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My Own Private Berlin

Like every year it feels impossible to quickly summarize all the things I’ve experienced in a whole summer. Since coming home from Berlin many things have happened and my mind is already elsewhere! However, I do wanna take a moment to look back and remember. Since the full diary comes close to a book chapter, on top I marked the highlights.

 

sleepless on a night train

off to nevrland

i feel so so sick

oh hello covid

 

meditation on the hot seat

dressing down for kitkat

reunions with old friends

revisit a summer romance

 

berlin casting magic

everything everywhere all at once

unexpected queer fest with

a straight boys’ kiss

 

no regrets, no future eh

celebrating birthdays

pan-pot at the open air

sleepless love affair

 

karaoke and then drag

how i missed this queerness

knife in the heart

live and love off art

 

meet above the bridge

walk towards the stair

hold me in your arms

give me an std scare

 

everything’s fine when

it’s really not

one last time then i’m out

occam’s razor when in doubt

 

displacing worries

on mimosa sunday

train of love but

fun alone isn’t enough

 

a negative test

my finished book

a reason to party and

yet i’m sick again

 

this is not what i wanted

not what i had in mind

a punch in the face and

the same hand patching me up

 

seasons are changing and

so am i

as a warrior of none

i become undone

 

final weekend

living off a plot

what could if i would

hellogoodbye mood

 

four days of constant you

say it and it becomes true

goodbye pristine lover

stranger undercover

 

 

 

If you’re interested in reading my full diary… Here you go:

 

Started from the bottom

I arrived in the same apartment I’m always staying in in the summer and was greeted by some of my new flatmates. I instantly had the feeling that we’d vibe well together and that they’re all very kind and heartfelt people. Drinking wine and eating cheese on the balcony a couple of hours later, however, I started feeling weird, maybe even a bit sick. I was sure it was because I could barely sleep on the overnight train with five kids in my compartment but the next day proved that I had Corona – for the first time! So, I ended up sitting in my room for five days while time slowed down and I was getting more and more excited to finally start my Berlin experiences. After two days of serious pain, I was already feeling a lot better.

 

Nomo FOMO, reunions and a straight-boy kiss

When I was finally free again, I worried that I would fall right into a hole of FOMO. That’s why I decided to start quietly and simply walk around my favorite areas of Berlin and visit a Buddhist temple for a meditation session. When a flatmate asked if I wanted to go to the famous Symbiotikka party at KitKat club, I knew the quiet times were over though! The rest of the week became a whirlwind of excitement, starting with a BBQ we hosted at our place. This was also gonna be the second time I met again my short summer romance from earlier this year. I was surprised by how well it worked out to bring a ‘date’ to a home party considering the last guy I dated in Berlin already had issues when I proposed that we could go and see a movie with some friends. It felt very normal and he blended in well. The next Saturday, I convinced two of my flatmates to go second-hand shopping and have lunch. Later, I wanted to check if we could go to an Open Air cinema and coincidentally found the Queer Parkfest. This was one of those moments where Berlin provides and all you have to do is say YES! Since I had missed this year’s Berlin pride, we headed over to the park and were later joined by more flatmates and friends. After some drinks and nice conversations, one of them asked if he could kiss me and needless to say, I was very surprised by this since I thought he was a straight guy. But he wanted to try and see how it feels and I enjoyed becoming his first guy kiss. ‘Any regrets’?, he asked me later and I answered that I regret tons of things in my life but not this. He said he felt the same. On Sunday, I was invited by the aforementioned summer date (from the BBQ) to come to his apartment for a Mimosa birthday breakfast and the Pan-Pot Open Air later in the day. I didn’t know if I was going to survive drinking and partying for four days in one week but I was excited to see him again and meet some of his people. When I arrived at his place, it was nice that I already knew some of them! The common introduction of the others was: “Of you’re Ben? Nice to have a face to go with the stories!”. And while this got me thinking about what the hell he and I were doing, I couldn’t help but feel happy about how simple and nice things can be. I’ll summarize the rest of the night with some keywords: home-grown potatoes, free-hand henna tattoos, sun, sweat, armpits and sweaty armpits, fire shows, massive subwoofers, exhaustion, spontaneous overnight-stay. When I woke up the next day I wasn’t feeling quite so fruity anymore, the past four parties took a toll on my body and I also felt that he and I couldn’t quite keep up the magic of the day we met. Maybe I was overthinking.

