During a recent week in Berlin, I found myself, again and again, doing Berlin things. There’s really no way around it, in Berlin. On my first evening, a friend took me after midnight to the voluminous abandoned basement of an office building that, as far as I could tell, sat dormant 364 days a year, but this night was the site of a roving weekly gay dance party called Horse Meat Disco. The DJ spun Italian disco; bartenders sold artisanal sparkling juice. I visited the Museum der Dinge—the Museum of Things—which displays collections of mundane objects: ashtrays, faucets, sardine tins, household keys, cellphones, candlesticks, lightbulbs, sieves, soap dishes. I saw Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo play at the Lido, formerly a movie theater that was one of the few cinemas in East Berlin to show Western films, and came across a store that sold Sonic Youth winter hats. I heard English spoken often, but almost exclusively by nonnative speakers.
I subleased an apartment connected to a clothing boutique that sold a shirt made out of pants: the collar was the unzipped fly; the sleeves were the pant legs. Over my futon hung a life-size photograph of a naked woman being branded on one ass cheek. The neighborhood restaurants were Turkish, Syrian, Moroccan, Sudanese, French, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, and Cantonese. I didn’t come across a single schnitzel. I ate matzo-ball soup and a pastrami sandwich at a restaurant that, modeling itself after Katz’s Delicatessen, aspires to bring “classic” New York food culture to Berlin. The restaurant is situated in a classroom of a former school for Jewish girls. The school closed in 1942, when most of its students and teachers were sent to concentration camps to be tortured and murdered. The pastrami was gross: slippery with fat and garishly pink.