Last Friday, Michelle invited me along to a house party, near Schlesisches Tor. I met Victoria first for a couple of beers, sitting in her cavernous flat overlooking the river Spree. It’s a stunning place. The bedrooms alone are bigger than entire flats back home. It’s the kind of place that would cost you a grand a week in London, but here Victoria and her flatmate Klara pay around €300 a month each. I swear, you could work part time here and enjoy a decent quality of life.
I was feeling glum when I arrived at Victoria’s place, and sat nursing a beer and boring her to tears with the details of my blimp crash of a love life. I was rudely interrupted from my dirge by a very loud bang. Non-specific, very loud bangs are common in Berlin. First time I heard one was back in Come Backpackers, and I assumed ISIS were in town. I was all ready to arm myself with the nearest piece of cutlery, tie my top around my head and leap into battle, when I realised it was a firework. Sure, it was 3pm on a Wednesday and broad daylight, but people here don’t seem to care.
We went to one of Victoria’s enormous windows and looked out over the river. On the other side is the huge Universal building, which dominates the river at night with its ten storey neon sign casting reflections for miles, as well as several other high profile offices. Victoria told me that every weekend since she moved here, without fail, there has been a firework display around 9pm from those offices. We couldn’t figure out why. Maybe they’re just filthy rich and this is how the 1% celebrate the weekend. The rest of us go for an after-work pint in a chain-run sports bar, these guys blast ten kilograms of explosives into the city’s airspace.
We watched the fireworks for a full ten minutes. It was the same size show you see on Bonfire Night, which I’d missed this year, to my eternal heartbreak. It felt like my own little personal version, finally, which worked wonders to cheer me up. We watched the reds, greens and golds bloom over the water, all sparks and smoke and shimmering reflections. We cheered when they were finished, and heard cheers back from the far side of the river.
We arrived at the house party around 10pm, armed with a bottle of wine and a few beers. Michelle buzzed us in, and we made our way up the graffitied staircase and into the party. It was the birthday bash of an English guy called Richard. He bought the flat a few years ago, because the mortgage on it is about the same as rent. As usual, it was huge and chic and decorated with a tasteful yet refined hipster edge that I completely and utterly lack. There were around 20 people, and we got to minglin’.
I’m enjoying getting to know Michelle’s friends better. They’re a great bunch, and all so different. Imagine the human equivalent of a bag of Revels, but without that horrible and infinitely disappointing coffee flavoured rogue. Bane of my childhood, that damned coffee Revel. I got smashed; that kind of mad, hectic smashed that only seems to occur at house parties, where you run around speaking to every single person in the place, making new friends everywhere.
I have this habit when I’m drunk of just diving into deep conversation. I am god awful at small talk, I run out of things to say very quickly unless my brain is firing on all cylinders. When I meet someone new, sober, not in a party environment, nine times out of ten I don’t enjoy the conversation because I’m frantically trying to figure out what to say next. Drunk though, I seem to just discard the introductions completely, instead bouncing over to people and opening a conversation with “Hey, what are you afraid of?” or “So Trump’s a bastard, yeah?”
I met a toybox of interesting characters, including a Japanese girl with a huge smile who can’t have been more than four foot eleven, who invited me to go to a karaoke bar with her in the city. Later, I was talking to Annie about her poetry, and mid-conversation she walked off to grab her handbag. I stood alone like king dork, apparently ditched. She came back, however, and told me to follow her. I obeyed, and she scouted around the party for a quiet place. She eventually settled on the bathroom. We went in, and locked the door. Okay…so… what is this? Are we about to do drugs? What is happening? Why do I always blindly follow people simply because they tell me to?
She rifled through her bag and grabbed her phone. Without any announcement, she started reading a poem she’d written. It was brilliant. I wish I could recite some choice lines for you, but I was as drunk as a lord and remember nothing. We chatted about it for a while after, until the frantic banging on the door became impossible to ignore. We flung open the bathroom door and breezed out regally, apologising to the seething, cross legged queue and explaining that we were awfully sorry but simply had to read poetry, darling.
Toilets and I do not mix. I danced for a while and chatted to a few more people, including Harry, the cool guy whose flat I stayed in for a few days when I first arrived. I eventually, somehow, got into a political discussion with this frizzy haired, Guy Fawkes-bearded Spanish guy. We discussed Trump with the usual disdain, and mid-conversation he said he was going to the bathroom. He told me to come with him. WHY. I went, for I am a fool.