 

Life and Love on and off Screen

The next week was filled with many movie screenings and a ‘quiet’ weekend that didn’t turn out to be quiet at all. Most importantly though, I got to meet my best friends in Berlin and former flatmates from when I first moved here. Together we went to see the movie Nope (which I wouldn’t recommend) and the wonderful Everything Everywhere all at Once at the Open Air cinema Pompeii. Things often just fall into perfect place when we’re together and we have the best times no matter what. I love these guys so much and they’re playing a huge role of why I miss Berlin so much when I’m not there. Besides that, I got some stupid purchases and a 10 euro haircut at Dong Xuan Center, the HUGE Asian mall next to my apartment. For a flatmate’s birthday, I bought a large temporary tattoo. He was so happy about it that we ended up putting it on his ribs: The thing covered the area from his armpit down to his lower hip! He posted a picture on his Instagram stories and trolled his friends into thinking it was a real tattoo which I loved. With other friends, I went for Köttbullar at Möller’s and karaoke at Monster Ronson which was also super-cool. Saturday was the craziest day of the week. I went to a beautiful exhibition of stage pieces by Jim Avignon in the former factory hall MaHaLLA. Not only was the art breathtaking, but the whole place also looked wonderful! After this, a friend found a movie screening for b-horror movies in Rollbergkino Neukölln. We both were so excited about this because we used to watch trash horror movies every Friday in Graz together! And this movie, Knife+Heart, topped everything. It combined high production value, a great cast (including Vanessa Paradis) and a ridiculous storyline of a serial killer who finds his victims at gay porn shootings and uses a switchblade hidden in a dildo. Such a fun watch! Needless to say, we wanted to party after a movie gem like this. And coincidentally, the movie theatre is located right next to Berlin’s largest gay club, Schwuz! So, we went there together and had the best time. It was nice to escape the techno scene for a day of sweaty guys and great drag DJs – including Bambi Mercury! In my hometown, I really miss the openness and the possibility of simply visiting a gay party whenever you feel like it. Some dancefloor flirting was definitely missing in my life!

 

In sickness as in health

The following week, I focused more and more on the writing process of my book and planned one nice thing to do every day. I think that keeping yourself busy and entertained is a really important step in the fight against depression and something I haven’t been the best at. I started the week a bit restless – I had just had an awesome Sunday Funday with my former flatmates. I decided against giving House of the Dragon a chance and rather go on a Tinder date. And this turned out to be the totally right decision as the Italian guy I met for a walk was simply lovely. Within minutes we switched from small talk to deep conversations about culture, history, gender identity, sexuality, love and psychology. We sat down on a bench, held hands and made out when I offered to massage his back – at his place. So, we finished our walk and I did what I rarely ever do, which is staying overnight with a person I had just met. But things felt right and so felt sleeping on his fluffy chest. On Tuesday, I co-worked with a lovely flatmate on our amazing balcony and later met a friend I only ever get to see in group settings solo for the first time. We had the best time together, as we have a connection rooted in an old running gag where we dish out brutal disses followed by deep love. We went for tasty vegan African food and cocktails at Massai and later to my favorite gay bar in Berlin, Tipsy Bear. It was my first time this year and Tipsy Bear holds a special place in my heart as I’ve had tons of hilarious nights, dates and lovely encounters there. I used to be a regular who could just enter the bar by myself and find someone I knew to catch up with. I was worried that this might have changed but ten minutes in, I felt like last year again. The bar is incredibly social, so you’ll not be by yourself for a long time and rather end up enjoying more of a group experience! I also ended up flirting with a cute guy who literally was the first person I saw when I entered the place. After some haggling and comical readings it was obvious we were both into each other. I am, however, a person who doesn’t enjoy going home with someone and having drunk hookup sex. So instead, we exchanged numbers, stayed until the bar closed and caught up with the lovely barperson Dina – in itself a highlight of this night! I never actually ended up going on a date with this guy though. The next day I planned to meet with a lovely ex-coworker from The School of Life, however, two hours before going I received a disturbing message from my Monday Tinder date: One of his sex partners has The Clap. I was freaking out instantly because I didn’t know if there was a chance I could’ve gotten it from him – definitely not the message I wanted to receive. The next few days were a psychological rollercoaster; I decided not to cancel all my plans and still go to the Dark Matter exhibition and the Zug der Liebe party demonstration (‘the small Loveparade’) but I always had this in the back of my mind. I went to a center on Friday to get tested but had to wait until the next week for the results. Also, in case you’ve never had the pleasure of getting a urethral swab – this is the most painful thing you can have done to your penis that I know of. Zug der Liebe was still a whole lot of fun as we met at my friend’s place for brunch and Mimosas and then went on the journey of a six-hour dance party.

