Berlin Life Series.
The Viktoria-Luise-Platz. Excerpt from my forthcoming Berlin Diary
OK – weather is fine. Time for an old man to find out what is going on in the world. Round the corner is, according to the city guide books, the centre of the European gay scene. As a man who has only knowingly known about five gay men and two lesbians, and they never chose to discuss their sexual orientation, I own up to being ignorant of the most important thing in the lives of twenty percent of the population.
I’d looked up the three streets in Schöneberg, with allegedly the most action, so it was onto my bike and peddle the five kilometres between me and my study objects. I peddle slowly across the manic Tempelhofer Damm crossing. Four lanes of lunacy, with drivers regularly exceeding the speed limit by two to three times. They have to jump red lights at that speed.
No point in arriving bathed in sweat for the sake of two minutes, and it gives me time to reflect about the occasion that a man, a good friend, even older than me, had tried to engage me in sexual activity. He made a pass at me I suppose. I didn’t oblige him, and have wondered ever since what it is that prevents us from obliging gays who fancy us. There is the taboo of course.
He would say that I led him on. Well, I didn’t tell him off the first time he sneakily kissed me on the lips. I thought it was a mistake. It’s common now to go around hugging and kissing; a fashion I can’t be doing with. I assumed he had gone along the line gripping the women and failed to notice it was a bloke in front of him. But that didn’t explain the lip-business. Perhaps he’d had a few and his aim was not up to much. But it happened a second time. I tried not to be prude or narrow minded, but did eventually have to call a halt. I suppose I do think in clichés after all.
The truth was I just didn’t fancy him. But many women do sexual favours for blokes they don’t fancy, including husbands, so why couldn’t I humour a friend with a simple physical act. I’d wipe an incontinent person’s backside if it were needed so I’m not squeamish. Nurses deal with unwanted bodily functions caused – OK, usually by illness. Which is why I respect prostitutes who do the same – OK, caused by hormones or a control mania or just plain nastiness or misogyny. In fact, I respect nurses and prostitutes in equal measure. Whores get better paid but they also take more risks and don’t get to work many day shifts, so that is fair enough. It is a worrying thought that a misogynist would seek out the company of a woman and pay for sexual favours.
So, my mission is to find out what it is about a gay relationship I can’t deal with. In truth it’s a bit of voyeurism. It’s a lovely evening so why not go look how the other fifth live. I try to think through all the men I know and can’t come up with a twinge of excitement for any of them. I arrive at the first street – quiet as the grave. I don’t fancy walking in and out of bar after bar, so it was on to the next street, which was only a minute away. Same thing!!! What was I missing?
Third street. I hear a rumble in the distance. No over-ground trains around here. And then I see it. Well, I don’t actually see it, not the pub that is, for the men standing in front of it. Men! And I mean hundreds of them, all drinking, flirting, talking very loudly. Believe me! You have never seen so much testosterone in one heap in your life. The pub is so jammed I can’t see the front door and the men spill out halfway across the street. It is awesome and in some way frightening. I’m serious – I’m scared, but reflect that it is the first time I’ve witnessed several hundred men, drinking on a warm summer’s evening and there is no trouble. There are no police to be seen so no trouble is expected. Why the fear? Because we have been told to be afraid of people different to us? God pays back in mysterious ways. Fear is my just desert for morbid voyeurism.