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Berlin: How Europe’s rebirthed city showed me that ‘new’ really is better

Berlin: How Europe’s rebirthed city showed me that ‘new’ really is better

‘New is always better.’

I used to violently argue over the above statement. Those of you who aren’t into one of the best problematic faves of recent years, How I Met Your Mother, will probably need some context.

That’s what Neil Patrick Harris’ character Barney used to say in Ted Mosby’s face, the latter being a fan of old and antique, starting from architecture.

I’ve always been on poor Ted’s side, nostalgically holding onto the past – whether in the form of that worn out scarf you don’t want to let go of or that person you categorically refuse to admit might no longer be right for you, after all.

And then Berlin came along, at a time when my bisexual beaten-up heart needed some solace.

The Pineapple Incident

The love for what’s new is palpable across the whole city. It’s more than just post-modernist buildings: it’s an attitude, a specific vibe you’ll only perceive here.

Throughout its history, Berlin has seen it all and each time it has risen again with resilience and grace. Not effortlessly, though. The capital has fought hard to reach the cool status it currently holds.

It only adds to the German capital’s casual charm that it hosts an incredibly accurate, fan-curated HIMYM-themed pub, the only one in Europe to the best of my fangirl knowledge.

Set foot in the MacLaren’s pub in Kreuzberg and you’ll be teleported to NYC in the early 2000s.

The walls are covered in blue French horns, yellow umbrellas, Lily’s paintings and every other possible prop from the show. The bathroom is next-level accuracy with its writings straight from The Time Travelers, the one where Robin creates her own signature cocktail.

Which, of course, I’m going to have.

Excessively sweet and with a slice of pineapple missing from the original recipe, I take a sip as a visibly drunk guy comes on to me.

After a few conversational efforts on his side, he finally asks whether I’m a bitch like his mom. Yep, you read that right.

I tell him to piss off. And that’s when he steals my pineapple. Rude!

Second chances

Ok, Berlin. Let’s do another take, shall we?

Berliners say their city is so open everyone here can give it a go at anything they want. Everyone can be themselves and embrace their truth knowing Berlin won’t judge according to social status or sexual orientation.

Provided you show your love the German way, that is no PDA, please, regardless of your sexuality.

When and if failure does occur, Berlin isn’t short of second chances either.

Therefore, after my very own Pineapple Incident (episode ten of the first HIMYM season, if you’re not as obsessed as I am), I decide to give the capital another possibility and explore further.

The city’s hidden gems

The well-known spots still require a mandatory visit if it’s your first time here.

The Brandenburg Gate, the East Side Gallery with its colorful murals, the Holocaust Memorial and, in the park across the street, the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism. A trip to the Schwules Museum, guarding the city’s LGBTI archive, is also in order.

You can easily move around with a practical Berlin Welcome Card, offering free public transport and discounts for more than 200 attractions across the capital, from Mitte to lesser-known areas.

It’s up to those less touristy districts to keep the capital’s best-hidden secrets.

Gentrification, a swear word on other cities’ mouths, takes on a whole new meaning here, suggesting endless possibilities.

Neukölln was part of the American sector during the Four-Power occupation of the city in the 1970s. And today is flourishing with multiculturalism and younger residents, foreseeing its hip near future.

This is the district where the Mercure Hotel Berlin Tempelhof is located.

This is one of the 63 in the pink pillow Berlin Collection, a network of LGBTI-friendly hotels welcoming guests from all over the world. At the Mercure, nobody will frown upon who you’re sharing your double room with. As it should be.

A food tour de force

Tempelhof is an area of cool art galleries in former breweries, such as the Centre for Contemporary Art KINDL.

New restaurants regularly pop up, serving delicacies from all over Europe and the Middle East, without forgetting local comfort food.

Try Palsta for natural wine and starters the Scandi way.

The word, meaning ‘garden plot’, is Finnish and so is the lovely owner, whose name I can’t remember due to one too many glasses of sour, nutty orange wine.

Expect the darkest rye bread you’ll ever see, smoked salmon with cucumber, mustard seed, and sour cream, pumpkin croquettes, and roasted cauliflower.

Then head to Tisk for Berlin’s classic roasted chicken with the thickest mushroom sauce to date. This is where my stomach begins to fill up, dreading the prospect of a third and final food stop.

Is there such a thing as too many desserts?

I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but yes, there might be such a thing as too many desserts.

Don’t make my mistake and make sure to save some room for a visit to CODA. This dessert-only restaurant is where all your stale beliefs on desserts come to die.

You’ll be treated to a menu of seven mind-blowing puddings paired with fine liquors that won’t taste like anything you’ve had before.

I’m talking about a truly original combination of flavors and textures. I’m talking about plums, walnuts and seaweeds having a threeway in your mouth, washed down with a Portuguese Madeira with a hint of Darjeeling tea. And this is just dessert number one.

To my own and the chef’s great disappointment, I can only make it to dessert two: cacao, banana and pear vinegar to match an Italian Moscato.

As I leave CODA with a food baby in my belly, not having been able to taste the other five on the €128 (about $147) menu goes straight on my list of regrets.

SchwuZ is the coolest LGBTI maze in Neukölln

If you can actually zombie your way to the dancefloor after that, Neukölln hosts one of the best LGBTI clubs in town.

SchwuZ has been around for forty decades and has moved to the area quite recently. Every vault and wall reminisces of the history of Berlin’s legendary 80s rave parties.

The location is strategically close to our hotel, to the benefit of my 4am drunken self, whose German and sense of orientation are possibly worse than those of my 11pm only-slightly-tipsy self.

Despite GSN Travel Editor’s empty promises, there are no girls in my group.

I’m with a bunch of lovely gay guys of all ages from the UK and Scandinavia. Half of them are in such committed, long-term relationships they’ve brought their partners with them.

Not that I’m not used to that. I’m one of the very few women in the office as well and it nearly feels I’ve never left London.

When at the club…

Our unlikely bunch heads to the club on a mission to find out what the LGBTI clubbing scene here looks like.

SchwuZ is so open to all that even I, the social anxiety poster girl, don’t feel uncomfortable while there.

You can find everyone in the vast LGBTI community in the smoky, underground maze it is. And the club proudly showcases all sorts of neon stilettos and kinky boots signed by various artists. One of my biggest crushes of all times, Blondie’s Debbie Harry, played the venue in 2017 and signed one of the shoes crammed in the glass case.

As we enter the club, a gorgeous Junoesque queen called, quite appropriately, Jurassica Parker welcomes us.

She is also one of the few people on the whole trip who explicitly says the word ‘bisexual’ when greeting the crowd during her performance, which is really comforting for my bitchy bi self.

My bi self, however, isn’t as comfortable when a pretty girl appears out of thin air and starts talking to me while I’m practicing my sulky pout.

Call it ‘awkwardness,’ call it ‘sorry, babe, my depressed soul can’t handle social interaction right now,’ I just escape to the toilet after the conventional small talk like the lame drama queen I am.

Photo: SchwuZ/Facebook

So no, nothing happened at SchwuZ. It might have, though.

And this thrill of future excitement, this anticipation of a new lover’s arrival, or multiple in fact, is the gift Berlin bestowed upon me. Bye old, welcome whatever 2019 holds.

To find out more about things to do in Berlin, head to the VisitBerlin website.

All photos by Stefania Sarrubba unless stated otherwise.

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