The fateful evening when I decided to set off alone to a nightclub near Ostkreuz station

Homopatik was the big night on at ://about blank. When I arrived at around 11PM (first mistake) and tried to get in, I befriended a handful of people who also had no luck, so we decided to try Sisyphos. I had no idea where Sisyphos was and I’d only heard about it through a friend: ‘Sisyphos, close to Ostkreuz, where you get some line and then some bus and them some tram’. This group turned out to consist mainly of 17 and 18 year olds, so thankfully they ended up disappearing as I am old and twenty now. I asked a woman at the S-Bahn for more specific directions to Sisyphos, who then informed me that she was waiting for her friends to go to Homopatik and that I would be welcome to join them.

After queuing for a while, I was rejected by the doorman (along with the others) for reasons unbeknownst to me, or anyone apart from him, really, but I’m sure they could have been any one of my lack of tattoos, lack of piercings, lack of visible scars, lack of spoken German, and quite possibly a lack of male genitalia. I heard the doormen decree that as a ‘gay party’ there must be more men present than there are women, because, of course, it is only men who qualify as gay.

We ended up at a bunker club in Moabit. I just looked it up online and it is actually called “Bunker Club” and the only information I could find on it was from a website called “germany.dailysecret.com”. I think it also has a Facebook page but there’s no way of finding it and I don’t want to. I’m constantly inundated with events on my newsfeed and clicking ‘attending’ means nothing anymore, and often they don’t live up to their shiny advertisement and cover photo so really I think this whole Event Phenomenon needs to stop and we should create more pages like “dailysecret”, for the precious sake of our expectations.

Perhaps this is only possible in a city like this, where everyone is too busy doing the Berlin two-step to care, or maybe this only appears to be the case because we have convinced ourselves that there are things that apply “only to Berlin”, a way of life that is more open, relaxed, easy, and in turn we act the way we think we should. But acting gives way to being; the semblance cannot be just that, a semblance, because it pervades our conduct in this place, until I find myself at the same time honest and myself, open and more relaxed than ever, a real Berliner. If only temporarily.

The fateful evening when I decided to set off alone to a nightclub near Ostkreuz station

THE NIGHT WHEN I PRINTED NUDE A2 PICTURES OF MYSELF AT KOPIERLADEN ON FRANKFURTER ALLEE

I’d been wanting to get these photos printed for a while. They’re part of an ongoing art project exploring the nature and implication of nude self-portraiture. I asked a friend in term time if I could have access to the large-scale printers in the Architecture Department, but to do this he’d need to be there. I didn’t have a problem with it, or at least that’s what I told myself, but it was a bit weird asking him. I was attempting to shrug it off whilst inside I was experiencing a mild panic. But why is a naked body such a big deal? My naked body?

I don’t think it’s only the fact that the unclothed female body is intrinsically sexualised and objectified, but that nakedness, in my own social environment, is still, as in most instances, seen as something to be ashamed of. It’s not explicit but it’s there. Like that sense of embarrassment that comes with being caught naked, lights on, in your bedroom, forgetting to have shut the blinds. There’s a sense of shame, of humiliation, of wrongdoing.

In this exchange with my friend, I felt these sensations, not wholly, but a taste of them. I felt after asking him that I’d done something wrong, broken a code, and for a fleeting moment our friendship felt compromised. I didn’t end up getting his help in the end. He forgot, I forgot, things got in the way, and I decided I’d walk in to somewhere and ask.

So I did, in Berlin. Already here, having visited a few lakes, I’d come across nakedness and I’d shrugged it off. It reminded me of what my friend had once told me, horrified, that there was a nudist airline that flew only in Germany. Once you get on the plane, you all strip down, and I suppose you put everything back on once the plane lands. My friend kept going on about how unhygienic it was. But it made me think of a safe space, that on this plane the passengers all shared something; not bodily fluids, but an agreement, or understanding, to accept one another. Though perhaps I’m thinking about this airline a little too wistfully, a little too like a commune where everyone just gets along, holding hands and singing songs together to pass the time. I’m sure there’s a fair share of discomfort when someone gets up to go and use the toilet, your head suddenly met with a friendly clump of pubic hair.

The place in Berlin was a ten minute walk away. It was a Friday night and I bounced along the street in a great mood. As I cross the road a guy standing on his terrace kisses to me, a big grand “MWAH!” from the first floor. So I smile and keep walking, but he gestures and starts speaking in German. I stop and tell him “mein Deutsch es nicht sehr gut” and so he starts speaking to me in Spanish, to my surprise. I do not feel threatened, unsafe, not yet at least, so we converse in Spanish, superficial conversation only. Then he asks me to come upstairs, or he’ll come down onto street level, and I’m off. I’m off to print nude photographs of myself, to compromise myself perhaps more than I would have done if I’d stayed.