 

One Day at a time

By the time Monday came around I was a mess. Having OCD it is always terrifying to have an STD scare and I tried to convince myself that this could also be a good confrontation for myself. At least it was a harmless STD and one I could get tested for instantly. Still, Gonorrhea is one of the most contagious STDs out there, you can even get it from making out with someone. Since I have a bunch of flatmates and no private bathroom this was a really hard time for me and I was at the edge of going insane. To distract myself I met up with a friend to go to my favorite art gallery, the Gropius Bau. After the exhibition, it was time to call the test center. Thankfully, my tests came back negative and for the first time in a week, I could breathe again. Now it was time to get rid of the new OCD rituals I had developed these days. Berlin is in many ways challenging me, some of it is good and necessary, and some of it is too much. It’s also a good exercise to define my personal boundaries and communicate them better. To get my mind off things I went on a photo tour with my friend Vera later that week and to the opening of the Exhibition Crippling the Queer in the Gay museum with Chris. After the exhibition, he and I kept walking through the city and around midnight (just as we thought we weren’t gonna get real food anymore) we found a place selling awesome Foccacia at a self-service wine bar. On Friday, I, unfortunately, was sick again and canceled some plans. Since I had to become kinda healthy for Saturday, I took mass amounts of painkillers for the second BBQ party our WG was hosting this summer. This turned out to be quite a fun evening even though I was a little more abstinent than last time due to having fallen asleep on my carpet (possibly because of painkiller over-usage). One of the guests was the aforementioned, straight friend I had kissed earlier in the summer. While we had not had any romantic interactions since we still enjoyed nice times together and this time around landed on my bed, the both of us being a bit sick. Since we were sick, nothing major happened but sometimes quiet moments can be equally as nice. I know he has a lot on his mind now, so maybe it was best not to mix in something new. And yet, I wonder: What could have been? It’s one of those stories that got cut short because of my limited time in Berlin. High on Oxytocin, I decided the next day I was fit enough to go to the Moderat show and boy, am I glad! If you don’t know Moderat, I suggest you check them out soon! Since Linkin Park’s frontman, Chester Bennington died, I haven’t seen a band live I’ve connected with similarly – but so far Moderat came closest! After the show, we decided to go to the club Ritter Butzke because Kiasmos was playing a DJ set there which felt appropriate as an after hour. While his DJ set was pretty great, the club itself was not ‘lit’ (as Vera said unironically). When I went home far too late considering I was kinda sick, I felt off and drifted into the only real hangover I’ve had this summer.

