 in case you don’t traffic opinion-shaping outdated music websites. Maybe you just use Metacritic, since that’s really the most well-rounded, unpartisan look at music, but I’m afraid I can’t very seriously take what Spin has to say into account. I’m looking for something as direct and ephemeral as a cappuccino brought to me at a bar-like table, surrounded by several different ethnic seeming Europeans.
It is interesting. The hippest cafes here don’t seem to be filled with Germans at all. You will find your typical Aryan huddled in a corner with his 2005 Macbook, judging you, headphones in and curious facial hair, listening, I suppose, to some DJ I’ll never here of and probably played that night I went to Club der Visionaire and was handed, I think, hashish, but I cannot be sure, and sat out by a river while my fellow classmates danced methodically (and I’ll admit I did my fair share) to the droning monotony of beeps and hums. But really, most people seem to be, not tourists, but visiting inhabitants of this Berlin City. “Berlin City” was a phrase yelled at me one night as I tried to enter a sports (betting?) bar to ask if I could purchase some poker chips, in response to my answering “I’m from New York City,” and after “You’re in” and before “now.” I have to say, I was a little scared. In cafes, though, I feel safe. With Nordic and British and French and Italian and Eastern Bloc-ish and Swiss and all different facial features and accents and ways of replying to my embarrassingly limited Deutsch.
Are the people better looking here? I don’t think so. They all have their own way of making facial expressions. They don’t stay serious if they look serious. I must always look confused, but it’s a little like New York in my inability to read anyone I encounter and in how I spend most of my time in places like this (or the street, or Weekday—a hipster clothing store akin to our Urban Outfitters, but with higher prices, and I think, expectations for you, the consumer, to which they sell almost exclusively Cheap Monday, a Swedish brand, but I’m really getting in over my head) with my face pushed into my jacket, now a parka, as the morning temperatures have dropped into the zeros and ones and two, Celsius grade that is. I should also point out that my girlfriend did mention that Berlin has a disporportionate amount of public “freaks” as compared to American metropolitan cities. I attribute this to an overly tolerant post-Holocaust atmosphere, where saying “Jew” may elicit looks on the sidewalks of your gay-friendly neighborhood (Schöneberg), which features a bear statue painted in a rainbow pattern.
So the other cafe I go to about as much as Sue’s is called Sankt Oberholz and it has two stories and that’s where I see most of the ethnic facial expressions that haunt my cups of milchkaffe and beet-apple-ginger juice, fresh-squeezed and burning my throat and providing me with the deep vitamin/nutrient boost that I’m not convinced is thoroughly distributed in the capsulized supplements I ingest religiously every morning. Sankt Oberholz is an easy place to be because it’s loud, plays American music that you haven’t heard since middle school, or since the last time you hung out with your high school friends at someone’s questionably acquired house in the shitty part of your hometown (what I’m talking about specifically is Sublime), and contains plenty of soft pillows flying all around the public space. I read a lot of Underworld there and got drunk in the middle of the day on overly-flavorful Hefeweizen. Suicide Sue, as I’ve already mentioned, has the superior food, and normally, seems much quieter, though today I was surprised the denial of my favorite little table-with-lamp-and-nearby-outlets. My girlfriend has mentioned to me several times that they sell giant bowls of coffee here, but I’ve yet to see any of these and have failed to order said bowl after every conceivable try. I’m suspicious that it’s the cafe au lait, but who really wants to find out?
Before me sits half of my breakfast, moderately priced at 5.80 euro, and comprised of four pieces of grainy (health?) bread, a thing of butter which is probably half-melted by now, slices of salami and proscuitto, several different kinds of cheese, and two “homemade” spreads (horseradish-beetroot-apple, which I ordered specifically, and avocado-something, which the barista, who indubitably has it out for me, “mistakenly” served in lieu of my goatcheese-rocketpesto request).
The album just ended. Wow, it actually just started up again. Beside me sits Ben Lerner’s new novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, which I read the first part of yesterday, waiting for my fish soup to arrive, and then cool, at Ixthys, the surprisingly authentic (as confirmed by my Korean friend) and best Korean food I’ve ever encountered, and which took me four weeks to receive in the mail (the book, not the soup, or the confirmation of authenticity). The kimchi is always delicious and the book was funny. I recommended it to that same friend this morning because I know she wants to speak Spanish, but in retrospect I really know far too little of her literary interests to have accurately made a suggestion of this magnitude. She might hate it and I think it’s almost two hundred pages. I think I’ll like it (I like it so far a lot), and it’s remarkably (only remarkable because I didn’t know the plot of it before I bought it) appropriate for my situation—my situation being American student in Berlin without direction, the protagonist’s situation being American student in Madrid without direction. And we both like poetry, so there’s that.
The caffeine from that regrettable cappuccino is not wearing off as I continue to punch keys viciously, thinking about how to continue my breakdown of Berlin cafes. You can tell I’m losing it because of my use of the word “viciously” and how I will continue to use adverbs shamelessly. I went to one that served a terrible bagel and an amazing chai latte and allowed (disgustingly) smoking upstairs where I worked with other students on a required German-language presentation, and we gossiped about other people we know. The cafe was called Cuccuma. It’s difficult not to gossip sometimes.
The album really ended this time. I’m almost sure of it, but I’m afraid to look. I carry a bottle of Purell with me wherever I go and each time I touch it, like just now, I fear the germs that exist on it from the previous touch when I was likely hoping to clean my hands from some undesirable interaction with the external world. The music is definitely gone, and the voices of the ethnic people are making me nervous. To my left, two British, or something, people speaking English. To my right two Aryans talking seriously, maybe about politics, on a date? I really don’t understand what dating means here. My buddy was asked out by a waitress to a party, who insisted he bring his friends (me and some others) and we ended up at some strangely laid-out apartment, me talking to an Australian-English-trained German from the Rhine, or maybe he was French, and, I’m told, filling a cup with whipped cream and eating it entirely, before taking a cab home and vomiting, before passing out for six glorious hours.
Time to put some music on. I restarted the album. I’m not a proud man. Or am I still a boy? The remnants of my cappuccino look so horrifying I won’t bother posting a picture, but I can expect to devour the foam loathingly, adverbally, before the afternoon’s out. I still have a lot of cheese to get through. I’m going to have to order another coffee and it’s going to have to be burned.