I walk into the store and ask the man behind the counter if I can print some photos from a USB stick. He opens the files, first one of Daisy, a portrait, harmless, then the next one, me, blurred, unclothed, looking at the camera. I keep my eyes on the image, on my naked body. I keep my eyes on the image to show that I’m not ashamed. I feel myself getting a bit hot, wanting him to hurry up so that I can look elsewhere. I calmly, firmly, try turn this anxiety into nonchalance. I look at the screen, then at him, and ask him about the quality of the print. The conversation flows and I breathe.

When I walk out of the store with the roll of papers in my hand I didn’t feel triumphant, ecstatic, like I’d won a prize. I didn’t actually feel any different, the sequence of events didn’t fit the narrative I’d given myself in my head. But as I walked towards the Ring-Center to get my bike, I did feel eager to start drawing. I’d be fabricating my mood if I said I felt joyous and elated. It wasn’t a victory, yet.

I am not content with the idea of anyone seeing these photos. They are still private. But the final etchings are different, they will be more removed from the directly representational, if only imaginatively. As a medium, nude photography is tied up with pornography, with explicitness, with a fragility that is hard to overcome, for they are often used, as we see in the media, for revenge. I am willing for friends, family, and strangers to see the etchings, the pieces of art once they are finished, but I am not ready for the exposure of the photographs. Only the stranger in the photo-printing store has seen those, and the impermanence of that I can handle.

 

THE NIGHT WHEN I PRINTED NUDE A2 PICTURES OF MYSELF AT KOPIERLADEN ON FRANKFURTER ALLEE

A couple of days after I stumbled upon the cafe that is “shakespeare and sons” in Friedrichshain

I decided when I first walked in to Books & Bagels (or Shakespeare and Sons) that it would become my safe haven in a city I didn’t belong to yet. I didn’t know where to begin walking in, so overwhelmed was I by the colourful texts, surrealist Czech postcards, pretty Penguin notebooks and, of course, the tactically placed Chomsky. As I sat down I felt inspired. It was as if they had everything here, everything I wanted to get my hands on and read, all these famous names I’d heard of and felt an affinity towards. I walked up and down the passage, picking up a book here and there, feeling at ease and confident. I belonged here. I knew these names. I had a connection to the place because I could recognised what it offered me.

I think it was the third time I’d been in to work in the café area when a German lady came into the shop. She sparked an interaction with a male barista, asking him a question in German and pointing to the books. His reply was brusque, short, uncomfortable, a commonly used stock-phrase “Mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut“. As the lady continued to speak in German she was spoken over by this barista who had now reverted to English, “Sorry. This is an English bookshop. English.” As he said this he gestured to the books and then continued this gesture with a gaze that swept to the door, a gaze that was not followed by his hand but might as well have been, for it carried with it the unspoken “please leave”. He could not understand her and so she had to leave the bookshop, having been spoken to as if it were her own problem, the not knowing of English, which needed to be rectified.

The quasi-conversation between the two people who could not communicate with one another left me with an uncomfortable itch, an itch that was not only acutely contained in this scenario that played out in front of me, but also more widely spread, until I felt, myself, guilty. As a frequent customer I am complicit in the machination of this expat goldfish bowl, where I can speak my own language without having to go the slightest bit outside of my comfort zone. My confidence when I walk in is possible only because I speak English. I understand. My confidence took on an almost imperialist arrogance.

But I like Shakespeare and Sons. I like that I feel welcome, and I especially like their bagels. I like that here, I can read the correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker in a beautifully designed yellow hardback book without having to buy it and if I’m lucky I can sit in the back room undisturbed. In the back room there are French books and Scandinavian thrillers and “no laptops allowed”. Some of the books here are are second hand and occasionally people walk in to flick through a novel or use the toilet. The large windows make it difficult for passers by not to look in, so I will often catch a gaze or two, sometimes looking for a little too long because it’s fun and nothing will come of it. Most of the time, though, it’s just me.

Here what inspires me is the quiet, the solitude, not the impressive array of names on the shelves. When I’m here I can hide among the rejects, the books that didn’t make the selection, in quiet satisfaction. But it is here, also, where I hide from this uncomfortable feeling, from my educational privilege that I can so easily deviate from; for I can only feel this way, this comfortable, this confident, with the reassurance that I belong in a bookshop brimming with sparkling editions of Butler and Foucault and Spivak. To romanticise my solitude and to leave it there would be to deflect from this knotty issue which I still haven’t fully digested myself. I’m not sure what exactly it was that irked me so much about the quasi-conversation between the barista and non-customer, but I think it must be tied up with my mother tongue. I wonder how different this would be in their bookshop in Prague, or in a country where English is not very widely spoken at all, for I think the power dynamics between German and English are perhaps not as pronounced or divergent. Does the “English” status of the place then become more of a defining feature? A place for English tourists to not only escape, relax, unwind, but, more than anything, exclude?

A couple of days after I stumbled upon the cafe that is “shakespeare and sons” in Friedrichshain