We went in, and he told me to lock the door. I locked it, and when I turned back around he was SAT ON THE FUCKING TOILET. Trousers round his ankles. I froze and stared at him. I didn’t know what to say. Maybe this is what hipsters do. Maybe everyone shits together here. Maybe it’s normal. Maybe I am the odd one out. Rather than freak out, I tried to retain my cool. I leaned on the sink, feigning nonchalance.
“So are you… are you having a shit?”
Imagine saying that fucking sentence with a straight face. Nobody should ever have to ask anybody ‘are you having a shit’. He waved my concerns away casually.
“No, ees just a piss.”
“You piss sitting down?”
“Yes, ees better.”
“Oh right. Nice one.”
And then he did his trousers up and offered me drugs. I politely declined.
An hour or two later I got talking to another of Michelle’s friends, Flossie. She’s English, and like Michelle, she has been here a year already. The two of them actually met at Come Backpackers. I like Flossie; she has this cool, Great Gatsby vibe about her I can’t put my finger on. She calls people things like ‘my love’. She saw me across the party and welcomed me warmly, remembering me from back in May. We talked for a long time on that bottomless barrel of a topic, Berlin itself. Again, much of the conversation is lost, sabotaged by that tricksy cheap wine, but I know it was a damn good chat, because at the end we both agreed it was and shook hands. Smashing.
I left the party at 5am to get the U Bahn back. Between 10pm and 5am, nobody checks tickets, so due to lack of funds my travelling hours are limited to the night time. I’m like Batman, except the exact opposite because he is handsome and rich and I am perpetually hungover and utterly penniless. Before I left the party, Michelle and Flossie invited me to brunch with them the next day. I agreed, and headed home.
I woke up the next morning in the afternoon, around 1pm. I checked my phone, and Michelle had asked if I was still coming to brunch. Why not? It sounded like a great idea. They’d all gone out after the house party, and I was amazed at how fast they’d apparently recovered. I got ready slowly, and headed to Neukölln. I got to Flossie’s flat around 4. I brought a contribution to the meal – some brioche and some shit rosé wine, because it was all I could afford. Michelle buzzed me upstairs, and at the top of the staircase, Flossie greeted me.
“Hello my love, come on in!”
The flat itself was a mismatched jumble of rooms, whitewashed walls hung with obscure art, achingly trendy. I took my shoes off and shuffled into the kitchen, and accidentally walked right into the middle of the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Michelle was busy pouring over the stove cooking pancakes wearing a dress covered in sequins of all the colours of the rainbow. Flossie was running around helping her, grabbing piping hot cauliflower cheese out of the oven. There was mulled wine on the hob, and speakers were playing upbeat dance music. The table was packed out with food; avocado, feta cheese, garlic bread, peppers, salmon, every delicious brunch-worthy snack food you can think of. There were 8 others sat around the table chatting and sipping drinks. Michelle greeted me with a hug, which is when I noticed her eyes – and, come to think about it, everyone else’s eyes, too. Their pupils were all enormous.
“Michelle… you haven’t slept, have you?” I asked her.
She told me she had been “boogying” at Sisyphos, and had only left an hour or two ago. Nobody at brunch had got a wink of sleep since the house party the night before. Michelle looked completely fresh – but that’s just the mystery of Michelle. No eye bags, no pale skin, just tussled hair and rosy cheeks, no matter what god-awful state her body is in. Harry looked a little worse for wear, alive and functioning but not saying too much. I sat down and cracked my cheap wine. I offered it around but nobody wanted any. More for me!
Michelle served up the rest of the food, and we sat around chatting and eating. I helped myself to the mulled wine and filled my cheeks with delicious olives and cheese. As time wore on, I and the other sleepless brunchers began to swap places, mentally. As the wine flushed my cheeks and I got more jovial, everyone else was comfortable and full of food, and at long last sleep was tugging stubbornly at them. One by one they trickled away, until it was just myself, Michelle, Flossie and her flatmate left. I sat there dutifully ladling myself more hot mulled wine, chatting nonsense and popping olives into my mouth as I made shit jokes and told stories. I was having a ball, but everything I said was increasingly met with a wall of silence as Michelle and Flossie edged towards death.
I felt a little bit bad, sitting there drinking and gorging while the others were wrestling with the mental challenge of being awake for 48 hours. I finished my drink, made my excuses, and headed off. I tried to swing by a poetry night on the way home, but due to navigational errors I arrived three hours late and steaming, and missed the entire thing.