 

Unbound

The week started chill and quiet as the weather was slowly starting to change into the long-pants-version of summer. I started the week by visiting Chris at his home to work for a couple of hours. Naturally, we ended up distracting each other and going for Sri Lankan food at the amazing restaurant Sigiriya which is named after my favorite place in Sri Lanka. After our lunch break, however, I was able to write the last few lines of my book! I wouldn’t call it finished as all of it (especially the beginning) is in need of lots of editing and polishing but it was an unreal feeling to save the first finished draft of my book! So unreal, I couldn’t believe it and Chris had to convince me it was an appropriate time to buy all the ingredients for my favorite cocktail. So, we made Cosmopolitans and watched the strangely obscure horror movie RAW. In comparison to this hidden gem, one of the worse movies I’ve seen this year was unfortunately the opening film to the Fantasy Film Fest, don’t worry darling. Disappointing to see they couldn’t keep up with last year’s wonderful Palm Springs! Later that week, the goodbye from one of my best friends, Lillee, reminded me that my time in Berlin was soon coming to an end. We went for food at Grindhouse Burgers which might become my new favorite over Kreuzburger. Afterward, we went to Tipsy Bear for karaoke and I ran into a guy I met there over a year ago. I stayed late and talked to him about how our past years have been. I instantly loved how simple it was to reconnect. I wanted to save my strength for Saturday but was interrupted by a house party in our WG – which was very fun and lengthened my drinking streak by another day. The next day, it was finally time for the Folsom Europe fetish & leather fair! I again went there with Chris but this year we came prepared with somewhat fetishy outfits. In case you don’t know, the Folsom is a large street gathering where people with all different kinds of fetishes meet to chat, flirt and dance. Mostly, it’s just a big party but not with your typical gay crowd. I guess the BDSM live shows next to the DJ were the highlight of my Folsom experience! The next day, I was ready to give up on my weekend but thankfully Chris got me out of the house to visit the Unbound exhibition in The Knast – a former women’s prison! 33 queer artists came together, each of them curating their own room/cell, many with Folsom-related imagery. Seeing queer art in a prison made this exhibition particularly exciting. It got even more chilling when I started talking to a very cute Brazilian guy during a puppy ceremony. We instantly hit it off and so I decided to take him along with me and my friends to drive back to the city. While the others were too tired (and probably wanted us to have space), he and I went out for food and I got to enjoy one of the best dates I’ve had in Berlin. He was kind, funny, sexy and interesting. And never called me. Obviously, there are only two explanations of what happened: Either I misspelled my own number or he died.

 

The beauty of the inevitable

While my last week in Berlin started full of motivation and energy, the weather was changing. There was no real fall and we went straight into winter with temperatures dropping as low as 6 degrees at night. I had an appointment at a large Berlin ad agency to talk about possibly working together. Going to their office, I was greeted by a friendly giant who led me into one of their conference rooms. I was not prepared for them already having a possible project in mind they wanted me to work on. Everything’s still uncertain but when he casually dropped a couple of times that they were looking for an Art Director, I got more and more interested. Let’s see what the future brings! The same night I went for food and drinks at the famous Paolo Pinkel, a restaurant that hosts three different kitchens (Italian, Greek, Georgian) in one! After dinner, we went for a drink to SilverFuture and decided it was finally time to revisit the horror movie The Shrine that scarred Vera and me for life many, many years ago at a B-movie screening. We had talked so much about this terrifying film that Chris finally wanted to see it for himself – and he wasn’t disappointed! As my clients started resurfacing from summer break, I spend the next couple of days mostly working at home. For a weird reason, I did not feel FOMO that I had to do a million things at once. With the weather getting worse and worse, I started feeling ready to leave. For the first time in many years, I started missing Graz, I started missing home. Then, a friend from Graz came to visit Berlin and we went for a stroll through the city, got a vegan Currywurst, and went second-hand shopping. This reminded me that I love Berlin after all. Like most of my relationships, my connection with Berlin is a complex one.

 

Weekend

Friday evening I decided I wanted to go on one last date in Berlin and met a lovely guy I went for drinks with around Boxhagener Platz. We also got Falafel at ADAM and while this shop looks basic from the outside, the Falafel were quite possibly the best I’ve had in my life. We ended the night with drinks in the obnoxiously overcrowded Fitcher’s Vogel before going home to my place. It was a lovely night and I was glad to have met him. On Saturday, I met with friends at Hanwest for Asian Bao burgers and dumplings at neulich. The food was amazing, the price was amazing – and I was happy I also invited my date from the night before. Because why not? After we finished our food we again went to Schwuz! The night was amazing, however, I drank a bit too much. As my friends went home one by one, my date and I were struggling to stay conscious. It was time to sober up, so it was the perfect timing when the previously mentioned friend from home called at 4 AM telling us she was ready to go out. My date and I exited Schwuz and went towards the Salon der Wilden Renate where we met her outside. We stayed in this amazing labyrinth for a couple of hours and I had the best time with the two of them. In the morning my date and I walked a couple of blocks enjoying the rays of the morning sun while casually making plans of what we could do this Sunday if we were not too hungover. After all, it was my last day in Berlin and I wouldn’t want to not do anything… After a couple of hours of sleep, I woke up half sober and started packing up my room. Taking off the pictures and putting all non-essentials into a suitcase is always such a sad moment. So, I was happy to accompany my date to a photography exhibition about gay history at the c/o. The exhibition wasn’t mind-blowing but I was just happy to be out and enjoying Berlin for a couple of more hours. After that, we went for a walk through Neukölln and I decided I wanted to end my Berlin cuisine experience with typical Berlin food aka vegan Vietnamese at Vietbowl. As the night progressed and it got darker, making even a dirty and industrial city like Berlin seem charming and romantic, I realized that my date and I were growing closer and closer to each other. And the next day we were gonna have to say goodbye. I chose not to think about that and rather wanted to enjoy our last moments. But since the end was coming soon, I asked him to sleep at my place and he thankfully said Yes – even though that meant he had to go straight to work from there the next day. So, I woke up next to this guy who feels so innocent. This guy whose smile could cure my winter depression. This smile that could disarm an army of gay men. This guy who then said goodbye to me – promising to come to the train station later on. I went back to bed, woke up a little later, had my last shower, packed away everything, went for lunch to Sigiriya with some more friends and flatmates, said goodbye to everyone and cried as one of my flatmates gave me a beautiful piece of collage art (first picture of this post). Having been so certain all week that it was the right time to leave Berlin, I wasn’t so sure anymore. Yeah, the weather sucked. But all the lovely people here, the art, the cuisine, the freedom, the possible job… all of this I had to give up. But yet again, there are just as many great things in Graz that I don’t wanna give up either. Was I a coward for not choosing? Or was I doing everything right, getting the best of both worlds? I arrived at the station confused and tired, got myself a lunch pack, lit a cigarette and then saw my Friday date come towards me. He was smiling just the way I remembered it. Only when I hugged him, I felt a form of sadness in his touch. Maybe it was just me. Because this was it, our final hour. We had talked so much and yet, there was nothing important left to be said. There is beauty in the inevitable and maybe it’s the best thing to remember this weekend the way it was: close to perfect but not real. Life doesn’t happen over the span of four days. Life isn’t always nice, it’s tricky and complex and rarely simple. And yet, I went on the train hoping that it was gonna be canceled. I cannot deny there was a connection. But maybe that’s all it was supposed to be, a reminder that even though my time in Berlin this year wasn’t all that easy, this city still offers a lot. Will I meet this guy again? I don’t know. But does it make sense to live in this memory and let life pass me by? No. I need some more time to process everything and take things slow. Coming home from rainy Berlin, however, I was greeted by the warm morning sun and realized that living in Graz wasn’t all that bad. It’s not the place that makes you happy, it’s your way of living there. The friends you have. The things you do to make money. The things you do for yourself. And I have it (mostly) great here and there. I have two great lives and possibly the only thing I have to be sad about is that I’ll never be able to live both of them at the same time.

 

BenLeander

 

 

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Compulsive nonconformist who left the 9-to-5 world after studying psychology and has since then devoted himself to design and writing on a freelance basis. Has at least four different kinds of chips at home at any given time.

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